Today, I'm bringing you a guest with a wealth of knowledge to share on all things related to rewards travel. She’s been on some amazing trips, but you don’t travel the world without the occasional unexpected surprise. We’re diving deep into the value of travel insurance and how to deal with mishaps while traveling.
Dr. Suzy Spadafora is a world wanderer with her husband and 2 teenage boys, except for when she's playing tennis or practicing dermatology. She has been travel hacking since 2016, visiting tons of countries including Turks and Caicos, Bonaire, the Philippines, Langkawi Island (Malaysia), Peru, Romania, Amsterdam, and the Seychelles.
Tune in this week to discover everything you need to know about travel coverage. It’s inevitable that something will go wrong, but being properly covered offloads a lot of stress. Dr. Suzy Spadafora is sharing her favorite insurance products, walking us through how the claims process works, and covering some of the nuances around insurance and points travel specifically.
Welcome to Point Me to First Class, the only show for employed professionals, entrepreneurs, and business owners who are looking to optimize their higher-than-average expenses to travel the world. I'm your host, Devon Gimbel, and I believe that your expenses are your greatest untapped asset if you know how to leverage them. Ready to dive into the world of credit card points and miles so you can travel more, travel better, and travel often? Let's get started.
Devon: Welcome back to the podcast everybody. Today, I am joined by someone who is an absolute wealth of knowledge, and I know is going to share so many useful things with all of us. joining me today is Dr. Suzy Spadafora. She is a world wanderer. She's a practicing dermatologist. she has been in this world of using points to travel around for many years, since 2016.
she has been to all of the places. So she has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience when it comes to traveling using points. But today, we are going to take a little bit of a diversion in that we're not actually going to be focusing on any of the things that we usually talk about when it comes to points travel, like which points can take you to which specific place or what airlines are amazing to fly using points.
Because the truth is that the more you travel, like Suzy has with points and like I have with points, sometimes things don't go according to plan. Sometimes, we run into obstacles when we are traveling. I think it's really important that we have a conversation about what do we do when things don't go according to plan. so that's actually why I've invited Suzy here today.
Because despite the fact that she could tell us so many amazing and useful things about different trips that we could take using points, she also has had a number of experiences traveling where things have not gone according to plan. so she's here to share some of those specific stories, and more importantly, to give us all some tips about how we can best prepare ourselves and our families when we are going on trips and things don't go as expected. So Suzy, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast here today. I am so excited to have you and share your wisdom with all of our podcast listeners.
Suzy: Well, thank you so much for having me, Devon. I'm glad to be here.
Devon: Absolutely. So I mentioned that not only are you a world wanderer, but you're also a practicing dermatologist. But can you just give us a little bit more background about who you are, what you do in the world, and what your experience has been using points to travel over the last couple of years?
Suzy: I'm a full time practicing dermatologist, as you said, but I have one day off. as I mentioned to you earlier, on that day off, I'm either doing CME or I'm going to Staples and doing my travel hacking things. Or I'm also playing tennis. I love doing that. I tend to stalk tennis players around, using points and miles and staying at the hotels that they also stay at.
But for the most part, like 2016 was when I really got hard into the travel hacking and opening credit cards. Before that, since 2003, I had put everything on our Marriott Visa. It got us a lot of our trips for free, and we got the fifth night free because we were using the points we accumulated. But then in 2016 is when I listened to certain podcasts. One of them was Extra Pack of Peanuts. another one was called Abroaders.
These are old school travel hacking podcasts. I don't even know if Extra Pack of Peanuts even does much on travel hacking. They're more about digital nomadism and stuff. But ever since then, that just opened the entire new world of travel hacking to me. I hit it hard. I made a lot of mistakes. I didn't know about 5/24, as if your last episode had alluded to. I was one who made that mistake, and you learn from those mistakes, and you roll with the punches.
