Travel Troubleshooter

Collecting on travel insurance an ordeal

By Christopher Elliott

My husband and I booked a trip to Hawaii through our travel agent and also bought insurance, since my husband’s mother recently had been put into hospice.

On our way to Hawaii, we found out that his healthy 94-year-old father had gotten shingles and died suddenly. Our travel agent was able to book us flights back.

After the funeral, our agent contacted us to start the ordeal of getting us back the money from the trip that didn’t happen. The travel insurance company made it sound like we would get back all our money, minus what we used and the premium. What it doesn’t tell you is that you have to contact all the airlines yourself. We had several airlines to deal with! Island Air in Hawaii has our highest regards. Its agents acted professionally, and they returned our money – minus those fees – quickly.

We called US Airways twice and emailed. We have received no response. Can you please help us to get our airfare back from US Airways?

Ann Mason, Pennsauken, N.J.

My condolences to both you and your husband on the loss of your father-in-law.

You tried to protect your vacation investment by using a qualified travel agent and buying trip insurance. And when tragedy struck, you did your best to go through all the right steps to receive a refund or credit for your unused airfare.

I should fill in a few details: This was a package tour, so you don’t know how much each component actually cost. You cut your visit to Hawaii short to return to the mainland, buying new airline tickets. Your travel insurance reimbursed those, but left you with return tickets that would go unused. Under your fare rules, you could receive a credit for those tickets, minus a $200 change fee and fare differential. Most airlines waive the change fees if you can show them a death certificate. But a full refund is not the norm.

When you called US Airways, it placed you on hold for an hour before you gave up. And you tried calling again, with the same result. Then you wrote the airline, but it never responded. When that happens, you can escalate your complaint to someone higher up the food chain. I publish the names and addresses of the managers on my site at www.elliott.org/contacts.

I do want to be clear on this issue: US Airways isn’t required to do anything more than answer your email and offer the ticket credit per your fare rules. You then take that information to your travel insurance company, which may or may not cut you a check, depending on your coverage. Or you can ask me to get involved.

I will add my disappointment that your travel agent and insurance company were not more helpful with your claim. Your agent could have assisted you in requesting a refund – after all, you paid a commission and a booking fee for that travel professional’s services. I contacted US Airways on your behalf to see if it could answer your request for a ticket credit or a refund. In response, the airline credited you $3,200, which appears to be the full value of your flights booked with them. That’s an unexpectedly generous resolution.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at chris@elliott.org.

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