Avian Flu and Travel Insurance: What to Know

Image credit: Diego Cupolo, used under Creative Commons Attribution

Recent news of a mysterious outbreak of illness in China has certainly not escaped the notice of informed travelers.  The rare strain of avian flu, H7N9, has sickened a handful of people and killed two so far.  While scientists are still studying the disease and say that the likelihood of widespread human-to-human transmission appears to be low, many people are having a hard time banishing memories of other infectious disease outbreaks in recent history – most notably, the 2003 H5N1 bird flu that killed hundreds, the H1N1 “swine flu” epidemic in 2009, and the infamous outbreak of SARS that resulted in nearly 1,000 deaths a decade ago.

Understandably, news of any potential outbreak of disease around the globe can make travelers wary.  Although there is no reason at this point to suspect that the new avian flu strain will become widespread enough to rise to the level of a serious threat, it seems like an opportune time to remind travelers of the position travel insurance is most likely to take on issues such as global epidemics and pandemics.

Simply put, an identified epidemic or pandemic is generally going to be excluded from coverage on most insurance policies.  That means that if you are intending to travel to a part of the world impacted by illness, you probably will not be able to cancel your trip due to fear of a pandemic and receive any coverage for the cancellation.  However, the exception to the rule – as always – can be found in a Cancel For Any Reason policy.

Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) coverage provides you with the option to cancel your plans for whatever reason you choose, whether it’s listed as “excluded” or not by your insurance provider.  Savvy travelers who are looking at booking trips to Asia at this point in time might be wise to purchase a CFAR policy sooner rather than later; that way, if the situation in China does happen to escalate and becomes a more imminent threat to public health, you would have greater security and flexibility to change your plans under the terms of your travel insurance policy.  Because CFAR is a time-sensitive benefit, to be eligible to purchase the coverage, you need to buy your travel insurance quickly; we generally recommend buying within 10-30 days of your first trip payment in order to be sure that all the possible options are available to you.

Keep in mind that when you purchase a CFAR policy, you may not be required to adhere to “covered reasons” for cancellation, but you do have to remain aware of the terms of your plan.  In general, to file a claim using your CFAR benefit, you have to cancel your trip and notify all travel suppliers 48 hours or more in advance of your scheduled departure.  That means that if you become alarmed by the escalation of a potential flu outbreak in China, and want to back out, you can’t wait until the very last second to make your decision; but you can take some time to see how the situation develops and make an informed choice about whether or not to fulfill your travel plans.

At this point in time, it’s really far too early to tell what, if anything, will happen with the avian flu situation in China; but in the travel insurance world, it’s never too early to prepare yourself for the “what-if” scenario.  To inquire about finding the right travel insurance plan for your upcoming trip, we recommend calling our licensed Customer Care representatives at 800-590-2650.

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