TRAVEL INSURANCE

Travel insurance policy claim denied for vaccine cancellation

Richard Effress though he had a perfectly legitimate reason for canceling part of his trip to Africa with his mother: a new requirement that travelers entering South Africa needed a yellow fever vaccine. He was certain his travel insurance policy would cover the change.

Maybe he shouldn’t have been so certain.

Today’s “case dismissed” file is a sad lesson in making assumptions about a travel insurance policy that you shouldn’t. It is also a reminder to compare travel insurance. The fine print in your contract, it turns out, can cost you lots of money.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Is my lost train ticket a lost cause?

Question: I am writing to you in hopes that you can help me receive my refund for a Eurail ticket, or find a way to receive a refund, as I am a student and have no funds to cushion this loss.

I am waiting for a 313-euro refund from Eurail for a lost ticket, which was fortunately covered under a ticket protection plan I bought when I made my reservation. I filed the claim with the appropriate paperwork, but didn’t receive a check.

I subsequently got in touch with Eurail via email, but they have since been ignoring all correspondence from me.

I am at the end of my rope. I have contacted the Better Business Bureau, but they found no valid address for Eurail and so couldn’t complete my claim. I have since emailed the BBB two times with valid addresses, but they have not responded to my correspondence.

This matter is of the utmost importance to me. I hope you can help me. — Stephanie Sanzo, Hartford, Conn.

A: Eurail should have refunded your lost ticket promptly. You paid extra to “insure” your ticket against a loss, and the least the company can do now is honor your claim.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Is a ‘natural cause’ a pre-existing condition?

Question: I need your help with a travel insurance problem. We booked a trip to Cancun through Orbitz last year, and when we got to the last screen of the reservation, it offered us a travel insurance policy through Access America. We thought it would be a good idea to have insurance, so we bought it.

Afterwards, we received a document with the specifics of our policy. I didn’t read it because I didn’t anticipate having to make a claim. But I was wrong.

Shortly before our trip, my mother died unexpectedly. I called Orbitz, which referred me to the insurance company. An Access America representative told me to cancel the trip and suggested that I reschedule it. They promised they would “take care” of the claim.

A few weeks later, Access America denied my claim for $951, because my mother suffered from high blood pressure. The death certificate listed the cause of death as being from “natural causes.” I didn’t know a natural cause was a pre-existing medical condition. — Cheryl Ellis, Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Answer: My condolences on the loss of your mother. I agree with you that a “natural cause” isn’t a pre-existing condition, and I think Access America should have honored your claim.
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How to file a travel insurance claim and what to do if you’re turned down

Editor’s note: This the last in a series of posts about travel insurance sponsored by Access America. Here’s part one, part two, part three and part four.

First, the good news: Nine out of ten travel insurance claims are honored according to the US Travel Insurance Association. So if you’re thinking of filing a claim on your policy, it will probably be honored.

Now the bad news: If you’re among the 10 percent who have been rejected, you could face a long and ultimately unsuccessful struggle to have your claim paid.

You don’t want to end up there.

How to avoid it? Make sure your initial claim does everything it should.
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How do I use my travel insurance policy?

Editor’s note: This is part four in a series of posts about travel insurance sponsored by Access America. Here’s part one, part two and part three.

Congratulations, you’re the owner of a shiny new travel insurance policy. Now what?

Conventional wisdom says you wait until something goes wrong and then file a claim. But there’s a little more to it.

Your travel insurance company wants to hear from you – needs to hear from you – if you want to be a successful user of a travel insurance policy.
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When should I buy travel insurance and how much should I pay for it?

Editor’s note: This is part three in a series of posts about travel insurance sponsored by Access America. Here’s part one and part two.

We’ve already reviewed who needs travel insurance and where to find it, but how do you know if you’re getting a good deal?

There’s no authoritative buyer’s guide that can tell you if you’re looking at a bargain policy or a rip-off. That’s because no two travel insurance policies are exactly the same. They vary based on your age, state of residence and coverage.

Travel insurance typically costs between 4 and 8 percent of your trip’s prepaid non-refundable cost. However, a “cancel for any reason” policy can run you 10 percent of the nonrefundable cost or slightly higher. Your policy may be more expensive if you’re older or engaging in a risky activity that makes a claim more likely, but generally speaking, you should be in that range.
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Everything you ever wanted to know about travel insurance (but were afraid to ask)

Editor’s note: This is part one in a series of posts about travel insurance. It is sponsored by Access America and researched with assistance from the US Travel Insurance Association, a trade organization. Here’s more information about sponsored posts.

Do you need travel insurance?

A good policy can offer you peace of mind for your upcoming vacation.

If something goes wrong – if your trip is interrupted or if you have to cancel – you can recover some or all of your costs.

About 1 in 3 travelers buy insurance for their trip, according to the US Travel Insurance Association. Should you be one of them?

Before taking out a policy, it’s important to determine whether you need protection at all.
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Another lawsuit filed in fake travel insurance case

That fake travel insurance story just won’t go away.

