The Clyson family’s trip to Antigua last March was something of a makeover. They had already canceled a trip to Mexico due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions.

With two teenagers in tow, Rob and Kathleen Anne Clyson of Kitchener, Ontario, they knew it might be the last time they could get the whole clan on a plane at the same time.

Kathleen Anne says the family’s first trip in three years was exactly what they hoped for.

“The resort was beautiful. The beach was beautiful. It was a nice relaxing family time,” he told Go Public.

That is, until five days later, when they, along with all the other air passengers, had to take a rapid COVID test in order to fly home.

Everyone passed except Rob.

He only had mild symptoms, but the family vacation came to a halt.

While the rest of the family had to stay at the resort, distanced from other guests, Rob was forced to isolate himself in his room and would miss his return flight.

It cost US$1,050 to keep him in an Antigua hotel room for three nights and C$627.60 for a separate flight home.

Fortunately, Kathleen Anne thought, they had plenty of travel insurance.

In addition to the COVID emergency insurance, included in your Sunwing vacation package, you also paid for trip cancellation and interruption coverage. All the policies were with Manulife.

“It was just peace of mind to book it. I mean, as far as I knew, there was no other insurance that I could have bought that would have protected us,” he said.

A younger man and woman paddle a kayak in a tropical setting.
Rob and his daughter Grace kayak in Antigua. The family had taken out both trip interruption insurance and COVID emergency coverage. (Presented by Kathleen Anne Clyson)

The Clysons’ travel agent had even called Sunwing before the family left to make sure the COVID package covered the isolation costs.

The agent says they assured him yes.

Kathleen Anne remembers receiving more assurances when she filed a claim.

“I called Manulife and the Sunwing representative. They told me, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll make sure he’s taken care of. You have nothing to worry about’. So we packed everything up and left Rob with what he needed,'” he said.

The Clysons were hoping that their interruption insurance would cover the two days of vacation derailed by Rob’s COVID test, and that their hotel stay and flight would be covered by COVID insurance.

A dark blonde haired woman in a black T-shirt looks directly into the camera.
Kathleen Anne spent weeks trying to get a refund from Manulife for the interruption of her vacation and Rob’s separate hotel room and return flight. (Joe Fiorino/CBC)

She thought that leaving her husband alone, in a hotel room, feeling bad, would be the worst.

“It was horrible. It’s the unknown,” he said.

We did everything we thought was right. We planned it.—Kathleen Anne Clyson

But the claim was denied because, according to Manulife and the travel agent, Rob had not required or sought “medical treatment.”

In other words, because Rob didn’t get sick enough to warrant a hospital visit.

But that rejection appears to be in direct conflict with the fine print of Manulife’s COVID-19 policy, which says “treatment” includes “prescription drugs, research tests and surgery.”

Scott Stanley, a Vancouver personal injury attorney and insurance specialist, calls Manulife’s denial a “bad denial.”

He says the coverage is clear. “This is actually one of the rare cases where the insurance policy is pretty easy to read, pretty easy to understand, and yet we have a denial coming from it,” he said.

A slim man with short brown hair, dressed in a collared shirt and black blazer, looks directly into the camera.  There is a bookcase behind him.
Scott Stanley, a Vancouver personal injury attorney, says Manulife’s decision to deny the Clysons’ claim was “bad denial.” (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Stanley’s opinion is that the denial was a breach of contract.

“It’s pretty obvious that this is a claim that falls within the four corners of the policy. It’s one that has to be paid and covered, and it doesn’t really depend on how sick the person is.”

After Go Public got involved, Manulife changed course. The Clysons were reimbursed $627 Cdn for Rob’s return flight home and $450 Cdn for the additional three nights he stayed in Antigua, for a total of $1,077.

They were not compensated for the interruption of the last two days of their vacation.

Stanley says he routinely encounters valid claims that are denied but not pursued legally because the claimants cannot afford a lawyer.

CLOCK | Rob Clyson obtained travel insurance but was denied reimbursement:

Family denied reimbursement despite COVID-19 insurance | go in public

An Ontario family says Manulife denied them a refund after one of them fell ill with COVID-19 while on vacation, despite purchasing COVID-19 travel insurance.

Manulife did not agree to an interview for this story, nor did he answer any of the later emailed questions about why he refused the Clysons in the first place.

In a written statement to Go Public, Sunwing says its policy was followed when the Clysons were told to pursue the matter with Manulife. He also said that he no longer offers that particular COVID coverage.

The Clysons say they are somewhat pleased to have been partially reimbursed for their costs. But Kathleen Anne says they still wonder what they could have done differently.

“It’s not that we didn’t get insurance and we thought, oh, we should have, but we did everything we thought was right. We planned it,” he said.

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