Not so bon voyage after all

15 September 2015 - 02:13 By Wendy Knowler

Insurance is a grudge purchase but one many are willing to make for peace of mind. With all the things that can go expensively wrong while travelling overseas - especially in these days of ultra-painful rand exchange rates - travel insurance is a wise, if not essential, investment.The various policies on the market cover everything from a foreign hospital stay or repatriation to baggage disasters, missed connections and being forced to cancel a prepaid trip entirely.But, as with all insurance policies, the devil is in the small print.IT'S COMPLICATEDDarryl Simpson of Cape Town approached In Your Corner for help after what he felt was the unfair repudiation of his TIC claim.TIC - Travel Insurance Consultants - is a division of short-term insurer Santam.Simpson and his wife Cynthia planned to travel to Mauritius in May to celebrate her 60th birthday, taking out TIC cover as they had done on their many previous travels abroad.In an e-mail to their travel agent in March, Simpson instructed him to add travel cover for both of them, and mentioned his wife's "long-term cancer" and need for the use of a wheelchair at the airport.The TIC brochure states, in large print, that the policy includes cover for "pre-existing medical and related expenses" of R500000 each, and "international journey cancellation" of R30000 each.Sadly, Cynthia's condition worsened after that, and in May her oncologist strongly recommended that she did not make the trip.After cancellation of the air tickets and the hotel booking, the airline and hotel refunded Simpson - R16 000 and R20 000 respectively - without hesitation, on hearing the circumstances, leaving him just R8000 out of pocket.So that's all he claimed from TIC, in mid-May. The claim was denied because of a travel cancellation exclusion - there's no cover if a trip is cancelled due to a pre-existing condition, only for potential medical complications while on the journey.Simpson disputed the decision due to lack of disclosure but was told it was final.As I said in taking up the case with TIC, it's not unusual for those diagnosed with a dread disease to plan a holiday with their loved ones in the hope that they will be well enough to travel, possibly for the last time. So failure to disclose that a trip cancellation due to that condition would not be covered is unacceptable.Responding, Jason Veitch, TIC's head of travel insurance, said the company could not establish whether Simpson adequately disclosed the "true extent" of his wife's condition, as the agent he had dealt with was no longer with the travel agency.If he did do so, Veitch said, "that is something we need to take ownership of". The e-mail correspondence between Simpson and the agent suggests he did.The company then paid Simpson an "ex-gratia" payment "in terms of treating the customer fairly".Veitch said: "This claim will necessitate some change in the manner in which TIC engages with its policyholders. I will communicate the events and the outcome to our staff and our distribution channels so that we all have an opportunity to learn from this."Cynthia Simpson has sadly since died.NO VISA? NO COVERLiselle Lombard booked a part business, part leisure trip to the UK and US, and was scheduled to depart in mid-June.She applied for her US visa in good time, with all the required documentation, but was unaware at the time that there was a world-wide problem with the printing of US visas.The delay in issuing her visa led to her having to postpone her London to New York flight. When the visa still hadn't been issued by the time she had to fly to the UK for work, she was forced to cancel her US trip entirely, losing about R20000 in air fare and hotel bookings.The US Embassy in Johannesburg advised her to claim on her travel insurance policy with TIC, which she did. With her claim she included an e-mail from the US Embassy in Johannesburg confirming the "worldwide technical difficulties"."I would understand the repudiation if I did not get a visa because I'd applied too late, submitted the wrong information or been denied for some reason, but this was an unforeseen event, totally beyond my control; a special circumstance," Lombard said."I really feel it should be regarded as an insured event, akin to lost baggage or a flight cancellation."I took up her case with TIC's Jason Veitch, who said the visa exclusion aside, Lombard's claim could have been rejected on the basis that she had taken business travel insurance, yet the "personal" leg of her trip would have been longer than the business part, violating the terms of the business cover.But TIC elected to pay Lombard an "ex-gratia payment in good faith", which covered her losses.Strictly speaking, of course, the repudiation was in keeping with the policy wording. Which is sobering, because it means that,no matter why you fail to get avisa before your departure date, you won't be able to claim successfully for your cancelled trip costs.Bottom line: as with any other insurance product, it pays to know exactly what you'll be covered for and what is excluded when it comes to travel insurance.Exclusions are many and varied. Get on a foreign quad bike, for example, and any mishap you suffer you'll be left to pay for, in the equivalent of many, many rands.Contact Wendy:E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.zaTwitter: @wendyknowler

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