From the beginning of commercial flight, travel insurance has been available to protect passengers from frequent associated foibles, such as re-booking delays, cancellations, or even missed connections.
Experienced travelers have a variety of favorite strategies for dealing with these situations. Frequent fliers usually consult the people who work in their airline mileage clubs at the airport -- people who are known to pull some strings to help preferred travelers. Others have the common sense to jump immediately into lines at the terminal for re-booking, knowing people toward the end of those lines are far more likely to wind up stranded or disappointed. As the airline industry avoids empty seats at all costs, spare seats are becoming a scarce commodity.
Travel insurance softens the blow, picking up the costs of meals, hotels, and perhaps new flights when the airlines claim an act of God is responsible for the delay or cancellation. Most budget travelers are well aware of this reality.
But you might not be aware that protection covering the cost of a new flight is now as close as your smartphone, and coverage isn't particularly expensive.
A Flight Insurance Option From Your Smartphone
A service called Freebird offers flight insurance against delays and cancellations, as well as missed connections. Delays qualify after at least four hours have passed from the original departure time.
Here's how this first-of-its kind service works: you buy the insurance for your flight (at a cost of $19 one-way or $34 round-trip) after purchasing the ticket.The purchase can be done online or through a travel agent.
You will not need to download an app to your smartphone. Freebird uses text messaging and a mobile-friendly website to notify you of the cancellation or delay, and then immediately offers an online choice of alternative flights (either on the original airline or another carrier). You simply tap the option that best matches your travel needs.
You'll need to check-in and make baggage arrangements. You keep your old ticket, and Freebird buys the replacement ticket for you. Such a case will save you from spending hold time on a slow-responding customer service phone line or from standing in a line of stranded passengers in the terminal.
It's possible to find flight insurance cheaper than the current rates on Freebird. In fact, rate hikes for the service could come at any time.
The key difference is that with traditional travel insurance, you'll make the arrangements yourself and become reimbursed at a later date for your expenses. Freebird rebooks your flight at no charge, and requires no paperwork. It helps you avoid an unexpected overnight stay or sleeping in the airport.
That's good news for travelers who aren't good at keeping receipts or grow frustrated waiting for that reimbursement to arrive.
Some possible Freebird hazards to keep in mind:
- Freebird must be purchased at least two days prior to departure, and you'll need a smartphone with access to SMS text messages and the Internet in order to make it work for you.
- The service is not available for international flights, so it is limited only to U.S. domestic arrivals and departures.
- One other warning: Freebird pays only for your ticket. If the new airline has baggage fees, or charges for routine services such as the printing boarding passes, those new expenses are your responsibility. If you have an option of selecting a new carrier for your replacement flight, keep these issues in mind.
Other Insurance Options that Cover Delays and Cancellations
Trip cancellation insurance protects you against the larger evil, such as missing an overseas cruise departure. There is a similar policy for interruptions and some use very similar wording.
Travel is an unpredictable activity, a fact that adds pleasure for many of us. But factors beyond our knowledge and control can influence travel plans that are already purchased (and frequently non-refundable).
If you lose your money on an interrupted or canceled trip, do you have the resources to pay for the entire trip again? If not, it's best to get some protection.
Companies such as Travel Guard and Allianz that offer this insurance will provide a card that slips into a wallet or a contact that slips into your smartphone address book. You can call this help line and inform them of your situation. Most times, they will provide advice about what to do next and documentation you should collect to support a claim.
Unlike Freebird, many of these insurance options are not fully integrated with the Internet or smartphone technologies, Expect that to change in years ahead.
Job One: Determine the Risk
As a budget traveler, you want to avoid any unnecessary expense.
So don't buy flight insurance for a route or airport not associated with delays or cancellations.
For people traveling in seasons of perilous weather, at peak flight times, or from airports that are congested, the act of paying out a few dollars to protect yourself can make good budget travel sense.
But before you purchase such insurance, check out the on-time performance records for your flights, as well as for the airports.
Another assessment: how important is it that you arrive on time?
No one wants to spend hours in a crowded airport terminal. But it's important to ask yourself a few questions before incurring added expense for insurance.
Are you on the way to something important, such as a wedding, major business meeting, or a non-refundable cruise? Is disrupted timing of your arrival simply a matter of inconvenience?
Answer these questions and weigh your options. Then consider the best options for protecting your trip.