Why won’t insurance cover my lost frequent-flier miles?

Question: My wife used her Delta frequent flier miles for a trip to Manchester, England, to visit her mother. She bought trip insurance through Allianz. Two days before she was supposed to return, she called me to let me know she had been taken to the hospital with severe stomach pain.

She was diagnosed with a virus and given medication, but had to return to the hospital. I had to change her return date twice before she could make the flight home. Delta charged $253 and 20,000 miles to make the change.

My wife was diagnosed with a ruptured appendix and hospitalized immediately when she returned. Because of the amount of infection, removing the appendix was impossible and so she was put on antibiotics.

We made a claim with Allianz for the cost of changing her flight, but Allianz would only cover the $253. We’ve asked Delta to consider the circumstances that made this date change necessary and reimburse our frequent flier account with the 20,000 miles, but it won’t. Can you help? — Charles Stewart, Dallas

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s medical condition. It’s a good thing you had travel insurance, and Allianz was correct to cover your change fee.

I think you might have avoided some of these problems by calling Allianz sooner. Many insurance companies also offer 24-hour emergency medical assistance services, and can help you find a hospital that can diagnose and treat your problem.

Allianz could have also advised you about your next steps and assisted your wife in getting home. (For example, even the basic Allianz policy covers you for up to $50,000 of an emergency medical transportation.)

A case like this underscores the need for reliable insurance while you’re traveling, if not through a travel insurance company, then through some other type of medical coverage. For example, a company like International SOS offers medical assistance, international health care and security services and could have given your wife a quick diagnosis and delivered her to a hospital with American standards.

Delta’s policy on redepositing miles is clear. According to the airline, Delta SkyMiles members who want to cancel or make changes to their wholly unused award ticket need to do so at least 72 hours before their original flight departure time to be eligible to redeposit unused award ticket miles or to reissue an award ticket.

I’ve seen Allianz cover miles on past claims, but before I approached the company, I decided to ask Delta to take another look at your wife’s case. It reviewed her request and decided to return the 20,000 miles as an exception.

Should travel insurance cover lost frequent flier miles?

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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 the new forum.

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  • sirwired

    Frequent Flier miles, while they certainly have value (which is difficult to quantify), they have no retail cash cost. (We’ll ignore the wildly overpriced miles you can purchase to top-off your account; no insurance is going to pay THAT.) Things pretty much only available for “free” are virtually never going to be reimbursed by insurance.

    Insurance WILL cover purchasing a ticket outright though, and I see that they covered the actual cash rebooking fee without a hassle, and some policies cover mile re-deposit fees (they’ll mention this explicitly if they do.)

  • TonyA_says

    I am curious, why didn’t Delta take care of their own (sick and hurting) customer?

  • technomage1

    Yet another example of why insurance is simply a scam. They look for any reason to deny your claim.

  • lost_in_travel

    Chris, this was an opportunity to remind people to have medical coverage when traveling, but it might not have helped this passenger – she went to an English speaking hospital and was misdiagnosed but made well enough to fly in a few days. I have a friend who walked around for a week with a ruptured appendix in the US – and saw her doctor at least three times before it was diagnosed. Apparently once it ruptures, the usual tell tale symptoms disappear and it is very hard to recognize. But kudos to you for helping and kudos to Delta for redepositing the miles!

  • emanon256

    Ive always wondered how mile work with insurance. The airline charges a fortune to sell you the miles, and then gives you much less value for them. Also, since the airlines own and manage the miles, how does an insurance company reimburse miles? It not like its currency that can be exchanged. So how would an insurance company cover them?

  • Asiansm Dan

    If he buy another ticket for the return, his travel Insurance will cover the total cost of the ticket to go back to origin It’s a wrong decision to spend extra miles. Ironically, by good intention, he indirectly hurts himself by minimizing the cash expense for the insurance company and get penalize for it.

  • JenniferFinger

    Somehow, it seems that when anyone makes a claim for lost miles, regardless of which airline is involved, the airline always balks at returning the miles, even when the customer has a valid reason for not being able to fly. Yet another example of how airlines just don’t seem to care about customers.

  • Bill___A

    I would say they should have used money only to change the tickets. That is easier for the insurance company to reimburse. Sometimes, you need to think about these things.

    Of more serious note is the misdiagnosis in a British hospital. My wife, too, was hospitalized in the UK. They kept her there for a day and a half and didn’t figure out what was going on. Upon her return home, it was immediately diagnosed as kidney stones. I am quite concerned about seeing two incidences of misdiagnosis…

  • Bill___A

    That’s what travel insurance is for. If they embedded the cost of taking into account every possibly sick passenger, we would all pay higher fares.

  • Bill___A

    You need to make sure things are set up to get the money back. Don’t use points for something you are getting reimbursed for. Do business travellers buy tickets using miles and then try to collect the full fare from their employers? I think not. The insurance company is not at fault here.

  • S E Tammela

    I found it disconcerting to allude that England’s doctors are not up to American standards. It’s not a third world country, you know, and tertiary education standards in Europe are higher than in the USA. Not to mention that appendix issues are notoriously difficult to diagnose. If she’d been hospitalised in Botswana it’d be different, but it is likely she would not have gotten any better care in the USA. Sometimes, unfortunate medical things just happen.

