Cruise Travel Insurance: Do You Need It?

Cruise ships in port.  Approximately 70% of their passengers bought travel insurance.
Cruise ships in port. Approximately 70% of their passengers bought travel insurance.

You have leafed through the cruise brochures, browsed the cruise line and travel websites, decided where you want to go and what you want to do.  You have just booked your cruise, and paid for it.  Now you have to decide whether or not to purchase travel insurance.  The short answer, and the answer most travel agents and cruise lines will give you, is yes.  The long answer is maybe.   

The first thing to understand about traveling and insurance is that you may already be partially covered.  Most homeowners’ and renters’ policies will cover your belongings – as long as they are in your possession – even if you are away from home.  Your medical insurance will likely cover at least part of your medical expenses should be become ill or injured while traveling.  You can purchase secondary insurance to cover whatever your existing policies don not cover.  Another consideration is the nature of your cruise.  Passengers on a weekend cruise, discount cruise or traveling from a port close to home often find it unnecessary to purchase travel insurance.  In many of these cases, the cost of the insurance outweighs the benefits of purchasing it.

Most agents and cruise lines recommended purchasing primary travel insurance.  Whether you choose to or not will depend on the two things that sway all kinds of insurance purchase decisions – coverage and cost.  Understanding exactly what you need from your travel insurance will help you choose the best coverage and find the most competitive price.

Travel insurance can cost less than $100 to several hundred per person.
Travel insurance can cost less than $100 to several hundred per person.

Cost will be determined, as always, by what coverage the policy offers.  Basic travel insurance can be as inexpensive as $60 per person and can run upwards of $215 per person.  A general rule of thumb is that cruise travel insurance will run about 7-9% of the cost of the cruise.  Shopping around will help you find the best price.  Check online directly with travel insurance providers, check with your travel agent and check with the cruise line.  The best price with one company on one cruise may not be the best price the next time.  Investing a little time in researching prices can save you money in the long run. 

What does travel insurance cover?  Most policies cover the basics:  trip cancellation, travel delay, overseas medical expenses, permanent disability, lost or stolen luggage or belongings, emergency medical assistance.  Each policy is different so it’s important to note a few things about each.  Trip cancellation may not include every cancellation reason.  Did your travel partner have an accident and now cannot go on the cruise?  You may not be able to get a refund if you choose not to go.  Many companies now offer “cancel for any reason” insurance.  Overseas medical expenses may not cover pre-existing conditions or may have a limit on those.  Many companies require that a passenger is symptom-free for a certain period of time prior to the cruise – some as little as 60 days and some as many as 180 days.  Additionally, you will have to purchase your insurance within 7, 14 or 21 days of your initial deposit for your cruise.  Even if you are healthy, you may want to purchase more coverage for medical expenses if you plan to zip line, parasail, scuba dive or any other inherently dangerous activity.  For lost or stolen luggage or belongings, check how much is covered.  If your fancy camera is stolen and costs $1,500 to replace but the insurance only covers $500, well, it’s a bit pointless.  The amount you have covered for emergency medical assistance will depend on whether you are healthy and how exotic your cruise is.  A medical evacuation from a ship in the Bahamas is considerably less expensive than a medical evacuation from the fjords of Norway.  Travel delay comes in handy for passengers who are flying in to the departing port and have a tight connection schedule.  Travel delay covers expenses for accommodations, meals and new travel arrangements; however, this coverage may not take effect until the trip has been delayed for at least 6 hours so if this is important to you, check the limitations.

Travel insurance covers medical expenses and emergency medical evacuation.  Photo courtesy of Alex Bruda.
Travel insurance covers medical expenses and emergency medical evacuation. Photo courtesy of Alex Bruda.

Since 2007, some insurance coverage has been added.  There is now norovirus coverage available.  Norovirus is essentially a stomach flu or gastroenteritis but has become known as the cruise ship illness.  Another addition is job loss protection, which covers a passenger who has lost his job and can no longer afford to take a vacation.  Job loss protection provides a full refund to the affected passenger.

With so many choices, whether or not to purchase travel insurance may seem a difficult decision.  Making a list of your needs and risks will help you make that decision.  Simply put, if you have a heart condition, you may want coverage for pre-existing conditions and higher coverage for medical expenses and medical evacuation.  If a family member who is not traveling with you has a heart condition, you may just want the “cancel for any reason” policy.  If you are staying in a destination port for a few extra days, renting a car and flying home after, you may want to extend your trip delay and trip cancellation coverage.  Finally, if you are taking a $300 2-night Bahamas cruise and you live in Fort Lauderdale, you may decide the extra $100 per person for insurance is better spent on shopping.

The decision of whether or not to purchase cruise travel insurance will ultimately be left to the individual passengers and their personal needs.  Understanding what is covered, the limitations on coverage, the emergencies you may run in to, and the cost will help you make an informed decision.

Travel Insurance Poll

Do you purchase travel insurance when you travel?

  • Yes.
  • No.
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