Travel insurance can be pretty amazing – but that doesn’t mean you have to pay extra for it (or, how I used it for a 2-day all-expense paid vacation)

Travel insurance can be pretty amazing – but that doesn’t mean you have to pay extra for it (or, how I used it for a 2-day all-expense paid vacation)

We’ve probably all been in that situation where we’re about to purchase a flight, and then an error message pops up reminding you that you didn’t select whether you want to add on travel insurance. At that point, you then wonder if it may be worth it to spent just a little bit more to be covered in all sorts of situations if something goes wrong. After all, you don’t want to be wishing you had spent just $20 more when you’re out $5,000 for a big expense, right?

Of course, this is the principle of risk, and how insurance companies make their money. The good news is, you usually don’t need to buy it because some form is likely already included with your credit card.

While I’ve wanted to write about this for quite some time, I only recently felt compelled to do so, when what could have been a disasterous 48-hour flight delay turned into a wonderful two-day vacation at a beach resort with all meals included, thanks to my credit card travel insurance.

cobb-lobster

This lobster cobb salad that I got during my trip was worth the $20 it cost on the menu, but it tasted even better knowing that it was free.

I recently went to Charleston, South Carolina for a quick weekend trip with my family. Seeing as it was much cheaper to fly nonstop from Boston into Myrtle Beach, rent a car, then drive instead of flying nonstop into Charleston, I opted for the former.

The trip down was relatively uneventful. But when I woke up on Sunday morning, I received an email telling me that my flight back to Boston that evening had been cancelled due to the snowstorm, and to call the airline to figure out my next steps. Unfortunately, this was a once-a-day route (not uncommon for Spirit), and the next day’s flight was completely sold out. I was told that I could either be placed on the Tuesday night flight, or receive a voucher for the cost of the flight.

Knowing that I had excellent travel insurance from booking the trip with my Citi Prestige card (as well as the fact that the few flights operating that day were absurdly expensive since everyone was trying to get home), I opted to be placed on the Tuesday flight (I also had smartly brought my work laptop with me and am able to work remotely, which I realize is not the case for everyone). However, I could have used this benefit to book an earlier flight, but given the chance that that too could be cancelled, as well as the prospect of going back to cold weather, I was not very inclined to do so.

I called Citi to advise them of my situation. They confirmed that it did indeed qualify (as I had paid for the flight with my Citi card and it was delayed more than 5 hours or cancelled), and let me know that I had up to $500 dollars in “immediate expenses” for lodging and food, with a total claim amount allowed up to $3,000, which I did not have to put on the same card.

This is very important. In order to be eligible, you must have paid for a portion of the airfare with the card that you have insurance with, it is not enough to just have the card. You do not have to pay for the actual expenses that you will submit for your claim.

I then proceeded to look up Marriott (my chain of choice for earning points) beachfront hotels in Myrtle Beach, and booked a two-night stay at the Marriott OceanWatch Villas at Grand Dunes for $250. It was aptly named, as I could indeed watch the ocean from my room:16649264_817023895974_8082171755378146430_n

I treated myself to a very nice dinner the first night at an excellent nearby gastropub, dining on duck confit nachos, pork belly, and corn creme brulee (sounds weird, tastes amazing):

firesmoke

Unfortunately things got very crazy with work the next two days so I didn’t have a chance to explore other restaurants, but thankfully the hotel restaurant was quite excellent, as you can see by the picture of the lobster Cobb salad further up.

The aftermath

After I got back, I then called Citi again to move forward with next steps, after which they proceeded to open up a claim for me, and gave me an email address to submit documentation to. I sent in receipts for the hotel stay, the restaurants, the Uber rides to and from the airports, the email notifying me of the cancellation, proof of the statement showing that I paid for the trip with my card, proof of the actual flight cancellation, and proof of my original and rebooked flight. I’m not sure if I needed to quite submit all of this, but several days later, I received an email letting me know I could expect a check in the mail for the amount I claimed.

But what if I don’t have this card?

I intentionally didn’t want to make this a post comparing the different travel insurance cards out there (as quite a lot of them already exist), but rather a firsthand account of why it’s useful to have travel insurance. I would highly encourage you to look at the policies on all your cards, and then use whichever card is most generous to pay for your flights moving forward. While most do not cover flight delays and cancellations like in my case, nearly all cards will cover you for if something happens to you on your trip, or you need to cancel your trip for an unavoidable reason. Again, while I’d encourage you to read up on the benefits of each one, a general rule of thumb is that the higher the annual fee is, the more benefits you’ll receive (after all, credit card companies can’t pay premiums to the insurance companies off interchange fees alone). In my case, the Citi Prestige, which has a $450 annual fee (which is reduced to $350 with a Citigold account and has a $250 airfare credit, essentially becoming $100), is considered to have some of the best coverage around, though you’ll also find similar coverage with the new Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 fee, $300 travel credit).

Have a question or a good travel insurance-related story to share? Feel free to contact me or post in the comments below.

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