Advertisement

Cross-border travellers angered they’re paying annual travel insurance amid COVID-19 pandemic

The United States border crossing is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. New restrictions in effect at midnight Friday along Canada's shared border with the United States focus more on blocking tourists and bargain-hunters than on clearing the way for so-called "essential" travel such as truckers hauling freight, health professionals and others who live on one side and work on the other.
The United States border crossing is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. New restrictions in effect at midnight Friday along Canada's shared border with the United States focus more on blocking tourists and bargain-hunters than on clearing the way for so-called "essential" travel such as truckers hauling freight, health professionals and others who live on one side and work on the other. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Some travellers are questioning why they are still paying for travel insurance when the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to all non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gail Bourne travels to the United States at least twice a year. The Vancouver resident says she bought an annual travel insurance policy with BCAA for $845.21 for coverage between Nov. 9, 2019 and Nov. 9, 2020. However, when the borders shut down this past March, her travel plans were put on hold.

“I just thought it was unfair that I’m paying for something I can’t do,” Bourne said.

Bourne has been a BCAA member for 51 years. She says she reached out to BCAA to cancel her insurance or at least extend her current policy but says she was initially denied.

“I felt slighted. I had been a faithful customer for all these years and they wouldn’t do anything for me,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

Consumer Matters reached out to BCAA on Bourne’s behalf. BCAA told Global News under normal circumstances once a customer uses their annual policy to travel there is no refund, but also acknowledged these are not normal times and states it’s looking at these situations on a case-by-case basis.

Read more: Thief uses B.C. man’s identity to open fake bank account, apply for CERB

Bourne says within days of Consumer Matters reaching out,  BCAA agreed to give her a partial refund of more than $400 with her policy still in effect until November 2020.

“If it wasn’t for you at Consumer Matters I probably would not have gotten anything. Well, I wasn’t getting anything until you guys stepped in and helped me out and it makes me happy.”

North Vancouver resident John Rowlands didn’t have the same success when it came to getting a refund for his wife’s travel insurance. She has  MEDOC travel insurance, an annual 17-day base travel plan with Johnson Insurance. Her premium is $913 with monthly deductions of $75.31 a month. The policy states it cannot be cancelled until the end of the policy year.

“What are we paying for? It’s supposed to be for travel insurance and yet it means nothing,” he said.

When contacted by Consumer Matters, Johnson Insurance stated:

Story continues below advertisement

“Our annual base plans have a fixed one-year term and are designed to cover multiple trips, allowing customers to take advantage of trip cancellation, trip interruption and medical coverage throughout the year. Clients with specific questions about their policy should contact us directly.”

Read more: B.C. cruise ship passenger hits rough waters seeking refund amid coronavirus pandemic

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA), which represents life and health insurance providers, says typically an annual travel plan covers an individual for any travel taken over 12 months. In most cases, a policyholder may cancel an annual plan as long as there has been no travel taken in that period.

However, once travel occurs, the plan can’t be cancelled because the plan works by spreading the insured’s risk over the term of the plan. Still, many insurers it says have offered to extend coverage on annual plans during the pandemic.

Once the border opens to non-essential travel, the CLHIA recommends the following for travel outside of Canada:

  • Check with insurer to see if your current workplace travel insurance, or the policy offered by the insurer includes treatment related to COVID-19 outside Canada
  • Know the entry requirements for the country (eg. 14-day quarantine, COVID-19 tests)
  • Ensure travel insurance coverage for entire duration of trip
  • Consider purchasing “cancel for any reason” trip cancellation insurance for maximum flexibility