5 things you must do before you file your travel insurance claim


Peter Kuhmerker was set for the vacation of a lifetime — a nine-day Ireland tour from Dublin to Killarney booked through Great Value Vacations. As a precaution, he even purchased a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policy through the company.

And then his life almost ended.

Kuhmerker suffered a heart attack just a few days before his departure. He contacted Great Value Vacations, which assured him it would secure a full refund from his hotel and airline. But he didn’t file a claim, instead relying on the company’s promise of a refund.

“I followed up with a phone call and was treated rather rudely,” says Kuhmerker, an IT worker from Alexandria, Va. “I could understand why I might not get a full or partial refund but they insisted that I log onto their system and fill out a cancellation form – even though they said I would not get a refund.”

Kuhmerker’s case took a while to fix, but thanks to a lot of persistence on his part and a nudge or two from my advocacy team, he finally received a $3,212 check. But his case is also instructive. Before you file a travel insurance claim, make sure you have a case to file.

And then, don’t forget to actually file your claim.

But there’s more.

Read the instructions
Understanding what your travel insurance company needs in order to successfully process your claim is key, according to Todd Erkis, a professor of finance and risk management at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and author of the book, “What Insurance Companies Don’t Want You to Know: An Insider Shows You How to Win at Insurance.” “Following the requirements for filing a claim, like getting the appropriate documentation from the doctors and hospital, notifying the correct people at the insurance company, and coordinating with the U.S. health insurer,” he says. “That’s critical to getting paid.” If you fail to do this, you could miss important requirements and your claim could be denied.

Related story:   Avoid these common travel insurance mistakes on your next trip

Know your policy’s limits
Every travel insurance policy has limits, also known as exclusions. Know what they are or you could end up with a denied claim. “Almost all policies don’t cover mental illness, fear of traveling, adventure sports, Zika, your dog becoming ill, and more,” says veteran travel agent Helen Prochilo of Promal Vacations. But there’s a workaround: A “cancel for any reason” policy will cover you and reimburse you for part or all of your vacation if you decide to cancel.

Collect your receipts, documents and other paperwork
Insurance companies are sticklers for documentation. (I once had a $1,000 claim denied because I forgot to fill out one field. Seriously.) “If a loss occurs while travelling, it is very important to keep all documents that reflect the existence and value of the loss,” advises Joshua Haffner, a lawyer who has litigated numerous insurance cases. If an insurance company demands original receipts, make sure you keep a copy for your own records. And don’t dispose of any paper records until the check clears.

Fire up your laptop
Going online instead of picking up the phone is perhaps one of the biggest shortcuts to a successful claim. Although you can still file by mail, it can significantly lengthen the process. “Filing a claim is fairly straightforward, and understanding that it’s not always feasible to file during standard business hours, most providers have an online claims process to allow a traveler to file as soon as desired,” says James Page, AIG Travel’s senior vice president and chief administrative officer. It’s true — conducting your transaction online, and electronically, not only saves time but also creates a paper trail that will help you if your claim is turned down.

Related story:   Are "unpublished" hotel reservations too hard to cancel?

Check the clock
Finally, don’t wait too long. In the insurance industry, this is called “timely filing.” “Timely filing is a fancy term for a deadline,” explains Justin Tysdal, CEO of travel insurance company Seven Corners. “Some of our plans — and most insurance companies in general — have a timely filing limit that you have to follow.” Here’s what you need to know: If you don’t provide the required documents within the stated timeframe, your claim could be denied, when normally it may have been covered. Most travel plans have a 90-day limit. For your own purposes, you should just file as soon as possible to avoid any trouble.

Follow these simple tips and your claim has a far greater chance of being honored by your travel insurance company.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • sirwired

    “…they insisted that I log onto their system and fill out a cancellation form – even though they said I would not get a refund.”

    That’s not rudeness at all; that’s basic common sense. The policy is called –>Cancel<– for any reason; it makes sense that to collect, you gotta actually cancel first. They need to have some documentation that you:
    – Didn't travel anyway
    – Tried to mitigate the loss by cancelling as soon as possible. (For instance, if the hotel has a 6PM Day of Arrival cancellation policy, and you can cancel before then, they want you to do so instead of paying out on a needless loss.)

  • Michael__K

    It’s at least bad information and awful service if not rudeness to assure him they “would secure a full refund from his hotel and airlline” and then, on the next call, say he would “not get a refund.” .

    If they were instructing him to invoke the “Cancel for Any Reason” provision, then they can’t promise a “full refund” because that’s not how “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage works. And if he bought Cancel for Any Reason coverage, then unless he was inside the cancellation deadline (usually 48 hours), it would be wrong to tell him that he is not eligible for (at least) a partial refund.

  • Lloyd Johnston

    And why “Cancel for Any Reason” for a heart attack. Isn’t a heart attack one of the conditions for which a full claim would be payable anyway? IIRC, “Cancel for Any Reason” generally doesn’t provide a 100% refund.

  • michael anthony

    Its unconscionable that Zika isnt covered. A newly released study looked at local residents of a country where Zika had broken out. The study looked at pregnancy outcomes. Several women spontaneously aborted and in doing autopsy, severe malformations in the most important parts of the brain. Other serious malformations found in major organ systems.
    Since tourism is so important, critics started ripping the study, namely it was small. While true, you cannot change the results found in Zika infected pregnant women. Since much more needs to be learned, women of child bearing age have every right to be concerned and tourism should take that into account. You could easily book a trip to a place where Zika breaks out after you book. If you are a woman of child bearing age, all elements of travel should reimburse fully.

  • cscasi

    I believe, most likely. However, if the insurance company can get you to use the “cancel for any reason” provision as opposed to filing the claim as a medical issue where the doctor advises or tells you, you cannot fly/go on vacation (like having a heart attack), then the insurance company would only have to pay out at about 75% rather than more likely 100% of the loss for what is covered by the policy.
    Having said that, I would think the insurance company claims adjuster would question if he used the Cancel For Any Reason and advise him to file for complete coverage because of a medical emergency. I say that because I did file a Cancel For Any Reason on one of my trips because I had an issue and I just did not feel like going because it was a trip we just decided at the last few days we did not want to take. I just put on the claim that I was feeling unwell and we decided to cancel I filed and the claims adjuster called me and asked why I did not file under the medical part and I told her it was more because I did not feel like going as opposed to being something that a doctor would write a letter stating I should not fly. She accepted that and paid my claim out at 75%.
    The point is, the travel insurance company I use seems to take care of its customers and it is apparent to me that it wants to be fair in adjudicating the claims that are filed with the company. I really appreciate that and it makes me want to be a loyal customer with it as I travel.

  • cscasi

    Interesting thoughts. I guess we will just have to wait and see if the industry ever decides to cover that or not.

  • Lindabator

    not how insurance works — they look at risks and such when making determination as to what they will and will not cover – such as the adventure sports, scuba diving, etc

  • Annie M

    Another thing – if you are hospitalized or need to see a doctor, call the insurance company as soon as possible – they will tell you what documents and paperwork you will need and if the insurance is a primary policy, they will handle the payments to the doctor as hospital as well. Always bring the insurance policy with you when you travel.

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