Travel insurance no-nos: 5 things you should never, ever do when you’re filing a claim

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When it comes to travel insurance, details matter. Just ask Shannon Carr.

Carr, a homemaker from Jefferson, Ga., was a guest on her niece’s wedding cruise last year. But she missed the boat after suffering a shoulder injury. Although Carnival Cruises offered her a partial refund, Allianz Travel Insurance denied her claim for the remaining $861.

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The problem? Her doctor had answered a question on one of her forms incorrectly, and she failed to notice it.

“I believe the doctor misunderstood what Allianz was asking,” she recalls. As a result, the doctor filled in the form incorrectly — and the claim was denied.

Fortunately, her story had a happy ending. Allianz Travel Insurance reviewed her claim and honored it. But the lesson isn’t lost. When you’re filing a travel insurance claim, every answer matters, especially the ones your doctor provides. Details count.

“Incomplete claim forms are the number one reason that claims reimbursements are delayed,” says Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz. “When we receive incomplete information, we often have to go back to the customer or their doctor and this holds up the approval of the claim and ultimately the payment.”

Here are five things you should never do when you’re filing an insurance claim:

Travel insurance companies can be sticklers for deadlines. There’s really no benefit to waiting to file a claim. Most policies give you 90 days to file a claim, but read your policy carefully. If you’re unsure of something, call your travel insurance company and ask. “The sooner the provider is made aware,” says Carolyn Leckie, a spokeswoman for the travel insurance site, “the faster the process will go.”

Forget your manners
I’ve seen some insurance appeals undercut by salty language or angry rhetoric. So before you start filing your claim, remember to keep things professional. There’s another person on the other side of the claim and they have some flexibility in the way they handle things. Threats to litigate may get your request routed to the legal department, where you could face additional delays.

Omit a required document
Travel insurance companies are not in the business of letting the paperwork slide. They actually publish lists of documents you need in order to file a successful claim (here’s the Allianz Travel Insurance checklist page, for example.) So, for a dental expense, you would need to submit copies of all medical bills you receive and, if applicable, a copy of the relevant accident or incident report.

From time to time, I receive help requests from customers who file claims that are not entirely truthful. Every now and then, I’ll also hear from an insurance adjuster who is trying to uncover the truth. It rarely ends well for the traveler. No need to try to embarrass anyone in making this point, but the bottom line is: Don’t lie. Don’t embellish the facts, omit relevant facts, or downplay important ones. The adjusters will find out, and when they do, your claim could be denied.

Lose your patience
Travel insurance claims typically take between two and four weeks to process, but some complicated claims that require more extensive research by an adjuster can take longer. Expect to receive a form acknowledgment of your claim, with a final decision within roughly a month, but no more than two months.

And one final thought: If you booked your insurance policy through a travel agent, remember to enlist your travel advisor when you file a claim. Consider what happened to one of Christina Ernst’s clients.

“Last year, I had a young couple book their honeymoon through me,” remembers Ernst, the president of VIP Southern Tours in Sautee-Nacoochee, Ga. “The fiancé died in a horrible car wreck eight days before their wedding and honeymoon.”

Her surviving client was distraught. Ernst took care of all the paperwork, canceling the entire honeymoon.

“The client has been refunded and has also positively moved on with her life, especially after enduring such a traumatic experience,” says Ernst.

Travel insurance can be complicated, but the claims process doesn’t have to be. Travel insurance companies are working on ways to make it easier. For example, Allianz recently redesigned its claim forms to make it easier to understand and added the ability to file claims online from any device.

The rest is up to you. As long as you have a good sense of timing, remember your paperwork, provide all the necessary facts and mind your manners, your claim is far likelier to succeed.

16 thoughts on “Travel insurance no-nos: 5 things you should never, ever do when you’re filing a claim

  1. I am confused at a statement in this post. “I believe the doctor misunderstood what Allianz was asking,” she recalls. “On that form, he stated ‘yes’ that I would have been able to travel when I purchased the cruise and policy. Due to that letter from the doctor, my claim was denied.” On every insurance policy that I purchase, it is standard that I be able to travel when I purchase both the insurance and the trip. Did you mean to say that the doctor said that she would NOT have been able to travel when the insurance and trip were purchased?

  2. My favorite piece of advice on TI claims is:

    View the initial request from the insurance company as a minimum; there’s no advantage to sending the insurance company through a game of 20 questions. Include the forms/documentation they request, certainly, but add any other information you think might be helpful in justifying your claim. (NOTE: Not Helpful: The Card Deck of Misery, where you tell them you are single / elderly / fixed-income / poor / newlyweds / divorced / single-parent / veteran / etc.)

    For instance: If you are filing a medical claim, feel free to include any helpful bits from the chart, with relevant passages circled. (For instance: when I had to cancel a cruise because Dad needed a bypass, I included his referral letter from his cardiologist to the surgeon recommending the surgery be scheduled without delay; I circled that part.) If filing a claim with a lot of receipts (like a trip delay claim), attach a narrative as to what happened when, and exactly what each receipt is for.

    The idea is to answer the questions from the adjuster before they have them. A fat envelope with nothing but the basic forms and a dozen crumpled and cryptic receipts or a tersely-filled-out medical form is not going to pre-dispose the adjuster to swiftly approve your claim.

    1. Very good. And may I add that any receipts should include a concise expense-account type of report. Narratives can be explanatory (why the expense was necessary), but can tend to be too wordy.

    2. went skiing & took out travel insurance from a number of options. The one we took covered skiing BUT NOT snowboarding. Asked why & was told, that snowboarders make far more dodgy claims & to offer a cheaper product, this one company excluding snowboarding completely.

    3. And keep a copy of every piece of paper you send them, so that when they say they haven’t been able to find your claim, you can send another right away (and keep a copy of that, too!).

  3. I recommend reading the doctor’s report or letter and having any errors fixed before it is sent in. Many times a doctor will tell an employee to generate a letter and the employee may miss including important information that is not obvious to a layman. Other errors can be something as simple as a mistyped date.

  4. As an optometrist I’m sometimes asked to write letters to employers, teachers, etc. My biggest piece of advice is this–tell me what needs to be in the letter. I want to help you. Tell me what your employer/teacher/insurance company wants in the letter and as long as I don’t have to lie, I’ll make sure it’s there.

  5. I also suggest checking carefully directly with the insurance company before buying a policy that covers medical expenses whether they will pay out while you are receiving the care on your trip or whether they require you to pay, submit receipts and then reimburse you. Some will begin right off by paying directly to the providers if you go through proper procedure by contacting them when you learn you need medical service or have an accident.

    I travel solo often and have checked how it will proceed if I am in a terrible accident or am, in some other way, incapacitated and unable to contact the insurer myself and have had different types of responses for that situation from different insurers. I choose ones that have a process in place that is not cumbersome in that event (which I hope never happens).

    1. You need to make sure the policy you buy is primary coverage, not secondary coverage. Primary is a little more expensive but so much easier when you can call the insurance company and the handle everything, including paying the hospital or doctor for you. Many secondary policies can easily be upgraded to primary.

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