I Never Set Foot on the Plane to Europe

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My August vacation to Europe cost me more than I’ve ever spent on a trip before. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the Normandy battlefields, sleep in that funky apartment in Amsterdam, or tour the Claude Monet house. In fact, I never set foot on the plane to Europe.

Robyn The day I was supposed to depart, I got a call from my mother-in-law in California. My father-in-law Paul had a life-threatening respiratory infection and was on life support. Abiding by his wishes, our family planned to remove him from the ventilator as soon as my husband and I could get from our home in Boston to Los Angeles. The problem: My husband was in Europe already and I was set to catch my flight to meet him in less than eight hours.

Instead of spending my day packing for Europe, I spent the day booking new flights to California and canceling our vacation flights, hotels, rental cars, trains, and tour reservations. My husband and I were on and off the phone all day grappling with the emotional reality of his father’s imminent death and our sudden change in plans.

We arrived in Los Angeles 12 hours before Paul passed away. I traveled from Boston and my husband and son traveled from London. We paid $7,500 for the last-minute flights as there were no bargains to be had.

No one ever plans for something like this. But, I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to finances and I thought I had taken precautions so that I wouldn’t lose money if the trip was canceled for any reason. For instance, I did my research and my credit cards offered some trip cancellation and interruption benefits. I thought I was covered here. I also reserved refundable hotel rooms, and even purchased medical travel insurance through InsureMyTrip.com for the low cost of $80 for my family for the entire two week trip. I figured I should be prepared in case we needed emergency medical care or evacuation while traveling abroad.

In fact, most of the trip was refundable because of my hours of conscientious planning both before and after the crisis. Take a look:

  • Two out of our four flights were booked using airline miles. I paid for the taxes and fees on these flights and the airline redeposited the miles and reimbursed me for all but $100. My husband paid for the other two flights on another airline and we are still awaiting confirmation of a refund for a portion of the unused return flight fees to Boston.
  • I reserved hotels and the rental car with the most flexible cancellation policies. As a result, I didn’t owe any fees.
  • Some of the tours and train fares were non-refundable, and the one Airbnb apartment was only partially refundable. I would have been out about $2,500, but after several calls and emails, these operators offered refunds.

Nonetheless, piecing together all of these refunds was like putting together a complicated puzzle with the biggest piece still missing: Those unexpected $7,500 cross-continental plane tickets. Because these flights were purchased on the same credit card as the original flights, I thought the credit card company’s trip insurance benefits would cover the cost. Multiple hours and phone calls later, we filed a claim and went through all the necessary channels. In the long-run, we were not compensated for the tickets because my husband and son flew to LA rather than the original ticketed destination of Boston.

Perhaps a travel insurance policy would have denied coverage for the same reason. Yet, if I had purchased trip cancelation and interruption insurance through InsureMyTrip.com for about $200 for all of us, I would have called the insurance company’s customer service line and talked to a representative about how to best handle the crisis. With help navigating the situation, perhaps I would have booked the right tickets home and then to Los Angeles. One travel insurance policy would have also saved me hours of phone calls to airlines, tour operators, train companies, Airbnb, hotels, and credit cards companies.  Plus, a couple hundred dollars for a policy and peace of mind could have saved me thousands in the long-run.

Instead, I learned the hard way that it’s best to be prepared for life’s unexpected events.

Robyn and Joel

Robyn Parets is a personal finance writer based in Boston. You can follow her on Twitter @RobynParets or reach her via email at [email protected]



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