Why won’t insurance cover my canceled flight?

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David Ayres misses his tour because of a weather-related cancellation. Why won’t his travel insurance policy cover him?

Question: My wife, Elizabeth, and I are faithful readers of your column. We never thought we would have to write to you with our tale of woe. But here we are.

Last year, we booked a five-day Northern Lights Reykjavik tour to Iceland. We also bought a travel insurance policy from Travelex. As a precaution, we booked our flight from Dallas to Boston on Southwest Airlines a day early, to ensure that we would make the late evening tour departure.

Unfortunately, there was a snowstorm in Boston, and our flight from Dallas to Boston was canceled. We scrambled unsuccessfully to book any flight on any airline that day or the next.
The tour flight, Icelandair 630, departed on schedule, and we were canceled out. The terms of our Travelex policy state that “delays resulting from inclement weather, or mechanical breakdown or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation” are covered. It also says it covers “arrangements canceled by an airline, cruise line, motor coach company, or tour operator, resulting from inclement weather, mechanical breakdown or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation.”

My claim that Southwest, as a common carrier, failed to get me to Boston in time for the tour flight due to weather was denied because my Southwest flight was not insured by them. However, I did not make any claim for the flight — only that its cancellation prevented me, due to weather, from making the tour. Anything you could do to rectify this will be appreciated.
David Ayres, Plano, Texas

Answer: Your insurance should have covered your trip. That’s one of the problems with travel insurance: Some of the definitions are amorphous, so even if you think you’re in good shape, you might not be.

Travelex defined the insurable portion of your trip as the tour, which started in Boston. But your trip began in Dallas, so that part wasn’t covered by insurance. In the end, you argued with Travelex over your ability to make it to the tour because of the inclement weather, so essentially, you were taking the Dallas-to-Boston segment off the table.

Travelex was splitting hairs, but then again, so were you. That shouldn’t have been necessary. Your travel insurance company should have been on your side, looking for a reason to honor your claim, not deny it. After all, you had insurance, and your flight was delayed and your trip was canceled. Isn’t that why you bought insurance in the first place?

When a dispute doesn’t go your way, you can formally appeal it in writing. If that doesn’t work, you could take this up with your state’s insurance commissioner or attorney general. Often, a polite inquiry by one of those parties is enough to get the insurance company to do the right thing.

I contacted Travelex on your behalf. The company reviewed your claim and the additional information you sent me.

“The claims administrator did make a recommendation to the underwriter to make an exception outside of the terms and conditions of the policy,” a Travelex representative told me. “The underwriter did review and approve the claim for payment.”

Travelex is honoring your claim for $2,310.

This story first appeared June 11, 2015.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • RichardII

    This one seems fairly clear. The LW did not purchase insurance for the portion of the trip he had problems with. His insurance started in New York, on the date of his flight to Iceland. Any problems prior to that time and location would not have been covered.

    In the, unfortunately all-to-frequent, Insurance issues posted to this site, two themes seem to occur on a regular basis. Under-insuring (not insuring the full value of the trip) and partial insurance, only covering a specific portion of a trip.

    It appears the LW tried to save a few bucks by not insuring the flights between Dallas and New York. Insurance companies are experts at this game, and they also write the rules. Any attempt to beat the insurance companies at their own game is bound to result in problems like the one reported here.

  • RichardII

    Just a note on the photo accompanying this article… The LW did indeed encounter snow on departure. But, he was in Dallas, not Moscow.

  • Annie M

    You have to insure the ENTIRE trip when purchasing insurance. Had she insured her original flight she wouldn’t have been denied. The entire trip consists of ALL air costs to get to the tour, not just the tour.

  • Altosk

    Travelex is on my list of “companies never to do business with because they must be shamed into upholding their contracts.”

  • Grant Ritchie

    Er-uh… you’ve heard of Chinatowns and Little Italys, haven’t you? This is the “Little Russia” section of DFW. :-)

  • comanchepilot

    Did the connecting flight in Boston depart on time with enough time to get to the tour? If yes, then the OP should be out of luck. There is no hair to split. The insureable portion of the trip is from Boston back to Boston. So if the outbound left from Boston she has zero claim.

    Simple as that.

  • Charles

    There is a glaring omission from this article: how did they buy their travel insurance? I’ve purchased travel insurance many times from Travel Guard and MH Ross. They don’t really care what airline you are using other than the first leg and don’t care what travel provider you are using. They ask me what I am paying for the trip and that determines the coverage. There’s no such thing as a “portion” of the trip for those providers. They cover my bus ride to the airport as well as the flight. The ONLY ways I know of to get an insurance policy that will not cover part of the trip are 1) indicating less than that value of the trip, but even then I think that would only limit the total payout or 2) committing the cardinal sin of travel insurance: buying from the travel provider. So, which one was it? I’ll bet anything it was (2) and everyone should learn that that’s an enormous mistake, especially for a package tour, where they have a contract with the insurance company that will strictly limit coverage.

