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You can submit your own question to us at askgeorge@airfarewatchdog.com. We will try to answer as many as possible.

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Travel Insurance for Winter Ski Trip Abroad

Q. My family and I are planning a ski trip to Austria this winter. I'd like to buy travel insurance so that we are all covered in the event one of us should become ill or have an accident. We do have group insurance through work but overseas travel is not covered. I don't know what type to buy and I have read stories of people buying insurance only to have their claims later denied because of an honest misunderstanding of coverage. Please advise.

A. The number one reason why people make a travel insurance claim is illness or injury before the trip departs, and some credit cards have built-in insurance for this, so you might want to check your coverage (you have to buy the trip with the credit card). But travel insurance is often more convenient for covering illness that occurs abroad. Whatever policy you decide on, make sure it includes medical evacuation coverage to transport you back home to a hospital of your choice. You don't want to become ill and get stuck in a hospital abroad for several weeks. It can be very expensive to arrange a med-evac flight back home (as in $50,000 or more). You can use squaremouth.com or insuremytrip.com to compare travel insurance policies.

Compensation for Delays

Q. I was recently traveling for work, flying from San Diego to Bahrain with connecting flights in both Washington Dulles and London Heathrow. My departure from San Diego was delayed for more than 2 hours due to mechanical problem. I accepted a rerouted flight to San Francisco and then to Dulles. I was stuck in San Francisco for over 2 hours. I missed my flight from Heathrow to Bahrain and was stuck in Heathrow for over 6 hours. Can I still submit a claim for phone expenses and for the inconveniences as a result of those delays?

A. If you have records of these expenses, I’m sure Delta would at least give you a travel voucher. I was on a flight from JFK to LAX on American recently and the plane had a technical problem. Then the crew “timed out” (meaning the pilots couldn’t work any longer per FAA regulations), so American gave me a $300 voucher for future travel when I asked. It does depend on your status in the frequent flier program, how long the delay was (in my case the flight was canceled around 1 a.m. and then rescheduled for 6 a.m. that morning).

Paid for the Shortest Connection, Given the Longer

Q. Is there is anything one can do when the airline changes the flight times, increasing the connection time from 40 minutes to 4 hours, plus with an additional connection instead of the original single connection?! I intentionally spent a little extra money to book the quickest flight with the shortest possible connection. If I wanted to spend all day on a plane, I would have booked the cheaper flight to begin with. Isn't there some recourse?

A. If the airline still flies the route on the same schedule as you originally booked, try calling the airline and ask to be re-instated on that schedule. This happened to a friend of mine a few years ago. He booked a nonstop from NYC to Denver on United at a very good price and was then re-booked on a connecting flight. He called United again and again until they put him back on the nonstop. The only other option is to ask for a full refund.

Book Economy, Pay for Economy Plus? No Thanks.

Q. I purchased a great fare from Chicago to Paris on United through Orbitz. When I got to the seat selection part, the site claimed that online selection for this flight had ended, so I called United only to be told that they would not give me seat assignments until I checked in at the airport. Since this was a very long flight and we were traveling as a family of four this was really rather upsetting, so we arrived at the airport extra early to get our seats. After waiting in a huge line to see an agent he told us that there were no seats left in economy but that we could sit in "economy plus" for $398 more per person! After refusing this ridiculous offer he proceeded to go ahead and give us the seats in economy plus anyway at no extra charge - basically they are overselling regular economy then trying to scam customers into paying extra for five extra inches of legroom! Is this a common practice?

A. It's good that you stood your ground. If regular economy was oversold, then United would have had a choice between upgrading you for free (which they did) or bumping you (involuntary denied boarding) and compensating you in cash. Unfortunately, we've heard of other instances where United would only assign seats in advance if passengers upgraded to their Economy Plus seating. Keep in mind that it's becoming a more common industry practice to charge for advance seat assignments, or to offer the perk only on more expensive fares.

Flight Canceled: Not Enough Passengers?

Q. I was on a JFK hotel shuttle when I overheard a conversation. Apparently, a couple of travelers had just returned from London.

The fellow who flew Norwegian mentioned that they cancelled his outbound flight simply because there weren't enough passengers on the trip. Norwegian flew them out the next day but of course they missed several events they had bought tickets in advance to see.

And Norwegian made no restitution. One of the passengers was an attorney who took names and wants to sue.

Can Norwegian cancel flights solely at their discretion and, if so, not pay its passengers anything? Can they be sued for this? This fellow made the point of saying it wasn't mechanical or weather related. Just the number of passengers.

A. I’m surprised that they would cancel a flight with not enough passengers since presumably that plane was scheduled to fly to JFK and pick up passengers for the return trip.

