In less than a month, the landscape for Canadian travellers has been transformed.
Back in March, the COVID-19 virus was determined to be a ‘known factor’ and so it was no longer covered by regular travel medical insurance policies. Since then, Canadians who have wanted to travel have not had coverage for expenses incurred if they contracted the virus while abroad.
All that changed just a couple of weeks ago. With much of the world learning to manage the pandemic, and commonly-accepted safety practices to help prevent the spread of the virus, one of the next key events necessary for a resumption of travel happened:
Travel medical insurance covering Canadians in the unlikely event they contract the virus away from home.
Once the first company announced coverage, it became a landslide. At press time, there are now no fewer than 6 options for Canadians to ensure they’re covered. Here are the highlights:
Air Canada Vacations: 1st COVID Travel Insurance in Canada – With Limits
Air Canada’s packaged vacation division, Air Canada Vacations created headlines when it announced it would be including free-of-charge insurance for its guests against medical and quarantine expenses related to contracting COVID-19 while travelling.
ACV’s coverage is for up to 21 days and applied only to ACV air + hotel packaged holidays to specific destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean this fall and winter. The initiative is in partnership with global insurance giant Allianz and the program ends in April.
While not the first globally to offer COVID-19 insurance, it was a breakthrough moment for the Canadian travel industry.
It wasn’t hard to predict Air Canada Vacations’ bold move would start a trend.
WestJet: 1st COVID Insurance Available on Air-Only Bookings to Specific Destinations
Air Canada’s rival WestJet then upped the ante, offering its air-only passengers – not just vacation package guests - no-charge COVID-19 insurance lasting up to 21 days through its provider TuGo.
WestJet’s COVID insurance covers travel to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Europe including the UK.
And while the first two programs provide coverage on reservations through April, WestJet’s program runs to the end of August 2021.
Manulife: 1st For-Purchase COVID Coverage in a Standard Travel Medical Insurance Policy
Canada’s largest provider of travel insurance announced its ‘COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan’ launching in October. Manulife adds COVID coverage to its standard emergency travel medical policy, with specific additional coverage for COVID-19 medical care and out-of-country quarantine expenses.
It will be available for Canadian travellers to purchase prior to travelling within our borders as well as internationally, including to destinations with a Level 3 Travel Advisory.
Air Canada: follows West Jet, Offering No-Charge COVID Insurance for Air-Only International Travellers
Now both of Canada’s major airlines include COVID insurance for Canadians who purchase flights on either carrier – at no cost to the passengers.
Although Air Canada Vacations’ COVID insurance is provided by Allianz, the airline is providing its air-only passengers with coverage through Manulife. The insurance applies to round-trip, international air bookings made until October 31st with travel by April 12, 2021.
In addition to coverage for medical treatment and quarantine expenses, Air Canada’s air-only COVID insurance also covers up to $500 CDN for unexpected costs of returning home if the Canadian government travel advisory level in your destination goes from Level 3 to Level 4 while you’re there.
Sunwing: Matching Competitors in No-Charge Coverage
Air-only, as well as beach vacation package travellers with Sunwing, receive coverage included with their bookings made by October 31st, for travel between October 16th this year and May 31st, 2021.
It’s also similar to other options for Canadian travellers, offering coverage for trips up to 21 days for medical, quarantine, transfer and trip interruption costs due to COVID-19 and pandemic-related travel advisory changes.
In addition, Sunwing insurance coverage is supported by medical assistance at all Sunwing resorts, and the company points out, “As the only travel provider that owns the airline its customers fly on, the transfer buses that travel to and from hotels, as well as over 30 hotels throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico, Sunwing’s commitment to safety spans across every step of the travel process.”
Comparing COVID Insurance: Apples to Oranges
All of the travel companies have implemented expansive new health and safety protocols on their own aircraft and with land partners. Their insurance provides coverage for medical expenses, quarantine expenses, some travel and even repatriation of remains due to contracting the COVID-19 virus while traveling.
But not all of these options are the same, and making good choices when you’re choosing to travel and choosing the best insurance option can make a big difference if you do get sick while you’re away.
Questions you should discuss with your Travel Advisor to help determine which of the COVID-19 insurance options available suit your travel needs best:
· Is this available only a package (air + hotel) or will I have the coverage if I book air only?
· How much coverage does this offer in dollar terms? Is that enough for where I’m travelling?
· What are the limitations of coverage? Potential travellers should note that travel to some destinations – including the USA - may not be covered.
· Am I personally eligible for coverage?
· How long am I covered for? Snowbirds looking to spend months in the sun need to look closely at the duration of coverage.
· When does this coverage end? Different policies require you to travel before a certain date.
Insuring a Return to Travel
The travel landscape keeps changing, but it’s safe to say that there will continue to be MORE insurance options for Canadians hoping to travel in the coming months. It’s a key piece of the puzzle to give Canadians confidence when they travel.
We are all still waiting for a COVID immunization option to become available, and when it does, future travel insurance coverage - or even entry visas to certain countries - may require proof of COVID immunization.
While some Canadians may still not feel comfortable travelling yet, like any other travel/medical insurance, COVID-19 insurance is a responsible way for people who choose to travel to be protected against unforeseen expenses.
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