The control center was on fire, but Travel Guard still won’t pay

Chuck Chiarello’s bucket list vacation to Alaska got off to a false start when his flight was canceled. It ended on a wrong note when his travel insurance company refused to cover some of his expenses associated with the cancellation.

I’ll cut to the chase: Since this story appears under the Case Dismissed! header, you already know how it ends. But it’s yet another cautionary tale about travel insurance, which should come in handy if you’re planning to insure your spring break vacation.

At first glance, I thought Chiarello had a pretty good chance of getting some money back. Boy, was I wrong.

Last May, he, his wife and another couple flew from Philadelphia to Anchorage to catch a tour. Total cost: $6,895 per couple, not including $156 per person for the Travel Guard insurance.

The first leg of their flight on May 13, from Philadelphia to Chicago on United Airlines, didn’t happen as scheduled. Theirs was one of more than 1,000 flights canceled after a fire in an air traffic control center.

“We waited at the Philadelphia airport all day, boarding and unboarding the plane until we were told our flight was finally canceled about 5 p.m.,” he says. “Our trip package in Alaska began on Thursday, May 15th. We thought it fortunate that we had planned on arriving in Anchorage a day early to sightsee.”

United tried to reroute both couples to Anchorage in time for their tour, to no avail. Their travel agent, Liberty Travel, couldn’t help either. So they took matters into their own hands.

“We called Alaska Airlines and found a flight with four seats leaving from Newark on Wednesday night at $800 per person,” says Chiarello. “With the time changes the flight would get us to Anchorage with about 5 hours to spare till the start of our tour package at 7 a.m. on Thursday morning.”

United Airlines arranged to transport them to Newark. They paid for accommodations at the DoubleTree in Newark, but they also lost the prepaid hotel rate at the Westmark Hotel in Anchorage because of its cancellation policy.

Chiarello assumed Travel Guard would have his back, refunding him for his lost hotel stay and the sizable difference in airfare. But that’s not what happened.

Travel Guard agreed to refund his hotel room in Newark, but nothing else.

Like Chiarello, I assumed his airfare might be covered. But no — he received only a refund on his stay at the DoubleTree.

I asked Travel Guard about his case. Here’s the somewhat defensive response.

As a general rule, we do not discuss details of our customers’ claims with third parties or the press. However, we will note generally that, while we have a range of Travel Guard insurance plans that can cover a wide variety of contingencies while traveling, not every reason for a delay or interruption is covered under every plan.

In this particular case we paid all losses that were covered under the plan purchased. Unfortunately, not every loss the customers suffered was covered under their plan.

We encourage our customers to review available plans and make the choice best suitable for their trip, their concerns and their budgets before they buy. Our staff of licensed professionals is always available to answer questions and explain coverage options.

I reviewed the denial letter and it all hinges on the ambiguous wording in the contract:

Trip Interruption Benefits: The Insurer will reimburse the Insured up to the Maximum Limit shown on the Schedule for Trips that are interrupted due to the Unforeseen events shown above:

(a) forfeited, insured Trip Cost, and

(b) additional transportation expenses incurred by the Insured,

(i) to the Return Destination; or
(ii) from the place that the Insured left the Trip to the place that the Insured may rejoin the Trip; or

(c) additional transportation expenses incurred by the Insured to
reach the original Trip Destination if the Insured is delayed,
and leaves after the Departure Date.

However, the benefit payable under (b) and (c) above will not exceed the cost of economy airfare or the same class as the Insured’s original ticket less any refunds paid or payable by the most direct route.

I’ve read — and re-read — that paragraph, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what it says or how it should be interpreted. I can, however, tell you what the right thing would have been: Travel Guard should have covered Chiarello’s trip. Full stop.

Had Chiarello called Travel Guard before buying those Alaska Airlines tickets to Anchorage, he might have been able to get Travel Guard to cover the additional expenses. At the very least, he would have known if he was covered or not under his policy.

Remember, it’s always worth considering travel insurance. But just because you have insurance doesn’t mean you’re covered.

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