Airlines can cancel flights for any reason however European Union law stipulates that passengers are entitled up to 600 Euros in compensation. This is the case even if departing from the US, so long as the flight is traveling to/from somewhere in the EU. Even if the fare is purchased from a US-based airline but an EU-airline operates the flight (for example, you buy on American but the flight is operated by British Airways). You'll find more on these passenger protections here.

Name Changes Not Allowed

Q. I booked a flight to Berlin with my friends for January, It’s nearly December and I've just found out I can’t go. I want to change the name on my ticket and gift it to a friend. Why won’t my airline allow this?

A. Very few airlines allow name changes. Among the ones that do, even less are willing to do it for free. Sometimes it depends on the fare you paid.

If name changes were universally allowed, some enterprising person would buy up dozens or perhaps hundreds of seats at the lowest fares and then resell them (with a name change) to other passengers when the fares are higher, such as for last minute travel. This would make for chaos in the airlines’ booking procedures and result in a loss of revenue.

It would essentially create a “ticket tout” marketplace similar to what concert or sports event attendees experience.

Proof of Credit Card Used to Purchase Ticket

Q. We bought an airline ticket for our teenage son using a credit card and sent him off to the airport. Even though he had a boarding pass printed at home and checked in online, when he got to the airport the airline asked him to show the credit card used to purchase the ticket. Luckily, my husband was available to rush to the airport to provide the card. Otherwise, he would have had to buy a new ticket or not fly. Why did the airline do this, and do all airlines require a credit card to be shown?

A. The only reason I can think of is to prevent fraud, but as you say, your son checked in online and had a boarding pass. I asked my twitter followers if they had ever had this happen to them, and quite a few said yes. It’s fairly rare, but the worst that usually happens is the passenger must buy a new fare and get reimbursed when the original credit card is produced. Anyone who buys a ticket for a third party should be prepared to show the credit card used to purchase it.

Are Pet Fees Too High?

Q. I recently flew to Florida and brought along my 7lb dog. I spent more on my pet's ticket than I paid for mine. He had to stay under the seat in his carrier, and the airline counted him against my carry-on allowance. How is it that a baby can fly for free, sit on your lap, and the parents are allowed to bring several huge baby bags? They even get to board first!

A. It does seem unfair, doesn’t it? But a handful of incidents over the last few years may help to explain why airlines charge such fees. A service animal pooped twice in the aisle, causing an emergency landing, which is very costly for an airline. In another incident, a pet escaped its cage and bit a flight attendant and another passenger. As you can imagine this probably led to a law suit and a hefty financial settlement. So although I’m sure your pet is the best behaved animal in the world, there are costs associated with having pets on planes. Some passengers are allergic and if an allergy results in an emergency landing or a claim against the airline, there are costs involved.

Extra Insurance for Checked Baggage

Q. How does “excess valuation” work when checking a bag on an airline and is it worthwhile to buy it?

A. Excess valuation is basically extra insurance that you can buy when you check in your luggage. It’s over and above any liability that the airline is required to pay if your bag and its contents are lost or damaged. On domestic U.S. flights, the airline’s standard liability is no more than $3,500. By paying a relatively small fee, you can up the coverage to $5,000 on most airlines. Delta, for example charges $40 to boost coverage from $3,500 to $4000 and an additional $50 for coverage from $4000 to $5000. For most people, it’s not worth buying on domestic flights. But where it’s very useful is for international flights, because airline liability is much less when traveling outside the U.S. Delta, for example, charges $10 for each $1000 of coverage up to $5000. Beware though: you’re still not covered for cash, camera equipment, commercial effects, electronics, jewelry, works of art or other valuables, and the coverage only extends to a Delta destination, the first Delta stopover, or your point of transfer to another airline. You need to buy the coverage each time you check a bag.

Out of Luck? Injured Without Trip Insurance

Q. My husband and I were booked to go on a cruise earlier this fall, which we had to cancel due to my husband having an accident four days before we were meant to depart. His doctors would not clear him to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle, and then onward to Vancouver for a cruise.

Unfortunately, we did not have travel insurance. Upon speaking to our rep with Holland cruises, she said there is no refund and no rescheduling allowed 30 days or less from departure. To add insult to injury (literally!) they would not refund the hotels we had booked for our stay in Seattle. Nothing apart from the taxes and port fees has been refunded.

Other than sucking it up, do we have any recourse? We have asked our Holland rep to put us in contact with their corporate department who deals with concerns/complaints. We have medical verification for the injury. Can we do anything else? I know most hotels will allow a 24 hour cancellation without charge. We gave Holland four days notice. Surely, they will be getting a refund from the hotels, and possibly other excursions/bookings, but we are not.

 A. There still may be hope if you charged the cruise to one of the many credit cards that offer free, built-in cancellation coverage for scenarios just like yours. Many people don't read the fine print, but a number of credit card issuers actually provide a wide range of travel insurance whenever you use their cards to buy a trip. More about that here.

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