Archives for July 2013

Travel Protection Plans. An explanation and a check-list.

TPPWhat are Travel Protection Plans ? Do you need one ? If so, which one and when ? How does your child’s autism affect those choices ?

Travel Protection Plans vary but their main function is insurance against having to cancel due to an emergency such as illness, injury or death. Many of the points considered here will apply to all vacation travelers but we offer extra thoughts on how these considerations affect our families in particular.

Since there is a lot to take into account, we’ll try to explain the principles but we’ll give you a check-list/action-plan at the end.

As with any insurance, you will need to weigh the cost of the protection against the impact of the potential losses. Why, for instance, do we buy homeowners insurance ? We do it because the premium seems relatively small and affordable when measured against the potential loss. Could you afford to replace your house if it were totally destroyed and you didn’t have insurance ? Hint: most people can’t. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, read no further ! For the rest of us, let’s start that measuring.

So what is your potential loss ? The main thing here is to have coverage for the non-refundable elements of your trip. There are other things covered in these plans, we’ll deal with them later. Many parts of your trip may be non-refundable; some will be partially refundable in certain circumstances. Many are refundable up until final payment date but not after that.

For the most part, airfare is non-refundable from the day that you book it. Technically, you don’t have to lose the full airfare if you cancel and rebook another flight with the same carrier. One problem with doing that is that these “change fees” can be up to $ 150 per ticket, or more. The other problem is, what happens if you need to make a second change ? You end up paying a second change fee !

The other big, non-refundable items are cruises, escorted tours and packaged resort/hotel trips. For the most part, the deposit is relatively small and may even be refundable until final payment date. Once final payment is made, however, it is usual for the whole thing to be non-refundable. If not at that stage, it becomes so closer to your departure date.

Car rental is usually refundable as are stays at hotels if booked guaranteeing by credit card so long as you cancel by a given deadline. Many “add-ons” to packages such as excursions and attraction admissions are fully refundable unless cancelled at very short notice.

What of the other coverages ? What are the potential losses here ? Most plans include things minor compensation for lost or delayed bags which should not form part of your decision making. Two slightly more important components are medical coverage while traveling (more important with international travel than domestic) and medical evacuation.  Unless you take separate medical evacuation coverage, decisions on evacuation are made by the insurance company not by you, the policyholder.

How do you choose ? There are some fundamental choices to make before deciding upon the details of a particular plan.  The first consideration applies to the choice of whether to take the plan from your travel provider (cruise line, tour operator) or whether to take a stand alone plan from an outside company.

Plans provided by the travel provider have the advantage of being formatted to coincide with their cancellation policies. If purchasing from an outside supplier, you need to make sure that the coverage meets the cancellation terms. In general, cruise line and tour operator plan costs are flat-rate and, often, less expensive than outside cover. Why then look elsewhere ? There are two reasons.

If you purchase everything from a single supplier, all cancellation costs are in one place. If you purchased each element separately, they’re not. Let’s use the example of a cruise package with flight, hotel stay at the port of departure, cruise plus shore excursions. If all of these are purchased through the cruise line, then your plan can cover all elements. If, on the other hand, you purchased airline tickets from the airline, the hotel as a separate booking, and the shore excursion from one or more tour companies, you probably have four or more, separate lots of cancellation fees. The only way to consolidate these will be with a separate plan that encompasses them all.

The second reason to look elsewhere relates to pre-existing condition terms.  What are the pre-existing condition terms for your single supplier ?

Anybody with a pre-existing condition where there is a possibility that the condition that might change their status from able-to-travel to unable-to-travel needs to know that this is covered.  Most plans allow for covering pre-existing conditions provided that the coverage is purchased within a specified time period from the initial trip deposit. That period can be anywhere from “must be with deposit” to “within 21 days from initial deposit”.  All such plans have a “look back” period, expressed as a number of days, where they could, potentially, check to see if the insured was unable to travel during that period.

This must be stressed. Autism is a pre-existing condition. You must check that you will be covered.

One way around the pre-existing condition issue is with Cancel For Any Reason Plans. As the name suggests, you can cancel for reasons extending well beyond medical necessity. The added benefit to these plans is that the claims process is immeasurably easier.  Given the number of forms that we’ve all had to fill out for health insurance companies, school districts and every new therapist that we go to, this may be quite some benefit. The downside to these plans are that they may cost more and that may limit the payment to a percentage of the total non-refundable costs.  If a plan costs a good amount more and then only covers 50% of the non-refundable, you may be better off with a standard plan. If the extra amount is small and it covers 100%, or close, then it is probably the best option.

Here is a piece of good news. Plans are either flat rate for everybody or they take into account total trip cost and passenger age. No plan, that we are aware of, is more costly because one or more of the passengers has autism. Here is a break for us. Our risk of claim is higher than the general traveling public but our cost of coverage is the same.

Let’s summarize all of this with a checklist:

  • Figure out what your total non-refundable costs will be.
  • Determine whether they are all purchased from a single supplier.
  • If purchasing from a single supplier, check their plan against outside plans.
  • If purchasing from multiple suppliers, check a range of plans.
  • Check, and double-check, that you can get coverage for the pre-existing condition.
  • Look at Cancel For Any Reason Plans to see if one might work.
  • Purchase the plan that comes out best for you having reviewed the above.
  • Relax and go on your vacation. You’ll probably never have to claim and you’ll wonder why you bought this. You didn’t buy anything tangible. You bought peace of mind and your vacation will be the better for it.

