In January, Bob and Nancy Lague planned a summer trip to Ireland “because it’s so beautiful and I’ve always wanted to see it,” according to Bob, who handled all the travel details.
Then, on April 30, something worrying happened: Bob, 76, a retired public school music teacher, sat down to play the piano, but couldn’t remember how.
Within 24 hours, he was diagnosed with a fast-growing and aggressive brain tumor, known as glioblastoma. Two surgeries followed, but the prognosis remained dire, and within a couple of months Bob was in hospice.
Bob and Nancy’s dream of visiting Ireland together after 44 years of marriage was shattered.
“Unfortunately, we are going to have to cancel our trip,” Nancy wrote to their travel agent in May. “It breaks our hearts to do this.”
To make matters worse, an infection had spread from the incision site, causing rapid deterioration of Bob’s mental acuity.
In her grief, Nancy, 74, who lives in Woburn, was on her own trying to get a refund of the $6,060 the couple had paid for the seven-day trip. She said Bob, who sometimes fretted over the couple’s finances, would have wanted the money promptly refunded.
That didn’t happen.
Three months later, Nancy wrote to me asking for help.
“My husband is dying,” she said in an email. “During this tragic illness, I have been distracted, aggravated, and frustrated by the lack of response to getting a refund. I am at a loss as to how to get this resolved.”
Back in May, Nancy first turned for help to the AAA Travel agent who had sold the couple the trip to Ireland with a New Jersey-based tour operator called CIE Tours.
At the time, Nancy was unaware that Bob had also purchased a travel insurance policy underwritten by Allianz from the AAA Travel agent for $942. Still, she assumed a refund was a simple matter. She told the agent one of Bob’s doctors had offered to fill out any necessary paperwork for a refund.
The agent replied he was sorry to hear such news and gave Nancy a toll-free number for Allianz, one of the world’s largest insurers.
“They will give you everything you need,” the agent wrote.
Nancy called and filed a claim with Allianz within days.
Allianz acknowledges receiving Nancy’s claim back in May, but a company spokesperson told me last week it didn’t include “medical documentation, proof of payment, and other documents we needed to finalize her claim.”
The Allianz spokesperson said the company sent Nancy two emails and called her once in June asking for more documentation. Nancy said she doesn’t remember any calls or emails on the dates specified by the Allianz spokesperson.
On June 26, Nancy received a pair of Allianz emails, each with a letter attached. They were confusing and contradictory because one said “we’ve received all your documents,” and the other said “more details [are] needed for your claim.”
The second Allianz letter said it needed “verification from the travel supplier regarding any refund received.” In other words, Allianz wanted to know if Bob and Nancy had received a refund from CIE Tours. Any amount they had received from the tour company would be deducted from the amount Allianz would pay, a standard insurance industry practice meant to avoid double-paying on claims.
The Allianz letter also said it needed “verification of travel supplier’s penalties.”
This, too, was confusing to Nancy. It was confusing to me, too. What I learned is that CIE Tours, following standard practices, provides refunds for canceled trips, but typically not for the full amount. The trip cancellation “penalties” CIE Tours charged Bob and Nancy, per their contract, were 30 percent of the land tour portion of the trip package and all of the airfare.
The penalties totaled $3,309. Bob had paid $6,060 for the trip, so after penalties, he was due a refund from CIE Tours of $2,751 — the cost of the trip minus the penalties.
Allianz was then supposed to step in to cover the penalties — thus making Bob and Nancy whole for the full amount of the trip. But first, Allianz wanted documentation of CIE Tours’ penalties and of CIE Tours’ payment of a refund to Bob and Nancy.
It was not obvious to Nancy what Allianz wanted. She believed she had already supplied everything it needed.
What also made it confusing was that the Allianz email correspondence inexplicably listed two alternative insurance policies covering the couple.
The confusion deepened. In early July, Nancy received an Allianz email that began “I am sorry to hear that your husband is not keeping well,” and went on to tell her that if she wanted “reimbursement on your tickets” to click on the provided link to Amtrak, which doesn’t have any stops in Ireland.
“I do not understand why you sent me a claim for Amtrak,” Nancy replied.
On July 13, the AAA Travel agent contacted CIE Tours for the kind of documentation Allianz needed. It’s not clear to me why this was happening in July when Nancy first told AAA Travel to cancel her trip almost two months earlier.
A AAA Travel spokesperson said it worked “every step of the way to get additional information on behalf” of Nancy.
After being contacted by AAA, CIE Tours promptly produced the requested documentation on penalties. It also provided a copy of a check register entry showing it paid $2,751 to Bob’s credit card account on July 24. (Nancy verified she received the refund on Bob’s credit card account.) Both were forwarded to Allianz, which now seemed to have what it needed.
The Allianz spokesperson said last week that it received “some” of the documents it needed in July, but that it was “still missing verification of the refunds provided by the travel supplier.”
Apparently, the check register entry was not sufficient documentation. In early August, a second AAA Travel agent learned from Allianz that it wanted a bank or credit card statement “showing the source and amount of the refund, with identifying information for the account.”
By late last week, Bob’s condition had worsened. “We’re not going to have him much longer,” Nancy told me.
But at least one relatively small burden was lifted from Nancy’s shoulders. On Aug. 31, Allianz wrote to Nancy that it had approved her claim for $3,309, which will make the couple whole.
In an email to me, the Allianz spokesperson expressed sympathy for the Lague family. “We’ve decided to finalize the claim and issue the payment given Ms. Lague’s circumstances,” the spokesperson said.
“We understand that this particular claim was not handled perfectly,” the spokesperson said.
Nancy said she’s glad this issue is finally resolved.
“It’s a big relief during an extremely difficult time,” she said.