Devon: Absolutely. one of the things that you and I were talking about just right before we started to hit record was you made a comment to me that basically along the lines of at least every time you've traveled in the last five years, something has gone wrong on one of your trips. so I would love for you to tell us a couple of those scenarios about what happened. then specifically how do you manage those things that go wrong on trips.
I'm assuming that you probably have a lot of experience using different travel insurance products, whether they're ones that come attached to a particular rewards card, or now that you're traveling so often, do you go out of your way to actually purchase additional travel insurance? What does it look like? What has been your experience when you actually have to go and make claims? So what's one of the stories that you want to share with us about some of the things that you and your family have encountered on your travels?
Suzy: Yeah, sure. Actually, it goes even way back before I started travel hacking, but one of the absolute worst experiences when we were flying was coming back from the Dominican Republic. We didn't know it, but my youngest son ended up having norovirus. Of course, with that one of the ways that it presents is the projectile vomiting.
So he wakes up and starts vomiting. it's all over him. It's all splashed across the window wall. It got a little bit on me. I had to go back, change him. Thank God, we still packed extra clothes at that time in our carry on. So I changed him into his extra clothes. Poor guy, he ended up vomiting again. I used up those extra clothes. So I had to basically give him my oversized sweater. he had to wear that as a poor dress.
ever since that, like we had to wheel him off the plane. he had to keep on dumping out the poor little vomit bag and refill it because he was so sick. All the mess got over the person's backpack that was behind him. I offered the lady Hey, I'm gonna pay for that. I'm so, so sorry. It was embarrassing. It was awful.
It's one of those things where you're like never again. Why do we do this? Why do we torture ourselves? But for me, I'm one of those people who are just addicted to travel. It's one of those things that helps me fight burnout. I love it. I love exploring new nations. So those things pass. it's a story that you can laugh about down the road.
Actually, what was funny is earlier on the flight before that it was coming from Dominican to Atlanta because that flight that I just mentioned with the norovirus presentation was Atlanta to Richmond, my hometown. But before then, all of a sudden out of nowhere there was blind turbulence. You feel that plane drop for about three feet underneath me. I was walking in the aisle, and then boom, I almost hit my head on the top of the cabin.
So all of a sudden, you feel the plane going boom, boom, boom. I'm holding on just trying not to hit my head. then everybody's yelling at me sit down, sit down, sit down. So as I tried to sit down, I sit down in the nearest seat, and whoever seat it was comes and sees me sitting in his seat. He's like that's my seat. So I'm like oh great, I have to get back to my seat. Try not to get a concussion from hitting my head. like my heart's beating. It's crazy. at the end of that flight, after all that awful turbulence, Delta gave everybody on the flight 20,000 miles because it was such an awful, awful flight.
So that was another round trip at least around the nation if you can find a good saver fare. So of course, that didn't stop me from flying and doing all the things. So anything compared to that experience is going to be better, I think. So that was my absolute worst one. Then from then on, I was mentioning to you about when we went to Peru. I don't know if you want to hear about that story right now.
Devon: Yeah, tell us that. Because I think one of the things that in the realm of kind of what can go wrong or what we might need coverage for when we travel, I think a lot of us very typically think of the things that are related to airlines. Like what if I miss my flight? What if I miss my connection? What if my bags go missing? We can touch on that because I'm sure one or all of those things have happened to you. So you have some really valuable information about that.
But I think there's also the scenarios about what if the unexpected happens in terms of our own health, right? Like we assume, I think a lot of us assume, I'm going to go somewhere and take a trip. If I'm a reasonably healthy person, things are going to be fine there, right? But anything can happen anywhere. so yeah. Tell us what happened to your family when you were in Peru, and then what did you have to do because of it?
Suzy: Yeah. So just to set up the story, this was back in 2018 and over our Christmas vacation. But knowing we're going to Peru, and a lot of people get altitude sickness when they go to Machu Picchu, I was purchasing everything on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, it was actually my husband's Chase Sapphire Reserve, because of the travel insurance.
