An unexpected health crisis leads to a lost honeymoon. Can we help?

Larry Bonistalli is a determined father. When his son’s fiancée suffers a sudden stroke right before their wedding and honeymoon, Bonistalli resolves to retrieve the money that the couple spent on the uninsured trip. Can we help him with this quest? Should we help?

Question: I am writing on behalf of my son. In late August he and his fiancée booked a European honeymoon to Greece (Santorini and Mykonos). Since then, his 29-year-old fiancée had a stroke. She can’t travel. We have the medical document from her team of doctors. I am working with American Airlines and, after several tries, I think we will get a full refund.

With medical expenses and not knowing the future, my son needs all of these flights and hotels to be refunded. So far, the hotels have already refunded.

The problem is that the Greek commuters to the Islands (Aegean and Olympic) won’t respond. They were booked through Expedia and Priceline. These airlines simply do not care and the booking agents are not helpful at all. Between the two, it’s another $700. My son could really use this money for all the expenses that he now faces. Could you help me? Larry Bonistalli, Naperville, Ill.

Answer: As you may know, we typically don’t advocate third-party requests for help — except in rare cases which have aspects that point to a need for the additional “helper.”

Each week we field a multitude of requests for assistance. Invariably, a small portion of these are well-meaning parents who are contacting us on behalf of their adult children. In most of these cases the “kids” are described by their parents as being simply “too busy” to handle the problem on their own. That’s not exactly a compelling argument for our team to take a case.

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Sometimes the parent pretends to be the adult child. The big reveal usually happens when the consumer is unable to provide the actual facts of the case. These types of requests end up wasting our time and the time of the over-involved parent. No one benefits.

But when I read your request for help, it was clear that your case fit into an entirely different category.

It is completely understandable that your son can’t focus on this monetary problem right now — he has much bigger things to worry about.

Knowing that it would be exceedingly difficult to obtain refunds if the dates of the trip passed, you sprung into action to help your son.

With careful planning, this young couple had booked their honeymoon on their own. Unfortunately, most parts of their journey were nonrefundable, and they had neglected to purchase any trip insurance.

When I reviewed your paper trail, I was amazed by the refunds that you had already secured for your son.

There is no doubt that you are a proficient advocate.

Using much of the How to write an effective complaint letter guidance that can be found in the FAQs on our site, you methodically wrote to each involved company.

Your emails were concise, polite and fact-based, and they acknowledged that you were asking for a compassionate consideration — not anything that was owed to your son. Lastly, you attached the supporting medical documentation.

Your letters were as close to perfect as I have seen.

American Airlines and both hotels in Greece responded to you affirmatively. Unfortunately, you hit a stumbling block when you reached out to Aegean and Olympic Airlines.

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In fact, you received no response at all.

And when you asked Priceline and Expedia for assistance, your initial requests were rebuffed.

But bolstered by your other successes, you didn’t give up. Using our company contacts for Expedia and Priceline, you sent your letter to other executives within the companies.

You finally reached someone at Priceline who agreed to refund the Aegean Airlines tickets.

That left only one holdout on your list: Expedia.

You asked if I could help with this final hurdle. I contacted Expedia and described your ongoing pursuit and explained why a refund (and not a voucher) would be particularly helpful to your son and his fiancée.

The resolution team at Expedia also had compassion for this terrible, unexpected event and agreed to the refund.

In the end, through a variety of means you were able to retrieve all of your son’s prepaid expenses. But it wasn’t easy, and your time certainly could have been better spent focusing on your family during this difficult time.

This situation is one that points to the importance of trip insurance — even for young people. Unexpected calamities and illnesses can happen to anyone. Trip insurance can make a terrible situation a little less troublesome by at least removing the threat of a financial loss of a canceled vacation.

We wish your son’s fiancée continued improvement, and we hope that someday soon this couple will be able to enjoy the wedding and honeymoon that was originally planned.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. As the managing director of, she leads the advocacy, editorial and production departments. Read more of Michelle's articles here.