First I got sued by a travel agency for reporting on it, along with another customer. (Both cases were dismissed.)

Then their customers sued back. And now they’ve done it again.

A lawsuit was filed yesterday in United States District Court in Miami against Revelex, a booking engine used by agents, and two travel agencies, Legendary Journeys and Four Seasons Tours and Cruises. The suit, which seeks class action status, accuses some or all of the defendants of negligence, unfair and deceptive trade practices and unjust enrichment for their role in selling what the suit calls “bogus” travel insurance.

Here’s the full text of the complaint (PDF).
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“This seems more like fraud to me”

Ken Smith isn’t the only person affected by the untimely demise of Cruise West. But he thought he wouldn’t be in the same boat as the other stranded passengers. After all, he had travel insurance.

He thought wrong.

His insurance company, Access America, said it wouldn’t cover a company for financial default. I got involved to see if I could help, and I’ll get to the resolution in a moment. But first, let’s hear from Smith.
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A no-show for my European tour? That’s no good

Shelia Oxsher was a no-show for her Trafalgar tour to Europe — at least according to her tour operator.

She sees it differently. She’d paid in full for the trip more than a year ago, showed up to the airport on time, but then had her flight to London canceled.

Trafalgar is making us forfeit 100 percent the cost of the trip. They expect my husband and I to walk off the price we paid of $7,697.

I recently retired and this was a planned dream vacation. I was assured I had all the coverage by the AAA rep. My husband and I were emphatic: We wanted all the coverage in case something would happen.

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“My riverboat vacation turned into a nightmare”

Gennaro Ottomanelli and his wife were left left high and dry when his riverboat cruise was canceled at the last minute. His AAA travel agent offered two choices: Either cancel his vacation or go on the substitute bus tour. He decided to stay home, hoping to get a refund.

He didn’t.
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Palm Coast Travel fined $2,500 and placed on probation for selling unauthorized travel insurance

Looks like Palm Coast Travel, the Boca Raton, Fla., agency accused by the state of Florida of selling unauthorized travel insurance, while at the same time trying to sue one of its own customers and me into silence, has quietly negotiated a settlement with insurance regulators.

Under the agreement (PDF), which was signed today, Palm Coast Travel, which also does business online as Smartcruiser.com, has agreed to cease and desist selling unauthorized insurance and will pay a $2,500 fine as well as restitution to its customers affected by the purchase of an unauthorized insurance policy. It will be placed on 18 months’ probation and has agreed not to sell unauthorized insurance in the future.

The consent order is practically identical to a draft settlement agreement (PDF) that has been circulating between Palm Coast Travel and insurance regulators since last summer, and which I obtained after filing a public records request.
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What was Palm Coast Travel doing with its Access America policies?

Florida’s Department of Financial Services is in the early stages of a far-reaching investigation into the activities of Palm Coast Travel and its affiliated companies, according to documents released this week under the state’s Public Records Act.

The documents also raise new questions about the relationship between Access America, the largest travel insurance company in the world, and Palm Coast Travel, which also does business online as Smartcruiser.com.

In a prepared statement, Access America yesterday suggested its current and future relationship with Palm Coast, which is accused of selling unlicensed insurance, is an internal matter.

“Thus far we have been contacted by both customers identified in the Florida investigation and we are working to resolve each matter appropriately,” a spokesman said. “Access America will continue to take steps consistent with providing ongoing care for its customers.”
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What’s next for Palm Coast Travel? Here’s what happened to agencies that settled with regulators

As I reported last week, Palm Coast Travel and its companies, including Smartcruiser.com, are headed to a hearing with a Florida administrative law judge to determine if it sold unlicensed travel insurance. This is an important story, because fake “trip protection” policies are known to have been sold to people across the country for years, potentially costing travelers millions of dollars in lost vacations.

So what’s next for Palm Coast Travel?

There are two possibilities. First, the judge could rule the agency didn’t sell unlicensed insurance. But that’s unlikely, given the customers who have already complained to state regulators that they were sold these allegedly illegal policies. Second, the court could find Palm Coast Travel guilty of selling bogus insurance.
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So where should I buy my travel insurance?

getawayWhen the subject of travel insurance comes up, I’m usually quick to say: Don’t buy the first policy you’re offered.

That’s because the first policy is normally a brochure your travel agent slides across the desk right after you’ve plunked down $14,000 for that dream safari, along with the warning, “You’ll want insurance.”

You will want insurance, but probably — and I stress the “probably” — not from your travel agent.

Agents are often heavily incentivized to sell a particular kind of travel insurance that benefits them (read: high commissions) but not necessarily you (read: lots of fine print). What’s more, they rarely take the time to review the limits of the policy and when it comes time to making a claim, only the very best agents will ensure every appeal is exhausted if you’re denied.

Read this if you don’t believe me.

(How do you know if your agent isn’t one of them? Chances are, if you’re handed two or more brochures, or are encouraged to “shop around” before buying a policy, then your agent’s one of the good guys.)

So where do you buy insurance, then?
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