Too Much Alcohol Can Nullify Travel Insurance

by Richard D’Ambrosio
Too Much Alcohol Can Nullify Travel Insurance

With so many vacation travelers ‘letting go’ when they go away, what can cause a travel insurer to deny a claim if alcohol was involved? Photo: Shutterstock

Travelers love to kick back and enjoy alcohol on vacation, but what many individuals may not be aware of is that their drinking could nullify their insurance if they aren’t careful.

For most insurers, intoxication is an exclusion for all plans, from anything like injuries sustained in a personal fall after drinking, or being barred from a flight because a crewmember observes behavior they deem could endanger other passengers.

“Many travelers do tend to drink alcohol while on vacation so we urge them to be careful and do their homework as to what their travel insurance does and doesn't cover,” said Carolyn Leckie, travel expert and multimedia specialist at Squaremouth, the online travel insurance aggregator.

Dan Durazo, USA communications director, Allianz Global Assistance, said “very few clients” are denied a claim due to the use or abuse of alcohol – “maybe a couple per year, which is a tiny percentage of the thousands of claims we receive.”

While that may be true, travel insurers and other experts affirmed that travelers need to be mindful that any indication that alcohol is involved in an incident could reject their claim.

Gail Mangiante, who leads InsureMyTrip's Anytime Advocates program assisting customers with claims, noted how if a traveler broke their leg on vacation after having a few drinks, “there's a pretty good chance your claim won't be paid.”

She noted that “exclusions” are listed in the policy certificate. Alcohol is an exclusion for any loss but is often also named as an exclusion within the certificate specifically pertaining to medical coverage as well as rental car coverage, Mangiante said. 

“Some certificates will simply list 'alcohol or substance abuse' as an exclusion under these benefits while some others will include more specific language. An example from a Travel Insured International policy states exclusions for: "any loss as the result of or attributed to driving the rental vehicle: while under the influence of alcohol or any illegal substance or the abuse of a legal substance; while using any medication which recommends abstinence from driving; in a speed competition; for compensation for hire; for illegal trade purposes, or transporting contraband."

Many policies will also define “intoxicated” as “a blood alcohol level that equals or exceeds the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle in the state or jurisdiction where you are located at the time of an incident.”

“Most (probably all) policies carry an ‘alcohol exclusion,’" said Mangiante, “so, if you get injured due to being intoxicated, the claim can be denied. We have seen a few rare cases when insurance will kick in to help pay for a traveler's hospital bill after taking an alcohol-related tumble — but no two cases are the same.”

So, how do travel insurance companies find out about alcohol use? Typically, the doctor will mention the use of alcohol in a medical report. That report is then required during the claims process.

“And general exclusions aren't just for medical issues, either. Any illegal drug or alcohol use is listed as an exclusion for all other benefits in a policy as well, like trip cancellation and trip delay. So, you can't cancel a trip because you got too intoxicated to get on a flight,” Mangiante said. “Bottom line, limit the booze and read the exclusion section of your policy's certificate.”

“In the event a claim is denied, every insured has the right to appeal the decision,” said Leckie at Squaremouth. “With any appeal, they should provide the reason they are appealing the decision and additional documentation that supports the reason. A doctor’s statement or additional medical records would apply” in the event of suspected alcohol use or abuse.”

Durazo at Allianz noted that “travel agent clients may not realize that travel insurance does not cover events directly or indirectly caused by alcohol. It's important for travel agents to relay this to their customers, since many may indulge while on vacation.”

When it comes to imbibing alcohol, Allianz recommends travelers:

1. Drink in moderation/limit alcohol usage.
2. Insist on watching your drink being made.
3. If you are suspicious of the color, then trust your instincts and do not drink it.
4. Bottled or can beer may be a safer option than a prepared drink.
5. Insist that the beer is opened in your presence.
6. Buy your own alcohol at "duty free" and only drink what you brought, even if you are required to pay a "cork fee."
7. Never leave your drink unattended.
8. Be observant and aware of your surroundings.
9. If you do feel ill, seek attention immediately.
10. Call your travel insurance provider if you need help finding medical care or if you are admitted to a hospital.

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