If you’re a regular reader of our website, you’ll know that we’ve flown WOW Air, the low-cost carrier based out of Iceland. Or, rather, formerly based out of Iceland, since they’re now defunct.
WOW shuttered abruptly last week, leaving thousands of air travelers suddenly stranded. And it’s not the first time this has happened. It’s not even the first time this has happened this year. In fact, in the past year, alone, twenty different airlines have ceased operations.
So, what can travelers do to protect themselves, in the event of a carrier default? The answer? Plenty!
Purchase Travel Insurance.
The single most important thing you can do to protect yourself against an unanticipated problem with your vacation is to purchase comprehensive travel insurance. We’re not talking about cancelation protection that’s offered when you check that little box as you’re checking out. And we’re not talking about the coverage that comes with your credit card, which might not be very comprehensive. We’re talking about a real insurance policy that includes cancelation, medical coverage, trip interruption, missed connection, lost, damaged or delayed baggage, medical evacuation and—most relevant to this discussion—protection in the event of carrier default.
Huckleberry Travel has a preferred relationship with a couple of insurance carriers that provide coverage of this type to our clients. Of course, we’re not licensed insurance brokers; we’re travel advisors. So while we can’t actually sell you a policy, we can certainly secure a quote from an insurer on your behalf, and help you get the information you need to understand the scope of the coverage. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten on the phone with our client and a rep from AIG Travel Guard (one of our preferred insurance suppliers), to make sure that every question our client has is thoroughly answered. Also, we can help our clients in the filing of any claims in the unfortunate (and unlikely) event that something goes sideways while you’re traveling.
One important thing to note is that in some cases, coverage needs to be put in place at the time that you book, or shortly thereafter, in order to cover any pre-existing medical conditions, or to cover carrier default. Most of the time, we push our clients to purchase the policy right after they make their first deposit on any element of the trip. Even if you’ve just now booked something on your own, it might make sense for you to call us about insurance, so that we can put you in touch with our stellar reps from one of our preferred insurance provider. Oh! And because we’ve got a relationship with these providers, we can often get you a preferred rate for coverage.
Don’t Book with an OTA.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: a “deal” you find on the internet isn’t really a deal if your vacation turns out to be a disaster. If you booked your airline tickets through an online travel agency (“OTA”), your process for getting a refund or a credit is going to be a heck-of-a-lot more complicated than if you book directly with the airline, or if you booked with a reputable travel advisor like Huckleberry Travel. When we book air tickets for our clients, we do it through a vendor with which we have a preferred relationship. That means that we can be your advocate if something (really, anything) goes sideways with your trip. Good luck getting Expedia, Travelocity, or Kayak to return your phone call when you’re in a jam. And don’t even get us started about AirBnB or VRBO. If you book with us, we’re there for you.
Don’t Pay for Travel with a Debit Card.
There might be a credit card symbol on your ATM card, but that doesn’t mean that you’re buying travel on credit. Nope—that money comes directly out of your bank account! Essentially, it’s like paying cash for an airline ticket, which might seem like the responsible thing to do, financially, but it also could lead to problems if your travel provider suddenly declares bankruptcy. In cases of bankruptcy, you could become a general creditor in a bankruptcy proceeding—meaning that you’d never see any of that money back.
Also, in cases of other types of travel, typically, a hotel or car company will put a charge through that’s greater than the anticipated charges—something called a “holdback.” Trust us—you don’t want them to be holding money that was taken out of your checking account if they’re about to go under. Use a credit card—one that’ll give you points or miles would be great!—and then pay that card off right away.
So, there you have it! You might not be able to prevent your airline or your hotel from suddenly shutting down their operations. But there are definitely things you can do to protect yourself on the rare occasion that something does happen. Let us know if we can help!