Mike and Mary Burchmore thought they’d dotted all of their “i”s and crossed all of their “t”s when they booked their South American cruise on the Norwegian Sun.
They used a trusted travel agent affiliated with AAA. They even bought travel insurance through Access America, in case something went wrong.
And then something went wrong.
Just a few days before their departure, on Feb. 27, a devastating earthquake struck in Chile, where they were scheduled to begin their trip. The US State Department issued Travel Advisory to avoid non-essential travel to Chile. The Burchmores decided to heed the government’s advice.
Maybe they shouldn’t have.
Shannon Finnegan, their daughter-in-law, explains what happened next:
They promptly submitted a claim to the travel insurance company. It was initially denied because the cruise took place as scheduled.
When they pointed out that the problem was the Santiago stay and the travel advisory, Access America said that there would only be coverage if the hotel was completely uninhabitable.
Their research revealed that the hotel was only partially open and experienced frequent power outages.
Should the Burchmores have to take a $7,100 loss because of the fine print in their insurance contract?
I asked Access America about their case. Here’s what it had to say:
The travel insurance policy the Burchmores purchased includes a list of “covered reasons” for trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage.
In other words, the policy covers only the specific situations, events and losses as described in their policy.
Unfortunately, canceling a trip due to a travel alert or fear of traveling is not one of those covered reasons.
Additionally, the Burchmore’s travel insurance policy specifically excludes trip cancellation coverage arising directly or indirectly from “travel alerts or bulletins.”
As Ms. Finnegan describes, we do offer trip cancellation/interruption coverage when the customer’s destination is uninhabitable.
Our records show that their hotel was open and accepting guests during the time they were due to stay there. Should the Burchmores have evidence to the contrary, we would be more than happy to reconsider their claim.
Had the Burchmores called Access America before canceling their trip, they would have been told that they wouldn’t have been covered.
In their case, a “cancel for any reason” policy might have been more effective (but also more expensive) since it would have allowed them to call of their cruise without losing $7,100.
It’s clear to me that the couple was left with the impression, from either the travel agent who sold them the policy or from the insurance company, that they would be covered in the event of a natural disaster of this size. They couldn’t imagine Access America not processing their claim.
The Burchmores’ next step is court, according to Finnegan. It’s unclear if a judge will buy their argument that they were denied their claim on a technicality, or will take Access America’s side in this dispute.
We shall see.
(Photo: dmy trok/Flickr Creative Commons)