Assessing the unique cover needs of the spring breaker demographic

Spring breakers having fun
Schoool's ouuut for ... the spring!

What are the particular risks that spring breakers face, and how are travel insurers evolving their policies to meet the needs of this demographic? Lauren Haigh spoke with a number of travel insurers to find out 

Spring breakers have acquired quite the reputation – the stereotype reinforced by the media is of boisterous, booze-guzzling, risk-taking young adults who use the infamous spring break holiday as an opportunity to let their hair down, free from the shackles of college.

Surely a tricky demographic for insurers, as these youngsters, who consider themselves invincible, are not always the most clued up when it comes to travel insurance. And from excessive alcohol consumption to partaking in dangerous activities, this adventurous group could be described as high-risk. 

ITIJ spoke to a selection of industry professionals in order to uncover the unique challenges that this demographic presents for travel insurers and discover how insurers are helping to educate spring breakers on the importance of appropriate travel insurance – including what it can and cannot do for them.

Younger people tend to be adventurous travellers, on a mission to live their best lives as if they’re invincible

Flip flops lined up on a beach

All caution to the wind
Justin Tysdal, CEO and Co-Founder of US-headquartered insurer Seven Corners, said that spring break coverage can differ in various ways, particularly around which adventure-themed activities are included. Some insurers may include jet skiing or ziplining, for example, he told ITIJ, while others may not, so he recommends travellers call their insurer to find out if a specific activity they plan on potentially taking part in is covered. “There are plans that are designed specifically to cover adventure travellers, and if you are participating in high-adventure activities those would be best,” he said.

If spring breakers are planning to participate in organised sports activities, they should also review their travel insurance to make sure their particular activity is covered, said Tysdal: “Many plans exclude injuries sustained while participating in professional athletics, amateur athletics, or interscholastic athletics for events, games, matches, practice, training camps, sport camps, conditioning, and any other related activity.”

They also exclude some other risky behaviours that are increasingly common among spring breakers – namely taking dangerous selfies, says Patrick Robinson, CEO of Canada-based travel insurer TuGo. “According to a recent survey by the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, 18 per cent of millennials have been injured while posing for a selfie, and if you’re participating in risky activities on vacation, you may not always be covered,” he said. “Younger people tend to be adventurous travellers, on a mission to live their best lives as if they’re invincible. And while most go home without any unexpected emergencies, we’ve seen cases where they’re lucky to have travel insurance. Medical costs add up quickly, no matter where travellers spend their vacation.” At least 50 per cent of vacation hospitalisations are due to accidents, says Robinson, and the number one reason for claims is trauma: falls or accidents that result in head or body injuries, sprains, strains and/or lacerations.

It is no secret that many spring breakers drink alcohol while on vacation; however, being under the influence can lead to a denied claim

Partaking in adventurous activities is certainly a big part of the spring break experience but, often, so is alcohol consumption, and the combination can cause more than just a headache. A spokesperson from US-based travel insurance comparison website Squaremouth stated: “It is no secret that many spring breakers drink alcohol while on vacation; however, being under the influence can lead to a denied claim. If a traveller misses a flight or needs emergency medical treatment while they are intoxicated, travel insurance won’t cover that.”

This is something travel insurers are striving to make spring breakers more aware of. However, guidelines vary regarding the definition of intoxication. Robinson explained that, according to TuGo’s Traveller policy exclusion, intoxication from alcohol consumption is when medical records indicate blood alcohol levels of 80 mg or more of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, or when records indicate that the traveller was intoxicated yet no blood alcohol level is specified. “With the consumption or use of illegal or controlled drugs, it’s based on the law where the cause of the claim occurred,” he added.

Alcohol consumption is a common concern among insurers, and while they aren’t necessarily saying that spring breakers must avoid alcohol at all costs, responsible drinking is certainly advised. Tysdal gives this advice to spring breakers: “In order to stay safe, know your drinking companions and stay in a group of friends who have your safety in mind when you are in clubs and bars, out walking in dimly lit areas, or in a taxi at night. Obey foreign laws and remember the laws for the country you are visiting may differ from [your home country’s] laws.”.

A spring breaker with a pint

Cory Sobczyk, Vice-President of Business Development at US travel insurer Arch RoamRight, says that it is the lack of education and awareness around travel insurance that poses one of the biggest risks for the spring breaker demographic. “Our data shows that the average travel insurance purchaser is about 60 years old and skews female. This indicates that many travellers that fit the profile of a spring breaker are missing out on this important benefit,” he said. 

Several of the insurers ITIJ spoke to highlighted the danger innate in the many spring breakers who consider themselves invincible and deem travel insurance an unnecessary additional expense. Arch RoamRight conducted a survey of spring break travellers last year and found that, in 2018, 52 per cent of people who travelled for spring break didn’t purchase travel insurance for their trip. “This is a high percentage, especially considering that the audience for this survey was aware of travel insurance, either as visitors to our website or subscribers to our newsletter,” Sobczyk stated. It serves to illustrate a lack of understanding, or perhaps an excess of complacency, among spring breakers when it comes to travel insurance.

The reality is that provincial healthcare plans cover 10 per cent or less of total medical costs

A similar pitfall that TuGo’s Robinson has observed is spring breakers relying on their provincial healthcare plans or their parents’ group plan or credit card coverage, which can have limitations. “Unfortunately, these plans will only get them so far,” he told ITIJ. “The reality is that provincial healthcare plans cover 10 per cent or less of total medical costs (zero per cent in Ontario). Group and credit card plans differ, so before they leave for spring break, here are a few things to keep in mind with regards to their existing coverage: are they covered when they travel without the policyholder? Do they have the same benefits as the policyholder? Do they have to pay for the entire trip with their credit card to ensure coverage?” Ensuring spring breakers review these simple yet important questions could make a world of difference to their health, safety and wellbeing, as well as their bank balances.
Sobczyk added that Arch RoamRight has also observed a possible false sense of security regarding travellers relying on a primary health insurance provider. And this extends beyond the spring break demographic to encompass all travellers. “Travellers should always contact their primary insurance provider prior to leaving the country in order to understand their coverage, but the reality is many of us would never think to do that,” he said.

Travel insurers’ top tips
When it comes to tips that travel insurers can offer spring breakers, Tysdal reiterated the need to prepare for the unexpected. “An unexpected situation can, at best, cost you time and money, and in the worst cases, put you in harm’s way. You’ll want to be proactive in avoiding dangerous situations and keeping yourself safe if they arise,” he advised. 

Tysdal’s top tips for spring breakers are to: save a copy of their passport, driver’s licence and itinerary to the cloud or to their phone, so that if they lose any of these important documents they are able to obtain a replacement from the nearest embassy; share their itinerary with trusted family back home, as well as travelling companions; download useful apps before heading off on their trip, as well as television shows to watch at the airport; take extra chargers; and buy a trip protection plan that will reimburse them for non-refundable trip expenses if there is a need to cancel, interrupt or delay their trip.

TuGo’s Robinson emphasised debunking the myth that travel insurance is a costly expense: “One of the common misconceptions about coverage, particularly for younger travellers, is that travel insurance is expensive. Contrary to popular belief, travel medical policies can cost as little as CA$3 to $5 a day. To put things into perspective, the average cost of a one-night hospital stay in the US is $16,000, so investing in a policy that costs as little as a taxi to the airport pays off in the long run.” 

Expounding the benefits of the 24/7 emergency assistance that comes as part of travel insurance is also important, says Squaremouth. “This provides help around the clock for most emergency situations and can help parents rest easy and know that even though they may not be there, their child has immediate help in case of an emergency. This information is emailed to travellers right after they purchase their policy.” 

Spring break travellers are among the younger generations that have effectively mastered technology, and they rightly expect instant, efficient, and transparent communication

Keeping on top of emerging trends around safety hotspots and sharing this knowledge with travellers is also important. This doesn’t just relate to government travel advisories but also to local – or even global – health and safety risks. One such trend that Robinson spoke to ITIJ about is the increased use of electric scooters. “Compared to other forms of transportation, electric scooters are extremely dangerous, especially without the use of a helmet,” he said. “First and foremost, to ensure they’re covered, travellers should make sure that electric scooters are legal in the country they’re visiting before using them. At the same time, if a helmet is mandatory by law in the city they’re in, travellers should always wear a helmet to ensure they’re covered by their travel insurance policy.”

Common exclusions should always be made clear to travellers, especially those most relevant to the travelling demographic. Many spring breakers, for example, may be surprised to learn that sexually transmitted diseases are not typically covered by travel medical insurance plans. This is exactly why it is important for spring breakers to be encouraged to review their policies, as Robinson underlines: “Before travellers leave for their trip, they need to know and understand the exclusions of their policy.”

These exclusions can, of course, often include missed flights, which Squaremouth says is a particular issue that spring breakers need to be made mindful of: “Spring break is an exceptionally busy time for travel, especially for flights. Travel insurance does not cover missed flights due to delays at Transportation Security Administration or heavy traffic on the way to the airport.” As such, it is important that spring breakers are advised to allow themselves plenty of time to travel to the airport, leaving plenty of time in case of delays. 

Misconceptions around what travel insurance may or may not cover often also relates to cancellation, so advice on this topic can also be valuable. As Arch RoamRight’s Sobczyk highlighted: “Any reason for cancellation that is not listed is simply ineligible for coverage. For example, simply deciding you no longer want to go on your trip is not a standard covered reason for Trip Cancellation. Likewise, you cannot cancel your trip because the beach forecast is showing rain or there’s an increase in shark attacks at your resort destination,” he pointed out. He also said that, for insurers, a good customer service team is crucial for advising spring breakers and other travellers on common gaps and exclusions.

Spring break sign on a beach

Closing the gaps
In order to encourage more spring breakers to purchase travel insurance for their trips, education is certainly key. “Many people still don’t understand why they need travel insurance and how it can help them,” said Seven Corners’ Tysdal. “The travel insurance industry still has a great opportunity to educate people on the benefits of travel insurance.” 

Travel insurance does not cover missed flights due to delays at TSA or heavy traffic on the way to the airport

Sobczyk agrees: “There is a large portion of the American population that doesn’t even know what travel insurance is. Educating those travellers can be challenging, but rewarding,” he said. He also pointed out that another important way that spring breakers can be encouraged to purchase travel insurance is through providing excellent customer service. “This means giving the best customer experience possible prior to, during, and after a policy is purchased, and trusting that those will turn into future referrals,” he said. In addition, it can help to simplify processes such as the claims process, removing complexity, and thus the headache, from certain touch points, so that spring breakers find the insurance journey more positive.

Spring breakers may think school is out and they can relax, but the reality is that they have a lot of preparation to do in order to ensure a safe trip and they must remain mindful while away. The more clued up they are about the importance of travel insurance – understanding that it is not necessarily a costly purchase, and ensuring they have the right cover to suit them and meet their needs – the better.

Of course, it is ultimately up to the spring breaker to make timely preparations and sensible decisions but, on the part of the travel insurer, consumer education is important and goes hand in hand with providing excellent service. The benefits to the insurer are numerous and to the traveller could be life-saving. When spring breakers are fully prepared and insured for their trip, they – and their parents – will have peace of mind and can be sure they are best placed to have a fun, but safe, spring break holiday. 

Woo! Spring break!