Our travel insurer Holiday Extras won’t pay out for cancelled trip after our son’s sudden death

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Me, my wife and grown-up son had two holidays booked in March and May 2022.

Sadly, both had to be cancelled because my son was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away within weeks. This was a devastating time for us, made worse by our treatment at the hands of our travel insurer, Holiday Extras.

We first learned of the illness when our son was admitted to hospital two days before the first holiday in early March. 

We called Holiday Extras the same day to request claim forms for the first holiday, mentioning that our son was in hospital and seriously unwell. 

Bereaved: Our reader lost his son, but didn’t get the service he expected when he tried to make an insurance claim for a holiday they had planned as a family (picture posed by model)

We didn’t end up submitting a claim, though, as it turned out the holiday could be rescheduled for the end of the year.  

Two months later, our son died. I informed Holiday Extras two days later and submitted all information requested in order to make a claim for the May holiday. I thought everything was in hand.

It was only when I called in June to follow up that I was told our claim had been parked as we had not provided a medical certificate. We hadn’t been asked for this. 

After I provided one I didn’t hear anything for a month, so I called again in July. 

Shortly after, Holiday Extras told me by email that it would only pay out £450 – barely a fifth of what we originally paid.

The reason given was that I did not tell the firm about my son’s illness quickly enough – even though I called on the day I found out. I emailed back but Holiday Extras refused to listen and now it has stopped responding.

The company has showed a total lack of empathy. This has all been very distressing on top of losing our son. We are pensioners and I am in my 80s. We really do not need this. Anonymous, via email

Helen Crane of This is Money replies: I was very sorry to hear about the unexpected loss of your son. 

Having to deal with unfair treatment from a company is bad enough in normal circumstances, but given your situation it is extremely regrettable that Holiday Extras did not treat you with the care and compassion you deserved.

CRANE ON THE CASE 

Our weekly column sees This is Money consumer expert Helen Crane tackle reader problems and shine the light on companies doing both good and bad.

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Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. I am regularly astounded by the lack of empathy that companies show to their bereaved customers, whether that is an energy firm or a cruise company. 

You paid almost £2,200 for your holiday, and the £450 the firm has paid you back so far represents just over a fifth of that initial cost.

What exactly happened here? Holiday Extras told you there was a clause in your policy that required you to ‘take immediate action to advise the insurers in the event of any change in health of either yourself or any close relative during the period from the date the holiday was booked until the date of departure on the holiday.’

This is a common feature of insurance policies, and while the exact definition of the word ‘immediate’ isn’t clear, one would imagine a phone call on the same day would be sufficient.

But Holiday Extras appears not to have made any notes on your file following the call. Calls are sometimes recorded, but not always and in this case yours was not.

It noted the medical certificate you provided, showing the date that your son was admitted to hospital in March – and said that you had not contacted it until May, thus reducing the insurance payout you were entitled to.

But as you told me, you did make a call that very day to Holiday Extras. The fact that you took the time to do so during such an upsetting time makes it even more galling that the insurance company appears not to have taken note of it. You may as well not have bothered.

'Lack of empathy': The couple say that Holiday Extras did  not handle their insurance claim with compassion, including by failing to respond to their emails (picture posed by models)

‘Lack of empathy’: The couple say that Holiday Extras did  not handle their insurance claim with compassion, including by failing to respond to their emails (picture posed by models)

You say you weren’t asked to follow up the call in writing, so assumed the matter was in hand. While you should be able to trust an insurer to take down information over the phone, it can be a good idea to request an email confirmation so that you have a record of any conversations.

After your son sadly died, the firm continued to show a slapdash approach to your claim – failing to inform you about what documents were needed and not updating you on its progress until you picked up the phone to chase it up. When you asked for a call back from a manager, it never came.

Ultimately, Holiday Extras offered you just a fraction of the cost of the holiday as a payout.

Naturally you objected, but after the firm began giving you the silent treatment, you emailed me to ask for help closing this sorry chapter.

It chose not to give any comment or explanation, but has now reviewed your claim and agreed to pay you the full £2,198 cost of the holiday.

I am glad I was able to get the firm to listen to what you were telling it all along – that you did make that crucial call to tell it about your son’s illness.

But it shouldn’t have taken my intervention to encourage it to do right by a bereaved family. Simply put: it’s a disgrace.

Free browsing: Mobile phone network Three has made seven charity and non-profit websites that help people manage their finances accessible without using mobile data

Free browsing: Mobile phone network Three has made seven charity and non-profit websites that help people manage their finances accessible without using mobile data 

Hit and miss: This week’s naughty and nice list 

Every week, I look at the companies who have fallen short when it comes to customer service, and those who have gone above and beyond. 

Hit: New prime minister Liz Truss might have promised a freeze on energy bills this week, but plenty of people remain deeply concerned about the cost of living crisis.

I am always keen to shine a spotlight on companies that offer a helping hand to their customers in these troubling times, and this week the mobile and internet network Three UK has done just that.

It has added seven charity and non-profit websites that offer financial advice to its ‘zero-rated’ list – meaning that customers will be able to access them without using up their mobile phone data.

These include Citizens Advice, StepChange and National Debtline, all of which provide free help to those struggling with money and bills.

O2 and Virgin Media also made a handful of money advice services free-to-access earlier in the year, and it would be good to see other telecomms firms follow suit.

Ticket trouble: Reader M.R sold tickets to see the German rock band Rammstein (pictured) but didn't get the refund he expected from resale site Viagogo

Ticket trouble: Reader M.R sold tickets to see the German rock band Rammstein (pictured) but didn’t get the refund he expected from resale site Viagogo

Miss: Reader M.R wrote in to tell me of his troubles getting a refund from concert ticket resale site Viagogo.

An avid music fan, he and his wife had booked tickets for several concerts scheduled for 2022 – some of which had been rescheduled since the pandemic, and others booked more recently. 

This included seeing German rock band Rammstein in several venues around Europe, and watching Abba’s virtual reality tour Abba Voyage in London.

When his wife became pregnant, though, they decided to avoid the foreign travel and busy crowds and listed their tickets on Viagogo, for a total of £563.

M.R told me he successfully sold all the tickets and transferred them to the buyers – but he never received the money from the resale site. All of these events were scheduled for July 2022, and Viagogo says sellers should be paid within eight days.

Instead of buyers paying sellers directly, all the funds go through Viagogo – so I contacted the website to ask what had happened.

While you were owed £563 for this batch of tickets, Viagogo said you also listed a separate set of tickets at a different time for a price of £290.

These were also sold, but Viagogo claimed you then ‘rejected’ the sale and didn’t provide the tickets to the buyer. When this happens, the website’s policy is to source replacement tickets for the buyer itself and charge the seller for the cost of doing so.

In your case, the replacement tickets Viagogo sourced cost £206. This was subtracted from the money you were owed from your previous tranche of ticket sales – meaning Viagogo now only owed you £357.

It has now paid you that amount and contacted you directly to give you the full details.

A spokesperson said: ‘In this instance, the seller rejected a sale for one of his orders, so he incurred a replacement fee which enables us to source new tickets for the buyer. There were no issues with the sellers’ other sales and he has received payment for these accordingly.’

Viagogo shouldn’t have taken so long to settle up with you, and its communication could certainly have been better. 

But unfortunately for you, the deduction was allowed under the site’s rules. It always pays to check these thoroughly when reselling tickets online.

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