The political uprisings in Egypt recently sent thousands of Americans on a mass exodus out of the country, and the rioting has left many more travelers wondering what to do with their upcoming trips. What options do you have? Will insurance cover me? We put together a quick list of tips to answer the most commonly asked questions.
I've already booked a trip to Egypt. What are my options?
According to the United States Tour Operator Association, most companies are allowing travelers to reschedule their trips, are issuing credits for travel to alternate destinations, or are refunding payments altogether -- though the latter option can prove to be a bit trickier. "Reputable tour operators will gladly refund customers whenever they can, but many can only compensate to the extent of what they get back from their suppliers (like hotels or airlines)," says Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel (www.friendlyplanet.com). "And that's minus any credit card or booking fees." Goldman's company, for example, is offering a full refund to clients who have canceled an imminent tour, and to those whose trip was interrupted, all of the recoverable fees plus an additional $145 per person in consideration of the "deep disappointment" of missing out on a trip to Egypt.
So how can you make sure that you're not left high and dry? For one, choose a tour operator or travel agent affiliated with a respectable trade network such as Virtuoso, Signature, or American Express, suggests Ashish Sanghrajk, president of the custom tour operator Big Five (www.bigfive.com). Members of these organizations are regulated by strict business and ethic codes, and therefore less likely to pull a refund rip-off. Other tips on vetting tour operators: Stay away from the mom-and-pop operations, cautions Malaka Hilton, CEO of the Florida-based agency Admiral Travel International (www.admiraltravel.com). "A good company will have a heavy presence in the country where you're traveling," Hilton says. The more business it brings, the more negotiating power it will have with suppliers (which can only mean more for you). Hilton also suggests picking an operator backed by a larger umbrella organization for more options if you need to rebook. "There's more flexibility, and you won't be locked into one destination," Hilton says.
Sangharjk of Big Five adds that another way to keep travel companies in check is to always pay by credit card -- the financial company will throw its weight behind you if you need to dispute a charge (and will credit your account while looking into your claim).
Will I have to pay extra to change my flights?
Most commercial carriers have been good about waiving change fees for flights into, within, and out of Egypt, minimizing extra costs to passengers. In fact, some travelers found commercial airlines more economical than the government-chartered flights. "My tour group was on the Embassy evacuation flight list," recounts Goldman of Friendly Planet Travel. "But we were able to get everyone out sooner via EgyptAir, using already-purchased tickets with a changed return date."
Had Friendly Planet's customers taken the government-chartered flight, they would have paid a yet-to-be-determined price out of pocket. These travelers would then have needed to arrange their own transportation from the safe haven locations (Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Turkey) back home -- all of which can add up to a costly sum even if the canceled flights were refunded.
If you're worried about a country's political state and anticipate a risk of evacuation, buy an insurance plan that covers non-medical evacuation before your trip, advises Sarah Byrne, marketing manager at the travel insurance company Squaremouth.com (www.squaremouth.com). Providers such as TravelSafe, Global Alert Administrators, MH Ross, and Travel Insured International not only offer policies with this option, but also will arrange the emergency evacuation services themselves (or through a travel assistance partner).
What will my insurance cover?
Unfortunately, when it comes to trip cancellation, few insurance plans cover civil unrest -- which is how most providers would define the current situation in Egypt. Most comprehensive travel policies, however, offer a "cancel for any reason" option that will pay out on average 75 percent of the total trip cost if cancelled at least 48 hours before departure, says Byrne of Squaremouth.com. The travel insurance agency has compiled a helpful list of statements from insurance companies regarding their positions on Egypt. This addition, however, will tack on a hefty 40-50 percent to your premium so you might want to evaluate the risks before plunking down your money.
As for expenses incurred while attempting to evacuate Egypt -- additional hotel nights, transportation, meals -- may be reimbursed in the "travel delay" benefit, up to the policy's coverage limit, which typically starts at $500, according to Daniel Durazo, a spokesperson for Access America (www.accessamerica.com).
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