Do You Sell Travel Insurance For When Life Happens?

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Susan SchaeferI got the call last night: my daughter was in the emergency room. Ultimately she was diagnosed with appendicitis, and she is now out of surgery and in the recovery room. I can breathe again. And now I’m thinking, what if this happened while we were on a cruise ship next month off the coast of Colombia? What if it was something more dire than appendicitis? This Momma Bear would have been beside herself and freaking out. I would have swam from that cruise ship to the closest airport if necessary. Fortunately I always get travel insurance for my own travels. However, I realize that there are people out there than turn down travel insurance.

I also believe that travel insurance is important, regardless of how far they travel from home or the type of travel. However, I think cruising involves unique situations which makes travel insurance that much more important. Land vacations are inherently easier, unless clients are hiking the backcountry somewhere and not in close proximity to hospitals. On a ship out at sea, it can be dicey. Imagine being halfway through a trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific crossing: no land in sight for days and worrying about how they’re going to pay for such an expense like being airlifted is the last thing a cruise client needs to be thinking about in a medical crisis.

How do you present travel insurance to your cruise clients? Do you have a file full of travel insurance stories that you can share with your clients, illustrating the value of travel insurance? If not, I recommend that you create a file now and start collecting those stories. My time in the surgery waiting room today reminded me of a fellow travel agent’s story. They had a family cruising on a Princess ship in the Caribbean a few years ago. Grandma and Grandpa had paid for all of the kids, spouses, and grandkids to go on the cruise. Because of their age and own health issues, they thought it was prudent to buy travel insurance for everyone. Their reasoning was that if one of them got sick, the rest of the family wouldn’t want to travel, and that was a lot of money to lose to cancellation penalties. No one got sick, no one had to cancel, and they all got on the ship. Who knew that the healthiest family member – a 17 year old teenager – was going to double over in pain on a day at sea? Diagnosis: appendicitis (see why I’m remembering this story today?). They were in the middle of the Caribbean, and the ship’s medical facilities were not adequate to perform any kind of surgery; not even one of the most common surgeries performed in the US these days.

Enter the travel insurance company to save the day. The girl was airlifted to the nearest hospital where surgery was performed. Once she was stable she was airlifted back to the United States. In the meantime, when the ship pulled into the next port, the rest of the family got off the ship and flew home. When all was said and done, the total costs for airlifts, surgery, and airfare home for everyone else, totaled over $200,000. Travel insurance paid every dime.

How many of us (or our clients) could self-insure and have $200,000 (or more) readily available to pay for these types of emergency services? I imagine the answer is very few people could afford this without declaring bankruptcy, or seriously mortgaging their house.

Travel insurance is much more than the cancellation coverage; but that seems to be what most clients focus on. My favorite line is “Oh, we don’t plan on cancelling our vacation” followed by another favorite “There is NOTHING that will force us to cancel this trip!” Yes, we have to educate clients about the things that definitely can force them to cancel a trip (their own catastrophic illness, death of a loved one, car accident on the way to the airport, etc.) but we have to go further. We need to educate clients on the bigger reasons for getting travel insurance. Most clients can afford to take the loss due to cancellation penalties. They may not WANT to, but they can afford it (if they can’t, then they can’t afford to be paying for the vacation in the first place). The question is what else can they afford? How about $250,000 or $500,000 in emergency medical bills and evacuation? Or repatriation of remains? They need that money in cash, or available to charge on credit cards, or in property equity. Almost all hospitals outside of the US require payment before service is rendered, and they don’t care if you have medical insurance back home.

So, if you don’t have a file of insurance stories, use the above 17 year old on a Princess Cruise as story number one. Talk to your fellow travel agents in the community here or elsewhere, and ask them for their insurance stories. Ask for both kinds of stories; the ones where insurance saved the day as well as the stories about clients that refused insurance and then ran into problems that cost them more than the insurance premium.


Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at susan@shipsntripstravel.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

  One thought on “Do You Sell Travel Insurance For When Life Happens?

  1. 1Chris Alderson says:

    I so agree! It usually happens to the clients that think insurance is just another costly expense that they won’t need!

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