Mark Smith just got suckered into buying travel insurance that turned out to be worthless to him. There was a huge hole in the middle of the coverage, which meant he and his two kids were stuck overnight in Denver on his own dime. Luckily the policy only cost $40, but that’s $40 that now belongs to Access America in exchange for providing a useless service.
Here’s his story. (I’ve changed his last name.)
I live in North Dakota and wanted to take my two youngest boys, 8 and 10 years old to see my Dad and their Grandpa who lives in Oregon. I kept checking for United’s e-fares on Tuesday to find a cheap flight and found one a couple of weeks ago, got three tickets for $225 each round trip, leaving Bismarck Friday Feb. 19th @ 7:35 p.m. Central time, routing through Denver @ 9:03 p.m. Mountain time, and landing in Portland @ 10:30 p.m. Pacific time.
While buying the tickets this little option pops up, that says…
And 40.50 gives me the option to buy this insurance through a company called Access. I figure, travelling in February is risky in North Dakota and Denver, so this seems like a good idea, and so I buy it.
On the day of our flight, the incoming flight from Denver is late by about 20 minutes, because there was light snow in Denver and the plane had to be de-iced. There was also light snow in Bismarck and so the plane was about 25 minutes late taking off back to Denver, flight 6176, and so we were later still getting into Denver. We didn’t have any checked luggage, but our bags had to be gate checked because the plane was a small commuter jet, so my boys and I waited and then dashed to the gate in Denver for our connecting flight to Portland, Oregon. It was a long ways, but we made it with about 15 minutes to spare. Too late, we were told by the gate attendant. Our seats were already given away and our flight to Portland had already departed, 15 minutes before the scheduled 9:03 departure.
I was mad. I was then told to report to the Customer Service counter down the concourse. We were rebooked on a Noon flight, United 369, the next day Feb. 20th. I asked about whether we were going to be put up in Denver and given meals, and they said no because our delay was caused by the weather, and United does not cover weather events. (Actually it was caused by them leaving early, as I pointed out, but they said I needed to be in our seats at least 15 minutes before takeoff.) Whatever. I was not worried I had insurance. Or so I thought.
I didn’t have the Access information, so I called my wife, she gave me the number. An Access CSR couldn’t initially find my policy, and so on a crowded terminal area, I had to tell them my credit card number because they insisted they had e-mailed the policy to me, which they had not. Turns out they had mangled my name with Mark MRSMITH, and then they found it.
I explained what happened. When I told them I was in Denver, then the CSR said, “Oh sorry we don’t cover that because you did not buy the ‘delayed’ trip coverage option.” They said my insurance would only cover me if I had not left Bismarck because of the weather or could not get back from Portland because of the weather, but not because I was stuck in Denver because of the weather!!! We went round and round and round on this, as I had a lot of time at this point and little patience.
Turns out, according to Access and United “Comprehensive Trip Protector” and “Everyday travel inconveniences” and “No shortage of potential travel problems” [does not cover] the most basic of circumstances, weather delays when you have already started your trip. That’s why Access does offer “delayed” trip protection. I would have known that, of course, if I had read the policy which they did not send me. Of course I wouldn’t have read it anyway, because to me “COMPREHENSIVE TRIP PROTECTOR” means exactly that–that we are protected comprehensively on the trip. Not according to Access or United. No, you are stuck paying for a hotel, and your meals when weather is a factor on your trip.
We don’t have a lot of flying options out of Bismarck. There is Delta, United and Allegiant, so it’s not like I will never fly United again. I know for dang sure I will never ever pay for the COMPREHENSIVE TRIP PROTECTION, because it doesn’t protect your most basic issue here in the Northern Plains, weather delays!
Remember to always find out exactly what’s covered before you buy any insurance, including service warranties. Mark could have found the Access America policy on their website (PDF), and after a few minutes of reading through it he would have realized that the policy is carefuly worded to avoid covering the most common types of delays and interruptions. (Even when it might actually cover weather delays, it leaves a loophole by saying that you have to demonstrate you left enough room in your itinerary.)
That in no way means that United or Access America are off the hook. Why would you try to sell such insurance that’s riddled with loopholes and exceptions as an impulse purchase? To get the consumer to buy it without looking too deeply into the fine print, that’s why.
The bottom line is, never let an emotional appeal sway you when you’re planning any sort of vacation. Travel is a very emotional consumer activity, which makes it easy for peddlers like Access America to trigger the risk aversion part of your brain.
In fact, let’s unpack that Access America spiel that United threw at Mark:
- Great vacation memories shouldn’t be left to chance. – Red alert: you’ve just been targeted with an emotional appeal. This company could care less about your “great vacation memories,” so don’t listen when they talk to you on that level. Emotional appeals from companies are never authentic.
- Everyday travel inconveniences can quickly turn your perfect vacation in the wrong direction. – There’s an implied offer here–that what they’re about to try to sell you will protect you from “everyday travel inconveniences.” The only problem is, that phrase covers pretty much everything, and there’s no way an insurance policy will cover everything. You’re being deliberately misled, which is a second strike against the trustworthiness of the company.
- Unexpected illness or injuries to you, your traveling companions or family members can cause you to miss or cut short a trip. – Ah, finally some specifics. This is the only thing that’s been described that fits into a legitimate offer so far. Use this as your reference point when you decide whether to look deeper or pass.
- There’s no shortage of potential travel problems; that’s why we offer protection. – Who cares? More junk. They’re wasting your time. All they’ve really said is that they might cover illness or injuries, even though they want you to feel in your heart that they cover a lot more.
- Access America has been protecting millions of travelers for more than 25 years. – Meaningless drivel.
I don’t blame Mark for thinking something called “Comprehensive Trip Protector” would be, you know, comprehensive. But his experience is a perfect example for all of us: you should never buy any sort of travel insurance unless you’ve got the opportunity to fully read through the policy first.