Heaven knows, travel agents, can make mistakes and give out false information. That’s maddening, both from a client point-of-view, and from the agent’s because it is not only embarrassing, there are monetary and liability issues. But, what happens when the tour operator and their insurance agents don’t understand their own policies?
There are the times when travelers ask all the right questions, and they still don’t get the right answers. This week with Club Med was an example.
I had some new clients — a woman and her two adult daughters — interested in a vacation next March. One of Club Med’s villages seemed like a great fit and the price was right so we made a booking.
So far, so good. Then the fun started.
While Club Med has changed a great deal from their early days, one thing that remains is an annual membership fee. This is only charged upon booking, and basically amounts to a relatively small ($60 a person) surcharge. The membership fee, while it is not spelled out clearly, covers “basic” insurance.
The concern my client had about the trip was that while she and her daughters were in good health, she has an elderly father whose health might impact their vacation. When I called Club Med to ask about it, the reservation agent said they offered “Total Peace of Mind” insurance, that allowed cancellation for any reason. So I told her to go ahead and add it.
Then I started reading the fine print of the basic insurance coverage with membership. (And yes, all travel agents do not have these deals memorized, although I know the rules for the companies I book most frequently.) Since the client had mentioned something happening to her father was the only reason they would cancel, I asked specifically about that issue.
The first agent told me that there were exclusions for pre-existing conditions, so the basic insurance probably wouldn’t work. She did, however, refer me to Club Med’s insurance customer service line to be sure about the coverage. (Like many tour operators, they contract out insurance, in this case to CSA.)
The insurance agent on the phone first verified what tour operator I was using, since they cover many of them. She said that pre-exisiting conditions were not a factor for non-traveling immediate family members, and that a father counted. He did point out that the basic insurance only covered up to $1,000 a person. Which meant $3,000 total, and my clients’ vacation was a little over $4,000.
I passed this information on, but felt a little nervous about this “pre-existing” condition issue. So I called back to the Club Med insurance company’s help line later in the day. This agent told me that indeed, the pre-existing condition issue only applied to travelers, not their relatives.
This still seemed a little odd, but okay, whatever, I’ve verified the information and all is well. Then the agent adds, “Well, you know it’s only $1,000 a reservation, right?”
Ah, wrong, I didn’t.
Asked if she was sure and she says she was.
Asked if she needed to check with a supervisor, she said she didn’t, $1,000 a booking was it.
At that point, all I could figure was split the booking into two, since the clients had two rooms, and at least get them a $2,000 limit. The insurance agent agreed that sounded like a good idea.
Now I was faced with a bigger problem, because cancellations within 14 days are 100 percent penalty and losing $1,000 or so might not be a big deal, but losing over $4,000 was different.
At this point, I figure the client was going to think I am the biggest idiot in the planet but I shot her an evening email, told her about the reduced coverage. I also wrote another email to our Club Med sales representative telling her how unhappy I was both with the rule, and to find this out so late in the booking process.
In the morning, the response from our Club Med sales rep was, “What rule?
The sales representative assured me that the maximum coverage is “per membership number.” Since all guests on reservations have to have separate membership numbers, this means we were back to the $3,000 coverage.
When I checked, again, twice, with Club Med and their insurance agent, the end result was that yes, while the first Club Med agent had been wrong, the first insurance agent had been correct. The father’s health, pre-existing conditions or not, would not result in a claim being denied, and they were eligible for $1,000 coverage per person.
At this point I was especially glad the client was a referral from a good client. Because at least I had independent evidence that I was generally not crazy or that sloppy, but I passed the final information on. (And at this point have a long paper trail of names and dates as proof should there be a future problem.)
As it turns out, the client finally decided to take the insurance because it is simple and provides travel credits for cancellation for any reason, does cover any and all reasons, from work to whims.
The case, however, illustrates an ongoing problem in the travel industry. It’s hard enough that insurance policies are confusing, and that many seem designed to exclude more things than they cover.
But often the reservation agents at the tour operator and cruise line are confused about details. Any travel agent, or “do-it-yourself” traveler, can add their own story about getting the wrong information.
The best solution, or way to avoid problems, is probably to try to get a copy of the insurance and read it VERY carefully. Or when possible for agents, to work with companies where the policies are simple and consistent. (In this case, however, Club Med Villages, unlike most hotels, do not work through a choice of operators.)
In the end, the client was comfortable with the end result, and all we lost was a lot of time. On the other hand, I can’t help thinking that this sort of situation could have easily ended in disaster and while having the names and dates of the quoted information helps, at best it means winning after what is usually a long fight.
For Club Med, a company whose slogan is “Where Happiness Means the World,” that wouldn’t be a happy time for anyone.