Over the years, Bob and I have purchased trip insurance for a variety of reasons. At one time, we purchased travel health insurance for our whole family when our health policy would not cover us outside the United States. Another time, we purchased insurance because we booked our travel far in advance, and wanted to “hedge our bets” so to speak. Now, our current credit card, the United Club Card, offers trip insurance coverage for travel purchased with the card, as do many other credit cards. But all trip insurance, no matter the plan or provider, is limited in what is covered.
Recently, Bob and I chose to cancel a planned trip to Myanmar. We had booked airline tickets to Yangon early last summer, before the military operations that have displaced more than half a million Rohingya Muslims began, with the intention to travel in January 2018. But once the situation developed, we decided we could not, in good conscience, travel there.
Our tickets, $560 each round trip from SFO to Myanmar, were purchased through a third party agency on Air China, and were listed as “refundable.” But there’s always fine print isn’t there? The tickets were indeed refundable, but we only got back what ultimately amounted to the price of one ticket, after the cancellation fees of $280 for each ticket were applied. Bob tried to plead our case with Air China, but to no avail. They were completely unhelpful, in fact, they hung up on Bob after telling him they would not help us. The third party agency tried to help us as best as they could, calling Air China on our behalf, but they got nowhere either.
Could we have done something differently to receive a full refund? Frankly, I’m not sure we could have. We did not have any trip insurance for these tickets. But in this case, I don’t believe insurance would have helped us. My experience with trip insurance is that the fine print is quite specific as to what it actually covers. Most travel insurance plans cover trip cancellation due to death or serious illness—with signed medical forms needed for proof—job loss, and terrorist attacks and natural disasters (with a great deal more fine print). None of these reasons were specific to the cancellation of our trip.
It’s possible that if we were flying on United, where we are long time customers and frequent fliers, that United might have taken pity on us and waived the fees. They have done this for us before, when we canceled a trip to Peru because of State Department warnings. But we got nowhere with Air China. And I do mean nowhere.
I am in no way suggesting that trip insurance is a bad idea. For certain trips, and for certain travelers, I believe trip insurance can be very useful. I just don’t believe it would have helped in this situation.
Here are two stories from travel experts that should give you a bit more insight: