Is JetBlue scaring passengers into buying travel insurance?

By | July 14th, 2013

Christopher Parypa /
Christopher Parypa /

If you’re a frequent flier, maybe you’ve already been roughed up by an airline, rhetorically speaking. I try to stay away from planes myself. I fly very infrequently and I book airline tickets even less.

When I have a choice in domestic airlines, I prefer to fly on JetBlue or Southwest. They’re just my kind of carriers.

It’s a personal choice.

But this afternoon, as I was booking a seat from Orlando to Washington, and after getting through what seemed like a dozen irritating “upsell” screens, JetBlue showed me this:

1-Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 2.43.24 PM

It’s an option to buy flight insurance from Allianz. Insurance is one of the most lucrative upsells, of course. And in case you weren’t paying attention, JetBlue is no slacker at collecting ancillary revenue from its passengers. It ranked fifth in reservation and change fees in 2012, collecting $133 million from its passengers; it came in ninth place for baggage fees during the same time, earning $70 million from its customers.

Then I focused on the button at the bottom of the box. Let’s zoom in.

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 2.43.39 PM

Say what? I choose “not to protect my purchase”?

I would have expected JetBlue to say, “No, I decline the optional travel insurance.”

But “choose not to protect” almost implies you’re opting out of seatbelts. I feel like I’m telling the mobster, “Nah, I don’t need any protection.”

If I choose not to “protect” my flight, what could go wrong? I must not be the only person who is left to wonder.

Making matters worse, JetBlue insisted I make a choice. It wouldn’t process my reservation unless I checked “yes” or “no.”

Come on.

I’m a believer in the value of travel insurance, and I know the folks at Allianz personally. But I’m not convinced that buying flight insurance as an “oh-by-the-way” purchase is ever a good idea. If you’re going to take the insurance, you need to shop around and study the policy to make sure you’re covered.

Related story:   Hard-sold insurance on my Hotwire car rental -- any chance of a refund?

This is not the way to do it, using scare tactics and not giving the customer any time. Because hey, those airfares are known to expire.

I’m disappointed in JetBlue. It might as well pre-check the “accept” button “for my convenience.”

Is JetBlue scaring us into buying travel insurance?

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  • flutiefan

    c’mon, Chris, you’re really reaching with this one.

  • kwbts124

    Have you ever tried to collect on travel insurance? If it is anything like other insurances, checking no will just make the loss of money spent easier to deal with…

  • BobChi

    You’re absolutely right. Sure there are times when it’s smart to get insurance, especially for a very large purchase. For routine flights, no, and the airline’s wording is distasteful. Of course this is nothing compared to the hard sell you get at some car rental companies.

  • sirwired

    Well, given the number of people that write in wanting refunds on their non-refundable tickets for reasons that would ordinarily be covered by insurance, I don’t see this an evil move at all.

    That said, insuring a simple domestic itinerary costing no more than a few hundred bucks is pretty silly, as the total risk you are protecting yourself against is quite small.

  • MrBadExample2

    Let’s see??? It’s an airline right? Do we not all know that in the airline industry the customer comes LAST.
    So we are asking this question why?

  • bodega3

    Well they certainly wouldn’t be scaring you. You can write yourself a letter and ask yourself to go to bat for your reason for refund, right? :-)

  • Bill___A

    I have travel insurance with my credit card. Certainly the wording is strongly encouraging one to buy it but not on my top 10 list of concerns.

  • John Baker

    Yes multiple times. I’ve been paid every time too…

  • Raven_Altosk

    I wonder what the “covered” reasons are? They don’t seem to be fully disclosed in that popup window, eh?

  • John Baker

    Umm. And how many times in the last two months have your articles dealt with individuals wanting refunds for non-refundable reservation because they failed to protect it? At least they aren’t sugarcoating it, if you don’t buy the risk is all yours.

  • backprop

    I agree, but just wait. There is bound to be a fixed income, mother of two autistic children, on disability, with a lung condition that will petition Christopher to help her out of her nonrefundable ticket when her emotional support alpaca goes on the fritz. Then it won’t sound so silly.