  • VoR61

    In this case your are correct about insuring the flight to Boston as well, because there was a dependency involved. But some scenarios and/or policies do not require coverage for the entire trip.

    When we insured our cruise to the Western Caribbean we did not have to include the shore excursions as we could cancel them even though they were pre-paid.

  • VoR61

    You can insure less than the total trip cost if some costs are refundable and if the policy permits that. We have done so …

  • LFH0

    I’m not certain where you came up with this idea that an “entire trip” must be insured by when purchasing insurance. Consider this scenario. I live in Flushing, Queens, and if I were to have taken this tour, I might have gone either of two ways. First, I could walk from my home into downtown Flushing, then board the Q48 bus route to LaGuardia airport, and then board an airplane from LaGuardia airport to Logan airport, and join the tour there. Or I might have walked from my home into downtown Flushing, then board the no. 7 subway train to Times Square, connecting with the nos. 1, 2, or 3 train to Pennsylvania Station, then an Amtrak train to South Station, and finally the Silver line to Logan airport. The “entire trip” would begin with my walking journey from home to the bus stop or subway station. If I did not insure my ability to walk from my home into downtown Flushing, would I be denied insurance coverage for the tour? What about the Q48 bus or the no. 7 subway train? The truth is that I really would not care about recovering the value of the bus or subway fare, a trivial $2.75 . . . I am willing to undertake that risk. The risk that I’m not willing to take is that weather will delay the Q48 bus or the no. 7 subway train such that I will ultimately miss the tour departure from Logan. And I think that’s the same risk that was of concern to the Ayres couple. They didn’t care about recovering the trivial cost of their public transportation journey to Logan; they simply wanted to cover the risk that weather would delay them in getting to the departure point on time. And as I read Mr. Elliott’s description of their policy, it covers the risk of delay in getting to the departure point resulting from weather affecting public transportation (without any restrictions as to the mode of public transportation, be it bus, subway, railroad, ferry, ocean liner, or air liner). Why should the Ayres not have their policy enforced by the conditions of that policy?

  • RichardII

    If you decided to take a bus to the airport and it became blocked in a traffic jam, causing you to miss your flight, your insurance probably would not have covered the missed flight – though they might also have viewed local transport as included. You would have to read the policy to be sure. However, in general, it is the traveler’s responsibility to be at the departure location on-time

    I also believe you misread the article. It did not state that the risks you describe of “…getting to the departure point” were covered. Those risks were only covered AFTER the departure.

  • Once again, an insurance company will find any excuse to screw you until you make it hot for them on social media. Now, not later, we need European-style passenger rights to apply in situations like this.

  • RichardII

    A travel insurance company may not knowingly offer partial insurance. However, there are plenty of customers who will not provide a less than completely accurate description of their costs and itinerary in order to save some money. There was a specific case on this site about a traveler who purchased a policy and understated the actual cost of the trip by $2.50. The company refused to pay. http://elliott.org/blog/travel-insurance-claims-can-hinge-on-the-tiniest-details/

  • Annie M

    All flights would have had to be included in the insurance for the insurance to cover. The flight that caused the problem, his initial flight to NY, didn’t have insurance purchased for it. THAT is the piece that needed to be insured because that was the flight that was grounded. He was covered once he got to NY because he had insurance for that portion of the trip.

    He needed to file a claim with whoever insured his first flight as that is what was canceled.

    We sell travel insurance – only the components you buy insurance for are covered. In this case, it was once he got to NY, not before.

  • Randy Culpepper

    I think you mean Boston and not New York, but I agree with you 100%.

  • cscasi

    Perhaps you can more fully explain that Travelex must be shamed into upholding their contracts? I think we would all be interested. Thank you.

  • Extramail

    What I have learned from reading this site recently is that you buy what you think you are purchasing and then when a problem arises you attempt to resolve it yourself. When that doesn’t work, you contact Chris and he can (sometimes) shame a company into getting what you thought you were purchasing. I do understand a business trying to make money; what I don’t understand is a business always trying to “screw” the customer in order to do it. My father was an attorney and taught me that you have to read every single word in a contract before you sign it. I have attempted to do that on several occasions only to have the people waiting on me to sign get exasperated as all get out. If contracts were explained without all the legalese intended to ultimately screw the customer then maybe we wouldn’t have so much trouble collecting on insurance policies, etc.

  • doug_jensen

    Travelex was not shamed into upholding their contract. Instead, they made a gracious and generous refund to a traveler who–for whatever reason–did not properly insure their entire trip. Yay for Travelex, they are on my “good guy” list.

