This is what happens when you insure a trip in pieces

Charles Mills’ trip to Peru fell to pieces. Why? Because he insured only a piece.

His case is a necessary reminder that travel insurance only covers what it covers, despite any appearance to the contrary. It also exposes our limits as consumer advocates. If the contract doesn’t allow it, we usually can’t advocate for it.

How it all fell to pieces

Mills contacted me after his travel insurance company, turned down a claim for additional expenses he incurred on a recent Machu Picchu tour and South America cruise.

He’d booked a flight from Boston to Lima on OneTravel.com. “At the time of that purchase, I bought their offering of trip protection,” he says.

Then, the trip went sideways when he flew to Cusco the next day. Peruvian Airlines delayed and then canceled his flight. He scrambled to find a replacement that would allow him to reach his tour group on time.

He explains,

Our Peruvian Air flight was delayed and then canceled. We were offered a next day departure again at 5:50 a.m., but clearly that would not suffice.

I reported the cancel that morning to OneTravel and on returning home was told to submit a claim form. I submitted all of the receipts, boarding passes, original booking sheets and claim form electronically.

Sorry, not covered

The answer from OneTravel? Sorry, that’s not covered.

“Unfortunately, your policy does not cover itinerary changes by the airlines under trip cancellation coverage,” it said. “Trip cancellation coverage is very specific in the events that it covers. If an airline cancels your flight, that is not trip cancellation, it is trip delay. You may file it as a trip cancellation, but I will process it as a trip delay claim.”

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Mills and his insurance company can argue semantics all day, but here’s the bottom line: When he bought travel insurance through OneTravel, it only covered his flight from Boston to Lima. No more, no less.

That doesn’t sit well with Mills.

“Would any reasonable consumer think that that protection that the ticket agent sold you wouldn’t cover the situation I ultimately encountered?” he asks. “They’re betting on the fact most of these insurance sales never have claims against them. All I can say, having spent hours of time to get some compensation for my loss, consumer beware!”

Let’s go back to OneTravel’s site. Here’s its page on travel insurance.

Was Mills misled? I’ll let you review the promises it makes and render that determination. I understand where Mills is coming from. The initial pitch for travel insurance — “Protect your trip!” implies your entire trip will be protected. Of course, that’s not true.

What this means for you

Insurance companies and online agencies freak out whenever I write about the difference between the large print and the small print in their advertisements. And that’s fine. But if I can’t write about it, who can?

Mills feels ripped off. I wish I could help him, but his policy is clear. If there was just a millimeter of wiggle room, I can assure you that my team would have jumped in. But there wasn’t.

For you, the takeaway is dead simple: Never trust the large print when you make an important decision about travel insurance. Otherwise, you might not be covered.

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.

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