Travel delay coverage is entirely focused on reimbursing a traveler for financial losses they incur as the result of a travel delay they could not avoid.
This coverage usually offers an insured traveler between $100 and $1,000 dollars as reimbursement for unexpected expenses like hotel stays, cab rides, meals, and more that are the direct result of the traveler not being able to get where they were going according to schedule. This means the traveler will have to pay the expenses and file a claim – along with the appropriate supporting documentation – to receive a refund check in the mail.
1. Trip Delays are Out of Your Control
A trip delay is defined as something outside the traveler’s control that causes the traveler expenses they hadn’t planned on paying. Travel insurance is different from many other types of insurance in that it is ‘named peril’ insurance, meaning the disaster faced by the traveler must be named in the plan for it to be covered. Those named perils comprise the covered reasons.
A covered reason is any specific travel event experienced by a traveler that can be submitted for a travel insurance claim according to the travel insurance plan’s description of coverage.
While every travel insurance plan is different – even between plans offered by the same travel insurance company – the covered reasons for travel delays usually include delays caused by:
Traffic accidents in which you and your traveling companion were not directly involved.
Lost or stolen passports, travel documents, or travel money.
Severe weather conditions that prevent travel suppliers from departing.
Quarantine, hijacking, natural disaster, terrorism, and riot are also often listed as covered events in a traveler’s insurance plan, which is great when a snowstorm closes airports across the midwest, for example.
The important thing to remember is that travel delay coverage will not cover a delay that occurs because you forgot to set your alarm, your car ran out of gas, or you were too hungover to make your flight – those are circumstances within your control.
2. Trip Delays Occur After your Trip Starts – Not Before
Trip delay coverage is in force when you are enroute to and from your covered trip according to your scheduled departure date. This means if you are starting out from home and going to the airport, your trip has started; ditto if you’re on your way home and starting out from the hotel where you vacationed and heading to the airport.
Once your trip begins, the trip delay coverage is in effect until you return. If your delay is experienced on a layover, for example, that will be covered as long as the remaining requirements are met as well.
3. Do Not Confuse a Travel Delay with a Trip Cancellation
By definition, travel delay coverage starts when you are enroute, so delays that occur before your trip starts may not be covered and could be confused with trip cancellation.
Here is an example: your son starts running a fever three days before a family trip and a quick trip to the doctor indicates it’s a virus that will have to run its course. You’ve got a situation on your hands. Your kid could be well in a few days, but he may not be well enough to travel in time. You can’t delay your trip for a reason that started before the trip, so you have two choices: take the sick kid with you or cancel the trip.
If the doctor’s recommendation is to stay home, get that in writing and check your travel insurance plan to see if illness is a covered reason to cancel your trip. Most travel insurance policies require that the illness be so debilitating as to make it impossible to travel, so if your child is mildly sick you may not have coverage to cancel. If you purchased a plan with ‘cancel for any reason’ you’re golden, but you’ll need to call quickly because there is usually a required time to call and cancel.
4. Supporting Documents are Required
No matter what the reason for your travel delay claim, one of the most important tips for making a successful travel insurance claim is having the required supporting documentation. Here are some clues for getting your hands on that documentation:
If a traffic accident caused the delay, you’ll need a police report. If you were not involved in the accident, note the date, time and the addresses as close as possible to the accident. If you’re still in the car and you’ve passed the accident that caused your delay, call the police department and ask for a copy of the police report to be sent to your home address.
If severe weather caused the delay, the travel supplier – airline, railroad, etc. – will print something explaining the delay that can be used as supporting documentation. Just ask – they are used to these sorts of questions.
If your travel delay was caused by a loss or theft, a copy of your police report documenting the loss or theft will work just fine.
If your travel delay was caused you or your traveling companion being quarantined, get a doctor’s note explaining that fact.
If your travel delay was caused natural disaster, terrorism, or riots, contact your travel insurance representative and ask them what supporting documentation they will need to prove the travel delay. Typically, in these conditions, the media reports and a copy of your itinerary is enough to match up the facts, but double check to be sure.
Any time you are unsure, take out your travel insurance document and read it or call the travel insurance representatives and ask questions. They’re there to help and they may even have some advice to help you get out of the delay or at least get a good hotel room before everyone else snatches them up.
5. You Could Run Out of Coverage on a Long Delay
Travel delay coverage usually includes two limits: one for the daily limit and one for the maximum limit. The daily limit is the per-day allowance that the travel insurance company will reimburse a traveler for – anything over that amount is the traveler’s responsibility. Think about those situations you see on the news when travelers are stuck for days on end due to a blizzard, a volcanic eruption, or a superstorm.
The maximum limit is the combined limit for all the days that the traveler for which a traveler is making a trip delay claim. If a traveler is allowed $200 per day up to a $500 maximum, then they may make claims for several days that total up like this:
Day 1: $180 hotel + $98 food = $278 ($78 not reimbursed)
Day 2: $90 hotel + $73 food = $162 (all expenses covered)
Day 3: $125 hotel +$48 taxi + $87 food = $260 ($122 not reimbursed)
On two days, this traveler went over their $200 per day allowance and they used up their $500 total on the third day. They were able to cover a good portion of their expenses with travel insurance but they had to pay the remainder.
See our full review of travel delay coverage for more details and a list of plans and limits.