Do you get a refund on your travel insurance if you die?

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By Christopher Elliott

Janet Fried and her husband had big plans to take a Mediterranean cruise next year with Tauck, a luxury tour operator. They looked forward to casting off in Marseille, France, on a small ship and visiting exotic ports of call in Corsica, Italy, and Sicily.

But they’ll never have that chance. In December, her husband died.

What followed should have been straightforward: Tauck should have refunded all of her money. It didn’t.

The company returned her $5,478 deposit. But a representative told her the $1,278 she paid for travel protection wasn’t refundable. Instead, Tauck gave her what it called a “Dream Saver” credit that she could only use in 2022. That didn’t sound right to Fried, who had no plans to cruise without her husband.

Fried’s case isn’t as unusual as you might think. As several dangerous COVID variants spread and more people cancel their trips, they are finding that getting their money back for insurance is difficult — or impossible.

“I should get a full refund.”

Fried is still grieving the loss of her husband, and like many of our readers who are in similar circumstances, this is the last thing she needs.

“I feel that under the circumstances of my husband’s death leading to my trip cancellation, I should get a full refund for the travel insurance,” she told me.

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“If that is not possible, it does not seem right to me that they are not giving me a refund for the ($639) travel insurance in my husband’s name. Is there any way to get them to refund this to me? What would I need to do?” she asked.

Making this case more upsetting to her is that she and her husband were fiercely loyal to Tauck.

“We traveled extensively with Tauck over many years,” she told me. “I believe we made 18 excursions with them.”

Is this any way to repay her loyalty?

Tauck: If you die, you won’t get a refund for your travel insurance

I asked Fried to share the correspondence with her American Express travel agent, who helped her book the tour. It shows an agonizing and painful back-and-forth between a grieving widow and a travel advisor who can’t help.

The record shows that the Frieds had booked a tour of South Africa at the start of the pandemic. Tauck canceled the tour and issued a credit. Then the couple booked their Mediterranean cruise.

Here’s the breakdown, according to their agent:

You made a deposit of $2,478.00 for your original trip to South Africa in June 2020. Due to the Coronavirus, the trip was canceled. Your deposit was transferred to your cruise with Tauck scheduled for August 2021.

The total deposit amount paid for your August trip is $6,756.00 (this also includes the transferred amount of $2,478.00 from your canceled trip).

If you decide to cancel, you will receive a refund in the amount of $5,478.00. The balance of $1,278.00 total is for the trip protection insurance that you paid.

This amount will be converted to a future credit to be used for travel in either 2021 or 2022.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Fried definitely had questions.

I am very disappointed in Tauck. Do they realize how many trips my husband and I have taken with them over the years? Can the credit on the insurance be used by anyone who takes a trip with Tauck? How would that work?

Her agent then tried to intervene.

I have just gotten off the phone on a lengthy call with Tauck explaining your situation.

Spoke to a supervisor at Tauck and they are not budging on their policy.

They will not refund the travel protection for Mr. Fried, they will hold the funds in a Dream Saver account and it can go towards travel for a 2022 booking.

What should happen with your travel insurance if you die

The booking confirmations Fried received were unambiguous: Her travel protection was nonrefundable. But there are always exceptions to nonrefundable rules. Even the strictest sector of the travel industry, airlines, will refund nonrefundable tickets when a passenger dies before a flight.

What happens with travel insurance when you die before your trip? It’s a little complicated.

Strictly speaking, travel insurance policies are nonrefundable. That means that technically, once you’re past the 14-day “free look” period offered by most policies, the money belongs to the travel insurance company. Period.

Travel insurance or protection is valid only for the travel dates. Yes, insurance covers the death of the policyholder. But it has to happen during the trip. If it happens before then, the refund request falls into a gray area.

It all comes down to common sense and good customer service. No one wants to profit from someone’s death. That’s particularly true of a tour operator like Tauck, which has a sterling reputation to uphold. It looked like someone — maybe the travel agent or tour operator — had their wires crossed.

Tauck’s travel protection policies work a little differently than insurance, but the same rules apply. The company offers what’s called a cancellation fee waiver, which allows you to cancel your tour for any reason up to the day before departure and receive a money-back refund in most circumstances on the land tour cost, based on your original method of payment.

You’re probably wondering about “most circumstances.” Tauck has an exclusion for acts of God, war, terrorism, accident, natural disaster, outbreak of disease, “or other event or circumstance beyond our control.” In cases like that, the company reserves the right to issue a credit to its customers instead of a money-back refund, applicable to a future Tauck journey.

Bottom line: Fried deserved a full refund after her husband passed away.

It was an “internal communications issue.”

I reached out to Tauck to find out if Fried had to accept the loss not only of her husband but also of $1,278 in travel protection.

A few weeks later, I received a note from Fried.


I just got the chance to look at my American Express account today and was VERY happily surprised to see a credit on my account for $5,478.00 for my canceled Tauck trip AND $1,278.00 for the unused travel insurance.

Thank you so much for contacting them on my behalf. I very much appreciate everything you did for me.

And then, a few days later, Tauck contacted me.


I’m happy to report that we refunded the full amount of Mrs. Fried’s Cruise Protection to her credit card on July 26.

This is consistent with our normal policy in such circumstances, and unfortunately, an internal communications issue prevented Mrs. Fried’s request from reaching the proper department.

We’re very sorry for the miscommunication to Mrs. Fried, we extend our sincere condolences to her on the loss of her husband, and we thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Well, that’s a terrific resolution. It should have happened months ago, but I’m glad it finally did.

Strategies for getting a refund on your travel insurance if you die

If you die before your trip, how does your next of kin get a refund for your travel insurance?

  • Enlist your travel advisor. Fried was correct to contact her Amex advisor, and it looks as if the agent tried to secure a refund. This is a necessary first step in resolving a problem like this.
  • Always make your request in writing. Don’t call the company. You’ll want to contact the tour operator or cruise line in writing. Include a death certificate.
  • Appeal to a higher authority. We publish the names, numbers, and email addresses of the Tauck customer service executives on our site.  Fried could have taken her case to one of the managers directly.
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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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