A hurricane wrecked our trip, but kindness and trip insurance saved the day
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Everyone looks forward to vacation. Maybe even more when it’s an awesome deal because of your miles-and-points kung fu. It’s better still when the trip is tied to a celebration. That was the case with a September trip my husband and I planned to mark our 25th anniversary. But then Hurricane Dorian decided to give us a new plan. With this massive storm threatening Florida for what seemed like forever, the end result was, trip canceled. But thanks to the kindness of some travel operators, as well as an inexpensive trip insurance policy, this story has a happy ending for us.
I bought trip insurance on a whim
Let me step back in time well before the hurricane or the happy conclusion to the saga and explain how I ended up with trip insurance in the first place.
We’ve purchased trip insurance for major trips in the past, but it wasn’t really on my radar this time around. I’m not sure why since I’d just read The Points Guy’s guide to travel insurance and knew it probably made sense to pick up a policy, but insurance wasn’t front of mind when I sat down to search for award flights to Paris.
I found well-timed MileSAAver flights — in business class — available in both directions on American Airlines. Score! As I completed the reservation, I noticed the optional trip insurance plan. It was $56 from Allianz and touted Loyalty Program Redeposit Fee Coverage up to $300. For just a few bucks, I thought, it could be worth it. I didn’t expect anything to change with our travel plans, but this is what insurance is for. I made an impulse buy.
Alternatively, I could have relied on the travel protection benefits of a credit card like Chase Sapphire Reserve. (Here’s why you might want to get a premium credit card instead of buying travel insurance.) Or searched for the best third-party travel insurance policies and providers. But this time, I just spent some extra cash.
You never think it will happen to you
Fast forward to the day of our planned departure when Hurricane Dorian was bearing down on our hometown. I was really thankful I’d bought the insurance coverage as it took some of the stress of the situation away. But surprisingly, although the insurance covered a lot of our potential financial loss for canceling our trip to Paris at the last minute, it was the kindness of frontline hotel and tour company staff that really helped take the sting out of it all.
How American, Hyatt and others responded to our cancellation
We live in Florida, so we’re no strangers to hurricane warnings and watches. It can be such a wild card, and you do your best to track the storm as it approaches. But there are too many factors in determining if the storm will make a beeline for your town and how harsh the conditions will be when it arrives. Since we live just feet from the water, we have to be cognizant of any major storm, especially hurricanes, that can cause a damaging storm surge.
Days before Hurricane Dorian was expected to hit our area, I began making calls to the airline, hotel and tour companies with whom we’d made prepaid arrangements for our vacation. Here’s how that played out.
American’s weather waiver didn’t help us at all
I got a good feeling when I called American and got through to a representative with less than a five-minute wait. At this point, we really weren’t sure how bad the storm might be and we were toying with the idea of just pushing our trip back by a few days. I inquired about our options and was told there was nothing that could be done until a weather waiver was announced for our airport. (There were no MileSAAver awards in sight for the next few months.) But, the cheery rep assured me that the airline’s meteorologists did not think Hurricane Dorian would disrupt our plans.
We woke the next morning to a weather waiver for our airport. Sigh. We consulted the top storm trackers — shoutout to Mike’s Weather Page and Tropical Tidbits — and made the difficult decision to scrap our much-anticipated 25th anniversary vacation.
Despite having issued a weather waiver, American was not very helpful when I asked to waive the miles redeposit fee. (Yes, I agree that the concept of having to pay to have your own miles redeposited back into your account is maddening, but it’s pretty much a fact of life for the frequent flyer without top elite status.) The airline also wasn’t willing to open up MileSAAver award space on flights at a later date. (I made that request both by phone and by direct message to @AmericanAir on Twitter.) The only available option the phone rep did offer was laughable: a routing to Los Angeles — all the way across the country — where we’d transfer to Air Tahiti Nui to fly to Paris. Um, no thanks. We were looking for a hop across the pond, not an odyssey.
I didn’t fight the issue, because I knew I had purchased the Allianz trip insurance policy and it would refund me for the miles redeposit fee. But American could have done a better job assisting a customer in this situation. If I didn’t have insurance, I would have hung up and called back (more than once, if necessary) in order to get the resolution I wanted (either the opening of business MileSAAver seats on the dates/flights I wanted on future dates or the waiving of the redeposit fee).
