Sorry, your travel insurance doesn’t cover mother-in-law’s death

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By Christopher Elliott

It’s been a while since I mediated travel insurance claim, and at first glance, Dennis Puskaric’s looked like a slam-dunk.

Puskaric and his wife were vacationing in Oregon when they received the sad news that his mother-in-law had died. They had to fly back to Pennsylvania immediately, and they assumed that since they’d purchased an Allianz policy through Delta Air Lines, the claims process would be little more than a formality.

It wasn’t. Instead, his claim for a return of his lost airline miles, rental car and hotel bills, was summarily rejected by Allianz. Not only had his two-week vacation been reduced to two days, but he now had $3,468 in additional expenses that Allianz refused to cover.

“Please help me,” he wrote.

Battling for compassion in the face of tragedy

After looking at his claim, I thought it was worth a try to advocate for the Puskarics. They’d made a good-faith effort to insure their trip, and couldn’t have foreseen Mom’s death.

What’s more, there’s a precedent for refunding miles lost as a result of an insurance claim, and the fact that the policy was purchased through Delta’s site would give the average traveler the impression that they’d be covered.

So my advocacy team and I contacted Allianz.

Here’s its response:

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands, including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

We are very sorry to learn of the loss of Mr. Puskaric’s family member and we wish him and his family the best.

Under the terms of Mr. Puskaric’s travel insurance policy, he was covered for the unused part of his prepaid travel expenses and the extra out of pocket costs for reasonable transportation expenses to return home if he needed to interrupt his trip.

As the additional hotel and meal expenses he claimed were not prepaid expenses, we’re not able to reimburse him for those costs. Our review also shows that the rental car company charged him only for the days he was driving the car.

As Mr. Puskaric used frequent flyer miles to change his travel plans, he did not incur an out of pocket expense and therefore does not have a reimbursable claim.

Had Mr. Puskaric called us before he changed his plans, we would have advised him to pay for his flight change. We would have been happy to reimburse him for that out of pocket cost as well as the fee the airline might charge him to redeposit his frequent flyer miles.

Am I happy with that response? No. Neither is Puskaric.

“This is the identical response that I had received,” he says. “Can you persuade them to quit writing the company line and do a serious review of my claim?”

The short answer is: no. Short of taking the company to court, this is probably the best I’ll be able to do. I find that upsetting.

Before I get to my rant about travel insurance — wait for it! — let’s underscore the takeaway for the rest of us. (Related: Do you need travel insurance in 2023?)

Travel insurance minefields

When you think you have to make a travel insurance claim, talk with the insurance company first. When possible, get any promises made by phone in writing so that there’s no possibility of a misunderstanding. (Here’s our guide to finding the best travel insurance.)

And yes — assume nothing.

Regarding this case, I think Allianz missed an opportunity. It could have shown that even though the contract can be interpreted to deny a claim (as all contracts do), it understands good customer service.

Sure, Puskaric should have phoned Allianz, but should he have to pay $3,468 for that mistake? I don’t think so.

Stories like this give consumers a reason to believe travel insurance isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. That’s unfortunate. I believe there are times when an honest travel insurance policy can protect you from unexpected events when you travel.

The repeated rejection of Puskaric’s claim doesn’t exactly build confidence in travel insurance products.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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