5 things you must do before you file your travel insurance claim

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By Christopher Elliott

Peter Kuhmerker was set for the vacation of a lifetime — a nine-day Ireland tour from Dublin to Killarney booked through Great Value Vacations. As a precaution, he even purchased a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policy through the company.

And then his life almost ended.

Kuhmerker suffered a heart attack just a few days before his departure. He contacted Great Value Vacations, which assured him it would secure a full refund from his hotel and airline. But he didn’t file a claim, instead relying on the company’s promise of a refund.

“I followed up with a phone call and was treated rather rudely,” says Kuhmerker, an IT worker from Alexandria, Va. “I could understand why I might not get a full or partial refund but they insisted that I log onto their system and fill out a cancellation form – even though they said I would not get a refund.”

Kuhmerker’s case took a while to fix, but thanks to a lot of persistence on his part and a nudge or two from my advocacy team, he finally received a $3,212 check. But his case is also instructive. Before you file a travel insurance claim, make sure you have a case to file.

And then, don’t forget to actually file your claim. (Here’s how to find the best travel insurance.)

But there’s more.

Read the instructions on the insurance policy

Understanding what your travel insurance company needs in order to successfully process your claim is key, according to Todd Erkis, a professor of finance and risk management at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and author of the book, “What Insurance Companies Don’t Want You to Know: An Insider Shows You How to Win at Insurance.” “Following the requirements for filing a claim, like getting the appropriate documentation from the doctors and hospital, notifying the correct people at the insurance company, and coordinating with the U.S. health insurer,” he says. “That’s critical to getting paid.” If you fail to do this, you could miss important requirements and your claim could be denied.

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Know your insurance policy’s limits

Every travel insurance policy has limits, also known as exclusions. Know what they are or you could end up with a denied claim. “Almost all policies don’t cover mental illness, fear of traveling, adventure sports, Zika, your dog becoming ill, and more,” says veteran travel agent Helen Prochilo of Promal Vacations. But there’s a workaround: A “cancel for any reason” policy will cover you and reimburse you for part or all of your vacation if you decide to cancel.

Collect your receipts, documents and other paperwork

Insurance companies are sticklers for documentation. (I once had a $1,000 claim denied because I forgot to fill out one field. Seriously.) “If a loss occurs while travelling, it is very important to keep all documents that reflect the existence and value of the loss,” advises Joshua Haffner, a lawyer who has litigated numerous insurance cases. If an insurance company demands original receipts, make sure you keep a copy for your own records. And don’t dispose of any paper records until the check clears.

Fire up your laptop

Going online instead of picking up the phone is perhaps one of the biggest shortcuts to a successful claim. Although you can still file by mail, it can significantly lengthen the process. “Filing a claim is fairly straightforward, and understanding that it’s not always feasible to file during standard business hours, most providers have an online claims process to allow a traveler to file as soon as desired,” says James Page, AIG Travel’s senior vice president and chief administrative officer. It’s true — conducting your transaction online, and electronically, not only saves time but also creates a paper trail that will help you if your claim is turned down. (Related: Will your travel insurance cover you when you need it?)

Check the clock

Finally, don’t wait too long. In the insurance industry, this is called “timely filing.” “Timely filing is a fancy term for a deadline,” explains Justin Tysdal, CEO of travel insurance company Seven Corners. “Some of our plans — and most insurance companies in general — have a timely filing limit that you have to follow.” Here’s what you need to know: If you don’t provide the required documents within the stated timeframe, your claim could be denied, when normally it may have been covered. Most travel plans have a 90-day limit. For your own purposes, you should just file as soon as possible to avoid any trouble.

Follow these simple tips and your claim has a far greater chance of being honored by your travel insurance company.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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