  • finance_tony

    That’s a sad situation, and I’m glad it’s resolved in their favor. But I guess I’ll never understand why people want (or expect) someone else to cover their misfortune, when they choose not to do it themselves.

  • Blamona

    While I feel terrible for the situation, doesn’t this “penalize” those that get insurance? Also, how about holding back the cost of insurance, or what insurance doesn’t cover? I realize the terrible predicament they’re in and wish them well, but at what cost to those doing things right?

  • Annie M

    I hope Dad has now preached to son about making sure they buy insurance going forward. Glad you wee able to help them out and i hope this is a warning to the countless millennials who think they don’t need insurance for big trips. This would have been a simple process if they had just purchased it.

  • greg watson

    although I sympathise with the son & his situation, he is approx 25-30 years old ??……………negative occurrences occur often in a lifetime ………….&……. it was his responsibility to pursue his refunds, not his ‘helicopter’ father……..glad it was resolved though.

  • andi330

    While there are certainly times when a parent has no business advocating for their adult child, this is not one of them. When you are supporting a sick loved one in the hospital, it can take up all of your free time. In that situation, there is no reason why relatives or friends can’t support you by helping you with other tasks. Dealing with this kind of major illness is no small task. Have some compassion, and recognize that there are times that it is acceptable for someone to ask for help from a parent, relative, or other support system.

  • John McDonald

    why promote these type of stories. You might as well say, never take insurance, get Elliot to fix it.
    The real question here is why is medical so stupidly expensive in USA ? It’s not like it’s the best in the world. Medical insurance for drs is probably the problem & that is because your very dodgy legal system in the USA lets people sue for the most ridiculous situations. Fix your legal system & medicine won’t be so insanely expensive. Public medicine is free in UK & Australia. Ok public medicine is not as good as private medicine, but can’t complain about the cost.

  • Lee4You

    It’s as expensive as it is because it is run as a for profit business; not a health care system. It’s not the litigation driving costs, it’s the obscene profits desired by the insurance industry and everyone who invests in insurance companies (through their employer’s retirement, pension, or privately). Get rid of the profit and we too could have an accessible, affordable system like the rest of the civilized world.

  • Lee4You

    I’ve read here and elsewhere, people who say they never buy travel insurance because nothing ever happens to them when they travel – which is stunning to me as a way of thinking. What many do not consider is this type of unfortunate situation: getting sick or in an accident pre-trip and then needing to try to secure refunds when they are not rightfully due. It is such a small cost compared to overall travel costs these days that it is really shocking how many do not buy it.

    I am glad you could help this family. It is a tragic situation. I can’t imagine anyone reading this though and thinking they won’t buy travel insurance just because you were successful in helping out this family. If they do reach such an absurd conclusion, then that is on them and pretty ridiculous to assume is going to bail everyone out.

  • Todd Brown

    I’ve said this before here; the US is becoming, in many people’s eyes, a risk-free culture. This means that whenever something bad happens, other people are responsible. Yes, this is awful, yes everyone is compassionate, but the reality is that at many points during the planning process, the travelers had an opportunity to purchase non-refundable tickets, insurance, and a variety of other options to mitigate unforeseen events. They clearly chose the cheapest way. While this is a tribute to the perseverance of both Elliott and the father, it’s also send an unfortunate message.

  • C Schwartz

    The CEO of the health insurance plan that I have was paid over $40 million in compensation for 2016 — his pay has gone up from $27 million in 2015. That pay includes use of the company aircraft.

    Premiums rise coverage drops but the CEO is doing just fine.

    This group coverage through a medium sized employer.

    As you said it is a business — and with for profit companies like insurance companies making decisions; the system in the US is shameful.

  • Lee4You

    Indeed. We should not be putting profits over people as we advocates for true health care reform have been saying for…decades.

