If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I had a bumpy couple days coming back from my family's camping trip back in my ancestral homeland. As always, a disastrous itinerary for me means a blog post for you!
What is a trip delay?
When you buy an airline ticket, you receive a promise that you'll be delivered from your origin to your final destination — and not much more. If you're involuntarily denied boarding or you're delayed on the tarmac for over 3 or 4 hours you may be entitled to some cash compensation (depending on the size of the aircraft and other factors).
Of course airlines do, under some circumstances, some of the time, do more to accommodate passengers: if a flight is delayed or cancelled, they may be willing to reroute passengers on other airlines or to different airports. If a delay or cancellation requires an overnight stay, they may be willing to pay for overnight hotel accommodations and meals.
Note that "may" is the operative word here.
What does a trip delay cost?
Before I get to trip delay insurance, I want to be clear about our terms. A trip delay has a lot of costs, only some of which can or should be formalized into dollar terms.
During a long delay, you may have to pay for:
- hotel stays;
These are your "out-of-pocket" costs during a trip delay.
But it's essential to understand that those costs do not come close to encompassing the costs of a trip delay.
If you miss a job interview because of a trip delay, you're out of a job. If you don't make it to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Pesach, or Eid-al-Fitr because of a trip delay, you lose out on precious time with your family (not to mention the food). If you arrive late to a deathbed because of a trip delay, you may not make it there at all.
These are the real costs of a trip delay, even they don't cost you a penny out of pocket.
Trip delay insurance doesn't promise to make it right
It's possible to imagine a product that immediately goes to work for you in case of a trip delay to ensure that your trip is minimally impacted. As soon as a delay is announced, such a trip insurer (or ensurer) would swing into action, proactively booking you tickets on substitute flights — no matter the cost — that get you to your destination as close as possible to your original arrival time.
That product doesn't exist. You can't buy it alongside your airline ticket when making a reservation, you can't buy it from Berkshire Hathaway Trip Protection, and you don't get it when booking a reservation with your Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
Trip delay insurance just promises to pay for your out-of-pocket expenses
That doesn't make trip delay insurance worthless. Since there are out-of-pocket expenses incurred when a trip is unexpectedly delayed, trip delay insurance is a way to recover those costs so that trip delays don't add expensive insult to inconvenient injury.
Being able to pick your hotel of choice during an overnight delay, and be reimbursed later, has real value (especially to a travel hacker). Being able to eat at your restaurant of choice, rather than wherever agrees to take your airline's funny money, has real value. Being able to buy a real toothbrush and your preferred toothpaste instead of the garbage airlines hand out to delayed passengers has real value. Hell, you can even get a couple free pairs of socks out of it if you play your cards right.
But trip delay insurance won't get you to your job interview on time and it won't get you any more time with your family. It covers your out-of-pocket expenses, but there's no trip delay insurance product out there that even tries to make you whole.
As I mentioned on Twitter, my delayed trip was paid for with a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, and I've already submitted my trip delay insurance claim.
In 5-60 days (it's insurance, after all), I'll have a post dedicated to that process.
In the meantime, just remember: your trip delay insurance covers the costs, not the consequences, of your delayed flights.