By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 2/19/2010 11:31:04 AM ET 2010-02-19T16:31:04

Minnesota residents Kristen and Joe Wegleitner just wanted to start their October honeymoon off in grand style with a romantic 7-day Mediterranean voyage on Celebrity Cruises. Unfortunately things began to unravel when bad weather and a hodgepodge of missed airline flight connections forced the newlyweds to scuttle their cruise plans.

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Thankfully the couple had the foresight to purchase travel insurance and thought the claims process with Travel Guard would be hassle free. Or so they thought.

Bumpy flights
The Wegleitners were already tightly scheduled on their Delta Air Lines flights from Minneapolis to Atlanta with only one hour connecting time for their flight to Europe. When their flight landed 65 minutes late into Atlanta they knew they had missed their connection, which meant they would not be able to board the ship in time.

The couple immediately contacted Celebrity Cruises to make arrangements to board the ship in the next port — Cannes, France. Delta was able to rebook the Wegleitners the following day on a flight to Nice, France, via New York’s JFK airport; however, they would have to spend the night in Atlanta.

Unfortunately another day didn’t make a difference as bad weather forced their New York-bound flight to arrive 68 minutes late, which caused another missed flight to Europe.

The Wegleitners felt trying to get another flight to catch the ship would be a moot point since much of the cruise would have been missed. They came to the conclusion that it was best to rebook the sailing for another time. “At this point we contacted Travel Guard to ensure that if the trip was aborted we would be covered under our insurance,” said Kristen Wegleitner. The best cruise deals around the world

The Travel Guard representative assured them that since the issues were weather related they would be covered. After spending the night in a hotel near JFK airport the couple flew home to Minneapolis dejected, but still hopeful that their honeymoon could be salvaged at a later date.

A few days after returning home the Wegleitners submitted a claim to Wisconsin-based Travel Guard for the amount of $3,900 for the missed flights, cruise, transfers and hotels.

Travel Guard too guarded
Imagine the couple’s dismay when they opened an envelope from Travel Guard a month later that contained a check for $1,758. The check stub stated the amount was for the missed cruise and transfers and since some of the airfare had been used by the couple there would be no refund.

Kristin Wegleitner was livid. “What they gave us won’t even cover our plane tickets!” She did not understand why they couldn’t be reimbursed fully. “Is that not why we purchased the insurance in the first place”, she asked. After going back-and-forth with Travel Guard, the Wegleitners contacted Consumer Traveler for help.

Claim bliss
I contacted Travel Guard on the Wegleitner’s behalf to find out their side of the story. I spoke with company spokesperson, Dan McGinnity. After checking on the couple’s claim McGinnity stated that there had been a mistake by Travel Guard and a misunderstanding by the Wegleitners.

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“After completing the review of the Wegleitner’s claim, Travel Guard will be sending an additional reimbursement check of $1,760.22, for a total claim payment of $3,518,” said McGinnity. He noted that the first payment was for the cruise/transfer portion of the trip and when the check was sent out; an accompanying letter stated that “a portion of your claim is still under review.”

He said because the cruise/airfare/transfers were bundled into a single cost, Travel Guard was corresponding with the travel agent that booked the flight to determine the value of the unused airfare. “We estimated the cost of the used flight (roundtrip Minneapolis to Atlanta twice) at $440 and that amount was deducted from the total claim payment.”

Having seen the Wegleitner’s documentation from Travel Guard stating there would be “no refund” for air, I asked McGinnity why that was on the check stub that led to all the confusion.

“There was a miscommunication between the analyst who was working the claim and the processing person who sent the check,” said McGinnity. He noted the information on the check stub is typed in by the claims processing person as a notation for what the amount of the check covers. “In retrospect, we could have done a much better job of communicating with the Wegleitners. In fact, we are planning to use this as an example in our claim processing training.”

“It’s too bad that the Wegleitners didn’t take advantage of our 24/7 travel assistance when they ran into travel problems,” added McGinnity. That benefit is included in all Travel Guard policies. “In a case such as this, we have travel counselors available by phone who will help rebook canceled flights and make other emergency travel arrangements. I think we could have saved them a lot of hassle and may have been able to get them to Barcelona in time to catch their cruise,” he said.

As for the Wegleitners, they are happy with the outcome but leery about having to fight so hard for clarity from the company. “Although this process has been a pain, we are getting mostly refunded which will allow us to take another trip without spending a lot of time saving-up,” said Joe Wegleitner.

An ounce of prevention
I am glad Travel Guard came through for the Wegleitners and this case clearly highlights why travel insurance is so important to protect your vacation investment.

That being said, much of the Wegleitner’s travel woes could have been minimized with practical travel planning. First, if you live far from the embarkation port, try and get there a day early. Padding your travel time may cost a bit more, but it pays off in the assurance of a stress-free start to your vacation. Second, just say no to short connection times for international flights. Rule of thumb – do not book a flight with a connection time of less than 90-minutes, especially in the busy airports like Atlanta, New York, Chicago, etc. Taking the earlier flight to the connecting city may seem like a waste of time, but it’s time well spent and it just adds on to your options in case things go astray.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column. And check out her blog, ExpertCruiser.com.

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