PHOTO: Old Havana. (photo by David Cogswell)
Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison website, is seeing an increase in the number of calls from people concerned about the uncertain future of travel to Cuba since the Trump administration announced in early February that it is reviewing the government’s policies in regard to Cuba.
On Feb. 3, White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced at a media briefing that the Trump administration was “in the midst of a full review of all U.S. policies toward Cuba.” Last Nov. 28, then-President-elect Trump threatened to “terminate” President Obama’s actions aimed at normalizing relations with the Caribbean country, which has been under a U.S. embargo since the early 1960s.
Trump’s statements during the campaign were inconsistent. In September he said in an interview with the Daily Caller that “the concept of opening with Cuba is fine,” but he thought “we should have made a better deal.”
In Miami, the heart of the anti-Castro Cuban exile committee, in October, he took a harder line, saying he would reverse the deal with Cuba unless its government made certain concessions.
The announcement in February brought the campaign rhetoric closer to the sphere of policy and sent a wave of uncertainty through the U.S. market for travel to Cuba, generating a wave of calls to Squaremouth, which aggregates the products of 21 insurance providers together for comparison shopping.
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“We saw an increase in customers calling about concerns about trips to Cuba,” said Carolyn Leckie, media specialist with Squaremouth, an insurance comparison website. “People are worried. Many are referring to the Sean Spicer statement in early February that the White House was reviewing policies toward Cuba.”
Callers are asking about what will happen if they book a trip and a change in government policy forces them to change their plans.
Unfortunately, said Leckie, the standard model of travel insurance will not cover a cancellation due to a change in government policy. Cuba as a travel destination is unique in this regard. It is virtually the only country that Americans are banned from visiting by their own government.
The only way to ensure that cancellation of a Cuba trip will be covered in the case of a cancellation forced by a change in government policy is to buy what is known as cancel-for-any-reason coverage.
Though it costs considerably more than standard travel insurance, cancel-for-any-reason insurance is what Squaremouth recommends when it comes to Cuba.
“As a company, we recommend the least expensive policy that will meet your needs,” said Leckie. “We don't usually recommend cancel-for-any-reason policies. But unfortunately, it is the only option if you are planning a trip to Cuba.”
Insurers require that cancel-for-any-reason insurance be purchased soon after the initial purchase of a trip. The deadline for how long you have to purchase the insurance ranges from 14 to 30 days after the travel purchase, depending on the insurer.
The cost will vary depending on the date of the trip, the cost of the trip and the age of the insured.
A search during the writing of this article showed that a standard travel insurance policy on a $5,000 trip to Cuba for a person 55 years old traveling in May would be $169. The price of a cancel-for-any-reason policy for the same trip was priced $280.32. It’s a difference of $111.32 or a 66 percent increase in the price over the standard policy.
Another thing to keep in mind, said Leckie, while standard travel insurance policies cover 100 percent of the prepaid and nonrefundable costs of the trip, a cancel-for-any-reason policy only pays 75 percent of those costs.
To qualify for the refund the cancellation must take place at least two days before the cancellation date.
Cancel-for-any-reason travel insurance “is not an upgrade we generally recommend,” said Leckie. “It can bring up the premium, and it only pays 75 percent.”
For now, for those uncertain about how any change in policy might affect their plans, it is the only way to insure against loss in the case of a forced cancellation.