Warning: Don’t rely on a free trip insurance policy for a journey to Africa

Kellie McIntyre didn’t buy travel insurance for her African safari in the summer of 2016. She wishes she had.

Her stopover in Istanbul happened to coincide with a coup attempt that occurred in Turkey in late June 2016. And you can probably guess what happened next.

McIntyre’s flight was cancelled (for which she was later refunded) and she subsequently purchased a nonstop flight on Delta Air Lines at an additional cost of $5,728. She believed that her Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card’s complimentary trip insurance would cover the additional Delta flight expenses.

But that wasn’t the case. McIntyre contends that Chase wasn’t candid with her about trip interruption coverage. Her story illustrates why travelers should not assume that all trip insurance policies are the same, especially those that come with your credit card.

McIntyre contacted us and said she spoke repeatedly with Chase and its travel partners.

“I called them before each and every step I made to ensure that there were no surprises,” she said. “But in the end, I still got a $5,728 surprise that would have been avoided if they had given me accurate policy information… or weren’t inaccurately claiming to provide trip interruption coverage. If they had disclosed this, then I would have canceled the trip and filed a trip cancellation claim. We never would have rebooked the flights.”

After we reviewed McIntyre’s extensive paper trail, it was clear that she hadn’t purchased real trip insurance that actually covered her specific situation. Instead, her basic trip insurance policy came as a free benefit with her Chase card. Nor did she have any written documentation saying her new flights would be covered from Chase and its travel partners. (In fact, what is in writing is that only non-refundable, prepaid expenses are included in the policy.)

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In other words, McIntyre relied on a complimentary benefit that has severe limits. There is no part of this policy that covers additional flights. And when our advocate looked at the actual terms of the included travel insurance it had a limit per event. So even if McIntyre had cancelled her trip, she would have still lost money.

But her experience can serve as a cautionary tale for other international travelers. It’s unwise not to buy trip insurance for an expensive, overseas trip such as the one McIntyre arranged.

You can find out more about the various types of trip insurance policies on our frequently asked questions and answers about trip insurance.

Of course, if you choose to rely on the complimentary policy that’s included with your credit card membership, you should be familiar with all its written terms and conditions, especially what’s covered and what isn’t. If it’s not in writing, you can be absolutely certain an insurer isn’t providing coverage.

We’re sorry we couldn’t help McIntyre get reimbursed for her additional trip interruption expenses.

Michael Hinkelman

Michael Hinkelman is an award-winning journalist with more than 35 years experience. He has worked for daily newspapers in Atlanta and Philadelphia, most recently as a small-business columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, before retiring in 2016. In 1993, Hinkelman won a prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism for an investigation into the finances of the Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, he was a lecturer in media relations at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government. Read more of Michael's stories here.

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