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The Sensible Traveler

Insurance offerings tweaked to reflect concerns

Email|Print| Text size + By Bruce Mohl
Globe Staff / December 4, 2005

Travel insurance is changing with the times, going well beyond the basics of trip cancellation and medical coverage to include such services as identity theft protection and concierge service.

Products vary from company to company, and even within an individual company, policies often range from the deluxe, for travelers with multiple concerns, to the bare bones, for students and others with fewer worries and less money to spend.

Most basic policies cover the traveler when the trip is canceled, interrupted, or delayed, as well as the cost of medical expenses, including emergency evacuations. Many insurance companies have not only tweaked these coverages but added others, reflecting travelers' concerns.

Hurricanes, for example, have become such disruptive forces that they are a constant worry both for insurers and travelers. Industry officials say the hurricanes of the last two years have driven up their claim costs dramatically, but the storms also have prompted more travelers to buy policies.

Today, most policies contain coverage that kicks in when accommodations at the traveler's destination are made uninhabitable because of a natural disaster, like a hurricane.

Fear of job loss has become another major concern of travelers. Reflecting growing economic uncertainty, CSA Travel Protection of San Diego has moved from its premium to its standard policy coverage for people who have planned a trip and then had to cancel because they were transferred or laid off from their job.

CSA, according to spokesman Gary Craychee, has bulked up most of its policies with identity theft coverage, which provides assistance in responding to what many analysts believe is the country's fastest-growing crime. Identity theft coverage is not a form of protection against such theft, but assistance in responding to it. The CSA coverage begins on the day of departure and lasts six months. It provides up to $20,000 of coverage for fees and expenses associated with restoring a traveler's compromised credit.

With many airlines and other travel providers in bankruptcy protection or on the verge of it, protection against a travel company's insolvency is a must. Most third-party insurers offer the coverage, but cruise lines and tour operators typically do not. In some cases, purchasing the trip with a credit card can offer protection in case the provider goes under.

Travel insurers say their customers aren't always looking for insurance. Sometimes they want travel assistance.

''You don't need an emergency or a financial loss to take advantage of travel insurance," said Dan McGinnity, a vice president at Travel Guard, based in Stevens Point, Wis. ''Travelers are interested in a broader range of services. I like to call it the guardian angel approach."

Many travel insurers have added special hot lines providing 24-hour emergency travel assistance if a flight gets canceled or a hotel runs out of rooms.

Travel Guard even offers a concierge service, a toll-free number that travelers can call to obtain help in arranging airport transportation, a tee time, a restaurant referral, a restaurant reservation, or even a flower delivery.

Not every concern on the minds of travelers has found its way into a policy. Avian flu, for example, is a rising concern among travelers across the world, but there's no way to insure against the fear that the virus may mutate into a form that allows it to be spread human to human.

Most travel insurance policies would cover a traveler who goes to a region and contracts avian flu, but they wouldn't cover someone who decides to cancel a trip after reading about an outbreak of the disease near their destination.

''No insurance covers your state of mind, meaning, 'I'm afraid to go because this could happen,' " McGinnity said.

McGinnity said travelers should study their policy carefully to see if it covers the type of perils they fear and provides the services they need. ''No one even looks at their policy until something comes up," he said, ''and then they ask, 'Am I covered?' "

Contact Bruce Mohl at mohl@globe.com.

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