But in addition, I bought some extra insurance with I think it was Allianz. just knowing that in case we have to cancel the trip, if one of us gets sick because of altitude sickness, and we can't do the Machu Picchu part of it, then at least we have the money to reimburse us for what we had put into it. So that was the safety net that we had.
So we end up going to Peru. We're over in Cusco staying at the JW Marriott Cusco, which is gorgeous, all on points. Hanging out the first night. what was crazy, interestingly enough, is I bought one of these Amazon monitors on my finger just to find out what my oxygen saturation was. I woke up in the middle of the night, felt short of breath, put it on, and I was stating at 90%. it was crazy because I was just sleeping. these are also oxygen enriched rooms at that JW Marriott. So you can tell probably a lot of people get the altitude sickness being so hypoxic.
Anyway, that wasn't the health issue. The health issue was later that day. My son, Jacob, who was probably about, I think it was about 10 at the time. He started urinating blood. we were like oh gosh, that's not good. Now he had had that episode like that about two years earlier. We brought him to his pediatrician. It was little pink in the toilet. She was like well, let's go ahead and get a UA, worked him up. Thought maybe it was a little mild stone. Didn't make much of it, never happened again. Until, of course, we're in Peru, the day before we're supposed to go to Machu Picchu.
So, my husband and I are looking at each other. Well, maybe this is the same thing that happened. Maybe it was a small stone. Should we just see what happens? it just got worse throughout the rest of the day before we were supposed to go.
So we're like oh gosh. We're gonna have to probably cancel this trip. But on top of that, we wanted to get him to a hospital just in case there was something acute that was going on. So we call the front desk. We say hey, where's the nearest hospital? They say we're going to send our onsite paramedic.
So this guy named Angel comes to our room, and he's used to bring the oxygen, to put it on the person who's hypoxic and short of breath and anxious. Instead, we're like nah, I don't think you can help us too much because if you look in the toilet, that's what's going on. He goes over into the bathroom, looks, and he's like oh my gosh.
then so he basically takes all of us. My other son is with us as well. we all smush into this cab. Angel’s pretty much sitting all across us in the backseat, and my husband is upfront with a cab driver. we go over to this hospital in Cusco. First thing they say is, do you have a credit card? Because they're not going to do anything to anyone, even if you're dying and hemorrhaging, unless you're paying upfront.
So sure enough, I happened to have a credit card that I was going to try to spend and get a retention bonus for. I had to make $2,000 on this American Airlines business credit card. I was like oh, sure enough. There. I got it all and got the extra points with that hospital stay.
So as it turns out, they do the CT scan, and they find out he's got hydronephrosis. So they couldn't figure out what was causing the hydronephrosis. There was no tumor that they could tell. But they basically said to us hey look, you really need to go back to the United States and like see pediatric nephrologist, or urologist.
At that point we’re like okay, we've got to just cancel the trip. We're gonna get home. I'm gonna get the first flight home, which was on American. fortunately, I just started keeping track of every expense, hospital bill, every itemized thing from then. We didn't, obviously, get to go to Machu Picchu. We got home as soon as possible. as it turned out, here we can add a little CME. Maybe we'll give a .25 credits for CME on this. But my son ended up having something that's called pancake or donut kidney. Have you ever heard of it? Because I had never heard of it.
Devon: Okay, I've heard of it. But I think it's only because I am the very, very strange physician where my specialty is pathology. So at one point, it was my job to have known about like every single disease in a human being or disorder or congenital malformation that any human being could possibly have. So I am probably the very, very unusual person. a lot of the people who listen to this podcast don't have a background in medicine or health care. So anytime that you can explain some of the medical stuff, I think it's just a point of interest for people to learn from.
Suzy: Yeah, so it turns out that it's almost like horseshoe kidney, but actually, both of the poles of the kidneys are fused together. So he ended up having to get a surgery. It was a congenital condition that often will present when they're preteens or teens as the teenager grows. I won't get into too much detail about it. But all said, fortunately because I had that insurance, I was able to get paid back for it.
