Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Healthy concerns on travel coverage

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EVEN in these busiest of days before Christmas, the excitement of the gifts, the warm embraces, and general air of goodwill can be already felt as people complete final preparations for the big day.

While many families do escape to warmer climates for the holidays themselves, the bigger migration south really starts to take place on Boxing Day and beyond. They are some of the most-travelled days of the year.

For those who will be going away early, I wish you safe journeys always. For those of us who will celebrate here, I hope it will be an especially good Christmas for you and your families.

QUESTION: We are travelling to Cuba for the first time. My children and I are Canadian citizens. My husband is a landed immigrant, with an Italian passport and a permanent resident card.

Where do I purchase the tourist cards for me and my children that are needed to enter Cuba?

Where does my husband purchase a tourist card for himself? Is the Italian passport and PR card not enough?

And will my husband's union-supplied health card (which specifically states that international health coverage is provided in case of emergency) be sufficient should we be asked to produce health insurance upon arrival in Cuba?

ANSWER: I don't know that I can conclusively say I have all of your answers.

Each of you should receive tourist cards to fill in from your tour operator while in flight. I have seen nothing from a tourist card perspective that would differentiate your husband in this regard.

However, while Canadians can stay up to 90 days with a tourist card, my findings suggest that other nationalities may only be able to stay 30 days, which I suspect is longer than you intend to vacation there anyway.

Cuban messaging around the issue of health insurance has been inconsistent since it was first announced. While I cannot expressly say your husband's health card will be sufficient I believe it should be. At the same time the worst thing that could happen is that they might force you to buy their insurance.

However, if your husband's health coverage is underwritten by a United States-based company it will not be accepted because of the long-standing policy preventing U.S. companies from doing business with Cuba.

QUESTION: I don't understand airline and tour operator pricing.

I researched prices to Cuba and found that the increases for vacations from one week to two, and then three weeks make no mathematical sense.

Given the fact that the hotel room daily price does not change, the three-week price goes up dramatically more in proportion to that of a single week, or two-week price.

Same aircraft, same food, same destination! How can that be the case?

ANSWER: There is no question that airline and tour operator pricing can be confusing and frustrating.

While holiday season pricing will vary from week to week based on historical demand, it can often appear to be a challenge to the consumer trying to figure out the best dates for budget travel.

Airlines use a monitoring system referred to as yield control. Tour operators have similar programs. They know how many seats, or rooms, they should have booked by a certain date to achieve a full, or near full load status.

They will shift prices up and down based on the analysis of yield at specific time measurement points. That is why some people are surprised, if not shocked, when, after seeing one sale price, they wait for it to go down further only to find the opposite occurs instead, as the price returns to its original listed price.

Once the airline is back on track with its yield control analysis, it sees no need to keep the price lower. They go back to trying to achieve the levels of financial return they expected originally for the flight. The tour operators work on a similar analysis.

From the traveller's point of view, much of it may seem incomprehensible, but the industry has become very sophisticated and knows how to operate its flights at the most profitable level possible.

QUESTION: We're going to Mexico and are questioning buying travel insurance.

Won't Manitoba medical cover us to the same cost as it would if a medical emergency was to happen in Winnipeg, since medical costs would be less in Mexico than here?

ANSWER: There is no way I would ever go to Mexico or any of our sunspot counties without travel insurance.

Our provincial health coverage may, in fact, not be adequate.

Additionally, insurance travel providers will often do an assessment of a client's ailments in a discussion with foreign health care providers, and will frequently decide to fly clients back to Canada for better care. This is a very expensive flight if the person is seriously indisposed. Provincial coverage will not do that from other countries.

Likewise, you would have to pay Mexico hospitals and doctors all the costs up front, and then claim them back from Manitoba Health. They do rigorous assessments of claims, and you could wait several months to be reimbursed.

While it happens, I can never understand people travelling to foreign countries without supplementary travel coverage of some kind.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com . Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 D3

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