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 that it would cover trip cancellation, travel delay, and trip interruption. The trip was going to cost over $3,500, so we felt the insurance was vital.
The flight on United to Panama City was excellent, and our time 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 of the cancellation of our Saturday flight back to Newark.
Efforts to contact United via phone were futile, as tens of thousands of people were affected 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 over 55 years and has Gold status.
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.
I felt the insurance was 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 of 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 that the Allianz insurance offered by the airline is essentially worthless.
A. 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 that airlines don’t have to meet their schedules. Dangerous weather is one good reason for that clause.
I checked the terms of the coverage in your state, and United and Allianz say it’s up to the amount purchased: www.etravelprotection.com/unitedairlines/CoverageOptions. 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.
This is the type of case that needed to be appealed. I list the names, numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Allianz executives in charge of customer service on my consumer-advocacy site: www.elliott.org/company-contacts/allianz.
I 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 expenses.
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, or e-mail him at email@example.com.