Disclaimer. The information contained above is intended solely to give general information on the topic. Before purchasing any financial or insurance product, you should ensure that the terms and conditions are suitable for your needs and circumstances.

Which flight ? Which Seat ?

Which flightIt goes without saying that if a typical family needs to put some planning into selecting the right flight and the right seats on that flight, we need to put in even better planning for our kids. Doesn’t it ?

Of course it does. We need to give more considerations to things like the change from the normal routine, noises, crowds or the total sum of all of these. Those, however, are reasons for smart planning. They’re not a reason to give up on the idea. Here are some things to consider.

Which airport ? It isn’t all downside if your local airport is a small one. In fact the reverse is true. Start your search by looking at where you might be able to fly from one of the smaller airports. They have some advantages. Not the least of these is that smaller airports have smaller crowds and bigger airports have bigger crowds ! The other useful thing is that low-cost airlines tend to use smaller airports since that keeps their operating costs lower. This means that the optimum choice is probably from small airport to small airport. (Remember, you’re planning a round-trip.) There is a downside and that may be the limited choice of destinations.

Non-stop flights or connecting flights ? There’s a reason why non-stop flights tend to be more expensive but it has very little to do with the airline’s costs.

The reason why the non-stops become more expensive is that they are more desirable and the airlines can command a higher price for them. More desirable ? Of course. Even an adult, with no issues, traveling alone and with lots of time on their hands is better served with a non-stop flight.

Issues with connecting flights start with having two take-offs and two landings. If you child has sensitive ears (either noise or possible sensitivity to cabin air-pressure changes that happen most at those times), then you really are better served with only one take-off and only one landing. (Watch for a future post about how to help children with these problems.)

Then there is timing. If the first flight is long delayed and the second flight leaves on time, it leaves without you and you’re faced with a potentially extremely long and unplanned delay at the intermediate airport. If the delay to the first flight isn’t quite that bad, it may still be enough to turn a leisurely stroll between gates into a crazy scramble. How well does your child cope with crazy scrambles ?
Of course, if the connection involves going from one terminal to another, you possibly end up with two lots of security clearance and the lines and crowds associated with that.

There are two exceptions to the don’t-do-connecting-flights thing.

The first of those is that, if you live a very considerable distance from a major airport and your only choice is one of those small airports, you may not be able to get to many places without a connection. The choice may be made for you. Before settling for connecting flights, give some consideration to the feasibility of driving to a bigger airport in order to get non-stop service even if it is quite a distance. Next, if that just won’t work, look for flights that have a good amount of time for the connection so that you have the best chance of avoiding that crazy scramble.

The other exception is for very long haul journeys. If the journey is long enough, sitting still for too long may be an issue for your child. In this circumstance, you need to balance your considerations. Which will be the bigger problem for your child ? The long time sitting in place or all of the other considerations above ? You are the expert when it comes to your child. Only you know which will cause the more distress.

Time of day. The standard advice to all passengers is usually to take the first flight of the day. The reason for this is that your plane will have arrived at the airport the night before and is less likely to be delayed. If you take a later flight, the chances are that your plane is coming from somewhere else and any delays to that incoming flight automatically become a delay to your flight.

We, however, may have other considerations beyond that. How is your child throughout the day ? If they tire later in the day and have more problems as the day goes on, then that first flight is probably for you. If, on the other hand, your child is a slow-starter and actually copes somewhat better after a bit of time, be guided by that. The more so if that first flight is very early and may necessitate getting up well before your child’s regular schedule. When would you need to get up in order to catch a 6 am flight ? Again, the golden rule is to use your knowledge of your child’s individual needs, issues and strengths and plan accordingly.

Which seat ? While every child has different needs, it is a pretty safe assumption that you don’t want them in an aisle seat. There is too much activity in the aisle at boarding, disembarkation and even during the flight. Window seats are a different matter. Granted there isn’t much to be seen at 30,000 feet but, when there is something to be seen, will that help as a useful distraction or will it feed sensory overload ? Your knowledge of your child and their individuality should, again, be your guide.

It probably will also make sense to be seated towards the front of the plane. You will, of course, ask for priority/early boarding and that means that there is no difference, at that time, between front and back. However, when it comes to getting off the plane, the further forward you are, the quicker you’ll get off. It may pay to be away from the wings on account of engine noise but, in reality, the differences are generally minor.

Seating configuration for your family is worth a little attention. Obviously this will depend on how many people involved. You would probably like them all to be together. It may just help to think of some unusual seating patterns.

For instance, a family consisting of two parents, one child on the spectrum and one typically-developing child, when flying on a 3-aisle-3 configuration, might plan to have 3 together plus the middle seat of the row in front. This may help if your spectrum child may be likely to kick the seat in front. Good sensory input for your child may not be so much fun for the person sitting in front. Given the variation in family composition and the many different airplane configurations, it is impossible to go through every scenario. Hopefully, this illustration will help you to consider what may work for you.

How do you know which seat is which and where they are on the plane ? There had to be an app for it, didn’t there ? Actually, there is a very good one, by TripAdvisor, and it’s available as an app and on a website. The website is and if you search for seat guru, you’ll find the app. This will show you which plane flies your route and how it is laid out. It also contains useful information about seats that don’t recline or that have other inconvenient “issues”.

Once you’ve found the perfect seats on the perfectly timed non-stop flight, be sure to arrive at the airport in plenty of time. The airline has the right to reassign those seats if you check-in too late. This can and does happen on flights that are fully booked.

Plan well and enjoy your flight !