Should you buy travel insurance through a cruise line? Maybe not, experts say
Philip Perrey took a cruise with his family to Mexico in November, but navigating the travel insurance they purchased to protect their trip proved to be anything but a vacation.
A few months before the trip, he got a refund from Celebrity Cruises after the insurance he'd purchased for him and his wife, Lindsey, through the line had been canceled by mistake.
He bought a new policy through a separate provider, which came in handy when his flight to Miami was delayed and he had to rebook with another airline, reimbursing him for part of the original fare. "It was just not the way you want to start a cruise vacation," Perrey, 45, told USA TODAY.
But when he tried to help his in-laws – who had joined him, his wife and his parents on the cruise, and also purchased insurance through the line – get reimbursed, he had no such luck. Aon Affinity, which administered the coverage for his in-laws, asked for documentation from the airline stating the reason for the delay, Perrey said, which he did not know how to get (though his parents were able to get reimbursed without providing that document).
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"It left a really bad taste in my mouth on that policy," said Perrey, a minister based in St. Charles, Missouri. "We love Celebrity, we're going to keep cruising (with) Celebrity ... but I'm not buying their insurance."
While purchasing travel insurance through a cruise line can be convenient, experts say the coverage may not be as comprehensive as plans passengers can buy separately through third-party providers, and they may want to think twice about the type of policy they choose.
"Royal Caribbean Group guests can purchase travel protection through our trusted partners to protect their vacation purchase," a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean Group, the line's parent company, said in an email. The company "does not service the travel protection program," the spokesperson added, and directed inquiries about Celebrity's coverage to Aon.
Aon did not immediately answer USA TODAY's questions about Perrey's experience.
Should passengers buy travel insurance through a cruise line?
When booking a cruise, buying travel insurance can be as simple as ticking a box during checkout. "That's why it's so successful," said Suzanne Morrow, senior vice president of InsureMyTrip. "Because it's easy, and you don't have to think about it." (Cruise lines typically work with third-party insurers for the policies they provide.)
She said travel companies may also use "scare tactics" to incentivize those purchases. "They'll put in, 'Are you sure want to put X amount of dollars at risk?'"
But those policies may not provide the kind of protection customers are hoping for.
Morrow said travelers should first ask themselves if they want cash or credit. "A lot of the cruise line insurance, it's not (that) you get a refund. It's (that) you get cruise credit for a future cruise," she said.
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Those policies may also be "a lot thinner" than the ones travelers can buy on their own. If passengers have to cancel their trip, for instance, the insurance may cover fewer reasons, according to Morrow.
Maurice Smith, a luxury travel adviser and founder of the travel agency Eugene Toriko, echoed that and said third-party policies generally have higher limits for health coverage.
Many health insurance plans do not cover medical expenses incurred at sea or in foreign countries, Dr. Joe Scott, senior director of fleet medical operations at cruise line operator Carnival Corp., told USA TODAY in February. He said at the time that he was "not aware" of any cruise line that accepts insurance in its medical facilities, and highly recommended passengers purchase travel insurance, which he said is more likely to cover those bills.
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How much does cruise insurance cost?
The rates for insurance purchased through a cruise line tend to be a percentage of the trip costs, Morrow said. But the price of policies travelers purchase on their own may be based on a range of additional variables, including age and even destination.
"There's so many more factors that go into the calculation of the cost, that a lot of times you can pay less and get more coverage," she said.
Smith said browsing beyond the cruise line's offerings can help travelers find deals on insurance. "If you shop around, sometimes you can't actually find a better rate," he said. The value of a given policy is also dependent on the kind of coverage a traveler wants.
Morrow also noted that cruise lines, like airlines or hotels, typically offer a certain amount of protection even without passengers purchasing insurance, such as in the form of refunds or credit in the event of a cancellation. "And then that next level is what you're purchasing to extend that coverage or to get better coverage or to have more reasons or whatever," she said.
How to find cruise insurance
Smith advised travelers to weigh the pros and cons of policies provided through the cruise lines against those they can purchase through a third party. The details of the coverage can be found on the cruise line and insurance providers' websites, he said.
Travelers can also compare options via sites such as InsureMyTrip or Squaremouth. Many insurance providers also have customer service agents travelers speak with, Morrow added.
"It sounds simple enough on the surface ... but it really does come down to each trip that you're taking and the things that you're concerned about, and whether or not you want to have some sort of peace of mind," Morrow said.
Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Travel insurance for cruises: Where you should buy it