They were exceptionally lucky with a dicey organ transplant but less fortunate with an ordinary airline ticket. Their story is a lesson in the fine print of travel insurance.
A DONOR AT HOME
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Last summer, Juan Barerra of Hayward needed a new kidney. He found a donor right next to him: his wife, Elia.
“Thankfully I was compatible with him,” Mrs. Barrera said. “We were able to have the surgery June 1.”
Three months after the surgery, Juan wanted to plan a trip to Mexico City to visit his family because they couldn’t make it for the transplant.
“My parents were not able to be here with me,” he said.
With the doctor’s blessing, the Barreras booked flights for themselves and their two kids on American Airlines for Christmas.
The tickets were almost $3,000 and non-refundable, so they paid an extra $151 for travel insurance considering Juan’s recovery.
“It was a long journey to that transplant,” Elia said.
All was set.
Then, just before the Barrera family was supposed to fly to Mexico, Juan caught a bad case of the flu, and his doctor said flying could compromise his immune system.
“I recommend now that you don’t take this trip because there’s a high risk of infection,” Mrs. Barrera recalled the doctor saying. “Especially since (Juan) had been hospitalized a few weeks before the trip was planned.”
CANCELING THE TRIP
Following the doctor’s orders, the couple canceled the Christmas trip. They figured their costs were covered because they had travel insurance.
They filed a claim — complete with a doctor’s note — and were promptly denied.
A letter from Allianz Global Assistance concluded that Juan’s kidney transplant was an “existing condition” and was ineligible for reimbursement. The Barreras stood to lose every penny they paid for the trip.
“It was almost $3,000,” Juan said. “It was a big amount.”
ASKING FOR HELP
Then, Elia saw a TV commercial touting Telemundo 48 Responde and NBC Bay Area Responds. She immediately asked for our help.
“We have nothing to lose,” she said. “We had already lost the ticket money, which was quite a big amount.”
Working together, Telemundo 48 and NBC Bay Area contacted Allianz.
Both teams confirmed Juan’s denial.
“The illness that caused him to cancel his trip existed prior to his purchase of travel insurance and therefore is not covered by his policy,” a spokesman said.
We explained that the Barreras believed this was the very kind of situation that travel insurance was supposed to cover. Allianz then offered a compromise.
“We’re sorry if there was a misunderstanding over what Mr. Barrera’s policy covered,” the spokesman replied. “As a consideration, we are issuing a refund of his travel insurance premium.”
The Barreras were pleased with their $151 refund but still disappointed and still out close to $3,000 for the airline tickets.
“We thought the insurance was supposed to cover us,” Elia said.
MAKING A SECOND CALL
So, we made one more call on their behalf. We called American Airlines.
When we explained the Barreras’ unique situation, American made an exception. It refunded the $2,753 they paid for their tickets.
“We were glad to assist the Barrera family,” American Airlines said in a statement. “We wish Mr. Barrera a speedy recovery and look forward to welcoming the entire family on a future American Airlines flight.”
The Barreras will try again for Mexico City late this summer.
They say they’ll pay for it with the nearly $3,000 that Telemundo 48 Responde and NBC Bay Area Responds fought to return to them.
“Thank you, NBC Bay Area Responds for the help, the assistance, and making this possible,” Mrs. Barrera said. “This money, we thought it was lost.”
SCRUTINIZING TRAVEL INSURANCE
Some travel insurance policies do cover existing conditions. If you’re considering travel insurance, do some homework.
Look past the broad promises in advertising and focus on the details in the contract, specifically exclusions.
Also, shop around.
Multiple companies offer travel insurance, and they’re fairly competitive. The price you pay and coverage you get might vary if you do some comparisons.
Published 56 minutes ago | Updated 45 minutes ago