Travelers wait for refunds from airlines after hurricanes

Posted at 10:03 PM, Oct 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-05 23:25:09-04

If you booked a trip to a hurricane damaged destination you're probably trying to get your money back.  Many popular spots don't even have working airports, but as that doesn't mean the airlines have canceled all flights.

Getting your money back in this situation depends on a lot of things, how you booked the ticket, when you're flying, and then there's travel insurance.  Just because you purchased it doesn't mean you're covered for a natural disaster.

After Hurricane Irma knocked out power to Puerto Rico Ashley Smith started to worry about her upcoming birthday trip, and then Maria hit.  "It's not a trip that's even possible to take in this point," Smith told us.  At least that's what she thought.  Smith called American Airlines to cancel her December flight and get a refund.  "I didn't think it would be more involved than that," she said.

Ashley bought two tickets, one of them for her sister.  The total cost was around $1,000.  An American Airlines customer service rep told her the airline has not yet canceled the flight, but if it does, Smith would be eligible for travel vouchers.  "But she couldn't say specifically what it would be for, if it would be for the same value of the flights that I had," Smith explained.

Right now most airlines have only canceled flights into mid-November, which is frustrating for Katie Dibble.  She's still booked on a November flight to St. Martin even though the timeshare has already announced it's not accepting guests. "Everything else has been refunded, except my flight," Dibble told us.

She was traveling with her mom, who booked her flight through American Airlines and already has her money back for the flight.  Dibble is also flying American but booked through Expedia.  "Because American hasn't canceled the flight, Expedia won't give me my money back."
Dibble said an Expedia customer service rep offered to rebook her for a convenience fee of $200.  Dibble bought travel insurance for the trip so she filed a claim, hoping to have better luck, "you buy the travel insurance, but it doesn't actually cover anything."

The claim was the denied.  The insurance company said "destruction of residence" is not covered in her plan.  

Something that doesn't surprise Rose Gray with Fox World Travel, "it's a matter of reading the policy.  Are you allowed to cancel for any reason?"  Most of the time that requires extra coverage. "It's expensive and often times you get 80% of your money back," Gray explained.  She says a lot of travelers are now in limbo waiting for airlines to cancel flights to hurricane damaged areas. "I think that what they want to do is recoup as much of the money as they can because they're just losing money by the millions."

Smith had better luck with her travel insurance.  Instead of waiting to hear from American, she filed a claim.  "Sometimes there are loopholes, and to be honest I didn't really read my policy that carefully."  But she found out it did cover the trip cancellation.  So Smith got her money back. 

Expedia told us, based on American Airlines' policy, Dibble can change her reservation and book a different travel date to St. Martin without penalty.  But Dibble has no plans to go back, and the timeshare won't even reopen before American's 2018 travel deadline.  After we reached out Expedia did file a refund request for Dibble.  She is now waiting to hear back from American.

Before you accept the terms and conditions of booking through an online travel agency, read them. It's the small print at the bottom of the page.  You can also shop around for travel insurance to find the best policy that fits your needs.

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