Stack of paperwork. / Photo by Jenni C – Flickr Creative Commons

It’s been a while since I mediated travel insurance claim, and at first glance, Dennis Puskaric’s looked like a slam-dunk.

Puskaric and his wife were vacationing in Oregon when they received the sad news that his mother-in-law had died. They had to fly back to Pennsylvania immediately, and they assumed that since they’d purchased an Allianz policy through Delta Air Lines, the claims process would be little more than a formality.

It wasn’t. Instead, his claim for a return of his lost airline miles, rental car and hotel bills, was summarily rejected by Allianz. Not only had his two-week vacation been reduced to two days, but he now had $3,468 in additional expenses that Allianz refused to cover.

“Please help me,” he wrote.

After looking at his claim, I thought it was worth a try to advocate for the Puskarics. They’d made a good-faith effort to insure their trip, and couldn’t have foreseen Mom’s death.

What’s more, there’s a precedent for refunding miles lost as a result of an insurance claim, and the fact that the policy was purchased through Delta’s site would give the average traveler the impression that they’d be covered.

So I contacted Allianz.

Here’s its response:

We are very sorry to learn of the loss of Mr. Puskaric’s family member and we wish him and his family the best.

Under the terms of Mr. Puskaric’s travel insurance policy, he was covered for the unused part of his prepaid travel expenses and the extra out of pocket costs for reasonable transportation expenses to return home if he needed to interrupt his trip.

As the additional hotel and meal expenses he claimed were not prepaid expenses, we’re not able to reimburse him for those costs. Our review also shows that the rental car company charged him only for the days he was driving the car.

As Mr. Puskaric used frequent flyer miles to change his travel plans, he did not incur an out of pocket expense and therefore does not have a reimbursable claim.

Had Mr. Puskaric called us before he changed his plans, we would have advised him to pay for his flight change. We would have been happy to reimburse him for that out of pocket cost as well as the fee the airline might charge him to redeposit his frequent flyer miles.

Am I happy with that response? No. Neither is Puskaric.

“This is the identical response that I had received,” he says. “Can you persuade them to quit writing the company line and do a serious review of my claim?”

The short answer is: no. Short of taking the company to court, this is probably the best I’ll be able to do. I find that upsetting.

Before I get to my rant about travel insurance — wait for it! — let’s underscore the takeaway for the rest of us.

When you think you have to make a travel insurance claim, talk with the insurance company first. When possible, get any promises made by phone in writing so that there’s no possibility of a misunderstanding.

And yes — assume nothing.

Regarding this case, I think Allianz missed an opportunity to show that even though the contract can be interpreted in a way that allows it to deny a claim (which all contracts do, inevitably) that it understands good customer service.

Sure, Puskaric should have phoned Allianz, but should he have to pay $3,468 for that mistake? I don’t think so.

Stories like this give consumers a reason to believe travel insurance isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, which is unfortunate. I believe there are times when an honest travel insurance policy can protect you from unexpected events when you travel.

The repeated rejection of Puskaric’s claim doesn’t exactly build confidence in travel insurance products.