Travel insurance | what to do when your flight is cancelled

Making a claim through Travel Insurance Direct (TID)

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Is travel insurance worth it? What can you claim when you miss your flight? Read on to find out what to do when your flight is cancelled.

My iPhone beeps and a text message says our Frequent Flyer upgrades for our Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane have been approved. I whoop with joy and dance around the room of our ski lodge.

Weeks before our trip, my husband had placed a request for the upgrades.

Now, the prospect of sleeping in a flat bed and drinking champagne while winging our way home to Brisbane has become reality. Hooray for Frequent Flyer points!

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It’s the morning of our flight and we’re not in Los Angeles yet. We have had so much fun skiing at Sun Valley Idaho, we decided to extend our stay at the ski resort for two more days.

Our new flight itinerary involves flying to San Francisco, where a change of aircraft will land us in Los Angeles seven hours before our international flight to Australia.

travel insurance 2Ordinarily, this is plenty of time to relax with a glass of bubbly in the Business Class Lounge. Only, it’s winter. And Sun Valley is a small regional airport in a valley surrounded by mountains. Which means, some days, the cloud base is so low it’s not safe for some types of aircraft to land.

Our first inkling that our journey may not be as smooth as we hope is during the shuttle bus transfer to the airport.

Having experienced flight cancellations the day before, some of the other travellers have made backup plans and booked rental cars to drive to Boise, three hours away.

This bit of news is slightly worrying as we have not considered the possibility of our flight being cancelled and have no backup plan.

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While gazing at snow-capped mountains from the departure lounge, we watch the cloud base rise. And my spirits lift with the good news that the United Airlines aircraft is circling nearby. But my hopes are dashed when the pilot makes the decision to divert the aircraft and the flight is cancelled.

As soon as this is broadcast over the public address system, there’s a scramble to reach the check-in counter.

Being a novice at the trials of winter travel, we are slow off the mark and end up at the back of a long queue.

The line moves at a snail’s pace and tempers run high. Passengers yell at the staff and some passengers just give up waiting and go home.

Our options are not good. There’s only one flight that will get us to LAX in time and I’m worried about missing out on seats on that flight.

I explain our plight to a staff member, who helpfully suggests it would be faster to phone United Airlines.

In frustration, I send out some tweets. United responds within an hour, Delta responds within a few hours and Qantas doesn’t respond until days after posting another message on their Facebook page.

travel insurance 8On the phone, a United Airlines operator transfers our booking to a Delta flight, due to depart later in the afternoon.

This flight goes to Salt Lake City, where we will connect with another Delta flight to LAX. The itinerary will get us to Los Angeles in time to board the Qantas flight.

It’s not to be. After waiting around for a few hours, the Delta flight is cancelled.

We’ve exhausted all our options of getting to Los Angeles in time to board the Qantas flight, including driving to Boise. And there’s not enough time to make it to Salt Lake City.

travel insurance 4Fortunately, the luxurious Sun Valley Lodge has a spare room and a choice of excellent restaurants.

A few phone calls later, I learn it will cost an extra $1200 to fly home the next day on Qantas.

Luckily, there are seats at the same price on the flight the day after. Either way, we’re up for a re-booking fee of $560.

There’s a bigger problem. As we have failed to change our flight within 24 hours of departure, our Frequent Flyer points will be forfeited.

We use another 144,000 points to upgrade. I complain to an unsympathetic Qantas customer service person, who tells me to call my insurance company.

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My insurance policy is an annual family policy purchased through Travel Insurance Direct underwritten by Lloyds.

The operator is courteous and offers helpful advice. I’m told to keep receipts for meals and accommodation. He is unsure, though, if a claim for forfeited Frequent Flyer points will be successful.

I’m a lot happier after a roast chicken dinner and a bottle of wine.

The next morning, I learn there has been a collision between two Qantas aircraft at LAX while being towed from a hanger. As fate would have it, our flight was cancelled after all.

Here’s how I amused myself at Sun Valley Airport (filming a video of my experience)

Travel Insurance claim

On closer examination of the TID policy document, there is a provision for reimbursement of Frequent Flyer points, which we didn’t get the opportunity to test.

Back home, a few weeks later, after writing to Qantas explaining the circumstances, the airline offered to reinstate the 144,000 points. Thank you, Qantas.

From the insurance company, we claimed the fee paid to Qantas to change the flights ($560) and two nights’ accommodation and meals (US$505).

The claim was approved (minus $100 excess). It involved filling out a form and sending copies of boarding passes and invoices.

The insurance company acknowledged the application within a day. It took less than two weeks to process. Apart from the inconvenience of filling out a form, the experience was painless.

Travel insurance comparison

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Any experienced traveller will tell you unexpected mishaps while travelling can be costly. Hospitalisation in Southeast Asia can exceed $800 a day, a medical evacuation from Asia can cost more than $60,000 and a major operation in the USA can cost more than a house.

For most people, the chances of ending up in hospital with bird flu or breaking your leg is pretty slim but as you can see, insurance also comes in handy to protect against minor misadventures, such as lost luggage and delayed flights.

Travel insurance used to be sold through travel agents but these days, most people buy insurance online. Choice has consumer reviews of various companies.

Reputable companies include 1Cover, Columbus, Insure and Go, Kango Cover, Southern Cross, Travel Insuranz, Webjet, TID and 1300 Insurance.

Southern Cross offers coverage up to $25,000 for luggage and up to $50,000 for cancellation and loss of deposit. 1Cover has unlimited cover for overseas medical expenses and cancellation expenses, with the added bonus of coverage for domestic services and pets if your return home is delayed.

InsureandGo has family policy perks such as allowing kids under the age of 18 to be covered for free when travelling with mum or dad. If you’re looking for cheap backpacker insurance there are many options to choose from too.

Virgin Australia has no excess on claims and covers up to $50,000 worth of travel and accommodation expenses if your trip is disrupted.

Do you have an insurance claim experience? I’d love to hear your story.

Travel insurance

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Christina Pfeiffer Travel Writer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.