Denied boarding and turned down by insurance — can I help this reader?

When Jennifer Trotter contacted me with her problem, I thought she had an excellent chance of getting a partial refund from her travel insurance company.

I thought wrong. But her case may not be over yet.

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This is the part of the week when I talk about my advocacy failures. You can learn a lot from your missteps, so I do this column regularly to enlighten my audience and give them something to make fun of. (Specifically, my own sometimes inadequate mediating skills.)

Trotter and her family had booked a Royal Caribbean cruise that departed from San Juan. They were supposed to fly to Puerto Rico from Sacramento, Calif.

“Long story short, we were denied boarding in Sacramento and told to move on,” she says. “We had all of our confirmations in order, but needless to say, we were sent home and did not make the cruise.”

Move on? Really?

Alright, here are a few details. Her trip was booked through AAA. The flights were on US Airways. And it was all insured by Allianz.

Her agent told her the missed cruise was no problem and that she’d be getting a full refund. But that didn’t happen.

“I have been given the runaround from AAA stating this is US Air’s responsibility and that my insurance claim has been denied,” she told me. “I have been told since the second week in April that the process can take weeks. We are now into months.”

OK, back it up. Why was she denied boarding? I checked with Allianz. Apparently, the tickets were “not valid” — although they declined to provide specifics.

I thought this one had a reasonably good chance of getting taken care of. I mean, isn’t that why you work with a travel agent? Isn’t that why you get insurance?

Here’s where it gets interesting. A cancellation like the one she described “would not trigger trip cancellation or interruption coverage,” an Allianz representative said. “Aside from allowing the client to reuse the policy at a later date, there isn’t much we can do here from a coverage perspective.”

So, airline or agent errors are not covered by insurance. Good to know.

Even more interesting, notes Allianz, a claim was never filed — so they didn’t have a chance to see all the details.

“I am honestly exhausted and overwhelmed with this,” she says. “I deserve my money back. The trip was never taken. I don’t know where to go from here.”

So, now what? File a claim, perhaps? Trotter could also go back to AAA, whose responsibility it was to issue valid tickets, or to her airline. Our advocacy team would be happy to help with that.

But as I review this case, I can almost predict the outcome. The tickets weren’t properly issued, for some reason. Maybe they were self-booked or maybe they were dealing with an inexperienced agent. US Airways and American are most likely dead ends.

That leaves us with the possibility that the AAA agency is to blame. But it’s unlikely the agency will eat the cost of the ticket and cruise or file a claim against their errors and omissions policy, even if I ask.

(And then there’s the mystery of the “invalid” ticket. No one’s saying what went wrong, so we can only speculate.)

For Trotter, the fastest way to get relief might be to take the agency to small claims court where a judge might swiftly rule in her favor. But that, too, is a long shot.

For us, the lesson is clear: Make sure you have valid tickets before you head to the airport. Otherwise you could end up in this column.

Update (Oct. 14, 2015): AAA has responded to this story.

Below are the actions we took to resolve this situation:

1. Re-booked Ms. Trotter on a replacement cruise on Carnival Cruise lines that was agreed upon as a desirable resolution (Ms. Trotter boarded this cruise on 4/18/15)

2. Covered all charges for the replacement cruise and change fees to re-issue the airline tickets

3. Arranged for additional goodwill once on board the cruise

a. $100 family shipboard credit to spend as they wished

b. Amenity package with upgraded dining

4. Sent Ms. Trotter an additional travel certificate to be used with AAA Travel for her next vacation in the amount of $3,800.

19 thoughts on “Denied boarding and turned down by insurance — can I help this reader?

  1. If the agency made some sort of error and her tickets were invalid (assuming the OP provided all the correct info), this should be 100% on the agency. They need to eat the cost and give her a full refund. The key here is how she paid for the airline tickets and why the tickets weren’t issued. From the limited information available, it appears the tickets were purchased through the agent. If the OP didn’t make some sort of DIY error, this is begging for resolution. And a small claims case if the agency isn’t immediately forthcoming with a refund.

  2. What seems to be missing is any mention of if they had reserved seats or reconfirmed the flight 1 day before – which would indicate that they were in the system. And how can you have an ‘invalid ticket’ when all air tickets are electronic these days?

