Avoid these common insurance screw-ups

A few weeks ago, my parents received a disturbing call from their home security system company about their retirement home in Arizona: A door was open, and police had been dispatched to investigate.

Luckily, no one had broken in.

Unluckily, a previously undetected crack in a pipe had led to a full-blown leak, a collapsed ceiling and thousands of dollars worth of damage in the laundry room, garage and bedroom closet. Continue reading…

Beware of travel industry doublespeak

It’s for your own good.

Travelers are hearing these words more often than ever, and they are being applied to increasingly unwelcome scenarios. The latest example: being unable to access WiFi in your hotel without incurring an added charge. In August, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Marriott filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission asking the government for permission to block wireless devices in hotels.
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The war on snark is over and the good guys won

Note: Effective Jan. 1, this site shifted from a travel advocacy site to a general consumer advocacy blog. But that isn’t the only change for 2015.

When I enrolled as a graduate student at the University of California, one of the first things I did was visit Sproul Plaza, where the Free Speech movement was born in 1964.
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Hotels cancel their old cancellation policies

When heavy rain grounded Amy Li’s recent flight from San Francisco to Cancun, Mexico, she hoped that her resort would allow her to cancel her prepaid room. But it didn’t.

Instead, she received an apologetic e-mail from the Excellence Playa Mujeres, saying that while the hotel was “truly very sorry” about her canceled flight, it would be keeping her money. “They were unwilling to refund a penny,” says Li, who works for the city of San Francisco. “Not even in hotel credits.”

She and her husband lost $1,656, the entire cost of the hotel.
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US Airways tells customer her cancer isn’t terminal enough for a refund

Not the friendly skies. / Photo by wbav - Flickr
Not the friendly skies. / Photo by wbav – Flickr
Ben Coleman and his wife were supposed to fly from New York to Oakland last November on US Airways. The couple had purchased nonrefundable roundtrip tickets on US Airways for just under $1,000.

But in October, Coleman’s wife was diagnosed with cancer.

“Her diagnosis is positive and the doctors tell us — nothing is certain, of course — that it will be a hard year, but expect that she will lead a long healthy life.”

That’s when things got a little complicated.
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Are new airline fees anti-family?

Kids, to the end of the line! / Photo by nivek hmng - Flickr
If you didn’t know any better, you might think that the airline industry crossed yet another line just before the Memorial Day holiday, the traditional start of the busy summer travel season.
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Travel insurance claims can hinge on the tiniest details

Thinking of making a claim? Read this first. / Photo by W. Shonbrun - Flickr
When it comes to travel insurance claims, Hannah Yun was about as sure as anyone that hers would be successful.

She’d bought a gold-plated “cancel for any reason” policy for a trip to South Korea. When her boyfriend proposed and she decided to call off the trip to start planning her wedding, she thought that collecting a check would be just a formality.

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Want a refund? Read the policy

It looked like a lost cause.

Betty van Iersel had prepaid $3,900 for an all-inclusive seven-day French canal tour on the barge Luciole. But two weeks after she’d wired the money to the cruise line, a financial emergency forced her to cancel.

The Luciole’s owners refused to return her money, citing their refund policy. Her travel agency, Annapolis-based Special Places Travel, which specializes in European barge tours, told her that she could only get her money back if her cabin was resold. And that seemed like a remote possibility.

“I can’t afford to lose this money,” van Iersel wrote to me. “Do I have any options?”

An increasing number of cases that cross my desk look like van Iersel’s: Because of a policy or rule — not always clearly disclosed — a favorable resolution looks improbable. Though each case is different, they all tend to have one thing in common: They could have been completely avoided with a few simple preventive steps.
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