Credit card protections for weather-related travel mishaps

In February 2014, Holly Johnson, founder and author of frugality site Club Thrifty, found herself stuck in paradise. The day she and her husband were scheduled to leave Jamaica, winter storms blocked nearly all flights from the Caribbean to East-Coast cities in the U.S. weather delay

Jamaica isn’t the worst place to be stuck during the winter, to be sure. But the delays necessitated two extra nights at the resort and additional meals at the airport – roughly $600 extra in additional expenses.

Luckily, Johnson’s Chase Ink business credit card offered trip delay. She filed a claim and got her out-of-pocket expenses covered.

“As someone who writes about credit card rewards, I’m constantly telling people about these benefits, but you don’t get a chance to use them that often,” Johnson says.

With the with holiday travel season – and the season of blizzards and ice storms — approaching, it’s prudent to take a look at your card’s coverage to see if it offers any kind of protection against winter-weather-related snags.

Trip cancellation/interruption/delay coverage

Credit cards offer various levels of coverage for trip cancellations, interruptions and delays. These coverages may or may not help you out during winter storms.

  • Trip cancellation: If the storm hits the day of departure or just before and causes you to cancel your trip, you’ll get reimbursed for prepaid trip expenses.
  • Trip interruption: If the storm hits on the way to your point of departure or after the departure of your trip, you’ll get reimbursed for any prepaid accommodations you don’t arrive in time for. For example, let’s say you’re flying to a tropical island with one layover. If you get stranded in the layover city and miss your first night in the resort, this benefit would reimburse you.
  • Trip delay: If the storm strands you because your Common Carrier (such as your airline) can’t transport you, this coverage will reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses like meals, lodging and ground transportation.

The kind of coverage generally offered by card issuers, as well as stand-alone travel insurance policies, is what the industry calls “named peril” coverage, says Damian Tysdal, founder of Travel Insurance Review. This means that the policy will list all the reasons for cancellation that it covers.

“That makes it very specific,” Tysdal says. “It goes through and spells it all out.”

If “weather” is not on the list of covered situations, your card will NOT cover winter-related travel disasters. And, according to Tysdal, it’s relatively rare to find weather as a covered reason on credit card trip protection coverage, compared to stand-alone travel insurance policies (which will nearly always cover severe weather). Travel protection policies on cards are offered by issuers through travel insurance companies – and are generally “stripped down” versions of what that insurer would offer on stand-alone policies.

That’s not to say no card policies cover weather. Select cards from Chase (including the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve and the United MileagePlus Explorer cards) both list weather under covered reasons for trip cancellations, interruptions and delays:
Sapphire preffered trip cancel interrupt coverage for weather

The Citi Prestige covers weather, too, according to its benefit terms. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus card, meanwhile, provides trip cancellation/interruption coverage, but does not cover weather.

Another thing to check is your card’s limits of coverage for trip cancellation/interruption. Card-provided trip cancellation/interruption policies will often have a strict cap (from as low as $1,000, to up to $10,000 on some cards). Trip delay coverage for out-of-pocket expenses generally gets capped at $500 per traveler. Stand-alone travel insurance policies, meanwhile, may stipulate that they cover up to a certain percentage of prepaid costs (which could mean higher amounts of coverage for expensive trips).

So check your card’s policy carefully. While travel insurance “can be a great perk to have on your card, it’s certainly not always something you can rely on,” Tysdal says.

Tips for using your coverage: Even if your card covers trip cancellations, interruptions and delays you can’t just call up your issuer when you get home and ask for money; proper documentation is required. For winter-related mishaps, evidence of the delay itself is easily obtained through the airline. So your job is to save evidence of your additional costs.

“If you need to pay for additional meals, for hotel stays, things like that, make sure you’re saving receipts for everything,” Tysdal says.

Don’t get give up if your card’s insurance provider asks for something you don’t have. Johnson was asked for her airline tickets, which she hadn’t thought to save. But she sent in everything she had, and Chase honored her claim.

Contact your issuer as soon as possible – preferably as soon as things go awry, Tysdal recommends. That way you make sure your claim is accurately documented – and you won’t run up against the insurance provider’s deadlines for filing a claim. In addition to describing the situation over the phone, you’ll likely need to fill out some paperwork and send in documentation.

For Johnson, the process was “really simple,” she says.

“I maybe spent a total of an hour talking to people on the phone and filling out the paperwork and mailing it back,” she says.

Rental car coverage

Flights grounded due to snow and ice can create a domino effect of delays that can leave travelers stranded for days. For those desperate to get home by Thanksgiving or Christmas, a rental car can be an effective work-around. And the good news is, many cards provide some insurance coverage for rental cars, saving you money every day you have the rental.

Most cards providing this coverage provide “secondary” coverage, meaning you must first file a claim with your own auto insurance. That generally means your card’s coverage could pick up the tab for your deductible. A few cards (including the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the United MileagePlus cards) offer primary coverage, meaning you don’t need to involve your personal auto insurance. American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) also allows cardmembers to purchase primary coverage for a flat cost (between $19.95 and $24.95 for the entire rental).

Whether your card provides primary or secondary coverage, it will generally cover damage and theft – meaning you’ll have protection if you drive the car over a pothole, or get in an accident on icy roads.

Tips for using your coverage: For your card’s complimentary coverage to be effective, you must turn down the coverage the rental company tries to sell you. Also keep in mind that your card’s protection may not cover all vehicles (trucks and large vans are commonly excluded).

Is travel insurance worth paying extra for?

Should you seek out a card with trip cancellation/interruption/delay for your winter trip, even if it has a higher annual fee? Or consider shelling out for a stand-alone travel insurance policy if your card doesn’t provide coverage? That depends on your taste for risk – and the type of trip you’re taking.

“There’s more risk in the winter of blizzards and ice closing down airports and causing travel delays so you miss other connections,” Tysdal says.

So if you’re taking a winter trip that has a lot of prepaid expenses, travel insurance coverage that reimburses you for weather delays may be important to you. For example, if an ice storm at your home airport causes you to miss your winter cruise, travel insurance may cover your costs for meeting the boat at its next port of call, Tysdal says. A blizzard at your skiing destination could cause you to miss a couple nights at that non-refundable luxury resort you booked – and travel insurance could refund you so that you can stay a couple extra nights without spending extra money.

“Travel is messy,” Johnson says. “Flights get cancelled, flights get delayed, planes break down. It’s nice to have a benefit that can give you your money back, if you’re caught in the cross hairs.”

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