I admit it. There have been times when I’ve planned a trip and decided that I didn’t need trip cancellation travel insurance. Blissfully unaware, I would jokingly say, “There’s nothing that will stop me from going.” Turns out I was wrong.

In May, six days before my husband and I were to fly to New Orleans for a friend’s wedding, I woke up and couldn’t see out of the better portion of my right eye. My eye looked fine. It didn’t hurt. It just wasn’t working.

“You’re having an ocular emergency,” said my ophthalmologist that day. “Your retina has detached, and you have to go to the hospital.”

Within 24 hours, a gas bubble was inserted in my eye to hold my retina up. Several days of laser surgeries followed to basically solder my retina back in place.

Once the initial emergency was over, I asked my surgeon about my travel plans. And, the answer was an emphatic, no.

Seems this gas bubble was going to be with me for a while during which time high altitudes (i.e. flying and climbing Mount Everest) were an absolute no-no and activity, even going for a walk, was restricted.

I’m Lucky for Two Reasons

I realize that I’m one lucky person. First and foremost, my vision was restored by the incredible doctors and residents at Toronto Western’s Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute. Everyone was amazing, specifically Dr. Yan. Secondly, we had trip cancellation insurance thanks to our travel rewards credit card.

The Travel Insurance Claim Process

We had purchased two non-refundable air tickets, booked and paid for accommodations through Airbnb for a portion of our stay, and booked a room at the hotel where the wedding reception was being held. We were able to cancel our hotel reservations without penalty, and thanks to Airbnb’s Extenuating Circumstances Policy, were refunded everything we paid for the home we rented too.

The airline tickets, however, were a whole other story. It didn’t matter what the reason for the cancellation, doctor’s note or not, the tickets were non-refundable.

So, we opened a trip cancellation travel insurance claim and here are three things I learned about the whole process:

The turnaround time for the claim was actually pretty quick.

Our travel insurance claim was opened on May 13 and we had a cheque in our mailbox on September 30. Four-and-a-half months may not seem quick but most of the delay is on us. It wasn’t until the end of June that we had all the initial paperwork in order to send to the insurer.

There’s a lot of paperwork involved.

This is to be expected. I get it. But it cost almost $5 to mail everything by regular post! That’s not a complaint, really, it’s just to illustrate how much paperwork we’re really talking about. There was the claim form itself (which includes a section to be completed by the doctor), the credit card statement with the purchased flights on it, a copy of our flight confirmations, as well as confirmation of our cancellations.

If it doesn’t go your way initially, keep trying.

In August, we received word from the travel insurer that our claim was denied because our tickets could be “exchanged for travel on new dates”. This was news to us, but according to the travel insurer the airline we were to fly with issues credits when non-refundable flights are cancelled.

I turned my attention to the airline and found out it was true. We did have a credit. The problem, however, was this credit needed to be used within a certain timeframe and we’d be subject to a $200 rebooking fee, each, when we used it. To the airline’s credit, they did end up waiving the rebooking fee, but we were still handcuffed to the timeline.

I called the travel insurer again and explained my predicament. We weren’t going to be able to make use of the credit. What could be done? The agent explained that if I provided written confirmation that I would not be using the credit, they’d revisit my claim. I did, they did, and I received a cheque within a few weeks for the full amount: $1,168.82.

Lesson Learned: I’m Never Going to Risk it Again

I always make certain that I have emergency medical insurance when I travel. It has never once crossed my mind not to have it. I can’t say the same, however, for trip cancellation insurance, until now.

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