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Coronavirus: Insurance claim for $6,000 cancelled trip denied after airline offers woman voucher

Click to play video 'Travel insurance nightmares in the time of COVID' Travel insurance nightmares in the time of COVID
Travel insurance nightmares in the time of COVID

An Alberta woman says her $6,327.54 trip-cancellation insurance claim was denied after her insurer told her she had been offered a voucher from the airline — a voucher she says she never wanted.

“One assumes if you have travel insurance, you are covered,” Joy Jansen told Global News. “You think you are covered and you are not.”

Back in January, Jansen and her husband of 37 years, Ron, booked a WestJet Vacations trip from Edmonton to Cancun.

Jansen said she assumed her insurance through her Scotiabank credit card would provide the trip-cancellation coverage she needed.

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CTA loses bid to toss out Air Passenger Rights case over travel vouchers

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, the trip was off.

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A month later, Ron was unexpectedly admitted to hospital and died soon after from a non-COVID-related illness.

“The trip was for April 17 and he got sick and was in the hospital on April 14, and he passed away just eight days later,” Jansen said.

Devastated, she asked her travel agent to request a full refund from WestJet on her behalf. Instead, she was told to contact her insurance provider through Scotiabank.

Read more: Airline passengers voice frustrations after WestJet cuts services, refunds with vouchers

She filed a claim, but was denied in September. Her insurer later sent her a letter, saying:

“As stated in your certificate of insurance; trip cancellation will reimburse you for any eligible expenses which are not refundable or reimbursable in any manner, if, prior to your scheduled departure, an insured person is required to cancel a trip due to one of the covered causes for cancellation. The information provided to our office indicates the trip has been reimbursed as a credit issued by your travel supplier.” – Scotia Assist

Jansen said she was shocked because she’d never requested or wanted a travel voucher.

“The reason the insurance didn’t pay was because the government allowed airlines to give vouchers as a way of compensation.”

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WestJet executive calls for federal support after company slashed flights and jobs

Advocates for air travellers’ rights have complained in recent months about the Canadian Transportation Agency’s statement allowing airlines to offer travel vouchers, or credit, instead of cash refunds for trips that are cancelled because of the pandemic.

Earlier this month, a Federal Court of Appeal judge dismissed the regulator’s request to prevent a hearing on its stance on vouchers.

After her insurance company denied her claim, Jansen said she contacted WestJet again for a refund, but was told the airline was only offering vouchers.

Consumer Matters reached out to Scotiabank on Jansen’s behalf, asking the bank to reconsider her circumstances and grant her a full refund of more than $6,000.

The company’s reply: “We offer our deepest condolences to Ms. Jansen for her loss. We have reached out to Ms. Jansen and we were able to resolve the matter to her satisfaction.”

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Within days, Jansen said Scotiabank got a hold of her and told her she would get her money back.

“After only eight days of talking to you and having you guys involved – eight days later, Scotiabank has decided to return my money.”

Read more: B.C. cruise ship passenger hits rough waters seeking refund amid coronavirus pandemic

Consumer Matters also contacted WestJet to explain Jansen’s case, and was told via email:

“The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) clarified its statement on vouchers and for that we thank them. As the CTA noted in the April 22 clarification, airline tariffs do not always provide for cash refunds especially in cases beyond our control. WestJet believes refunding with travel credits is an appropriate and responsible approach in extraordinary circumstances such as the COVID-19 crisis.”

While she’s happy her trip will be refunded, Jansen said she wants consumers to know what they’re buying when it comes to travel insurance.

“Read your documents. Ask questions. Be aware of what you are buying and what you are signing.”