Travel Insurance: How to Play the Game
Posted by Joseph Anderson
On April 24th at 4pm in the Kraft Mountain Parking lot at Red Rocks, Nevada after a few hours of practicing partner rescue, I returned to my car and something was not quite right. It didn’t hit me at first but when I opened the back of my Honda CRV it was clear: someone had been in here while I was gone. A rush of fear came over me, “They took my stove!” I thought to myself and panicked further “my laptop”. Quickly checking my usual hiding spot for my laptop: still there. The feeling of relief was short though and cold sweats creped back over me once I realized that ALL of my climbing gear was gone. During the next sixty seconds my mind went on a dizzying roller coaster as the reality sunk in of what this amounted to: The following morning I was scheduled to begin a 10-day continuing ed. Rock Guide Course with the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). I was now without ropes, climbing shoes and rock climbing gear, all of it gone, I had nothing for the course. I was completely out of luck….almost, what I did have was trip insurance. That put my mind to rest for now.
What would follow that fateful evening was a sequence of events that lasted over six months until finally my insurance company seceded and reimbursed me the full amount I was insured for. The big lesson here is that I did not get reimbursed by kicking back and just waiting, I had to work for it. And I tell you what, it’s one thing to feel at ease because you bought insurance and it is another to actually be insured - although I almost was not reimbursed for my losses I eventually was. The important point is that insurance in general and especially trip insurance is more of a game than a product. It’s a betting game.
In order to make the most of all of that extra effort I committed I want to share with you what I have learned from the process so that you can be more prepared in planning for your future trips and feel at ease that you are in fact covered.
In lieu of clarifying the big picture here is a little bit of the backstory. The plan was to be car camping while traveling throughout the Southwest for a total of five weeks while training for this 10-day course.
In the old days I considered things such as caution and insurance something reserved for old people. So the only logical conclusion is that I must be getting old because not only am I more cautious but when I now embark on a trip I always make sure everything is insured. So as I prepped for this trip I made no exceptions. First I checked my homeowners insurance as well as my car insurance in the event of a theft and neither would cover it. I also wanted to make sure the cost of the AMGA course was covered if something were to happen to me, emergency in the family, whatever. None of my existing plans would cover the things that I was most concerned with but what I eventually found was a plan that would cover all sorts of potential shenanigans. “Great”, I thought “I’m insured”…and off I went.
So now lets fast-forward to two months after the whole ordeal. My claim had been submitted immediately upon returning home; I received nothing yet from the company other than a few periodic questionnaires with some vague inquiries looking for more details….. “DETAILS!” I would exclaim. I’d been incredibly detailed from the very beginning. The first thing I did after the event was go to the head quarters for Red Rocks Park and had a Park officer file a report. It turned out the parking area where the crime took place was on Las Vegas municipal land so therefor I went to the Las Vegas Police Department. The LVPD filed a detailed report, which was submitted to the insurance company directly from the Police. I also sent them receipts for lost equipment that easily amounted to the maximum amount covered by the policy. They didn’t need any more details. Finally by mid July I received a check for something in the neighborhood of 250 dollars and a letter that stated that they would “Respectfully pass” on paying the remaining $4,000 that I was insured for on the grounds that:
A: Business related losses were not protected under their theft clause and
B: The trip interruption insurance was not valid in this particular case for some vague reasoning.
This really fired me up.
So, to be perfectly fair, now that the dust has settled and everything worked out in the long run, I do understand how and why we as consumers are able to buy such thorough trip coverage for as low as $110. It’s because (of course) most people don’t file claims and those that do receive letters like this, months after the event took place, and are mentally and emotionally done with it. Lawyers sound really expensive and not worth the effort and if they’re wording is technically confusing enough then well, they’re probably right after all. Most people at this point just give up. The fact is your job is to do more than pay the insurance premium, that’s why it’s so cheap. You’ve got to work for it. So here are three useful tips that helped me in recovering my losses.
1. Make your own contract.
Now lets be honest. My trip did not fit the traditional mold. I’ll bet most people that call for trip insurance are going to Disney World or they’re going on a Cruise. Most trips are probably so predictable that almost all policies are written with that exact template in mind. Now, recognizing this I explained to the agent many times that: “This is a business trip. I will be traveling in my own personal vehicle with business equipment and I will be taking a continuing ed. course.” I described in detail what I needed covered in order to make sure everything was explicitly clear. I made sure that they acknowledged that they heard me. Once they start getting to specific policies you need to repeat to them in the form of a question to make sure every thing you need covered is in fact covered. They must say “Yes, that is covered.”
How many people actually read the whole policy? No matter what the small print says what most people fail to grasp is that any company that knowingly sells insurance to someone who clearly explains what they are doing and the agent of that company agrees that it is in fact covered, they are then bound to honor that as equally as important of a contract as the one they have written themselves. This step is especially important if you are doing anything other than going to Disney World or going on a Cruise. If the contract says somewhere that what you have overtly described is actually not covered after they have verbally agree that it is, than they are not only at fault for knowingly selling you a “product” that was fraudulently represented, but the company’s future is actually going to be in question. Tell the agent every single detail of what you will be doing and record it. Record them acknowledging that they heard you. This is you writing your own contract the way you need it in order for it to stand up in court.
2. Insurance companies are gamblers but the odds are in their favor
One of the best things you can do when dealing with the insurance company is to do your homework and read and scrutinize the entire policy. They’re betting against you reading it thoroughly as well as against you making your own interpretations. Travel insurance is certainly no exception.
The policy they are selling you is in large part designed using algorithms based on the fact that most tours do in fact go to only a small handful of destinations and the clients themselves are one of at most five different personality profiles. They dress the same, act the same, do the same things for a living, eat the same things for breakfast, lunch and dinner and most likely are capable of 3 different conversation topics. The insurance company interprets everything on the policy as if you were one of those five profiles going on one of those two potential destinations. Considering that 99% of the time everything fits neatly into this template it actually probably takes a lot of the betting out of it for them and is a successful business model.
So with this in mind once an event happens and it clearly does not fit within the average customer’s profile or trip description than it will most likely be interpreted as not covered by the policy. Furthermore, since the odds are that you posess the dim wit comparable to that of a Thanksgiving Turkey they are betting on you just backing down because you “clearly didn’t understand the policy.” They want you to feel incompetent and foolish and roll over and die. So to be clear anything that happens to you that fits outside the periphery of that standard profile client on that standard vacation to Disneyland will very likely be “interpreted” as not covered by the policy.
3. Call an insurance lawyer.
Yes there are lawyers that work specifically in insurance law. I already knew this wholly because the lawyer that I contacted was also a client of mine. I think this is one of the key places I was lucky. Once I contacted the lawyer he then gave me some very useful information that your insurance company would rather you did not know….SO LISTEN UP! You are protected under the laws of whatever state you buy insurance under. This was also luck because I bought my policy in Washington State. Washington State laws are good for you, the customer, and those laws say that:
A: If an insurance company is in the wrong once a lawyer brings them a case they owe you all that is owed to you PLUS ALL ATTORNEY FEES. Yes, that is in addition to what they owe you.
B: If they still don’t pay and you bring them to court they face VERY HEFTY FINES if they are at fault.
On top of this my attorney would only get paid if he won the case. I don’t know if this is Washington law or if that’s just how my attorney practices law but it helped to pull the trigger for professional help. Which by the way, once your insurance is contacted by your lawyer they will most likely concede that they have lost the bet because it is now clear that you are not a Thanksgiving Turkey.