  • AH

    the question was, “Is JetBlue scaring…”, and with the wording, “No, I choose NOT to protect my purchase”, they most certainly are.
    it sounds like you’re not even protecting the purchase of your ticket! what? if i don’t click “yes”, then i might not even get my ticket?
    to me, that’s a scare tactic, plain and simple. while a good portion of the readers of this blog are experienced travelers, not all flyers are, and for someone not accustomed to purchasing airline tickets on a regular basis, that kind of question could easily be taken as something required or otherwise you might not even be able to fly.

    edit: i haven’t actually flown myself for over 10 years, but i learned to research and make travel reservations 45 years ago, and have worked with travel agencies in the past, so i’m not the “typical” reader of this blog, or typical traveler.

  • Grant Ritchie

    That being said, I hope they get even more hard-nosed about refunding “non-refundable tickets. Should there be non-refundable tickets? Probably not, but as long as there are, if you buy one and it doesn’t work out, take your lumps and shut the hell up about it.

  • jpp42

    Chris, I notice that JetBlue is careful to use the word “protection” to describe this product, although you colloquially refer to it as insurance. I think you’ve written in the past on the considerable difference between generic “protection” and regulated insurance – I wonder if this service is any good even if you did want travel insurance?

    Virgin Australia airlines had an even worse setup for a while – they had the normal series of pages for the “upsell” where you would choose all the normal add-ons: food, baggage, extra legroom seat, etc. You would finalize all this then move to the final confirmation. Only, on the confirmation page there was a travel insurance extra, separately at the bottom of the page – and the default “Yes” was already selected!

    I didn’t notice and got charged for insurance I didn’t want. They were quick to refund it when I called, and the lady on the other end of the line gave me the impression that processing refunds like this was what she did all day long…but how many people didn’t notice and paid for insurance they didn’t need? I find it deception to include that on the final page instead of along side all the extras…. so it could be worse than what JetBlue is doing.

  • sirwired

    Well, when she files a claim on the policy (which she never bothered to read), she’ll discover that few (if any) travel insurance policies cover mental illness. (This is for obvious reasons… we’d see an awful lot of “I’ve just acquired an airplane phobia” cases if they didn’t.)

  • sirwired

    I’m up to four claims, all paid without little hassle.

  • Rick

    Another airline with no moral. There should be a law for these kind of things!

  • sirwired

    No, it’s insurance. (Putting the word “protection” in the name doesn’t make any difference.) That series a while back was about a company that was selling insurance (no matter what they called it), but wasn’t licensed to do so, went under, and left their policyholders in the lurch. This is most certainly an insurance policy, sold by a licensed insurance company, etc.

    The only insurance-like products that are not actual insurance are the “waivers” sold by rental car agencies (i.e. the damage “waiver”) and cruise lines (cancellation fee “waivers.”) In those cases, they are agreeing not to charge you something you’d have to pay for; I supposed JetBlue could go that route if they wanted to. (American Airlines does.)

    I have no problem with this, as long as they don’t default to “yes” on the checkbox.

  • BillCCC

    I think that it is exactly what is needed. They do not force you to buy insurance and they actually give you an option to purchase the insurance with a link to the terms. What could be wrong with that? You also have 10 days to review the insurance and cancel if you change your mind. It appears that Chris missed this when he complained that you have to shop around.

    “This is not the way to do it, using scare tactics and not giving the
    customer any time. Because hey, those airfares are known to expire.”

    I think that 10 days is plenty of time.

    I really wish that all travel companies did this type of thing.

  • tonis

    Which credit card do you carry? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • MarkKelling

    While I don’t like the wording, at least they don’t default to YES. There was another whole series of articles here about unscrupulous companies defaulting options to YES so the customer ends up paying more without noticing.

  • Extra mail

    FYI, Delta has a similar check box.

  • Tones

    I, too, have always found this language to be bothersome… especially given that — by law– I am entitled to certain protections, so it’s not really an all-or-nothing situation depending upon my decision. The fine print is also funny; I’m moments away from stepping on the flight and you’re touting your trial period where I can cancel prior to the start of the trip. Whatevs!

  • Bill___A

    Well, I don’t live in the USA, so they aren’t American cards. However, if I’m concerned about something they don’t cover, I do buy the insurance. This happens rarely. I’ve had things happen on trips where I’ve had to pay out, but it doesn’t happen often and considering the amount of travel, isn’t a very big percentage.
    Jet Blue is currently on my blacklist because of putting people on the tarmacs too long.

