Q: I know you have written about insurance for travel in the past but I wanted to bring a matter to your attention. The United Airlines website offers Allianz travel insurance, but when it came to covering my expenses, I felt it was a "bait and switch" insurance policy that outlines what is covered but in reality does not cover anything beyond travel delay.
Here's what happened: A friend and I purchased tickets to fly from Newark to Panama in January. In addition to paying $1,353 for the flight, we purchased the Allianz travel insurance shown on the United Airlines site for an additional $80.
The travel insurance indicated it would cover trip cancellation, travel delay, and trip interruption. The trip was going to cost more than $3,500, so we felt the insurance was vital.
The flight on United to Panama City was excellent and our stay in the country went well until it was time to return. We learned the day before our return of the snowstorm on the East Coast and the cancellation of our Saturday flight to Newark.
Efforts to contact United via phone were futile, as tens of thousands of people were impacted and United did not have the staff to answer telephone calls from passengers without elite status. Efforts by the hotel staff in Panama to contact United also failed. We quickly booked a hotel in Panama for the Saturday-night stay and contacted my father, who has been flying United for more than 55 years and has gold status.
He was able to get through to the Premier Desk to get us on a Sunday flight out of Panama to Houston. We would then spend a night in Houston at a hotel near the airport and travel to New York on Monday morning.
The United personnel were excellent, and we arrived safely in New York City on Monday afternoon. I contacted Allianz and was told to file a claim. We did not even ask for reimbursement for many of the taxi fares and phone calls, just two hotel nights and some of our other expenses. We were surprised when Allianz came back to us indicating that all it would cover was $200 each for travel delay. Its policy cover sheet said it would be much higher.
I felt the insurance was in the category of a scam and could not believe a class act like United would work with a company like Allianz, which promotes insurance coverage but does not deliver.
Others who purchased travel insurance outside United through Travel Guard received reimbursement for all their expenses. I am asking you to look at our situation to see if you can help. In addition, I feel it is important for others to know the Allianz insurance offered by the airline is essentially worthless.
- Michelle Cahr, New York
I'm sorry to hear about your delay. Airlines sometimes cancel flights during bad weather for your safety. Most airline contracts of carriage - the legal agreements between you and the airline - say they don't have to meet their schedules. Dangerous weather is one good reason for that clause (there are plenty of bad reasons, too, but that's a topic for another time).
I checked the terms of your coverage in your state, and United and Allianz say it's up to the purchased amount. So technically, you should have been able to receive a refund for the items covered as long as they didn't exceed the amount of your coverage.
Travel insurance isn't a scam, but it sometimes seems that way. When those around you get bigger checks for their delays, something sure doesn't seem fair. By the way, I wouldn't recommend ever omitting information from a claim. I can assure you the agents handling your claim will cut a check for only what they have to. In other words, they won't be equally generous.
This is the type of case that needed to be appealed. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the Allianz executives in charge of customer service on my consumer advocacy site: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/allianz/
You contacted Allianz and asked it to take a second look at your claim. It agreed to pay you an additional $403, which covers the majority of your additional expense.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler." You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, and email him at email@example.com