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Protect your cash if travel plans get canceled

  • Story Highlights
  • Travel insurance may cover expenses not reimbursed by your airline
  • Experts advise travel insurance for significant travel investments
  • Buy a policy soon after you make a deposit on your trip for the best coverage
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By Jen Haley
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(CNN) -- Josh Dorkin and his wife were scheduled to fly to Chicago last week for a wedding and family reunion. The couple paid about $300 for two tickets on American Airlines, but Josh found out that the flight was canceled after spending five hours on the phone with customer service.

Travelers may want to consider travel insurance to protect against flight cancellations.

The Dorkins weren't guaranteed seats on a United Airlines flight, so Josh spent $1000 for tickets on Southwest. American said his $300 will be refunded, but Josh is still frustrated.

"It turned out to be a bloody disaster," he said.

With the chaos in the skies, travelers are looking to protect themselves any way they can. Some experts say travel insurance is key.

"As we get into the summer months, that extra piece of insurance can give you piece of mind," said Tom Parsons, CEO of, a discount travel Web site. "We see airlines cutting back, bad weather. Insurance isn't a bad idea," he said.

Josh Dorkin said he'll consider travel insurance next time.

"Considering what's going on, it will be fairly prudent at this point to get travel insurance," he said. "It's important in this day and age."

But some industry insiders aren't sure it will pay off.

"Travel insurance does not insure your trip," said Ed Perkins of "It insures your money. If you're involved in an airline mechanical delay, travel insurance won't do much for you," he said. "Travel insurance isn't good for these day-to-day difficulties."

To buy or not to buy?

In the case your flight is delayed or canceled, the airline generally arranges for alternate transportation or you'll get a voucher for future travel. And while American Airlines passengers received compensation, travel insurance may play a role in covering expenses the airline won't cover, like taxi fare to the hotel, meals or other amenities, said Vickie Corliss of, a third- party insurance site.

There are some instances where travel insurance is a good bet. If you're scheduled to go on a cruise, or you've booked a rental property or a package tour, a policy can save you a significant amount of money should an unforeseen event pop up. If you've invested $5,000 for a cruise, it's probably worth getting a policy. This way if your flight getting to the cruise is delayed or canceled, you won't be out the cost of your vacation.

"Whether you need to buy a policy depends on how much money you have at risk," said Perkins. "The whole idea of insurance is to protect big investments, not to argue over chump change," he said.

The most common and comprehensive coverage is trip cancellation insurance, accounting for 77 percent of total sales according to the US Travel Insurance Association, an industry group. This policy will cover you in case your plane is delayed or canceled. You'll recoup un-reimbursed costs, like meals and hotels, if you're stuck at an airport for a certain amount of time, usually four to eight hours according to the USTIA. Trip cancellation policies also cover lost baggage and un-reimbursed costs in case you have to cancel your trip because of an illness.

If your airline stops operating, travel insurance may cover your tickets. But be wary of the fine print here. Some insurance carriers have a white list and a black list. If an airline is on a white list and it goes bankrupt, you'll be covered. But if an airline is on the black list, you won't. See how airlines are coping with rising costs »

Know your options

Travel insurance policies aren't cheap. They can run 4 to 8 percent of the total cost of your trip. Shop around for a policy that fits your budget., and help travelers comparison shop.

Travel insurance is even more expensive for older travelers. If you're in your 70s or 80s, you may want to consider getting a cancellation waiver from your carrier. "It costs much less than travel insurance," said Perkins. With a cancellation waiver, you won't have to pay penalties if you cancel your trip at the last minute. Keep in mind that you may not be covered with this waiver if you cancel because of a pre-existing medical condition.

If you decide to invest in travel insurance, but you're worried about the solvency of the operator, use a third-party insurance agent so that you're ensured reimbursement even if your airline or cruise line goes out of business.

Timing is key if you want to purchase travel insurance. You'll get the maximum amount of coverage if you buy a policy within 7 to 21 days of putting down your trip deposit. You'll get financial default coverage, in case the airline stops flying, and pre-existing medical conditions coverage. Make sure you read the find print: Some companies will only give you 7 days to buy coverage to get these benefits, while others will allow up to 21 days.


Before you invest in a travel insurance policy, call your credit card issuer. You may have some free travel benefits you're not even aware of, said Curtis Arnold of, a credit card information Web site. American Express, for example, will give you $500 worth of insurance if your checked luggage is lost and up to $1250 if your carry-on baggage is damaged. Some Chase cards will reimburse you up to $300 immediately if your bags are delayed.

Credit cards also have merchant dispute benefits. Your credit card company may go to bat for you if your flight is canceled and you haven't been appropriately accommodated or reimbursed. You have to make a good faith effort to solve the problem yourself first, but if the travel provider hasn't solved the problem and has not upheld its end of the bargain -- namely, getting you to your destination -- get in touch with your credit card issuer. A lot of issuers will instantly credit your account. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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