The story was a parent’s travel nightmare. A four-year old in a bad mood heading to the airport. They hoped she would snap out of it, but the complaining got worse. She was tired, she didn’t feel good. Then while the family was in line to check bags, the little girl threw up.
At this point, the parents, my clients, realized it wasn’t just a cranky mood, and decided it was a bad idea to try to get on the plane. The only problem, they had discount tickets to Hawaii, and a prepaid expensive vacation at the Four Seasons Maui.
Fortunately, this time, they not only had travel insurance, they had something that turned out to be a trip saver, the tour operator’s travel waiver-insurance package.
In this case, although other operators may offer similar products, they had Classic Vacations’ “Travel Smart” program. Which meant that even though they were only about an hour away from departure, our agency was able to call Classic’s customer service department. They were in turn able both to cancel the flights, and to advise the hotel that the clients would not be arriving that day. The Classic customer service agents also asked the Four Seasons to hold the remaining nights pending an afternoon doctor’s visit.
That afternoon, when the parents took the little girl to the doctor, he diagnosed an ear infection, prescribed medication, and gave them a green light to travel in 48 hours.
While Classic has a 24/7 emergency number, in this case the clients had called our agency first during the day, and we were able to work with the tour operator that night to rebook all the flights three days ahead,and more critically, get the hotel, which normally has a 21-day cancellation requirement, to both move the reservation dates, and do it without any penalty to the family.
Now, would regular travel insurance have covered the costs in the end? Possibly, but not certainly. Many insurance policies would have covered cancellation penalties, but not the additional costs for going a few days later.
In additional, most insurance policies have clients pay the penalties up front and submit claims later. This can be a real problem if claims are denied and the money is spent. It can also be a problem if passengers don’t have the cash flow to pay for a second vacation and then wait on reimbursement.
Travel insurance overall is one of the most controversial aspects of the industry. It’s not inexpensive, ranging up to 10 percent of the price of the trip, and more often than not, rightly or not, it seems like insurers are looking for excuses to deny claims.
Part of that problem is that travelers don’t always read the policy carefully. Trip cancellation insurance, for example, may be just that, it covers your cancellation costs for “covered reasons.” But as noted above, it may not cover higher costs for a new trip. Especially if there is a large airfare increase.
And to be fair, in this case we got very lucky in that United Airlines still had some space at Classic’s contracted fare. Had the flights been sold out, it could have been a different story. Or we been using a published airfare which required 14 days notice.
In addition, because the tour operator had a good relationship with the hotel, the Four Seasons manager was able to move some people around to accommodate the family.
Also, on the other hand, as other writers and sites have discussed, there are reasons to consider third-party insurance, because when a tour operator, such as Classic, (or Tauck Tours, or Pleasant Holidays, other company with similar policies) self-insures, you are taking the risk that they themselves won’t default.
For this and other reasons, this post isn’t intended to be a one-size-fits-all answer to how to protect an expensive trip. Some travelers prefer to self-insure, figuring that the cost of one in 10 or 20 canceled or delayed trips offsets buying insurance, others want to spread liability around by insuring independently and others just like to roll the dice.
But in this case, the combination of Classic’s internal waiver/insurance policy, their negotiated airfares that didn’t require an advance purchase, and a number of people working very hard, a vacation was salvaged that might otherwise have been canceled.