  • ensamhat

    This is common with multiple different airlines. I just happen to book it through a travel insurance website instead so I can compare plans and choose the one that is right for that particular trip. Makes me feel better but my husband would probably decline insurance every time.

  • Andrew F

    My very first travel insurance purchase ended with a claim, and I got more than I thought I was entitled to. Daughter got strep throat IN THE MIDDLE of vacation; I expected 33% to 66% of the cost, as we still lived in the hotel, but forfeited some skiing time; received a check for the FULL COST of the vacation, upwards of 2K. That was certainly not quick (couple months) or painless (needed notes from the ER doctor — the standard ER write-up was not sufficient). But I’ve been buying travel insurance ever since…

  • Michael__K

    if you don’t buy the risk is all yours

    What they gloss over is that even if you DO buy it, much of the risk is STILL yours.

  • John Baker

    Did you read the policy DOC? I did. ( ) Looks to be pretty comprehensive to me. Especially if it covers preexisting conditions (the screen capture says it does but I didn’t find that spelled out on the JetBlue insurance website).

  • John Baker

    Don’t laugh but included in the JetBlue insurance plan’s definition of a Family Member…. Service Animal as defined by ADA. So I think that an emotional support Alpaca would actually be covered…

  • Michael__K

    Did you read that 27 page policy — and enter all your payment information — in the <15 minutes before your flight purchase session expires? (If not, you would have to start over and re-price your flights)

    They present exactly the same protection plan at exactly the same price for flights inside of 14 days — which offer zero pre-existing condition protection.

    And browsing through real examples of Chris's cases from the past 2 months or so:
    It won't cover you for a cancelled wedding or sightseeing tour or other event
    It won't cover you for lost vacation days (just extra out of pocket costs)
    It won't cover you if you are eligible for a refund from the carrier and the carrier drags it's feet.
    It won't cover you if there's a State Dept travel warning
    It won't help you if you are fooled by a bogus delay message and end up at the wrong departure gate
    It won't cover your musical instrument
    It won't cover any baggage items totaling over $500 in value
    It won't cover delays (including missed connection) unless your flight is delayed 6 hours or more

    Not to say this isn't nonetheless a legitimately useful product for some passengers. But IMO it's inappropriate to sell this kind of product with a "would-you-like-fries-with-that" approach. But as Chris points out, it's a lucrative up-sell.

  • Thomas Ralph

    Judging from the number of people who come on here looking for their nonrefundable flight/hotel/car rental/whatever to be refunded because [insert reason that the travel insurance they didn’t purchase covers], I think this is fine.

  • John Baker

    “Did you read that 27 page policy — and enter all your payment information — in the <15 minutes before your flight purchase session expires?"

    Nope but I don't need to either. Look at Chris's screen grab. You have ten days to cancel the policy for a full refund.

    Large chunks of your items don't apply because this policy is limited to flights only. They also don't apply because they are individual choices that people made or human error (sorry I have never been convinced that the OP in the "bogus travel delay" didn't just misread the screen since those are generated from central DBs).

    If you want to be covered for everything, you'd need to buy a cancel for any reason rider on a policy for your whole trip not a policy for your air flight.

  • Michael__K

    It’s nice that they offer a 10-day cancellation period. It’s still a hassle to actually request a refund. They don’t say up front (as far as I can tell) but I believe that a policy cancellation and refund needs to be requested in writing (by mail). Some people will write off the ~$25 before spending the time on it.

    I don’t have a problem with promotional links to travel insurers. I think the approach taken here (which to be fair is not unique to JetBlue) does not foster consumers making informed, educated choices.

  • sirwired

    Huh. On one level, that totally makes sense. A blind man without his seeing eye dog may be utterly unable to successfully do whatever it was he planned to do on his trip. On the other hand, I could see that provision being ripe for abuse…

  • Carchar

    United has a similar insurance “offer,” but, as of now, you don’t have to check anything to move on.

