New 'flight glitch' insurance

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"Flight glitch" insurance

Southwest Airlines employees guide a plane into the gate at Midway International Airport on Feb. 26, 2013, in Chicago. Several flights were canceled or delayed due to the winter storm. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune / February 26, 2013)

Flight delayed on the tarmac more than two hours? Collect $1,000. Baggage lost or stolen? Collect $1,000. Miss your connecting flight? Collect $500. More than 12 hours to reunite you with your misdirected baggage? Collect $500. Flight arrives more than two hours late? Collect $50. Those are the top payouts from AirCare, a new breed of travel protection, covering some of the more annoying air travel glitches. In addition to the money payouts, AirCare includes MyAssist trip monitoring: If you miss a connection, the service can rebook you and pay ticket change fees up to the policy limit. In a tarmac delay, you don't even need to file a claim: MyAssist tracks flights and automatically deposits the money in your bank account. And the cost is a reasonable $25 per person per trip.

The fine print is minimal. You can buy a policy up to one hour before scheduled departure, provided that your flight is still "on time" at the time you buy and there is no weather warning at your destination airport. The coverage is limited to domestic trips, at least for now. And, currently, AirCare isn't available in all states -- the company is working on approvals in all 50 states, but not all have been completed yet. To get a quote you enter an itinerary and your state, and if AirCare isn't yet available in your state, you can ask AirCare to send you an email notice when it is.

The program is geared to today's wired world. You can buy and make claims either online, at bhtp.com, or through a mobile phone iPhone or Android app.

As far as I know, no other form of travel protection offers the same cluster of benefits. Some credit cards cover minor losses and delays, and conventional bundled travel insurance policies include benefits for lost baggage and cover some expenses during delays. But I know of nobody else that covers tarmac delays and delayed arrivals. The big advantage of AirCare is that it's simple and straightforward: You don't have to contend with "covered reasons" or other gotchas hidden in the fine print. And claims can be based on a picture of your boarding pass.

AirCare is the first travel protection product from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, which apparently is moving into the travel protection marketplace in a big way. Upcoming insurance products include "CompleteCare" and "ExactCare," neither specified yet in detail.

Is AirCare a good deal? Questionable. It's a lot like flight insurance: A low price for big-dollar benefits, but covering fairly rare circumstances. It may, however, be a quick remedy for chronic worriers. Possible pitfalls, if any, aren't obvious, but we won't know for sure until we have some experience.

Of course, lots of travelers need more travel insurance than just payments for glitches. Yes, I know that some consumer interest organizations are not enthusiastic about it, but my take is that lots of travelers need either or both of two key benefits:

-- You need trip-cancellation/interruption any time you have more in nonrefundable advance deposits and payments than you can afford to walk away from if you unexpectedly have to cancel a trip. Because the biggest hassles involve either pre-existing medical conditions or cancellation for reasons that aren't named in the policy, I recommend a cancel-for-any-reason policy.

-- You need medical coverage if you travel anywhere your regular health insurance doesn't cover you or entails high deductibles. For sure, that includes Medicare users who travel outside the country. I recommend primary medical, which means the insurance company pays directly so you don't have to front the cost and then go through a lengthy claims process after you return.

It will be interesting to see if Berkshire Hathaway brings any additional innovations to what is by now a fairly standardized set of policy provisions. Meanwhile, if you're traveling soon, I recommend buying third-party insurance through a specialized broker such as insuremytrip.com, quotewright.com or squaremouth.com. Each broker has a website that allows you to specify the protections you want and to compare prices and features, side by side, of policies from all the big insurance companies.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)

(c) 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
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