Pros and Cons of Travel Insurance–Our Experience Filing a Claim

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When we were much younger, Jason and I never considered purchasing travel insurance.  Before we had kids or aging parents, we simply made our plans and took off.  But there comes a point in our adult lives when we realize we have significant responsibilities at home that could force us to change our plans before or even during a trip.  

Twelve years ago Jason’s dad was unexpectedly hospitalized during our family trip to Oregon.  After a number of phone calls we decided that the most expedient and affordable option was for him to return home early and be with his dad.  I followed with our kids a few days later according to our original schedule.  From that point on we began purchasing travel insurance.

Wendy posing with Ryan before he became ill

For over a decade we purchased insurance and never made a claim.  That all changed last summer during a trip to Iceland. (To learn more about that trip, click here and here.)  After six months of planning, Jason and I, and our son, Ryan, traveled to Iceland with family friends.  The original plan was for Jason and I to stay in Iceland for a week and continue on to Berlin and Prague for a week.  Our son would remain in Iceland for several more days with our friends.  The day before Jason and I were scheduled to fly to Berlin, Ryan became seriously ill with a stomach virus.  At first we thought this was a simple case of food poisoning and that it would pass.  But that was not the case.  He was so ill that we decided to seek medical assistance and made a trip to the local hospital.  

I wish I could say that filing a claim is a smooth and easy process, but it isn’t.  In fact it took a considerable amount of time to complete the original paperwork, respond to repeated requests for more paperwork and make several phone calls asking for clarification.  I encountered multiple customer service agents who were kind, but confused.  Even they did not fully understand the paperwork and requests that were sent to us.  In total the process took almost five months until we were reimbursed for cancelled travel.

I’m not writing this to simply share our experience.  Instead, I hope that I can provide some tips for future travel insurance purchases as well as mistakes to avoid when filing a claim.

Ryan feeling better before returning home

Things to Consider When Purchasing Travel Insurance

First, be clear about what is and what isn’t covered.  I had thought that our additional expenses incurred while in Iceland to care for our son would be covered.  I was wrong.  We spent almost $2,000 for a new rental car and additional hotel nights.  None of this was covered in our plan.  Only pre-purchased travel that is cancelled is eligible for reimbursement.  So my message to anyone traveling is be sure you have the resources to handle emergency situations, especially when visiting a more expensive location like Iceland.  

Second, be wary of purchasing airfare through discount carriers, especially those with bad customer service ratings.  We flew WOW Air and regretted it for multiple reasons.  Believe me, I know the attraction of cheap airfare, but when I needed assistance obtaining proof of a cancelled flight they made the process as difficult as possible.  They refused to help me via phone and insisted that it be handled only by email.  Weeks later, after dozens of emails, I finally received what I needed to submit to the insurance provider.  If flying a discount carrier for the first time consider checking their ratings.  

Third, do exactly what the insurance provider tells you to do.  I had the presence of mind to get a doctor’s note for my son so that there was proof of illness. However, the insurance provider only wanted their completed form.  The doctor had to expressly check a box that stated our travel was cancelled due to this incident.  So after a few emails back and forth with the doctor, we finally obtained the completed form required.

How to Research Travel Insurance

Our experience has not deterred me from buying travel insurance for subsequent trips.  In fact, despite the hassles of our claim, I believe that ultimately the insurance worked for us since we received $2,300 in compensation.  However, my final piece of advice is to do your research and select the travel insurance plan that best matches your needs.  Benefits vary widely.  A twenty year old with no pre-existing conditions will select a more basic plan than a fifty year-old with a chronic condition.  Sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip have features that allow you to compare several plans side by side.  

Trips are cancelled or interrupted for a number of reasons, and travel insurance may help recover a portion of the financial loss.  Keep in mind there are many limitations inherent in these plans that travelers should understand before purchasing.  Do your research, understand the policy you select and be prepared to cover costs that the plan does not.