    This was yet another all too frequent case of Elliott supporting a careless or ignorant crybaby traveler who made a mistake, instead of focusing his attention on cases where the traveler was clearly entirely right but the transportation(or insurance, etc.) company failed to live up to its agreed upon responsibilities.

  • doug_jensen

    …as was their right.

  • doug_jensen

    Once again, a thoughtless traveler will make mistakes, and go to social media hoping someone will generously rescue them from problems of their own making. Be honest and take personal responsibility for your own mistakes.

  • doug_jensen

    You don’t have to have an attorney parent to know that when you enter into a legal agreement, it is your responsibility to understand the agreement, even if you need some competent assistance. Except in the rare cases of deliberate fraud, contracts are usually written in what you imagine to be legalese to explicitly openly define the provider’s responsibilities under virtually any circumstances–that is just as beneficial to the customer as to the provider, rather than leaving him ignorant of what those, and his, responsibilities are. Business are not “always trying to “screw” the customer”–a small minority are, but more often the customer is careless or lazy and thus ignorant of what (normally entirely reasonable) terms and conditions he is agreeing to.

  • doug_jensen

    This was yet another all too frequent case of Elliott supporting a careless or ignorant crybaby traveler who made a mistake, instead of focusing his attention on cases where the traveler was clearly entirely right but the transportation(or insurance, etc.) company failed to live up to its agreed upon responsibilities.

  • lcpossum

    And, which travel insurance company are you affiliated with? One of the slimier ones I suspect.

  • Extramail

    You totally missed my point but . . . Oh, never mind.

  • Michael__K

    You have to insure the ENTIRE trip when purchasing insurance.

    Some insurers do require this, but it does not appear that Travelex does.

    Here are the terms for their Travel Basic policy, the lowest tier policy they sell directly to consumers:

    https://www.travelexinsurance.com/documentation/displaydocument.ashx?filename=TTB_0203_00000.pdf

    I don’t think you will find any such requirement stipulated in the contract. If I’ve missed anything feel free to highlight the relevant language…

  • Michael__K

    Actually, looking at the Travelex policy language, it appears LFH0 is absolutely correct.

    From a Travelex Basic Policy (their lowest tier):

    Trip Cancellation and Interruption Covered Reasons

    3. Common Carrier delays resulting from inclement weather, or mechanical breakdown or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation;

    So how do they define “Common Carrier?” —

    Common Carrier means any land, water or air conveyance operated under a license for the transportation of passengers for hire.

    I’m pretty sure Southwest Airlines is properly licensed (as is @LFHO’s Q48 bus or #7 train)

    Now was the policy in effect when the Southwest flight was cancelled? If this was a Post-Departure Trip Interruption claim, there would be a problem because the Southwest flight was the day before. But for a Pre-Departure Trip Cancellation claim? I don’t see the basis for a denial….

    When Coverage Begins

    All coverages (except Pre-Departure Trip Cancellation and Post-Departure Trip Interruption) will take effect on the later of 1) the date the plan payment has been received by the Policyholder; 2) the date and time you start your Covered Trip; or 3) 12:01 A.M. Standard Time on the Scheduled Departure Date of your Covered Trip.

    Pre-Departure Trip Cancellation coverage will take effect at 12:01 A.M. Standard Time on the day after the date your plan payment is received by the Policyholder. Post-Departure Trip Interruption coverage will take effect on the Scheduled Departure Date.

  • Michael__K

    Have you read the insurance policy?

    Here are the terms for Travel Basic (Travelex’s lowest tier product):

    https://www.travelexinsurance.com/documentation/displaydocument.ashx?filename=TTB_0203_00000.pdf

    Feel free to point out the language which corroborates the contention that a Pre-Departure Trip Cancellation claim for a tour missed because of a Common Carrier weather delay (Covered Reason #3) requires that the Common Carrier travel be insured also.

    If you can’t do so, then you owe Mr. and Mrs. Ayres an apology.

  • Jason J Olson

    One thing that isn’t clear is if this insurance was through the tour operator or purchased third-party. Policies through tour operators are often custom and different than purchasing independent policies, so even comparing against their “basic” plan listed online might lead someone to draw incorrect assumptions. In some cases, the group insurance will only cover portions of the trip purchased through the tour operator, leaving the individual to purchase supplemental insurance if they want to cover elements not purchased through the tour operator. As such, most of the comments here are based on speculations.

    As we can see the fine print continues to get longer (a necessary evil, I’m afraid) which further supports the reasons why people should consult with a Travel Agent to help them navigate the complex world of fine print and nuances of travel. In many cases I read on here, there is a problem with unmet expectations – the traveler establishes their own expectations and the company/supplier/airline often does a very poor job managing that expectation. Instead they hide behind glossy commercial (overly optimistic) and extremely long legal language (very pessimistic). Virtually impossible for the average consumer to be aware of everything involved in travel.