  • Tigger57

    I totally agree with the beginning of your message. I sell 90% percent of my clients travel insurance and sometimes feel guilty – maybe I should just give him the link to Elliott!

  • KennyG

    Public medicine is free in the UK and Australia? Wow, what wonderful doctors/nurses/health care companies you have to provide all of their services without receiving any salaries, or hospitals having to pay electrical bills and all of that stuff. Are all of the medical personnel in public medicine in the UK and Australia basically receiving welfare and food stamps to help pay their own housing costs, food costs, clothing costs, etc? Or are landlords forbidden to charge rent to anyone that is a member of the public health system. Please explain to me how it all works that it costs no one anything to receive public health care, no one pays anything to support that public health care system and all of those people and companies receive nothing for the services they provide.

  • C Schwartz

    Shameful was the polite word to use. I have a lot of other words that are more accurate.

    I wonder if there is any other country where health care coverage is a for profit business.

    I am not against business and profits– but healthcare is an area where it is a profit motive is in opposition to care of people.

    And if anyone wants to blame the affordable care act, the ceo’s compensation has only risen since implementation.

    The carrier is Aetna and all the pay info is public information.

  • Lee4You

    No, there is no other industrialized nation that has a for profit health care system. Many (most) have a system that is part paid by government and people can choose a health care plan which is based on ability to pay BUT those plans are not for profit. And, no one is denied access based on ability to pay or not.

    The NHS is truly a socialized system – wherein the medical providers are in the employ of the government and also the services are paid by the government.

    The U.S. has one such system: the Veteran’s Administration is pure “socialized” medicine though sadly run poorly.

    Unless and until the U.S. finds a replacement for the gazillion dollars people make on investing in health insurance companies, we will never have the sort of system we deserve. Yes, those other countries’ residents pay higher taxes but they never have to worry about receiving care, losing their home due to bankruptcy over not being able to pay for medical care, will not be out on the street in old age, etc.

  • SierraRose 49

    This truly is a sad and frightening story about how your life can turn into a nightmare while planning what should be the happiest day in your life. in this instance, I commend Mr. Bonistall for helping his son and his ailing fiancee. And I’m glad the Elliott advocates (Michele et al) were able to intercede and obtain a refund from Expedia.

    I know this site repeatedly preaches about getting travel insurance for those unexpected events, as Michele did in this article. Still, I think many people believe an unfortunate incident like this one will NEVER happen to them.

    This story brings to light that indeed bad things happen to good people and in a way, it serves an educational purpose. Perhaps some readers who’ve never purchased travel insurance may do so in the future.

  • joycexyz

    A perfect example of why the “young and healthy” need insurance!

  • joycexyz

    The CEO no doubt is paid this obscene amount because he manages to raise premiums while denying coverage.

  • joycexyz

    Well, gee whiz. Higher taxes? Try to get that one past the American public! And they sure don’t wanna pay for someone else’s misfortunes. We are so totally selfish–and don’t those guys in Washington know it (see the new tax plan).

  • joycexyz

    C’mon! You know it means no out-of-pocket expenses. Tax dollars pay for it. Are you one of those people who resents paying taxes, or who wants to pick and choose what his tax dollars pay for? Because I’m sure there’s stuff you value that comes from tax money.

  • joycexyz

    You are so right. Nothing ever happens to those people? Lucky them! Insurance is for the unexpected–illnesses, accidents. This case of a 29-year-old having a stroke simply proves the point.

  • C Schwartz

    Yes the significant other and I have this plan and it is not good at all. Even more offensive is that the CEO is so important that he has to take the corporate jet;
    and that benefit is part of his salary (less than $1 million if I remember).

  • KennyG

    No, I am not one of those people you seem to be describing. I am one of those people that believes that words actually have meanings. I guess you may not believe that. When someone says something is free, that means it does not cost anything. Whether you pay for it in tax dollars, or in insurance premiums to a private insurance company, or directly out of your pocket when you visit the doctor, it is definitely not free. I am not sure where you came up with the rest of the attack about me resenting what my tax dollars do or do not go for, nothing in my comment said anything about anything related to your side swipe of a comment/question. There is of course many things I value that comes from the taxes I pay, and some not so much, but I would never say that they are free.

