How a consumer advocate secured a refund — by calling a 1-800 number

By | October 5th, 2016

Back in March, Christopher Bart booked six tickets to Geneva on Turkish Airlines with a stopover in Istanbul, but suddenly felt the need to change his plans when terrorists bombed the Istanbul Airport on June 28, killing 45.

At the time he booked his nonrefundable tickets with JustFly.com, he also purchased a travel insurance policy with Allianz.

Understandably, after the bombing Bart didn’t have a good feeling about flying to Istanbul. But he felt protected when he called JustFly.com to cancel his itinerary, even though the $6,000 in airfare was nonrefundable, and even though JustFly.com imposes a $150 per passenger cancellation fee.

Bart’s case, however, highlights the importance of carefully checking the conditions of your travel insurance policy before canceling nonrefundable tickets, especially when doing so will incur more costs. It also leaves us wondering what more we can do to help.

Bart’s Allianz policy specifically includes terrorism as a covered reason for cancellation. The policy says cancellation is covered if “a terrorist event happens at your foreign destination within 30 days of the day you’re scheduled to arrive.” Bart was planning to travel on July 21, and the Istanbul airport attack took place on June 28.

Bart soon learned that his claim was nevertheless denied. The reason: the terrorism did not occur at his destination, Geneva.

Per the Allianz Global Assistance policy, destination is defined as “a place more than 100 miles from your primary residence where you spend more than 24 hours of your trip.” Where Bart’s itinerary only had him at the airport in Istanbul long enough to clear customs and change planes, Istanbul could not qualify as his “destination” as defined by Allianz.

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Bart tried to remain calm in the face of the denial. “I’m pretty sure we would have canceled the Turkish Airlines tickets anyway,” Bart explained. “My family was freaking out about traveling through Turkey. But getting reimbursed would make a big difference in our finances.”

Bart asked us for help, as his problems were getting worse. After he canceled his flights on Turkish Airlines, he purchased new tickets on Lufthansa.

To make matters worse, on top of the $6,000 he lost on airfare, and the $350 he spent on the now useless insurance policy, JustFly.com imposed a $150 per passenger cancellation fee, which when multiplied by the six passengers in his party, totaled a whopping $900.


Convinced I would not get very far with JustFly.com, I did something I don’t normally do as a consumer advocate — I called the company’s toll-free customer service line. I figured they would refer me to their cancellation policy, which I simply had to question.

How can a company charge $150 per passenger to press the cancel button, when they’re not issuing a refund?

At first, the JustFly.com representative told me she couldn’t discuss Bart’s account because I am not Mrs. Bart. I agreed, but when I continued to challenge the cancellation fee, pointing out that the company didn’t perform a service to earn the $900, she put me on hold to review the file.

When the representative came back on the line, she revealed that the company warned Bart that canceling would result in a fee, but Bart accepted, insisting that he needed the cancellation in order to process his insurance claim.

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When I told the representative that his claim failed, and that due to the unrest in Istanbul he has no recourse for his lost airfare, his insurance or their junk fee, I could tell something clicked. She got it.

She said that before she could consider my request, Bart would have to give the company authority to discuss his account with me. Within minutes of receiving Bart’s email, an unknown Los Angeles number appeared on my cell phone.

It was JustFly.com, agreeing to refund the $900 fee as a one-time courtesy.

I’m going to try to help Bart recover his money from Turkish Airlines, which might take some time given the current state of affairs in the country.

In the meantime, here are a few lessons we can learn from Bart’s experience:

  • Avoid destinations — and interim destinations — that have experienced terrorism or political instability.
  • Buy travel using companies you know. Buying direct with the airline has many advantages, including removing the online travel agency middleman.
  • Read your travel insurance coverage carefully. Knowing if something is covered before canceling travel can be critical, as Bart’s case illustrates.
  • Book nonstop flights whenever possible. The Chicago to Geneva route is served nonstop by several airlines, including United.

Technically speaking, Bart canceled nonrefundable tickets. But he did that believing he’d be protected by his insurance policy. Now, he’s paying the price.

Who should reimburse Bart?

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  • greg watson

    WOW !!, so many problems with non-cancellable, (carved in stone, black & white, no-can-do) flights, hotel rooms, car rentals. Someone should just stop the insanity & set a fair / competitive price for a service & allow a reasonable amount of time for cancellation. All of these travel related insurances just add to the cost for the consumer & profits for the carrier. Once a cancellation period has been established, end of story. ( except I would presume for special circumstances, also clearly defined)

  • Even I voted No this, but not “because he bought nonrefundable tickets” which is not a reason for either reimbursement or denial.

    Cancelling a trip because “something bad happened this season” in the destination country is statistical innumeracy. You can’t be expected to fly into an active war/terrorism/disaster zone, in which case the airline would stop service anyway. You also shouldn’t be expected to go to a destination where a State Department travel warning was issued after you bought the tickets, and for that specific place. But Istanbul did not fit either of these categories for this passenger.

    Kudos to Allianz for offering a policy that covers terrorism. Every travel policy I have ever seen excludes these risks, which means that the traveler has to hope for good faith from the airline if this situation does occur.

  • One airline did stop the insanity. If only Southwest served more places.

  • RightNow9435

    My takeaway from this is that “cancellation fee” JustFly charges. I mean, in the 95% of the cases where one knows there will be no chance at all of an insurance reimbursement, why would anyone cancel their tickets and pay an additional fee. Much cheaper just to be a no-show.

  • Michael Anthony

    When Russia invaded Ukraine, travel advisory services were put into effect. Fine, if you’re traveling to Ukraine. But, even though they were using missles to shoot down military planes, most major carriers to the SE Asia region were flying routes over the Ukraine, including 10 the very day MH 17 was shot down. A prudent traveler doing research would think twice about flying any carrier that flies over a country a war. But who would think of that, and even if they did, no carrier or insurance would have accepted such a request. Same goes for Turkish right now. Some of their routes fly over less than safe regions. I don’t think being prudent is nonsense.

  • FQTVLR

    The OP was flying from Chicago to Geneva via Istanbul which takes them pretty much over European air space. None of which, right now, is considered less than safe.

  • cscasi

    The insurance company I use states under “covered reasons” , “A terrorist incident that occurs within 30 days of Your Scheduled Departure Date, in a city listed on the itinerary of Your Trip”. Sounds like in Bart’s case, it would be covered by Travel Insured International.
    I am wondering if there was a terrorist incident in Paris and one was say, flying from the USA to Zurich, Switzerland via a plane change at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris, would that be covered; or like one of Milan’s airport (Malpensa) which is located thirty some miles away from Milan. Guess I should ask my travel insurance company about whether that covers the airports actually located outside the city, just to be on the safe side.

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