Winter getaway? Why you need travel insurance

With temperatures dipping below -30 C in the Prairies and wind-chill warnings in effect out East, right now is a good time for Canadians to be be looking into winter getaways.

There are last-minute deals to be had: $450 gets a return flight from Toronto and a seven-night stay in a four-star hotel in Cuba; Vancouverites can get week-long package to Manzanillo at a similar all-inclusive resort for $660.

Less exciting to research and purchase is travel insurance. It’s crucial, though, even if the only getaway you can squeeze in anytime soon is a day trip for some cross-border shopping.

“Most people aren’t informed [about travel insurance], but the moment we use the word insurance people kind of bundle up and retreat,” says Kal Gyaneshwar,
manager of training, development and telephony at itravel2000.com. “That’s why we call it travel protection.

“If you’re going to Mexico with a family of four, it costs about $5,000 on a package. Why wouldn’t you protect your investment? When you take a mortgage, you have insurance. When you have a car, you take insurance for that. Why would you not buy insurance for a trip," he asks.

Gyaneshwar recalls living in Saudi Arabia and having to go on a business trip to the U.S. several years ago. A severe headache resulted in a visit to the hotel doctor. That consult cost $500. Luckily, he was covered. “I would never travel without insurance, simply put; it’s just not worth it,” he says.

And while buying insurance is one thing, understanding the details is another. According to a recent TD Insurance report, only half of Canadians aged 50 and over checked their travel insurance policy before leaving for vacation. A BMO Insurance travel insurance study found that only half of Canadians regularly purchase travel insurance before heading on vacation.

Consider the costs of not having insurance. According to Manulife Financial, the average claim for a broken arm is $2,700. A broken leg in the United States can cost up to US$20,000, according to BMO Insurance. An air ambulance from Florida to Ontario can cost around US$15,000, meanwhile, treatment for decompression sickness in Thailand can cost as much as US$40,000.

The BMO Insurance report also found that 80 per cent of Canadians pegged the cost of treating pneumonia in the U.S. to be $10,000 or less, when in fact the tab can run as high as $66,000.

Provincial government health care plans only provide limited coverage for medical treatment and hospital costs outside of Canada, according to Travel Underwriters, an insurance company.

The maximum amounts provinces pay per day toward medical expenses incurred outside Canada are:

  • British Columbia: $75
  • Alberta: $100
  • Saskatchewan: $100
  • Manitoba: $250 to $570
  • Ontario: $400
  • Quebec: $100
  • New Brunswick: $100
  • Nova Scotia: $525
  • Newfoundland: $350 to $465
  • Prince Edward Island: $1,055
  • Yukon: $1,605
  • Northwest Territories: $1,283
  • Nunavut: $1,269

Expenses such as ambulance services, emergency dental treatment and prescription drugs may not be covered at all.

What about credit cards?

Some credit cards provide basic travel insurance, but you need to determine exactly what’s covered, under what conditions, and what the deductible, benefits and maximum amounts are. The coverage may apply for a limited time period or be available only up to a certain age. Any medical conditions that aren’t disclosed in the application could result in coverage being denied. And credit-card coverage usually only applies if the trip was paid for with that card.

“Most people say they don’t need insurance because their credit card covers it,” Gyaneshwar says. “Have you read the fine print? You really need to do your research.”


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