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Spring Break? The Commerce Department urges consumers to beware of “opt-out” travel insurance

February 12, 2013

For Immediate Release:

SAINT PAUL, MN – Spring Break is fast approaching and countless Minnesotans are searching for a fun and, more importantly, warm destination.  These days, all it takes to book your dream Spring Break vacation is a travel website and a few clicks of the mouse.  As you shop online, the Minnesota Department of Commerce reminds consumers to watch out for travel companies and websites that don’t fully advertise their travel insurance packages and sometimes sign consumers up for coverage without proper consent.  

“The Commerce Department is stopping companies from deceptive “opt-out” travel insurance schemes on behalf of thousands of affected consumers,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “As Minnesotans plan spring break vacations, they need to carefully look for hidden costs and unexpected fees before completing online purchases.”

The Commerce Department took action against travel websites that automatically signed up consumers for travel insurance coverage unless they affirmatively stated that they did not want it.  This tactic is commonly referred to as requiring the consumer to “opt-out” and can cause rushed consumers to inadvertently buy optional products that they otherwise would not have selected.  The United States Department of Transportation recently banned travel websites from including opt-out purchase options and the Commerce Department reminds Minnesota consumers to remain vigilant when completing online travel purchases – especially when being offered travel insurance. Take the time to review each step of the transaction process and make sure you do not agree to buy a product that you do not want.

Travel insurance is used to protect against the loss of non-refundable travel costs, such as airfare, hotel and tour expenses. Some travel insurance policies offer limited protection against losses due to medical emergencies, damage to personal property, and even death.  It is important to remember, not unlike additional hotel rooms and entertainment packages, insurance coverage offered by travel websites is completely optional.  

Travel insurance is a smart buy for some people.  It can potentially save consumers money and provides some travelers a peace of mind.  If you would like to purchase travel insurance, shop around.  Consumers must be reminded that the quality and scope of any insurance coverage is usually determined by the fine print.  For example, if you purchase travel insurance that supposedly reimburses you for unexpected trip cancelations, it may also include exemptions for the most common reasons you would want to cancel.  Without digging into the specifics, you may miss key terms and conditions about the actual coverage and exclusions.  

Go to the Minnesota Department of Commerce website for more information on travel insurance.  If you have a complaint or question about a company that sold you a travel insurance policy, contact the Department of Commerce Consumer Response Team at 651-296-2488 or 1-800-657-3602.

Screen captures of a several “opt-in” and “opt-out” travel insurance websites.