If you have a travel insurance problem, where do you turn for help?
Your travel advisor? Your insurance agent? The site where you bought the policy? Or should you go directly to the travel insurance company instead?
It’s a timely question. People are just starting to plan their summer vacations, and with all the uncertainty in the world, travel insurance will be more important than ever. But who will help you if you have a travel insurance problem?
“While having to make a claim on a trip means that something went wrong, there are a few steps travelers can take to ensure the claims process goes better than the trip mishap,” says James Sion, chief operating officer of Generali Global Assistance Travel Insurance.
Generali just released its 2018 travel and insurance trends report, which shows that for the year, the average cost of a trip that travelers insured was $1,976 – an increase of 5% from the previous year. The average premium remained the same as in 2017 — $139 per trip.
First, a reality check: A lot of the folks who come to my consumer advocacy organization have skipped some or most of the steps to solving a travel insurance problem. Often, they’ve filed an incomplete claim and are looking for a quick fix by emailing the CEO. (I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the major travel insurance CEOs on my site.)
As it turns out, solving a travel insurance problem can be as simple as screening your travel insurance company before you buy, tracking down your insurance agent, and following the directions.
Start with by buying from the right company
In a previous story, I discussed the best places to buy travel insurance. All are worth considering, but in the end, you’ll want to do business with someone who will support you in the unlikely event that something goes wrong.
An insurance comparison site like G1G, for example, offers personalized assistance around-the-clock from your phone, tablet or computer. You have the ability to manage your account online, but also a promise that “you’ll never travel alone.”
For that reason, it’s important to carefully choose the travel insurance company you work with. Check the online reviews to make sure it has a good reputation. The cheapest travel insurance may not be the best for your trip.
Find your agent
If you bought your policy from an insurance agent or travel advisor, that’s the best place to start, says Virginia Hamill, an insurance analyst for FitSmallBusiness.com, a personal finance site.
“The first person you should turn to for help with a travel insurance claim is the agent who sold you the policy,” she says. “Smart agents know they live and die on their clients’ good opinions and good service is an essential part of building strong relationships. They’ll be happy to explain your obligations and walk you through the claims process.”
Hamill says helping a customer is good for business. Even though there’s no legal requirement that insurance agents must explain coverages to their clients, she adds, “no agent wants to spend time and money defending against a lawsuit.”
If you didn’t work with an agent, you can still contact your insurer’s claims department. Insurance carriers have a legal responsibility to act in good faith when handling claims.
“If you think your insurer was wrong for denying your claim, you should report them to your state’s department of insurance,” she advises.
Follow the directions
“Finding yourself in an unexpected situation and needing to file a claim while traveling is never fun,” says Justin Tysdal, CEO of the travel insurance company Seven Corners. “But it can be easy.”
Check the website of the company from which you purchased the policy. Follow the instructions for the best way to contact it with questions or concerns.
At Seven Corners, there’s a helpful claims page with some commonly requested forms available for download. After that, it’s as easy as following the instructions.
Other avoidable travel insurance problems
Preventing travel insurance problems really is as simple as vetting your insurance company, but then also finding the right person to communicate with, such as an agent. As someone who deals with consumer complaints every day, the biggest slip-up is failing to follow the directions on your claim.
Too often, I’ve seen travelers omit important details from a claim. Then, when they get a denial, they fire off an angry letter to the CEO.
There’s a sequential chain you can follow for a successful resolution to any travel insurance problem:
✓ Consult your agent.
✓ Contact your travel insurance company.
✓ File an appeal if necessary.
✓ Get in touch with your state’s insurance commissioner or a consumer advocate.
So whom do you contact? All of the above — but in the right order.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.