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The wildfires affecting Australia seemingly have no end in sight, which is of major concern to travelers visiting during the busy summer season (which spans December through February). Significant disruptions to travel in multiple parts of Australia are possible because of these events. Here are the things that are most important for travelers to know, particularly about travel insurance for Australia.
Has the Time to Buy Travel Insurance With Wildfire Coverage Already Passed?
Traveling as scheduled might be ill-advised for those who have already planned their trips. One of the downsides to travel insurance is its ability to only protect against unforeseen events, which means that policies purchased after the wildfires would exclude cancellation coverage related to that event. For future reference, purchasing a travel insurance policy well in advance of travel can help prevent against a wide variety of unforeseen issues (commonly known as covered reasons under trip cancellation coverage).
The current fires are expected to persist over the next month, and policies purchased now would not cover issues related to this event. Trip insurance policies can be purchased now to cover unrelated future events and will offer coverage for a myriad of covered reasons. Most travel industry professionals see travel insurance as essential and worth the investment for international travel.
What Should Travelers Headed to Australia Know About?
The fire services for each of Australia’s states and territories have websites that visitors may monitor to find about fires in the area they will visit. Apps and social media feeds can also help provide information that is especially suitable for mobile device access. The government has recommended that visitors monitor real-time updates for the most current news.
Anyone visiting one of the larger cities may have to think about air quality because smoke from the fires have blanketed a large portion of the country. In addition, several towns in Victoria and New South Wales have had drinking water issues that local council websites can provide important updates about. Lastly, several key areas and attractions that include national parks, beaches, and wineries are closed.
A Cancel for Any Reason Upgrade May Be Possible for Recently Booked Trips
Travelers who do not have travel insurance at this point have one option available to them if they paid their initial trip payment (whether partial or full) for their trip recently. This option is known as a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) upgrade and allows the insured to cancel their trip for any reason at all. Please note that this optional upgrade is generally only available if you purchase it within a set amount of days from your initial trip payment (usually 21 days or less) and you insure 100% of your pre-paid and non-refundable trip costs. In addition, when using CFAR coverage, the insured must cancel their trip for any reason more than 48 hours before the scheduled trip departure date.
This upgrade only reimburses 50-75% of the trip cost (depending on the policy), rather than the entire amount. The price is also sometimes 40% higher than the general cancellation policy. However, despite the increased costs and reduced coverage, this option is the only means of cancellation for any reason and cancelling due to an already foreseen event, such as the wildfires.
Cancellation May Be Covered Under Current Policies
Travelers who purchased travel insurance policies (with trip cancellation coverage) prior to the wildfires may have coverage for natural disasters that include wildfires. If the plan was already in effect before the fires started, it might be possible to cancel. Otherwise, travelers risk losing out on the entire cost of the trip.
Since multiple fires have been involved, there is no one particular cutoff date that applies. However, the fires were a known problem in early October, which might make them considered a foreseen event from that time. Once an issue of this nature becomes very well-known, the chances of coverage drop very quickly if the policy was purchased after that point.
How Travelers Must Be Impacted for Reimbursement
A trip must either be prevented from taking place entirely or impacted during travel for policyholders to receive reimbursement. There are no options for minimal impacts. Some of these circumstances include:
- Smoke preventing inbound flights
- Airport closures because of smoke or fire
- Evacuations that prevent access to an area
- Fire damage making accommodations uninhabitable
The fires are likely to impact many pre-planned events during travel, such as outdoor excursions that are overwhelmingly popular in this country. However, reimbursement is not possible because of cancellations due to a lack of access to excursions or safety concerns. Policyholders will need to think very carefully about the plans that they make in advance of their trip and those without policies should remember to buy travel insurance as soon as possible after their booking in order to cover against unforeseen events.