    1. Agree completely that we should find out what reason she was denied boarding.

      One guess (and only a guess based on no rea info) is that the PNR was created (reservation) but no ticket number attached to the booking. So you would see the family and their flight info, but without the ticket, they cant check-in. Needless to say, that would have been evident if they tried to check-in 24 hours prior and can usually be solved relatively quickly with a phone agent.

      I’m surprised they did not book new tickets or try to get on next flight out.

  3. I wouldn’t expect travel insurance to cover losses where there’s a third party with clear liability. I seriously doubt companies that provide that coverage are able to subrogate those claims.

  4. I agree with Rebecca. I don’t see why this isn’t taken up with the agent and I don’t see why you don’t advocate for this. The agency has a fiduciary duty to the OP. Assuming whatever caused this error is not due to the OP (like giving a fake name), it’s on them to rectify this situation. That’s why you use an agent in the first place.

    I believe you should advocate this with AAA. If they fail to make good, this is a good case for the OP to pursue in court.

  5. I think advocacy with the higher-ups at AAA Travel is totally warranted. Something VERY fishy is going on; I mean, “It’s USAir’s fault and your insurance claim has been denied. Have a nice day” is not what you’d expect from anybody but the most bargain-basement OTA. (And in the past you don’t appear to hesitate to go after Expedia or Orbitz if the trip had been booked through them.)

    I suspect the agent committed a major foulup and is hoping the OP will go away so his/her superiors do not find out about it and/or an insurance claim won’t cause his/her rates to go up.

    Allianz’ denial is likely correct (if, assuming, they have denied; it’s a bit muddled.) Trip Insurance does assume the agent has done their job, and that if they haven’t, their E&I insurance will cover it. (As in, an agent cannot use the trip insurance policies they encourage customers to buy as a substitute for E&I.)

    1. As an agent myself, I can tell you WE would be making this client whole if it was our fault — but why did she not contact AAA when she was at the airport to begin with?

  6. AAA made the mistake completely and should reimburse the user and then some. I’m sure this isn’t going to be an easy one though.

  7. Sounds like its time for AAA to use their Errors and Omissions policy. I can’t imagine what excuse they could give since they supposedly booked the entire trip and their error led to the missed cruise.

  8. I am left wondering why the tickets were “invalid”. Knowing the answer to this question would undoubtedly enlighten us all.

  9. I’ll admit I have a bias because I’ve had AAA mess things up for me, personally. I am not surprised that they could be the root cause and yet tried to distance themselves from the problem. When it happened to me, I had detailed notes of who I talked to and when, and when they did their internal investigation, they did acknowledge they had screwed up (and my notes I still think helped them not be able to skirt around it). Once they confirmed that and I indicated that I’d use that information to involve a lawyer, suddenly it did indeed fall under their errors and omissions policy and a lawyer wouldn’t be needed.

  10. Invalid can be something as simple as booked and never ticketed – can happen, but why did she not contact AAA to remedy immediately, and just go home???

  11. PNR means you have a reservation – ticket numbers mean they have been issued — if you click on the receipt, it will have your ticket numbers included.

  12. AAA was responsible for the issuing the tickets correctly, since they were the ticketing agency. They should have given their customers a copy of their tickets, invoice/itinerary and boarding passes or check-in directions. As a travel agent for 40 years, I always made certain that everything was correct even when I was picking up a reservation made through the airlines. Reservation made through other sources (Expedia, Hotwire, etc) were the customers problem and not the travel agency. Do the customers have the passenger copy of their tickets and invoice/itinerary from AAA? That they will be proof whether tickets were issued with an invalid fare or not, since it will show whether the agent generated the fare automatically or manually. Makes a big difference, if the agency didn’t have approval for the manual fare.

  13. It is rather amazing how much time of everyone is wasted when the story is built up and yet the crucial fact is missing about why the ticket was determined to be invalid.

    I do think that there should be certain facts made available to the consumer advocates before they even consider looking at a case. I am of the opinion that AAA likely does a pretty good job of ticketing. However, we are all left hanging…can it be found out please what the problem was with the ticket?

  14. No passport required. She was flying out of the US to a US territory. A passport is not required to fly to Puerto Rico according to the state department’s website. The only exception would be if her flight had a stop over in a foreign country.

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