Travel nightmares meet travel insurance reality
You dutifully purchased travel insurance for your upcoming adventure and are feeling protected against possible travel nightmares. That is, until you read a story about travel insurance not covering missing a connecting flight because of missing the first leg of the journey thanks to long TSA lines. Suddenly, you feel a little less confident about your travel insurance coverage. Did you purchase the right travel insurance? And, even if you did, will it cover you for any kind of travel nightmare scenarios?
We presented our travel insurance experts at World Nomads and also Redpoint Resolutions (operators of Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance and Cavalry Elite Travel Insurance) with five travel nightmare scenarios to see how and if travel insurance would be of any help. Here is what we discovered:
TSA security delays are travel nightmares
You arrived at the airport in plenty of time, but because of unexpectedly long lines at the TSA security checkpoint, it took you more than two hours to get through security and as a result, you missed your flight. And because you missed your flight, you missed your connection to the cruise ship. What will travel insurance cover?
“Here are the cases that qualify for a reimbursement for a missed flight,” says John Moretti, director of communications for Redpoint Resolutions. “If you missed your departure due to a delay for three or more hours due to mechanical issues with the common carrier (that means airline, bus company, cruise line, etc.), or because of inclement weather, or you or your traveling companion are involved in or delayed due to a traffic accident while you were driving to the airport, then travel insurance will cover you.”
However, if you miss your flight because of long lines at TSA? You are not covered for your missed flight or for your missed connection! “If a long line at the TSA checkpoint causes you to miss a flight and onward connections, sadly there is no cover. The flight was not delayed you just missed it, thanks TSA!” says Phil Sylvester, travel safety expert for World Nomads.
While many airlines are waiving re-booking fees for passengers who miss flights because of TSA security delays, the sensible thing to do to avoid this increasingly common scenario among travel nightmares is to make use of the TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR programs to get priority access and thus expedite screening.
If you choose not to take advantage of the above priority access programs, you would be well advised to consider arriving at the airport in advance of the recommendation of two hours before departure – even if you check in online.
“Other tips for beating the queues are to travel outside peak times, and consider using less busy airports instead of major hubs,” adds Sylvester. “You can also ‘follow’ the airport on social media channels and get updates on TSA queue times.”
Involuntary airline bumping
You are flying on an airline, and you have no frequent flyer status with it. You thus find yourself getting involuntarily bumped due to an oversold plane. Being bumped means you will miss your next connection to an international destination, and as a result, your hotel reservation will be cancelled, and you’ve lost your first night’s deposit. What will insurance cover?
“Unfortunately, being bumped from an oversold flight is not covered (the flight must be delayed or depart late). Don’t volunteer to be chosen unless you are sure all your expenses are covered by the airline!” advises Sylvester.
It is important to realize that involuntary bumping these days is extremely rare. In 2016 there were 965 million airline passengers in the United States and just 40,000 were involuntarily bumped according to official records. There are usually enough volunteers ready to take the money for a delay. Those forced off a plane are still eligible for compensation under Department of Transportation rules, which can help ease the pain of this travel nightmare.
Airline miles/credit card points bookings
You have booked a dream trip using airline miles and credit card points, but you are in a traffic accident on the way to the airport and miss your flight. The next available departing flight is not until tomorrow but is oversold and your trip is now cancelled. What will insurance cover?
Most airlines have an informal “flat tire rule,” as they call it – if a passenger has made a genuine effort to be on time but something out of their control, such as a traffic accident, results in arriving late, re-booking fees will be waived, and the passenger will be put on the next available flight.
“In this scenario with no alternate flight you could make a case to have your points or miles reinstated,” says Sylvester. “Travel insurance doesn’t cover points or miles because there’s no way of identifying the monetary cost of them. World Nomads would, however, cover the taxes and fees you paid to book your flight using miles. If you had been able to re-join the trip, we would also cover the non-refundable amounts lost from pre-paid bookings (hotels, rental cars, etc.) you’d made.”
According to Moretti, “Cavalry will pay any fees incurred for re-depositing those frequent traveler awards — miles, hotel awards, etc.”
No room at the hotel you booked
You booked a hotel room for three nights at a resort location, and your credit card was charged for the first night deposit. When you show up, however, the hotel is oversold, and it has no record of your reservation. You have to move to a much more expensive hotel. What will insurance cover?
Unfortunately, this travel nightmares scenario is not covered, our experts say. “I advise that you take copies of receipts and reservation confirmations. Just take a photo of the document on your cell phone. Most hotels faced with such evidence would be honor-bound to find and pay for alternative accommodation for you. Most have arrangements with other hotels for passing on excess business,” says Sylvester.
“If the hotel is not willing to help, and you’re in an unfamiliar area, maybe don’t speak the language or don’t have cell phone service, call our World Nomads Emergency Assistance team. We can’t compensate you, but we can, and often do, provide non-monetary assistance, such as finding a nearby hotel for you and helping with translation and arranging a taxi. We do everything we can to help even if there’s no formal coverage.”
Cruise change mandated rebooking a flight for a fee
You booked a cruise, but the cruise company made a last-minute change regarding departure time due to an expected storm on or near its route. That meant you needed to change your flight and the change fees proved costly. What will insurance cover?
Good news here: “For an itinerary change like this, Cavalry will reimburse extra costs up to a limit of $250,” says Moretti of Redpoint Resolutions.
But both Moretti and World Nomads’ Sylvester agree that checking with the cruise line first about covering any change fees or increase in airfares is the best option. Since it was the cruise company’s decision to change the itinerary, it will be more likely to work with its customers to resolve issues, but there are certainly no guarantees.
“In our experience, the cruise line will sometimes assist with transportation costs if it is its decision to depart early, but only if you’ve booked the air travel through the cruise line as a package,” says Sylvester.
“An additional airfare is covered by travel insurance if your cruise is delayed 24 hours or more due to weather, or if your flight is cancelled due to weather,” adds Sylvester. “When a common carrier causes you to be delayed, there is coverage for meals, lodging and local transportation expenses. Keep the receipts to file with your claim, and keep the costs reasonable – no upgrading to the Presidential Suite!”