Do Not Anger the Travel Gods. Sweat the Details.


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Christoph Hitz

To the extent that the Haggler has ever considered travel insurance, it has taken place during the two seconds required to decline it when buying a ticket on Amtrak.

“Recommended: Add travel protection” reads the stern copy at the bottom of a page, right after you enter your name. To pass on this opportunity, you need to tick a box that says, “No, I choose not to protect my purchase.”

The subtext is something like, “I’m a stupid, reckless person. I dare the gods of travel to do their worst.”

The Haggler enjoys being called a heedless dummy by Amtrak. But he is pretty sure that travel insurance makes more sense when visiting a foreign country, which involves bigger sums of money and the possibility of a costly visit to a hospital for treatment that isn’t already covered by his medical insurance. But even when buying travel insurance for a foreign trip, there are details to sweat — as this episode reveals.

Q. We have just experienced something that is beyond our comprehension, and hopefully you can help. In April, we made a reservation for a trip to Central America and paid a deposit of $3,300 to a vendor. This trip was set for January 2017. Because of medical issues, my wife was directed by her doctor not to travel for the foreseeable future, and we were unable to get the deposit refunded from the vendor.

But we have long had an annual travel insurance policy through Allianz, which covers cancellations. We submitted a claim for reimbursement of our deposit. Our claim was denied. Why? Our policy expired in September, which means we did not have a policy in effect for the date the trip was to take place. It seems that Allianz expects you to maintain a policy for a trip you cannot take.

Can you help?

Herman Jakubowski
Suffern, N.Y.

A. The Haggler’s first thought was that if the Jakubowskis did not have coverage for the date they were supposed to travel — the policy expired in September 2016, the trip was scheduled for January 2017 — then they were out of luck. Mr. Jakubowski countered with a reasonable question: How was he supposed to buy a policy from Allianz once he knew that his wife could not travel? In effect, he had a pre-existing condition. If he had tried to buy another policy to cover the January trip, he would have been turned down.

That’s essentially true, said Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz.

“It’s important to keep in mind that travel insurance covers ‘unforeseen’ circumstances,” he wrote in an email, “so once Mr. Jakubowski learned that he would need to cancel his January trip, he couldn’t then buy insurance to cover it.”

Does this mean that Mr. Jakubowski had to travel without insurance, something he has not done for years?

No.

“This takes a bit of planning on the part of the consumer,” Mr. Durazo wrote, “but knowing that his annual policy would expire prior to his January trip, what Mr. Jakubowski could have done is purchase another policy (either per trip or annual) in April when he booked his January 2017 trip. He then would have been covered for that trip. As long as the cancellation was unforeseen at the time that policy was purchased, we would have covered it.”

In other words, given that the policy was set to expire in September, Mr. Jakubowski should have purchased travel insurance through January when he booked his trip — extending the coverage over all, or just covering that particular trip — before he knew that his wife could not travel.

Put it down to a hard lesson learned. The Haggler still wondered about the basic wisdom of travel insurance, which has always seemed a bit like the extras that car rental companies peddle. Expensive and not worth it. The Haggler notes that the dull and windy ninny whose name is attached to this column has flown all over the world and never contemplated buying a policy.

Bad idea, according to experts whom the Haggler contacted. They include Stephen Solosky, a former mathematics professor at Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y., who now offers tours as the Traveling Professor. The Haggler reached him in Italy as he was making his way from Florence to Venice.

To put it mildly, he’s a big fan of travel insurance.

“International travelers must have health coverage and emergency evacuation insurance,” he argued. “Very few domestic policies cover health care overseas, and if they do, it is equivalent to out-of-network coverage. Neither Medicare nor domestic health policies cover emergency evacuation insurance.”

When disaster strikes, he continued, the outlay is worth it.

Evacuation from Europe costs tens of thousands of dollars, Mr. Solosky wrote. “For instance, we had a professor slip on the pavement and break his hip in Paris. He was medically evacuated back to Florida at a cost of about $75,000 — all paid by his travel insurance policy.”

The Jakubowski case was going to close on this edifying note, but Mr. Jakubowski sent an email a few days after the Haggler’s email exchange with Allianz. The company had been in touch with Mr. Jakubowski to say, in effect, “We’re paying your claim.”

It’s not that the company had rethought its policy, Mr. Durazo said in a follow-up email. It was simply being nice.

Odd as it may sound, the Haggler is a little conflicted about such an outcome. The floodlights that beam from his Keyboard of Consumer Fairness are never intended to produce results that are not warranted by the facts. At the same time, if a company is feeling altruistic — and perhaps wants a golf clap of appreciation — the Haggler can’t stand in its way.

“Just a golf clap?” Mr. Durazo asked in an email.

Fair point, sir. Full-on ovation.

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