Your credit card’s “free” trip insurance may not offer the protection you need

When Monique Tubb’s adult daughter was injured while vacationing in Colorado, she canceled the rest of her trip and flew home immediately. Tubb was confident that her UnitedPlus Explorer card’s complimentary trip insurance would cover all the additional expenses.

It didn’t. And now she wants to know why her full claim was not paid.

Tubb’s story shows why you should not assume that all trip insurance policies are created equal. They aren’t — and the free ones can be especially “unequal.”

“My adult daughter fell and tore both ACLs during our recent family trip,” Tubb explains. “She was advised to fly home early to see her own doctor.”

Tubb’s daughter and her husband paid the change fee and the increased cost for their tickets, spending $724, and flew home, where she soon had surgery to repair the damage to her knees.

Since Tubb had paid for the entire trip with her MileagePlus Explorer card, she was sure that her daughter would be reimbursed that $724 because it qualified as a trip interruption.

“Purchasing with this card means travel insurance is included,” she wrote. “I filed an insurance claim and after providing all requested information, they refunded only $297. But my daughter and her husband spent an additional $427 to get home. Where is the rest of my reimbursement?”

When I reviewed the paper trail and the terms of this complimentary trip insurance policy, it was clear that Tubb had an inflated view of what was actually included with this benefit.

After Tubb submitted her claim, she received approval for the maximum eligible benefit under the terms of the policy.

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The terms of this policy can be found on Chase Bank’s website. It is a lengthy document, but the information that Tubb needed to understand about her policy is there.

The section headed “What types of Trip Interruption expenses are eligible for reimbursement?” reads as follows:

If a Trip Interruption occurs, the company will reimburse you for up to the maximum benefit amount of ten thousand ($10,000.00) dollars for: the forfeited, nonrefundable pre-paid land, air and/or sea transportation arrangements that were missed.

I read the entire policy, and there is no mention of covering any additional costs that may be incurred during a trip interruption. The policy only covers prepaid items.

The $297 represented the change fee on the original (prepaid) airline tickets. By reimbursing Tubb’s daughter and her husband for the change fee to those tickets, this trip insurance policy paid out all that was due in this case. Her daughter and her husband had not prepaid for any other parts of the trip.

But Tubb felt that the policy should cover the new tickets that the couple was forced to buy.

I explained to Tubb that this complimentary trip insurance is a basic policy and does not include many types of expenses that could be covered under a more comprehensive policy purchased directly through a trip insurance company.

While I was researching this case for Tubb, I consulted a website called Insure my Trip. Here, it is possible to do a side-by-side comparison of various types of trip insurance policies that you may consider based on your specific travel needs. You enter your trip destination, age of travelers and dates of travel and you will be presented with multiple companies and their trip insurance policies.

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Looking at some of the policies that are offered for domestic vacations for a family of four, I noted that for about $100, companies such as Allianz and Travelex, among others, offer trip insurance that includes trip interruption coverage. Such a policy does cover expenses incurred to get you back home.

For example, the language in the Allianz policy specifically spells out that the policy “Reimburses you for the unused, non-refundable portion of your trip and for the increased transportation costs it takes for you to return home due to a covered reason.”

Unfortunately for Tubb, the last part of that sentence is missing from her policy. And that is why her case ends up in the Case Dismissed file.

We could not help Tubb in her quest to receive further reimbursement for her daughter, because the terms of her policy are clear and do not provide for the expenses that she requested.

When you plan a vacation, domestic or international, make sure to consider whether you need a trip insurance policy.

If you choose to rely on a free policy that is included with your credit card membership, make sure that you are familiar with its terms and what is covered so that you can avoid unpleasant surprises such as the one Tubb received.

As always, it is important to read the fine print on these documents so that you are clear about what kind of protection is included. Don’t assume that you are covered for something that is not specifically spelled out in your contract. Because if it isn’t written into the contract, you can be sure the insurance company isn’t paying for it.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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