  • bodega3

    A question to ask the OP is why they took out travel insurance. Did they assume something that wasn’t a part of their policy or did they call and ask questions ahead of the purchase so they knew they had the correct policy for them? When you buy travel insurance, BEFORE making any new arrangements after purchasing coverage, the first call should be to the insurance company. That is part of what you are paying for and most companies assist with new air or provide you with important information BEFORE you waste your time and money on a DIY change.

  • TonyA_says

    The $25 Delta – Allianz International REWARDS Trip protection will pay up to $25,000 of Emergency medical costs and Emergency medical transportation (each). If they called the insurance company it could have arranged for a flight back to the USA.

  • TonyA_says

    For Delta – Allianz REWARDS travel protecton marketed by Delta, the insurance will only pay for the cost to rebank or redeposit your mileage points or reimburse fees paid (with money). The insurance will not pay or reimburse for the points lost. They consider mileage rewards as free.

  • TonyA_says

    Stomach pain can be difficult to diagnose. I have been hospitalized twice after running to the emergency room for extreme stomach pain. They found nothing after an MRI and ultrasound. Even had an outpatient upper GI endoscopy after. Found Nothing. Third time I got it was in Rome right after checking out hotel to catch a flight back to JFK. I decided to take the flight and keep the crew from knowing I was in excruciating pain. I did not want to be alone in an Italian hospital. I survived Rome’s Terminal 5 and the AA flight back home.

    I recently had a very bad case of vertigo. The specialist told me it was most likely caused by a virus infection (of the inner ear’s labyrinth). I also believe my stomach pain in Rome could have been virus related. You never know. The best the hospital could do for me was gave me pain killers.

  • Bill___A

    Point taken. I’m very sorry for the pin and suffering you experienced, it must have been horrible.
    My wife’s kidney stones were not diagnosed during the day and a half she spent in a UK hospital. It took very little time to diagnose and treat at home. It is a good thing we don’t live in the UK. How long would she have suffered with no diagnosis. I don’t have much confidence in the NHS. Well intentioned, but they didn’t get the job done. They have, however, figured out how to feed patients very very cheaply

  • TonyA_says

    I must add that the medical portion of travel insurance is very important. I am not sure my American health insurance will cover me in any foreign country. Or if it would pay to take me back to a US hospital. A new airline ticket or change fee costs nothing compared to hospital bills! During both times I was hospitalized in the USA, it was a couple of days before they sent me home.

    As for my Italian experience, that night I had a double order of wild strawberries (fragola) at Campo di Fiore in Rome. Maybe it was not washed well or the seeds caused havoc to my GI tract. So I paid dearly for my unsatiable passion for food :-)

  • lost_in_travel

    Sorry if there was a miscommunication but Chris was the one who suggested medical insurance – I agreed it is something to consider but this was not the case here. The English doctors are perfectly fine – I suppose my reference to “an English speaking hospital” was too tongue in cheek. Having traveled in England as well as several third world countries, I can certainly tell the difference.

  • Nigel Appleby

    I agree; call the insurance company first or at least as soon as possible after the ambulance ride.

  • BMG4ME

    Yes English doctors cured my mother of cancer and heart disease and unlike in America it didn’t require insurance and it was free.

  • john4868

    My friend died this year from a curable genetic disease that NHS refuses to test for because its too expense but in the US is a standard screening test. Another friend waited months for a test my daughter was scheduled for within days. Why? NHS determined that it was Not cost effective to have the additional test equipment but US hospitals consider it essential. All me friends in the UK that can afford it has private health insurance.
    I have yet to travel to the UK when there haven’t been reports of additional issues in the NHS.

    Sometimes free is only worth what you pay for it.

  • BMG4ME

    I can’t comment on what happened to your friend, I only know from my own experience of living there for 30 years and from my mother. I have no complaints. I also live in the USA now and have been for many years and I am able to compare from personal experience. There are many reasons why I left the UK but healthcare was not one of them.

  • Dutchess

    Since when is it the airlines responsibility to “take care” of sick passengers?

  • Dutchess

    I’m glad Delta took sympathy here and gave them their miles back but OP was wrong using their miles to get a ticket back home. They should have paid for the ticket out of pocket and had the insurance reimburse them the full amount of the airfare. It would have been a lot more expense, and the insurance would have had to eat it but that’s the way it works. You would think the insurance company would acknowledge that you saved them a few bucks and reimburse you for the miles but that would require logic, something not common among insurance providers.

  • cahdot

    so true

  • S E Tammela

    I agreed with you – sorry – I meant that Chris had suggested English doctors being bad :)

  • S E Tammela

    Remember, tourists are not NHS patients and don’t wait in NHS queues, and tourists don’t really go into hospitals for things like chronic diseases – only for emergencies. They’re private patients because it’s covered by their insurance. I know the NHS has its problems, but we are talking about doctors and emergency medicine here. In that regard, it’s a first world country.

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe a free reschedule will help.

  • TonyA_says

    Actually the insurance company says you need to call the airline first to cancel. If you noshow, they have less to recover [for you].

  • Lindabator

    Exactly! IF you were smart enough to take out insurance, PLEASE be smart enough to call them first to make changes! Then you would not have lost additional miles.