Sometimes getting an insurance claim paid is like a game of chess

If you think travel agents are about as worthless as travel insurance — and I’ve seen your comments on this site, so I know you’re out there — then you’ll like this story.

Joanne Babbitt contacted me a few weeks ago because she was trying to handle an insurance claim for two clients who had been on a tour of the Galapagos Islands and Peru. It’s highly unusual for a travel agent to ask for my help, except for the occasional debit-memo dispute with an airline.

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Then I reviewed the problem.

Her clients, Harry and Ann Chess, used her agency to plan a trip last winter.

Five days into their trip, their flight failed to show, and after many hours they were finally bussed to their next destination. This delay caused them to miss a full day of sightseeing, a dinner, and their accommodations, all of which had been pre-paid.

The delay also caused their next day to get off to a late start, causing them to miss a half day of pre-paid sightseeing and lunch.

After they returned Babbitt contacted the tour operator, seeking compensation for the lost days. But the company deferred to Access America, the Chesses travel insurance company.

Access America denied the claim as “interrupted travel”, stating a 24 hour minimum delay, but did pay the Chesses $300 ($150 per person) for travel delay. However, the Chesses pre-paid $1,738 ($869 per person) for a flight and services which they did not receive.

According to Access America, trip interruption coverage provides “reimbursement for non-refundable trip payments and deposits if a trip is interrupted for illness, death or other unforeseen circumstances.” Babbitt believes it should have applied to her client’s situation.

I like the fact that Babbitt wasn’t taking “no” for an answer and that she was advocating for her clients.

But was Access America out of line for denying the Chesses their interruption claim? I put the question directly to the company. Here’s its response:

We are very sorry to hear that the Chess’ had trouble with their trip to the Galapagos Islands and Peru. We understand how frustrating it can be when a missed connection negatively affects a dream trip like this one and we sympathize with the Chess’ situation.

I have checked with our Claims Department and they have told me they have already issued a check for $150 each to Mr. and Mrs. Chess which is the daily maximum travel delay benefit under their travel insurance policy.

After further review of the Chess’ situation, we have decided to provide them with an additional payment of $150 each to cover the second day when their trip was partially affected by their missed connection.

We’re glad that Access America travel insurance was able to provide this coverage for Mr. and Mrs. Chess and we look forward to serving them again in the future.

Unfortunately, trip interruption coverage doesn’t apply to this situation, but by applying the policy’s travel delay benefit to a second day, Babbitt and her clients were able to recover some of the lost money.

Could Access America have done more? Probably. But it could have also done much less. I’ve seen stronger claims than this denied outright by insurance companies.

Could Babbitt have been a better agent? No. I think she’s a reminder of why we still need good travel agents.

(Photo: br hefele/Flickr Creative Commons)