How your card may reimburse canceled trip costs

Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In, 
My wife and I were planning to fly to California in a few days, but my wife has been feeling sick. She went to the doctor yesterday, and he suggested she not fly because of the risk of rupturing her eardrum. The trip cancellation benefits on our American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard from Citi look pretty good. Would this be covered? Our flights and hotel costs at this point seem to be nonrefundable. – Eric

Answer Dear Eric,
It’s rough to have to cancel a trip at the last minute. You’ve planned the itinerary, made the arrangements, bought tickets and guaranteed other plans with a credit card. Then, you have to cancel it all, and be on the hook for potentially hundreds of dollars. Sometimes, though, you don’t have a choice.

If there is any good news from such a situation, it is that some credit cards can cover your nonrefundable travel expenses in the event of an illness, death in the family, weather emergency or other rare and unfortunate events.

Like car rental coverage, lost or delayed luggage insurance and protection against trip delays, trip cancellation insurance is a lesser-known benefit that comes with a number of higher-end travel reward cards. When pollsters ask people what benefits they want from a card, these kind of perks end up toward the bottom. But when you need them, they can really soften the financial sting.

Based on my experience submitting claims like this, and from interviewing others who have, I recommend you take the following steps:

Review the policy: Most credit card companies have a document online or one that came with the credit card that spells out exactly what the insurance covers. Read that so you know what is covered and what is not, as you don’t want to waste your time submitting a claim that won’t be paid. Citi, for example, says that it will cover the cost of trips canceled, up to $5,000 per traveler, and it spells out exactly what reasons are eligible. (Surprisingly, for instance, trips canceled because your pet has an “injury or serious illness” requiring veterinary care are eligible for reimbursement.)

Contact your card company: Don’t wait too long. Some require that you contact them within a certain period of time. You can call the number on the back of your card or, in some cases, contact the company online.

Document everything: The card company, or its outside insurer, isn’t just going to pay you because you submit a claim. It will want to see proof, so compile it. In the case of your wife’s eardrum, have the doctor write a note saying she cannot fly. You’ll need proof you paid with the credit card, so compile the relevant receipts or credit card statements. You’ll need your itinerary, so get that from the airline or hotel.

If in doubt, send it in: Send in as much relevant documentation as possible. The card company should send you a list of what exactly you need, so certainly provide that. If you have other evidence that bolsters your claim, submit that, too. I’m not saying you should use the so-called “Chewbacca defense” in which you send in wholly irrelevant information in an attempt to overwhelm the claims agent, but if it’s helpful to your position, don’t hold back.

Compiling and sending in all this information can take some time, so you might first see if you can change your trip with minimal cost. That could wind up being much less of a headache, though obviously there is some cost involved. If you have a legitimate reason, these change fees might qualify for reimbursement.

Of course, there is no guarantee that your claim will be successful. However, if you have a legitimate case and follow the guidelines, you should receive the full amount that you are out of pocket. Looking at Citi’s guidelines, it seems as though this circumstance would be covered.

See related: Trip canceled? Your credit card may reimburse you, 10 credit card perks you didn't know you had

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Updated: 12-12-2018