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Teens, parents in P.E.I. caught in middle of travel insurance spat

Graduated Three Oaks student Nathaniel Mueller is shown with his mother, Katharina. After a graduation trip to Paris was cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mueller has yet to receive a refund of close to $3,500.
Graduated Three Oaks student Nathaniel Mueller is shown with his mother, Katharina. After a graduation trip to Paris was cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mueller has yet to receive a refund of close to $3,500. - Alison Jenkins/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter



Nathaniel Mueller had been planning the trip since he was in Grade 6. 

If the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred this past spring, Mueller would have capped off his graduating year at Three Oaks High School in Summerside with a trip to Paris, alongside 45 other classmates. 

The April trip, like so many others, did not happen. The global COVID-19 pandemic meant the sudden shut-down of travel and the shuttering of schools across Canada.

“I used to look up to those people who got to go on those big trips,” Mueller told The Guardian this week.

“It’s kind of a shame we didn’t get that experience.”

Graduated Three Oaks student Nathaniel Mueller. After a graduation trip to Paris was cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mueller has yet to receive a refund of close to $3,500. - Alison Jenkins/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Graduated Three Oaks student Nathaniel Mueller. After a graduation trip to Paris was cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mueller has yet to receive a refund of close to $3,500. - Alison Jenkins/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

 

Mueller now worries that he might not get a refund for the cancelled trip. He is owed close to $3,500.

He and his classmates spent months fundraising for the trip and Mueller also saved up thousands of dollars of his own money from his part-time job.

“I could have used that money for school,” said the Summerside teen, who is currently enrolled at Holland College’s precision machinist program. 

Like many other parents and teens across Canada, Nathaniel’s refund is now the subject of a dispute between Explorica, the travel company that had organized the Paris trip, two insurance companies, Arch Insurance and Old Republic, and Trip Mate, which administered the insurance package sold to students.

"Nobody really wants to take full responsibility, and nobody seems to be paying out the claims," Nathaniel’s mother, Katharina, told The Guardian.

“And these poor kids are getting no resolution. And they've worked really hard to save up this money."


At a glance

Here are the insurance spat players:

  • Explorica Canada - a travel company that books trips for high schools
  • Trip Mate - Administrator of travel insurance packages
  • Old Republic Canada - Insurance company
  • Arch Insurance Canada - Insurance company

Tanya Yeo-Campbell says her daughter, Kylie, another TOSH student, spent between $3,200 and $3,400 on the trip, almost all of which was from her own savings. Last week Kylie called Explorica four times but has yet to receive confirmation of when she will receive a refund.

"It's a lot to a 17-year-old," Yeo-Campbell said.

"She's going to university next year. Three thousand dollars would pay rent for four or five months."

Tanya Yeo-Campbell and her daughter, Kylie, of Summerside have been trying to get answers form Explorica Canada about a refund for a cancelled school trip to Paris. Yeo-Campbell said Kylie has called the company repeatedly over the last week. - Contributed
Tanya Yeo-Campbell and her daughter, Kylie, of Summerside have been trying to get answers form Explorica Canada about a refund for a cancelled school trip to Paris. Yeo-Campbell said Kylie has called the company repeatedly over the last week. - Contributed

 

Hundreds of parents and teens at secondary schools across Canada are also out thousands of dollars, and many have yet to receive definitive answers on when they will get a refund from either Explorica, Arch, Old Republic or Trip Mate. 

In Atlantic Canada, schools that booked cancelled trips through Explorica include at least three in Newfoundland and Labrador, two in New Brunswick and at least one in Nova Scotia. 

A Facebook group Explorica Canada – Trying to get our refunds, identifies at least 22 schools across Canada where parents are still owed money for cancelled school trips. 

Renee Marshall Dawson, whose daughter booked a trip with Explorica to New York, said she has received about $623 back from Explorica out of a total of $2,500 paid for the trip. She attends Beaconsfield Junior High in St. John’s. 

Marshall Dawson said the insurance underwriter for the travel insurance, Old Republic Canada, has yet to pay out the full refund.

"They're the ones that were selling the insurance with us thinking that we would be covered," Marshall Dawson said.

"The way it's really written, it's like, if the school board cancels you will be covered."

P.E.I.’s Public Schools Branch says five school trips booked through Explorica were cancelled last spring. These cancellations affected about 100 students. 


Did you know?

P.E.I.'s Superintendent of Insurance:

  • Is the provincial regulator of insurance.
  • Can initiate investigation of insurance companies alleged based on complaints.
  • Can revoke insurance licenses, impose penalties.
  • Can be reached at 902-368-4937, pjmcinnis@gov.pe.ca.

Dave Gillis, the director of risk management with the Public Schools Branch, said that, although the decision to cancel the trip was made by the PSB, the responsibility for the refund lies with the travel company and the insurers.

“Our role is more on the front end of it to evaluate it from a risk management perspective," Gillis said.

In an email to The Guardian, Explorica said the responsibility for refunds lies with the insurer – Arch Insurance and Old Republic.

“Explorica was a reseller of those policies brokered by Trip Mate and, as such, has no affiliation or direct relationship with either Old Republic or Arch Canada,” said a representative of Explorica in an emailed statement.

“At this stage, Old Republic/Arch Canada’s primary legal obligations are to the customers who purchased these policies and its contractual partner, Trip Mate.”

An email sent to several parents on Sept. 9 by Explorica urged parents to contact Arch Canada’s complaint liaison officer and to file a complaint with Ontario’s Financial Services Regulatory Authority.

In an emailed statement, a representative of Trip Mate also said the responsibility for the outstanding refunds rests with the Old Republic and Arch Canada.

"Trip Mate does not have any control over the status of the claim determination. Trip Mate recommends reaching out to the relevant underwriter for additional information," the statement said. 

The Guardian reached out to Arch Insurance but did not receive a response by deadline. An email sent by Arch Insurance to parents last week asked many to resubmit details about their outstanding claims.

Nick Frost, another TOSH parent, said the back-and-forth between the four companies began in earnest three weeks ago. 

"It kind of reminds me of that Spiderman meme. Everybody's just pointing at everybody else," he said.

Twitter.com/stu_neatby

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