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“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

TPG reader Peyton sent us an email wondering if trip protection insurance might be a way for travelers to avoid paying hefty change fees for rebooking

If I purchase ‘trip protection’ when buying an airline ticket, would that mostly cover me if I had to rebook? I don’t mind paying a small fee for switching but the typical $200 is ridiculous.

TPG Reader Peyton

When you book an airline ticket online, at some point during the checkout process you’ll likely be offered the chance to “protect your purchase” by buying trip protection coverage. These plans advertise that they’ll reimburse you for your costs if you experience a delay or need to cancel your trip. They’re sold by airlines and online travel agencies such as Orbitz or Expedia, but the actual coverage is usually issued by a third-party travel insurance company such as Allianz.

IMG-allianz-delta-trip-protection
A brief overview of trip protection coverage offered by Allianz through Delta.

The fees for these trip protection plans range depending on the company and cost of the trip involved. For instance, Allianz charges 6.5% of the total ticket cost and service fees on a Delta flight from New York to Los Angeles, which means you’ll pay less than $20 to protect a $300 round-trip airline ticket. Since change and cancellation fees can easily run into the hundreds of dollars, $20 to save hundreds seems like a pretty good deal, right?

Well, not necessarily. The key to remember with these plans is that they won’t cover your fees just because you feel like changing or canceling your flight. Instead, they have a very strict set of covered events, one of which must occur for the policy to kick in with a reimbursement. Usually that means either you, a traveling companion or a member of your immediate family needs to experience some form of illness, death or other specific unseen circumstance.

Now, if you’re suddenly feeling a cold coming on and think that’ll be enough to escape the $200 cancellation fee, it’s not quite that easy. Here’s what the Allianz policy sold by United Airlines to residents of California says constitutes a covered “illness”:

“The injury, illness or medical condition must be disabling enough to make a reasonable person delay, cancel or interrupt their trip. A doctor must examine you or a traveling companion and advise you or a traveling companion to cancel or interrupt your trip before you cancel or interrupt it. If that isn’t possible, a doctor must examine you within 72 hours of your cancellation or interruption.”

That’s typical of these plans, so we’re talking a fairly significant health event with medical documentation, not just being a little under the weather. But what about the “other specific unseen circumstances” these plans cover? Do they offer a little more leeway?

Yes, but it’s still pretty specific and limited. Here’s a list of covered events for which the Allianz plan will reimburse you for canceling your trip:

  • Traffic accident on the way to the point of departure
  • Jury duty or court-ordered appearance
  • Primary residence uninhabitable due to natural disaster, fire, flood, burglary or vandalism
  • Travel provider stops offering all services for at least 24 hours due to a natural disaster or severe weather
  • Hijacking
  • Terrorist event at your foreign destination within 30 days of arrival
  • Termination or layoff at work
  • Extended travel delay in which you miss more than half of the total length of your trip because your travel is delayed

If you do experience one of these events, then the trip protection plan could be useful, but they’re not going to reimburse you if you cancel just because you want to change your flight.

What if you think this sort of policy might be useful to you for one of the actual covered events? Perhaps your company has been wobbly and you think a layoff could be in the offing, but you don’t want to hold off booking a trip. Should you buy the trip protection?

The answer is probably not, because trip protection plans sold by airlines and OTAs aren’t the same thing as complete travel insurance policies, which generally cover a lot more and give you many plan options to choose from in order to suit your needs. On top of that, if you use the right credit card to pay for your trip, you’ll be covered through the card’s trip cancellation and trip delay benefits. Just make sure you use the right card to pay for your trip — check out our posts on Trip Delay Reimbursement and the Credit Cards That Offer It and Does Your Credit Card Give You Adequate Travel Insurance Coverage?

Sorry that trip protection won’t be an easy workaround to get out of paying change fees, Peyton, but you might find more luck with our post on How to Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook  or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image courtesy of XavierMarchant/Getty Images.

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