On a recent flight to Florida, where my family planned to set out on a 7-night Caribbean cruise, the airline we took lost my luggage.
Well, “lost” isn’t technically the right word.
They accidentally neglected to put my bag on my flight for some reason – even though we’d checked in nearly two hours ahead of our scheduled 6pm departure, and my husband and daughter’s bags made our flight with no problem.
Needless to say this was not how we wanted to start our vacation: filing a missing luggage report with a less-than-sympathetic airline employee; speculating about exactly what happened; and fretting over what we should do if my bag was simply lost forever.
I definitely wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of taking a weeklong cruise with absolutely no clothes, shoes, or personal effects – not even a single bathing suit!
But I immediately resolved to not let this incident ruin my vacation. I was also determined that – luggage or not – I was going to get on that cruise ship, the Norwegian Getaway, no matter what.
Having a Backup Plan
When we go away on vacation, it’s all about de-stressing. For us, that includes trying to make our transportation experience as stress-free as possible. So we don’t push it, especially when it comes to cruising out of ports in different states.
I know some people hop on a flight and then board a cruise ship the same day. But that would be too much stress for us, worrying about all the things that could go wrong. And yes, we’ve seen people miss cruise ships or get turned away at the dock because they were rushing and forgot their passports or other identification.
So we thought we’d given ourselves a sufficient travel cushion. After all, our flight out of Philadelphia started on a Saturday and was scheduled to arrive just past 8pm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The plan was to grab our rental car, make the 35-minute drive to Miami, and spend the night at a nice hotel nearby the port.
Our cruise ship was slated to leave out of Miami on Sunday at 4pm, and we were supposed to arrive at the Port of Miami to embark at 12 noon on Sunday.
By midnight on Saturday evening, however, I still had no bag and – after several frustrating phone calls and emails — the airline was telling me that they had managed to put it on another flight to Fort Lauderdale, and would have to deliver it to me in Miami in the morning.
I considered going all my options: including going to a store and buying clothes. But we’d already spent thousands of dollars on this trip, and I didn’t want to blow additional money unnecessarily. So ultimately, I decided to simply wait (OK, I prayed too), and let the airline fix the problem. After all, they messed up, not me.
In the end (thank you, God!), a courier did deliver my missing luggage to our hotel, just in the nick of time – at 11:17 am on Sunday. Talk about down to the wire.
I like to think that my prayer helped. But I’m also a practical person: I know it’s best to pray and be prepared.
In fact, this whole incident got me thinking about how I could have better prepared for this scenario, and other potential pitfalls of traveling, which are more and more common these days.
The Importance of Travel Insurance
One thing we could have done is to properly protect ourselves with adequate travel insurance.
Ironically, my husband always buys travel insurance when we take out of country trips. And we did for this trip as well.
So what was the problem? Why didn’t I just go buy what I needed, replace my missing items, and then seek a reimbursement?
Turns out the insurance we bought was packaged with our cruise and the coverage actually started on Sunday – the day the cruise departed. We bought our airline tickets separately, after booking the cruise.
Bottom line: our delayed luggage wasn’t covered since the event happened on our Saturday flight, prior to the start of when our travel insurance kicked in.
That was a lesson for us: If you’re going to buy travel insurance, go ahead and get end-to-end coverage to protect the entirety of your trip and all the things that can go wrong at any point along the way.
So what’s the main takeaway here? And when should you consider buying travel insurance?
Beth Godlin, president of Aon Affinity Travel Practice, says travel insurance is designed to protect the consumer from the unforeseen.
“There are three categories of protection: for your financial investment, for your health, and for your belongings,” she says. “Typically, the first two (money and health) are the most important for travelers.”
3 Tips to Figure Out Your Travel Insurance Needs
Godlin offers the following three simple tips to help you evaluate the benefits of travel protection and how they might apply in your situation:
Check the cancellation penalties, and determine what you can stand to lose if you have to cancel suddenly and at the last minute.
For example, if you’re staying at a hotel for five days but then can’t go at the last minute, you can often cancel without penalty until 5 p.m. the night before your scheduled stay.
“In that case, you might not need travel protection,” Godlin says.
However, if you have booked a non-refundable flight or a resort with cancellation penalties that you suddenly have to miss, travel insurance might be right for you, she adds.
Consider where you are going. Do you need protection based on your destination or planned activities?
“For example, if you break a leg while backpacking in South America and need a medical evacuation, travel protection might cover you,” Godlin notes.
While we’re not especially wild and crazy on our trips, my husband and I have done everything from ziplining and a Tarzan swing in Costa Rica to jet skiing in the Cayman Islands and some serious beachside horseback riding in the Riviera Maya.
This is one of the main reasons my hubby and I always get travel insurance when going out of the country – just in case either of us accidentally gets hurt, sick or has a medical emergency someplace abroad and needs to get quickly flown back to the United States.
Some kinds of travel and medical evacuation insurance will only get you to the closest hospital. If you want to get home, or to a preferred hospital, make sure your travel insurance offers your desired protection.
When you think about it: forking over about $20 to $60 per person for travel insurance can be a small price to pay – especially since the cost of a medical evacuation can range from $10,000 to $25,000, and international evacuations can cost $100,000 or more, according to MedjetAssist.
The average cost of travel insurance is 5% to 7% of the trip cost, depending on the policy and your age, according to Godlin.
Consider the time between booking and paying for the trip and actually taking it.
Assume you’re planning your own dream cruise. But you won’t embark on your trip-of-a-time until 10 months from now.
“A lot could happen before then,” says Godlin. “In this case, the cost for travel insurance might outweigh the potential penalties for having to cancel down the line.”
If you do decide to buy travel insurance, make sure to check the benefits, exclusions and restrictions of your coverage, she suggests.
If your plan includes a “Cancel for Any Reason” option, be sure you understand the terms – if it is included or available as an upgrade, and what percentage of the trip might be either refunded or returned in a credit, Godlin adds.
Bottom line: read your policy closely, and if you have questions, call the insurance administrator for your cruise line, tour operator or travel agent.
As for our family, we never found out precisely why my luggage was mishandled.
Thankfully, however, what started off as a nail-biting experience eventually turned into a peaceful, glorious and memorable vacation.