  • joycexyz

    My apologies. I understand your belief in precise language, but let’s cut folks some slack. Anything not directly out of pocket is looked upon as free. BTW, if you look at the difference between the bill and what the insurance company or the government actually pays, a great deal of it would appear “free.” Yeah, I know it’s a big game.

  • KennyG

    I can tell you from personal experience, many folks that I am friends with, and acquainted with, come from Canada, and a small [but reasonable] percentage will argue until the cows come home that health care in Canada is indeed free. When I suggest that nothing out of pocket doesnt exactly mean free, they will still stand by their position that it is free with not even a “Yeah, but”. My background is in technology, computer systems and the like, and that may be a part of the reason for my “words have meanings” beliefs. Also, my apologies to you for my own argumentative tone in my prior response to you. We are both typically pretty much on the same side of most issues. That is the side of reasonableness, and common sense.

  • joycexyz

    My background is also in technology and computer systems. Great minds think alike!

  • John McDonald

    no in OZ & UK public health is totally free. $0 nothing. but you might have to wait a while

  • John McDonald

    boy oh boy, has someone done a number on you !!! Or do you believe all the dodgy U.S. govts & health insurance company spin ?
    Free in OZ & UK as paid for with taxes. Federally those who pay any tax at all, pay a medicare levy of around 2% I think it is, if you don’t have private medical insurance. Both OZ & UK have overly generous welfare systems, where you don’t have to work a day in your life & can still live quite comfortably. Stat govts in OZ can’t tax anyone, but they can have charges. In OZ we have duplication, both federally & state govts have health departments. Australia’s been living off mining exports, but that’s coming to an end, so we need more tourism. Luckily middle class in China is now huge & they want to travel.

  • KennyG

    Totally free? $0, nothing? Boy has someone done a number on you. Or do you believe all the dodgy stuff your gov’t tells you when they say it is the governments money that pays for your health care so it is free to all? I guess you believe that the government owns the rights to tax its citizens for whatever they want and then say the services they provide are totally free because after all it is the governments money that you work for, and thankfully they allow you to keep some of it for yourself for a few incidentals. Not sure how you can say that you are paying for your medical care with your tax dollars and in the same breath say your medical care is totally free, $0, nothing, nada.. Can’t be free and also have you pay for it at the same time with tax dollars. Which is it? Free? or paid for by tax dollars? Oh, where did I mention in any of my comments about whether or not I believe the US system is better, worse, a scam or anything else. Seems that your position requires you to demean anyone that questions the “freeness” of the OZ system by attacking the US system. Not sure what one thing has to do with the other, but maybe, since you have no actual “FREE” health care system, the best you can do is deflect and attack, both the US system as well as anyone that has to “suffer” under it.

  • John McDonald

    majority of Australians pay no income tax whatsoever. States can’t tax you. We do have indirect tax(GST) 10% on most things except health, basic foods, education, home rental etc. Everyone knows the U.S. system is hopeless & super expensive for what you get. Big problem is insurance which is unfortunately coming here. Plastic surgeon I know in private practice, pays AUD$400k a year in insurance(USD$300k) whether he works full time or part time. If he works solely in the public system, he doesn’t need any insurance.

  • Maxwell Smart

    no in Australia there’s an incredible welfare system, where even the middle class get welfare. It’s fast sending Australia broke, especially with an aging population.

  • KennyG

    Majority of Australians pay no income tax at all.. definitely something
    to be proud of. Of course you are intimately familiar with the
    incredibly lousy and expensive US system of health care from watching
    CNN International, or maybe Al Jazeera 24 hours a day. I would suggest
    you stay in Australia since everyone here will either be broke or dead
    soon from our lousy health care system.

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