Now, we also tried to put in some of the insurance with our Chase Sapphire Reserve because my husband had paid for that portion of the trip going to Machu Picchu on Chase Sapphire Reserve. But as it turned out, every time that we had to submit something, then they would say well, we need this too. we're like okay. Well, we'll ask the operator to give us that particular type of receipt and the date that showed when we originally paid for it. then when we submitted that, then insurance from Chase Sapphire Reserve, their company would say well now we need a new fresh version of this.
It was almost like refinancing a home loan. Oh my gosh. It's like once you finally submit the paperwork, then they want new evidence that you still make the money that you do. it was so frustrating that I was like oh my gosh, never again will I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve and rely on that.
From here on in, it was so much easier dealing with the Allianz portion of that insurance with the hospital bill and the cab ride to the hospital. the emergency flights that we booked going back on LATAM. We used LATAM to get home because that was the fastest way to get home. Then from there to American Airlines.
So from then on in there, I was convinced that I am going to go ahead and use this particular insurance because they were so much easier to use. Now, I don't know if that's changed since 2018, but I have heard anecdotes about people trying to get it, and they do get the runaround for too.
Devon: Yeah, I think that's such an important point to make is that I think ideally, we never actually have to use the insurance product that we have. I mean, I think that's everybody's kind of hope, right? Like you want to make sure that you have it in case something goes wrong, but I would love to travel my whole life and never actually find out whether or not my insurance policy is a good one or not because I never have to make a claim.
But I've heard the same thing that you have anecdotally. That sometimes the travel insurance that comes as part of one of your travel credit cards, even if it is a premium travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The coverage may not actually be as extensive as you think it is, it may not cover every single thing that could possibly go wrong on a trip.
even if you do have a claim where the thing that happened to you is covered, I have heard this similar experience of needing to go through multiple rounds of communication and submitting information even when it is exactly what they've requested, and it's still not being an easy process.
I think especially depending on the situation that you are dealing with that you could have been out of pocket a significant amount of money if what was required for you is to fly a whole family home very unexpected last minute on a flight. Especially, like you said, if you needed to seek health care in another country where you, as the patient, are expected to pay upfront out of pocket for all of that health care. We can be talking about a not insignificant amount of money.
so I think it is really important for people to do one, their own due diligence in researching insurance products, but to also be able to benefit from hearing other people's experiences about which insurance products one, fulfilled claims, and two, did it in a way that it didn't add all of this unnecessary headache and stress as you're someone who's still trying to just go about living your normal life while this was happening.
So do you happen to remember off the top of your head between having to take your son to the hospital, having to book very unexpectedly these last minute flights home. What was the out of pocket cost that you all had to incur, even before you were able to start submitting these claims to your insurance policies?
Suzy: It was probably close to about $8,000 once you put the hospital together and the cab and getting all home. The flights were the most expensive because they were like the day before the day before. To book the day before.
Devon: Yeah. then because you mentioned too obviously, once you found out that your son needed medical care, at that point your primary concern was getting your family home. So I'm assuming that you did miss a significant portion of your trip. So bookings that you had made in terms of maybe tours or hotels or other travel arrangements. when all was said and done through this additional insurance policy that you all had purchased, what actually ended up getting reimbursed for you all?
Suzy: So we were able to get our money back, eventually, from Chase for the portion where we were supposed to go to Machu Picchu and stay overnight at the city right outside of Machu Picchu. On top of that, the JW Marriott was very sympathetic. they just gave me all my points back for the nights that we didn't stay. They knew what was going on. they were just like you can just have them back. That's fine.
then we were supposed to use some award flights to go home when we finished our trip that was booked through United and going through Avianca. But I called them. I said look, this is the situation we're in. Would you be able to cancel them? I just need to get my son home as possible. she could tell I was sincere, not trying to play the system.
she's like well, why don't you use, our people will route you through San Salvador and can get you home soon too. I was like just in case, I do not want to get stuck in a second or third world country with my son actively bleeding right now. So I need a direct flight to the US right now. So they gave me all my points back too. So they're very sympathetic. A lot of times you can just talk to them, even though they normally could have charged me to reinstate those points. So that was nice.
then the hospital bill was all paid for. I didn't pay anything out of pocket. we were also fed at the hospital. It was very nice. It was good food. Yeah, I don't think we paid anything at all out of pocket. So that was very, very nice.
