Travel insurance is something I rarely purchase. I’m not suggesting this is the right decision for everyone, however in my case I have international health insurance, and find the other benefits of travel insurance to be of questionable value. There are exceptions however; and when I purchased a train ticket for a journey in the UK last October, and was offered the chance to purchase a policy for £1.00, I figured it was worth it, since if my flight was delayed, and I missed the train, it would cover me. The email I received with the insurance policy (issued by a company called Columbus Direct) sounded reassuring: “Dear Mr. Mandy, Thank you for choosing to insure your train journey with Columbus Direct in Partnership with thetrainline.com. You can now relax and enjoy your trip, safe in the knowledge that you are covered for cancellation, missed departure, lost or stolen baggage, travel delay and more besides.”
In the event, I caught the train, although only just (you can read about it HERE if you are interested) however, due to someone being hit by a train just outside London, the train, and all other trains for the next few hours ended up being cancelled, and I elected to stay in London overnight and travel the following morning, a decision which cost me £70 for a night in a hotel near the station. A few days later, I remembered the insurance policy I had purchased. I was covered for “cancellation, missed departure, lost or stolen baggage, travel delay and more besides”! I checked the summary of cover on the policy. Travel delay over four hours was a payment of £50; Travel delay over twelve hours, a payment of £75. Since I had been delayed overnight, it seemed to me I would be covered. On October 18, 2014, I emailed the insurance company to notify them I wished to make a claim for travel delay and to ask how this should be handled.
On October 20, I received an email from Intana Claims Team (who, apparently handle claims for Columbus Direct) with a 14 page claim form attached. I took this as their 1st attempt to discourage me from making a claim, since 14 pages for a simple delay seemed somewhat extreme. Upon examining the form in more detail, I found it was in fact the wrong form, as it was for trip cancellation due to medical reasons. I replied, pointing out that I wished to claim for trip delay, not trip cancellation due to medical reasons. The following day, Intana responded with a ‘Travel Delay and Missed Departure Claim Form’ which I was delighted to see was only 8 pages long. I completed the form, detailing the delay, the reasons, and the expenses I incurred, with copies of receipts, and sent it to Intana by snail mail, which was the only method by which it could be submitted.
Intana responded to say that the expenses I incurred were not relevant; the cover provided was for travel delay; £50 for a delay over 4 hours; £75 for a delay over 12 hours, and in order for my claim to proceed, I would need to provide written confirmation from the carrier (train company) of the length of the delay measured from the scheduled time of departure to the actual time of departure. Fair enough; I was happy with the delay payments, so I contacted the train operator (First Great Western) via their website and asked them to provide confirmation of the delay, explaining the reason I needed it was to pursue a claim with Intana.
On October 29, First Great Western (who apparently had not bothered to read my request properly) responded, advising that since the circumstances of the delay were beyond their control, they were unable to offer any compensation. I replied to them the same day, pointing out I was not requesting compensation from them; merely confirmation of the delay in order to pursue a compensation claim with Intana.
On November 03, First Great Western responded again, confirming that my 12.30pm departure had been cancelled due to a person being hit by a train outside the station, and that services returned to normal ‘around 4pm’. I forwarded this information to Intana.
On November 24, having heard no more from Intana, I emailed requesting an update, and received a reply that my claim was ‘in the final stages of being assessed’ and assuring me I would receive a reply soon. On November 28, Intana responded, advising that my claim was being denied, as ‘we have noted that train services returned to their scheduled times at 4pm on 15th of October’ and therefore my delay was less than 4 hours. I responded the same day, pointing out that even though train departures returned to normal around 4pm, it did not mean that I would have been able to depart at 4pm, even had I remained at the station trying to do so, and that the next scheduled departure to my destination (if it left on time) would have been at 4.30pm, i.e. exactly 4 hours after my original scheduled departure. I commented that we in fact appeared to be in agreement that the delay could be considered to have been no less than 4 hours, and therefore, I looked forward to the settling of my claim without further delay.
Intana then went silent. On December 18, I emailed them to request an update. The following day, I received a reply that my claim was ‘in the final stages of being assessed’ and assuring me I would receive a reply soon. A slight feeling of deja-vu took over. By December 29, not having received any further reply, I emailed Intana again. On January 06, again. On January 07, again. On January 08, they finally replied, advising me that perhaps my claim could be considered, if I could provide confirmation from the train company that the earliest actual departure to my destination on the day in question was at or after 4.30pm. I replied, pointing out that I was unclear as to why they could not obtain this information themselves, however I would endeavor to obtain it. I emailed First Great Western, asking them to provide a clear statement that the earliest I could possibly have departed from London on October 15 would have been at 4.30pm.
On January 13, Intana replied to advise me that they had indeed tried to obtain the information themselves, however due to ‘data protection’ laws, the train company had been unable to provide the information, stating it could be provided to the ‘account holder’ only. Really? All we were talking about here was what time a train left the station almost three months previously. Hardly a matter of ‘data protection’ in my opinion.
On January 15, First Great Western replied, with the requested confirmation, which I forwarded to Intana.
On January 16, three months to the day from the day I actually traveled, Intana paid the claim, in the amount of £50, and sent a letter apologizing for the way my claim was handled.
Lessons learned: Document everything, and keep records. Be persistent and insist on replies. Expect ‘accidental’ responses with erroneous information. Expect attempts to deny claims based on incorrect assumptions. Don’t give up, when you know you are right. In this case, it would have been all too easy to decide it wasn’t worth the effort to recover £50; it became a question of the principle however, rather than the money, since I knew I was entitled to the payment, and became determined to receive it.
Article written: January 2015