Despite all the technical advances, air travel remains subject to occasional delays, a situation not likely to change very fast over the next few years. And unless you get a single flight from your starting point to your final destination, delays of more than a few minutes can sometimes cause you to miss whatever comes next on your itinerary—a cruise departure, connecting flight, or whatever. A reader planning a trip, for example, found that the lowest total cost would be to buy separate tickets on two different airlines. But he wondered:
“If I buy two separate tickets, on two different airlines, and the first flight arrives too late to make my connection, would travel insurance cover the costs of re-arranging my trip?”
The short answer is, “maybe.” Although I couldn’t find any insurance company that specifically covers this kind of missed connection, some policies appear to include it somewhere. But the situation is far from clear.
The Two-Ticket Problem
Let’s say that, on a connecting itinerary, your first flight is delayed so much that you miss your connection. On a through ticket, you’d have no problem—your connecting airline would put you on the next available flight without added charge. And, depending on the circumstances, one of the airlines might even pick up the tab for meals or an overnight accommodation.
But if you have two separate tickets on two different airlines, you could be in a real jam. Over the years I’ve heard from quite a few readers who faced such a problem. And as the airline system continues to fragment, you’re more likely than ever to find that your best airfare deal is to buy two separate tickets.
For example, if you have to fly from Monterey, California, to Providence, you might find the best schedule or lowest fare on Allegiant to Las Vegas, connecting to Southwest. Or to fly from the U.S. to a city in Europe lacking nonstop transatlantic flights, the lowest total trip cost might be a cheap flight to Paris or Dublin plus a ticket on Ryanair or EasyJet to your destination.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, several important airlines do not interline and write through tickets with any others. That includes airlines carrying significant numbers of travelers both in the U.S. (Southwest) and Europe (Ryanair), along with Allegiant, Spirit, EasyJet, and a bunch of others. If you want to connect to or from these lines, you have to buy two tickets.
Nor can you count on the airline that caused the delay to help you, either. Contracts specifically say that an airline isn’t responsible for scheduled arrival or bears no financial liability for any loss you suffer because of a late arrival.
Does Insurance Help?
As far as I can tell, travel insurance companies haven’t yet developed a standard “solution” to two-ticket connections. That conclusion was confirmed by John Cook, President of QuoteWright, a leading online travel insurance agency.
- Typically, travel insurance policies cover missed connections under either “interruption” or “delay.” But policies differ in their definitions and limitations on which “perils” apply. Some policies kick in only if the delay extends more than a set period, anywhere from a few hours to as much as 12 hours.
- Some bundled-package policies include a separate “missed connection” benefit, but that benefit is, at best, problematic in the case of a missed airline-to-airline connection. Many of those policies specifically limit the missed connection benefit to missed cruise departures. And dollar limits can be as low as $250. According to Cook, insurance companies adopted special missed connection coverage as a way to limit liability under the broader interruption or delay coverages.
- Policies that do cover airline-to-airline connections limit application to connections that adhere to the minimum “legal connection times,” an obviously meaningless concept in two-ticket connections.
All in all, as far as I can tell, missed airline-to-airline connection coverage is a coverage that the insurance industry has largely missed.
Given the hassles of insuring an airline-to-airline connection, your best bet is to stick to a trip that you can do on a single multi-step ticket. That way, all the airlines involved have a complete record of your trip and can adjust a missed itinerary, usually without requiring you to pay extra.
But when one-ticket travel doesn’t work, you can protect yourself, at least some of the time:
- Never book separate-ticket connections with less than a three-hour connecting time, and figure that five or six hours would be safer. Two-ticket trips typically require reclaiming and rechecking your baggage, at a minimum. At worst, you may also have to exit and re-enter security at different terminal buildings.
- Buy insurance, but buy a policy that (1) has a broad coverage of interruption, delay, or missed connections, not one limited to cruise departures, and (2) provides a benefit high enough to pay for a replacement ticket and possibly an overnight stay at your connecting airport.
- Even though you may look at insurance options and prices through an online agency, before you buy, speak with an agent—or exchange emails with an agent—who can confirm that the insurance provides coverage for your specific itinerary.
Clearly, the added risks are sufficiently great that you shouldn’t buy a two-ticket itinerary unless the cost differential between that and a through-ticket itinerary is excessive, or unless you just can’t buy a single-ticket trip. And if you have to buy two tickets, pad your schedule accordingly.