Hyatt was sympathetic and @HyattConcierge did the work for me
Before we knew whether we’d have to cancel our trip or not, I called Hyatt to see what our options might be if we did cancel. The rep I spoke with was so sympathetic. His demeanor really helped during a stressful situation. He told me that in order to avoid the hotel’s cancellation fee, we’d need to cancel by the next day. (This particular reservation had to be canceled five days before arrival to avoid a penalty fee equal to the cost of a one-night stay.)
But he also said that if we didn’t cancel and took a “wait and see” approach, Hyatt would work with us to lessen any penalties. I still wasn’t sure what we wanted to do at that point so I thanked him for his insight and told him I’d call back the next day with our decision. He noted the phone call in my file so the next representative would better understand the situation.
The next day we realized we really would need to cancel our trip, so I called Hyatt to cancel with just an hour to spare before the stated cancellation fee would kick in. The rep needed to call the hotel directly to cancel so he put me on hold. When he came back to the line, he said he was having trouble contacting the property and I’d have to call back to confirm the cancellation. He made a note in my file and I hung up.
But I didn’t really want to wait and call again, so I went to Twitter and sent a direct message to @HyattConcierge. I explained my issue and asked if they’d also try to reach out to the hotel. Within 10 minutes, I received a DM confirming the hotel cancellation with no penalty fee charged. Phew! That was a load off my mind since the nightly rate was a pricey combo of euros and points.
If I had canceled the reservation after the penalty phase had kicked in, I’m confident Allianz would have reimbursed me.
One tour operator went above and beyond and won us over
On this particular trip, we had plans to go on a walking food tour, attend a wine and cheese workshop, enjoy a nighttime Seine river cruise and visit some museums.
We booked several of those outings with Paris By Mouth, which specializes in food-related tours. Its refund policy calls for a 25% cancellation fee for any tour canceled at least 48 hours before it begins. We are total foodies so I was very disappointed to have to cancel these tours, but I felt the 25% fee was more than fair. However, when I reached out to Paris By Mouth, they offered a 100% refund as well as a sympathetic ear. You can bet that when I rescheduled this canceled trip, I rebooked those tours with this company. I really appreciated the 100% refund and kind words.
Filing a trip insurance claim with Allianz
- $175 — America Airlines fee for redepositing our miles
- $77 — Admission tickets for the Louvre (two days)
- $105.45 — Seine river cruise tickets
To be honest, it would have been fine if we had to eat the $357.45 loss for these trip elements. It would have been another story if we had been on the hook for the hotel and all the tours. But I was curious to see how easy (or annoying) the insurance claim process would be.
Allianz makes it super easy to file a claim. I simply pulled up the email confirming the purchase of the policy and clicked the “Manage My Policy” button. It took me to the Allianz website where I filled out a claim form. “Hurricane Dorian” was already listed as an option in the “Reason for Claim” pull-down menu.
On September 6, I filed the claim citing the Frequent Traveler Loyalty Coverage and Trip Cancellation. My supporting documents included:
- Our original American Airlines award confirmation
- The weather waiver American posted to its website that mentioned our home airport
- Receipt for the miles redeposit fee from the airline
- Receipt for our Louvre tickets
- Receipt for our Seine river cruise
After I uploaded those documents, I hit “submit” and the website gave me a claim number and a promise of a response within five to 10 business days. I heard back in five days via email, on September 13, and the news was good. Allianz was paying our claim in full. That money was direct deposited in our bank account on September 16.
Most customer service reps really do want to help when they can. I’m disappointed American Airlines wasn’t willing to do more but I was very pleased with Hyatt’s response and genuinely appreciated how the tour operator in Paris handled the situation. The Allianz insurance claim process was painless and it convinced me to make the purchase of trip insurance a regular part of our travel-planning routine for big adventures.
As for the happy ending? Hurricane Dorian spared us from the worst of its power and we have a (slightly belated) 25th anniversary trip to Paris rebooked for this fall. We weren’t out any money from the change and now we get some extra time to look forward to the journey. (Here’s how to help those affected by Hurricane Dorian.)
Do you buy trip insurance? Has it ever saved the day?
Featured image: NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dolphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview
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