Will travel insurance come to the rescue if something bad happens on your next airplane trip?
The answer, airfarewatchdog.com has found, is not always.
It’s a good idea to ask about some common (and not so common) travel snafu scenarios when you call to investigate different policies. By asking some specific questions, you'll make a better decision and won't be surprised if your air travel mishap falls outside the protective umbrella of your insurance.
That said, the majority of travel insurance claims are paid, and the most common reason is illness (either of the primary insured or a traveling companion or close relative).
But there are many other mishaps besides illness that trip up travelers, judging from the e-mail Airfarewatchdog.com has seen from woebegone airline passengers over the years. So we came up with eight things that can go bump in the flight, and then asked three of the major travel insurance agencies what they would do, if anything, to protect you.
How about if a tractor trailer rolls over just in front of you on your way to the airport, or you get a flat tire, causing you to miss your flight, and then on top of that, the airline tells you to buy a new last minute fare to Paris for $2,500? Stuff like this does happen.
Some insurance plans will only protect you if you buy a more expensive “cancel-for-any-reason” policy, but some of those require you to cancel at least 48 hours in advance, so no go. Travel insurer Travel Guard’s “platinum” policy includes coverage for such an accident scenario, but only if you provide a police report. Their less expensive policies might not protect you, however.
Here’s another one from our e-mail inbox: airport workers in Rome go on strike, so you’re out a $300 non-refundable airfare to Paris and have to take the train instead. Can you get reimbursed for both the airfare and train ticket?
CSA Travel Protection says yes to the train, but no to the airfare. Access America tells us that you’re covered only by a “cancel anytime” plan, which costs quite a bit more than regular insurance. Travel Guard, however, says you’d be covered as long as you bought the insurance before the airport workers voted to go on strike.
A third, all-too-common, scenario: your airline contacts you to say that they no longer fly to where you’re going and they’ll be happy to refund your money, but now flights to your destination on a competing airline cost an arm and a leg.
Sorry, none of the insurance companies we contacted will cover your added expenses.
And so it goes. Different insurers cover various travel snafus in different ways, and in general the more you pay for a policy, as in Travel Guard’s platinum product, the more protection you’re likely to get.
To see some other common and not so common travel mishaps (such as airline bankruptcy and missed connections) and how you might — or might not — be covered by competing travel insurers, consult our travel insurance snafu chart.
Again, whenever you buy insurance, don’t buy blindly: call the company’s 800 number to make sure you understand relevant provisos and exclusions, and read the contract’s fine print.
For example, most companies will fully cover you if you or a traveling companion becomes ill before departure, but they may not tell you that you must seek medical attention (a doctor’s office or emergency room visit) before canceling your trip.
And while most companies provide “cancellation” insurance, that doesn’t apply if you buy a biking trip through Provence and the tour company cancels the departure because not enough people sign up, leaving you with a useless $1,000 airfare.
The more you know before buying, the better prepared you’ll be to face whatever air travel throws at you.