  • jpp42

    I understand that Allianz is a reputable insurance company. That doesn’t stop them from also offering watered-down “protection” to get around the requirements of insurance regulation. I’m not really convinced by your reply – the JetBlue/Allianz wording is extremely careful to avoid mention of the word “insurance” – which I think conveys the meaning of a reputable, regulated product – and instead uses the non-regulated word “protection” instead. Here is the link that has the details of the “protection” offering, for your reference:

    When I click through to the terms and conditions, I have to select a state. For New York, for example, I did get a terms and conditions for an actual state-regulated travel insurance product. But I’m wondering if some states they get away with something less than true insurance. I don’t have time to check them all, sorry.

    JetBlue *does* also market real travel insurance, see – but this is separate from the travel protection product, and has to be purchased directly from a third party, not through their booking process.

  • jpp42

    Exactly, and she likely wouldn’t be covered by travel insurance due to pre-existing conditions.

  • sirwired

    I’m pretty sure that if you clicked through all fifty states, you’d find it’s insurance in all of them. Insurance regulators are not blind; they regulate all insurance products, no matter what the seller chooses to call it. Even without the State Specific Rider, the actual policy has the word “insurance” plastered all over it.

  • California Dave

    I am one of those people that really needs travel insurance (although I only buy it for expensive foreign travel). I have incurable cancer and although it is under control and I feel great, you never know. My father is 80 and in good health, but again, you never know. I have used the same company 8 times and only filed one claim when the Iceland volcano prevented us from getting to our Danube river cruise. The criuse company refused to offer a refund or even credit on a future cruise and the insurance refunded us 100% for air, criuse, Add-on package, and other pre-purchased amenities within 30 days of filing a simple claim. It pays to shop around. Dad and I are doing a cruise on the Elbe river- Berlin to Prague next spring. Going through my normal insurer, dad’s premium was quoted at $1500 since he is now 80. Mine was $550. Our TA found that our cruise line used the same insurer and the price was $419 each, but only included the cruise itself. We opted to purchase the airfare insurance thru United/Allianz since I was using ff miles to upgrade to Business class and the cost of the insurance was less than the fees to transfer the miles back into my acct if we cancelled and also provided for a full refund for covered events. I was mailed the full policy to review in detail within 5 days of purchase and could cancel within another 5 days for a full refund. It covered pre-existing conditions and included anything that would be a potential risk to us. I had our travel agent review it as well and they approved the policy for our needs. As always, it is buyer beware in the travel industry, so get professional help or advice if needed.

  • CMP

    We just returned to Boston from a trip to California, and our JetBlue flight was scheduled to depart San Francisco the morning after the Korean jet crashed. Fortunately, our flight was diverted to Oakland and we left on time. However, with 5 of us, plus luggage, we had to find a way to get from SF to Oakland. We were scheduled to return our rental car to SF airport the night before our flight, but decided to hold onto it since it was our only transportation to Oakland. We also purchased flight insurance from Allianz, and I was sure that our additional rental car cost of $124 would be covered due to the plane crash. Here’s what I found out…initial responses from Allianz said our case was not covered (but I could still file a claim); JetBlue also refused to compensate us saying we should seek reimbursement from Allianz. JetBlue also told us they had provided transportation to Oakland, but it was never mentioned to us in the flight change e-mail we received the night before our departure, nor was it mentioned to my husband he called JetBlue an hour later just to be on the safe side. I didn’t buy flight insurance expecting problems due to a crash; I bought it because I have a 91-year-old mother and three kids and history had shown that the chances of something happening to one of them (sickness, accident, etc.) to stop our trip were strong. I’m upset with both JetBlue and Allianz for not doing the right thing after the plane crash. We spent a lot of money on 5 airline tickets, plus flight insurance, and neither companies is willing to step up and cover transportation expenses we incurred trying to get to a different airport. There must be a high authority I can go to in a case like this.

  • CMP

    And it won’t cover flight disruptions or transportation expenses incurred due to a plane crash!! Imagine that.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Yes there is… and his name is Chris Elliott. First, however, go to the top of this page and click “Company Contacts.” Once there, go to “Airlines” for JetBlue’s contact information, and “Travel Insurance” for Allianz’ contact info. Contact their customer service people, then if necessary, their executives… IN WRITING! No phone calls. Keep copies of everything. On the off-chance that that doesn’t produce acceptable results, revisit the top of the page, click “Connect” and bring Chris into the loop. Good luck!

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