Q: A friend and I purchased a tour from Friendly Planet to Ecuador last July. We booked a round-trip flight on American Airlines from Dallas to Miami to arrive in time to connect to the LAN flight to Quito, Ecuador.
We purchased flight insurance with Access America Insurance for the super-saver flights from Dallas to Miami. In February I received an email from Friendly Planet saying that the tour had been canceled due to too few participants. I was given the choice to receive a refund or to schedule another tour later in the year. I decided to reschedule.
However, Access America denied the claim I made to cover the costs of changing the American Airlines flights, which was $137 for each of us.
I had spoken to two representatives from Access America explaining what had occurred, and both encouraged me to file the claim since it was not my fault that the trip was canceled. The process was time-consuming.
I have written a letter to Access America asking for a second review. I think Access America insurance is bogus at best since the trip was interrupted because it was never started. What is the purpose of insurance if not to cover the unexpected? -- Catherine Markland, Whitney, Texas
A: If your insurance policy covered a canceled tour, then Access America should have paid up.
But did it? I checked with the insurance company, and rescheduling a trip because of a lack of participation in a tour isn't covered. I agree with you that when you buy insurance, you're left with the impression that you would be protected if something goes wrong on your vacation. But you have to read the fine print.
Most travel insurance policies cover specific situations described in their terms. There are a number of common events, such as illness or injury to an insured, a traveling companion or close family member, plus a list of other health, transportation, accommodation, political and work circumstances, that are covered reasons for canceling or interrupting a trip.
It appears you purchased your policy to cover your airline ticket, through your airline's site. I'm a little dubious of the insurance offered through airlines, because they can be extremely restrictive. (I've heard insurance insiders joke that you have to die in a plane crash or lose a limb in order to make a successful claim, but I'm sure that's an exaggeration.)
Insurance purchased through an airline is often an afterthought -- and optional purchase with your airline ticket. Travel insurance should never be an afterthought. You're much better off shopping around for the right policy than clicking a button when you're booking a ticket and then assuming you'll be covered.
I contacted Access America on your behalf. It reviewed your case and ruled that your tour cancellation wasn't covered. I'm sorry.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.