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TORONTO — To put the COVID-19 crisis in perspective with regard to how it’s impacted travellers, Manulife, which on average sees less than 20,000 claims in any given year, has opened over 32,000 claims in just the past few weeks alone.
“These are not traditional times, this historic pandemic is impacting all of us in the travel business,” said Jennifer Waver, Director of National Sales who co-hosted an ACTA webinar yesterday titled ‘Clarifying Manulife’s Position through COVID-19.’ “All of us in the travel business have a role to play in how we treat our mutual clients and we recognized immediately when this all began 64-plus days ago that we needed to communicate with our policy holders.”
The 40-minute webinar, which was also hosted by Manulife’s Shelley Kopys, Client Manager, and ACTA’s Maggie Santos, Director of Education and Certification, was an opportunity for the insurance company to clear up any misconceptions about its policies amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and hear directly from Canadian travel agents about their ongoing concerns over refunds, future travel credits and medical coverage.
Noting how its call centre experienced a 400% increase in calls during the onset of the pandemic, Waver also took the time to thank agents for all that they’ve done.
“To say that this has been a challenging time for all of us would be a massive understatement,” she said. “We cannot thank our travel agent partners enough for all your patience and understanding during this incredibly tasking time, and we ask that you pass along our appreciation to your clients while they wait for their claims to be adjudicated.”
Here’s an overview of what was discussed during yesterday’s webinar:
WHEN DID IT ALL BEGIN?
March 5, 2020 is the date that Manulife determined COVID-19 as a known event and that the applicable exclusions will apply for policies issued on or after this date. CFAR is applicable if conditions of the coverage are satisfied as per policy terms.
Exclusions include the following (the first being the main exclusion):
Waver noted that with regard to Manulife’s travel agents-only Premium Protection Plan, better known as PPP, the exclusion of knowledge at time of booking still remains in effect. As per the policy’s terms & conditions, trip cancellation or interruption claims will not be covered if caused by or resulting from: “Any reason, circumstance or event that was known, or should have been known by you, at the time of purchasing this insurance, as being likely to affect your travel arrangements as booked.”
THE TWO DATES TO REMEMBER
March 9, 2020 is the day that the Canadian government issued a high-level warning to all Canadians to avoid all cruise line travel.
The second day “we will not soon forget,” said Waver, is March 13, 2020, when the Canadian government, for the first time in history, issued a travel advisory to avoid all non-essential international travel and told all Canadians overseas to return home.
These two pivotal dates, added Waver, are the dates that penalties went into place for cruise and all international travel and will be considered the dates of the trip loss.
WHAT ABOUT ANNUAL POLICY HOLDERS?
Manulife recognized very early on that clients who had purchased one of its annual plan products would essentially be at a loss for a number of months as they are now unable to travel due to quarantine measures and global travel restrictions. As a goodwill gesture, the company – as of April 3, 2020 – is granting these clients an additional 90 days, with no additional premium charge, if their policy dates fall between May 2019 and March 13, 2020.
This policy also includes unlimited travel within Canada, and applies to Annual Medical Policies, Annual All-Inclusive Policies and Annual Non-Medical Policies.
“The good news is there’s nothing that you need to do with these policies, we are doing all the work behind the scenes,” said Waver. “And the early feedback from our customers has been one of appreciation and gratitude.”
FUTURE TRAVEL CREDITS
The issue of future travel credits, which the CTA confirmed on March 25 as an appropriate approach for airlines and travel suppliers given they do not expire in an unreasonably short period of time, was top of mind for both Manulife and agents yesterday.
According to Manulife, when any supplier provides a 100% or more future travel credit as their reimbursement, there is no insurable loss. “In order for a travel insurance provider to pay a claim, the client must have actually suffered a financial loss – that’s what we do, we pay back a loss of funds,” said Waver.
She added that this is nothing new for Manulife, however this is the first time in history that 95% of suppliers and airlines have chosen to go the route of future travel credits.
“There has been absolutely no change to the way in which we pay and adjudicate claims from the onset of COVID-19. We’ve always, always adjudicated claims based on what the tour operator or the airline’s terms are at the time when the client is actually cancelling,” said Waver. “With the changes that the tour operators and airlines have implemented, by giving passengers 100% or more credit for future travel, the client is actually not at any financial risk.”
If the client is adamant about getting their money back, even if it is only for their $250 deposit, as opposed to receiving a full future travel credit for the full booking, they can submit a claim into Manulife and receive back their non-refundable portion only at the time of the cancellation. Note that all claims will be adjudicated based on the penalties that were in effect as of the date of the cause of cancellation.
“Just to make our point clear, we’re asking you if you haven’t already, to refrain from forfeiting the future travel credit as this can have a negative impact on your client and their subsequent claim,” said Waver. “The positive here is that when a future travel credit is accepted by the client, you as agents retain your commission from both the supplier and the travel insurance. This is obviously the best way in which to keep the industry moving along.”
If a future travel credit has been cancelled by the client, Manulife highly recommends reaching back out to the supplier to enquire about reinstating the voucher, if possible. Said Waver: “We’ve heard that many of our supplier partners are allowing this to take place and some may ask you for some type of notification from Manulife – we can provide you with what you need.”
KEEP THE BOOKING ALIVE & DEFAULT OF SUPPLIER PROTECTION
“Our entire industry is just trying to survive and get through this tough time,” said Waver, which is why it’s imperative for agents to keep the booking alive and refrain from cancelling future travel credits. Keeping the policy in place and simply changing the dates once their client has chosen to rebook with their credit comes with a number of benefits, the biggest one being a grandfathered premium. “This means that the premium rates they paid for their policy will remain in place for up to 24 months,” added Waver.
Moreover, the current terms and conditions from their current policy will remain in place and, more importantly, Default of Supplier protection, which kicks in in the event of a supplier’s bankruptcy, will also be covered. If a policy is refunded, this coverage will no longer be available to them.
Manulife’s policies with trip cancellation coverage do include Default of Supplier coverage in the policy wording. Two key points to remember about Default: there is a maximum benefit of $3,500 per insured, or $7,500 for the same policy, and also that Manulife is considered the last payer in a default situation, meaning the insured must go to any provincial compensation fund or their credit card company first for payment before submitting any additional claim to Manulife.
MANULIFE TOOLS & RESOURCES
Communication has been key for Manulife since the start of the pandemic, said Kopys, for not only its travel partners but also for its policy holders scattered around the world. As such, the company has developed a regularly-updated site for clients that provides important information about COVID-19 and its policies.
Manulife’s homepage, I Go Insured, has also transformed into a key platform for agent communications, and it will soon feature a Frequently Asked Questions document that’s currently being finalized in both English and French.
Agents are also being reminded that Manulife’s Manuversity modules can still be accessed and completed at their own pace, and that live and recorded webinar sessions continue to be available.
As for how to make a claim, Kopys said the best and easiest way to submit one is through Manulife’s online portal, which now allows clients to view their claims status once they’ve opened a case. Clients can also still submit a claim “the good old-fashioned way,” through the phone, as well as via the Manulife TravelAid app, which can be easily downloaded from the app store.
“We’re doing the very best we can to review all the claims in house as quickly as possible, but it may take a few months to get through all of them,” said Kopys.
TRAVEL AGENT QUESTIONS
When asked whether a travel insurance policy can be refunded, Waver said “absolutely,” adding that Manulife has issued “thousands and thousands of refunds of our policies.” But the company recommends keeping the policy in place, especially if clients will be using their future travel credits, in order to “keep the premium and all the other good stuff we’ve talked about in play.”
Another agent, who’s issuing a new policy for travel in December, asked if medical coverage would still be included if the destination’s current travel warning is eventually lifted. The answer, said Kopys, is yes, “providing the travel advisory is lifted prior to the departure date.”
One agent asked whether the insured can cancel their claim after realizing their future travel credit is the better form of compensation. Waver answered with a resounding “yes”, adding that Manulife has already seen hundreds of travellers do this.
“What we’ve been hearing is that many suppliers have been offering extra incentives, even different ones from the ones they were offering in the beginning to keep the booking active,” she said. “So please advise our claims team at Active Care Management (ACM) or just give your local BDM a head’s up to cancel the claim. Then we can deduct it from the 30,000 other claims that are already in the bucket!”