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

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By Christopher Elliott

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.

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?

Ticket turmoil

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.

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

“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. (Related: Dad’s sick – why won’t Allianz cover Mom’s claim?)

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.”

Ticket turmoil aftermath

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. (Here’s our guide to finding the best travel insurance.)

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.

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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.

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