Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Help Me Howard: Japan Quake
When you buy a plane ticket, do you buy travel insurance in case an emergency comes up or would you have bought travel insurance if you were flying to Japan this month? Well, one traveler bought the insurance but then found out it didn't cover very much. Can he force them to pay for his lost trip? It's why he called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Iku (Eee-coo) is talking to us this week from Tokyo Japan living through a nightmare.
Brian Kelly, Bought Travel Insurance: "Every 10 minutes there's an earthquake and it could be like a bigger one again and I have to get out of this small apartment."
Her boyfriend Brian Kelly lives here in South Florida and watches. Iku via Skype lives in fear.
Brian Kelly: "When I see her she's wearing her little protective mask, so it doesn't look good."
In happier days, Brian and Iku had great plans to get together this week for Brian to come to Japan to meet her family.
Brian Kelly: "She had a break coming from March 18th to the 28th, so it was great. I said, I can go ahead and I can work around my schedule and come see you."
But then, of course, in early March the whole world knows what happened. Japan was hit by two natural disasters, an earthquake and a tsunami.
Brian learned Iku was OK, but knew his trip was off after he heard from the state department.
Brian Kelly: "So, they sent me this letter on the day of the earthquake that advised me not to go."
Brian had bought travel insurance in case something stopped his trip, so he contacted them.
Brian Kelly: "They state in their policy that earthquakes are not excluded."
Brian explained that the U.S. government had advised him to not fly to Japan. They told him they excluded government warnings as well.
Brian Kelly: "It's like they don't have any sympathy no heart or nothing. They have their policies and things of that nature, but everybody got to give a heart."
The airline offered Brian a voucher for a later date, but now his concern is not the trip, it's using the money from the trip to send to Iku and her family.
Brian Kelly: "That's the best thing I think right now is to send her the money. I can't physically be there. I do want to show her I care."
He can't get his money back and doesn't want to fly into a devastated country, so Brian called Help Me Howard to see if legally his travel insurance has to cover him.
Howard Finkelstein: "Probably not. We read the policy and it's filled with exclusions. It does not cover earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear disasters, you name it they exclude it. The only coverage is if your flight is canceled, then you get your money back. But right now flights are going from South Florida into Japan."
Brian now has two choices, he can wait for his flight on Friday, see if things get worse and the airline cancels the flight, that way he gets his money back or he can take the airlines offer to let him go at a later date.
His travel insurance company told us it will transfer his policy to that day, but it will still only cover a cancellation. Bottom line, be careful when you buy travel insurance.
Howard Finkelstein: "Not all insurance policies are equal. The company that offered Brian's policy also offers a policy that would pay if a natural disaster made a city uninhabitable, but those type of policies are much more expensive, so you have to look at where you are going and decide if it's worth the extra cost."
Brian has decided to accept the airlines offer to take a voucher and fly to Japan later this year when its safer. That won't allow him to help Iku's family financially, so he will try to help verbally.
Brian Kelly: "I have to be the strong one. She's a really strong person, but I've seen her breaking down a little bit. So, I got to kind of be strong and be there smiling and stuff."
What's the price difference for travel insurance, Brian's was $60. A better policy to Japan would have cost anywhere from $3,400, almost half the cost of his ticket. Sometimes you just take the loss.
Hopefully Brian can use his ticket to go see his girlfriend later this year when Japan has begun its long recovery.