Mad about my ‘bait-and-switch’ travel insurance

Michelle Cahr believes her Allianz travel insurance covers her trip interruption. Not exactly.

Question: I know you have written about insurance for travel in the past, but I wanted to bring a matter to your attention. The United Airlines website offers Allianz travel insurance, but when it came to covering my expenses, I felt it was a “bait-and-switch” insurance policy that outlines what is covered but in reality does not cover anything beyond travel delay.

Here’s what happened: A friend and I purchased tickets to fly from Newark, New Jersey, to Panama in January. In addition to paying $1,353 for the flight, we purchased the Allianz travel insurance shown on the United Airlines site for an additional $80.

The travel insurance indicated that it would cover trip cancellation, travel delay and trip interruption. The trip was going to cost over $3,500, so we felt the insurance was vital.

The flight on United to Panama City was excellent, and our time in the country went well, until it was time to return. We learned the day before our return of the snowstorm on the East Coast and of the cancellation of our Saturday flight back to Newark.

Efforts to contact United via phone were futile, as tens of thousands of people were affected and United did not have the staff to answer telephone calls from passengers without Elite status. Efforts by the hotel staff in Panama to contact United also failed. We quickly booked a hotel in Panama for the Saturday night stay and contacted my father, who has been flying United for over 55 years and has Gold status.

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He was able to get through to the Premier Desk and get us on a Sunday flight out of Panama to Houston. We then would spend a night in Houston at a hotel near the airport and travel to New York on Monday morning.

The United personnel were excellent, and we arrived safely in New York City on Monday afternoon. I contacted Allianz and was told to file a claim. We did not even ask for reimbursement for many of the taxi fares and phone calls, just two hotel nights and some of our other expenses. We were surprised when Allianz came back to us indicating that all it would cover was $200 each for travel delay. Allianz’s policy cover sheet indicated that it would be much higher.

I felt the insurance was a scam, and could not believe a “class act” like United would work with a company like Allianz, which promotes insurance coverage but does not deliver.

Others who purchased travel insurance outside of United through Travel Guard received reimbursement for all their expenses. I am asking you to look at our situation to see if you can help. In addition, I feel it is important for others to know that the Allianz insurance offered by the airline is essentially worthless. — Michelle Cahr, New York

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your delay. Airlines sometimes cancel flights during bad weather, for your safety. Most airline contracts of carriage — the legal agreements between you and the airline — say that airlines don’t have to meet their schedules. Dangerous weather is one good reason for that clause (there are plenty of bad reasons, too, but that’s a topic for another time).

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I checked the terms of the coverage in your state, and United and Allianz say it’s up to the amount purchased. So technically, you should have been able to receive a refund for the items covered, as long as they didn’t exceed the amount of your coverage.

Travel insurance isn’t a scam, but it sometimes seems that way. When those around you get bigger checks for their delays, something sure doesn’t seem fair. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend ever omitting information from a claim. I can assure you that the agents handling your claim will cut a check only for what they have to. In other words, they won’t be generous.

This is the type of case that needed to be appealed. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the Allianz executives in charge of customer service on my consumer-advocacy site.

You contacted Allianz and asked it to take a second look at your claim. It agreed to pay you an additional $403, which covers the majority of your additional expenses.

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 Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • James

    Another case for travel insurance insurance.

  • Ben

    This isn’t a case of bait-and-switch, it’s misrepresentation and poor customer service.

  • Chris Johnson

    Travel insurance would be a great product if it actually worked the way it was supposed to, like most other kinds of property and casualty insurance. But the stories I keep reading about it make me think that purchasing it is as good as flushing the extra money spent on the premiums down the toilet.

  • cscasi

    I have used travel insurance for quite a few years and for the three times I have had to file claims, it has paid me right down to the penny claimed. So, while there may be some that people feel don’t work the way they are supposed (just how are they supposed to work?), all I can say is I have had no problems.

  • cscasi

    Michelle Cahr, at the prompting of Chris and his team, contacted Allianz and got it to take a second look at her claim; getting back an additional $403, which covered most of her additional expenses, so how is that “bait-and-switch” if she got back what she was supposed to get, according to her policy coverage? Yes, it took asking for a second look, which should not normally have to happen, but companies miscalculate, miss something or make a mistake now and then and a prompting to ask for reconsideration sometimes fixes the problem(s).

  • Chris Johnson

    The way travel insurance is supposed to work is just like you said – pay you right down to the penny claimed like health, auto, fire or flood insurance would. If it has worked for you, that’s great but I hear way too many stories of trip insurance companies overpromising what they can cover and then not paying a damn thing when claims (seemingly legitimate ones from what I read) are made. Of course, reading the fine print on any insurance policy is important but they way these travel policies are sold you’re made to think you’ll get a full reimbursement on everything if there are issues like OP’s experience, and that often turns out not to be the case. Travel insurance seems to have a sleazy reputation but then, I can’t speak from experience either.

  • Carchar

    Silly me. This brings to mind when I was forced to stay two extra nights at The Canopy Tower near Panama City, Panama, due to hurricane Irene in August, 2011. It was “green season,” so I was not paying anywhere near top dollar for my all-inclusive time there. I was so pleased to have to extend my vacation, that I never even thought to contact Travel Guard, my travel insurance company. I even got to see the national bird of Panama, the harpy eagle, in the wild, when I should have been on my way to the airport.

  • pauletteb

    Perhaps she also mentioned Chris’s name.

  • AAGK

    Sounds like she appealed and recovered. It is annoying that one should have to appeal to get the proper result, but I’m glad Allianz came through with something. $200 was absurdly low.

  • cscasi

    Good thoughts. Perhaps you will gain some experience with some of these companies in the future and then you will actually know from experience and not just what you hear.

  • Altosk

    Did Allianz ever give a reason for their lousy initial payout?

  • jsn55

    Well done, Michelle. Insurance adjusters come to work in the morning with a goal of paying out as little as possible. Sometimes, it just takes a second round too get a claim handled. I remember a fairly substantial claim for drug reimbursement after the insurance company changed their procedures. I did exactly as instructed, the adjuster and I went round and round for 2 months on the phone. We developed quite a rapport. Finally one morning I said, “Look, Freddy, I understand that your job is to turn down claims. My job is to follow your instructions and receive reimbursement. Let me assure you that I am NOT going away”. I had a check in 2 weeks

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