Devon: Yeah, tell me a little bit more, especially for the people who are listening and who are wondering about what insurance plans might be a good fit for them when they are traveling. Tell me more again about the specific insurance company that you all had decided to get insured through. Again, just kind of what that process was like once you did get home in terms of filing your insurance claims.
Suzy: Yeah. So lately because of the experience I have used, and did for that one, Allianz. I find that Allianz has been relatively straightforward in filling out your claims. they're nice because they also offer something called an annual plan. So people who tend to fly a lot like we do, we probably take a big vacation three times a year, and then a lot of smaller mini vacations. It really makes up for it in that annual plan is worth $485.
Now for that other plan, I might have paid maybe $120 or so for the four of us for that Peru trip, and that was not an annual plan one. But I think nowadays for people who do travel a lot, it makes more sense to do the annual plan. But what they do is they ask you to give a brief description of what happened, what was the incident, upload all of your receipts, anything that's a claim, hospital admission, doctor's notes, things that said you required to be admitted. Also they needed the receipts for the airplanes, obviously, and the cabs and anything extra that we would have done, meals, the meals on our way home.
So once you upload them on their portal, then they get back to you and then they spit out the check. So, the one thing about ever since COVID happened though is that they are much slower on returning your money for the claims because they just have a lot more uptick in things going wrong. also, with airlines being so congested and a lot more cancellations happening these days, it's been so crazy busy to summer 2022 and 2023. I think that they're dealing with a lot more cancellations and a lot more claims too. that's why sometimes it takes over a month to get your money back.
So I wouldn't hang your hat on being able to have that money right away, which is why having a cash emergency fund is always important. But it was pretty straightforward. I usually do it, it takes me a half a day to do it. When my son got sick for Portugal, that took me a little bit more time because we have a lot more things that were planned. But I can tell you that story in a little bit.
Devon: Yeah, let's get to the Portugal story next. One of the things that I was actually curious about is after you had made this claim for your family's Peru trip, then the next time that you go to get insured with the same insurance coverage agency, did they increase the price of the plan? Like do you end up getting penalized when you have to have a claim fulfilled in terms of than what it's going to cost you to get insured for future trips?
Suzy: Yeah, for the same amount, like if I'm doing and renewing my annual plan, they actually didn't seem to increase it other than like maybe a small amount just because of inflation. It maybe went up about $10. So like this year, I paid $485. that gives me $2,000 in trip cancellation. It gives me $500,000 in emergency transportation, $2,000 in trip interruption, and I can always increase those amounts if I want to pay more.
But for the most part, a lot of times because I book my travel with points, I can reinstate those points. a lot of times I don't get penalized for it, unless it's somebody like Air Canada where it might be like $100 per ticket or something like that. But you can submit that type of expense if you put your points back into your account to your insurer also. So that is nice. I have gotten money back for that.
But it is nice having all of those extra. They have a concierge too. When you're just so like frazzled because your kid is sick or you're sick, and you need to talk to somebody about what do we need, what do I have to do, they'll help you set things up also. So you just call the concierge over at the Allianz telephone number. they'll tell you exactly what you need to do. So it makes it so much easier having somebody kind of holding your hand.
I don't do that anymore. I did that when we were in Peru. But I kind of have gone through this enough that I know exactly what to do now. also, if you ever have a cancellation for a flight, one thing you always want to do is email your airline right away so that they can give you an email saying why the flight was canceled. Was it a weather delay? Was it a mechanical delay? So you can submit it to your insurance also.
Devon: That is such a great tip. Can you tell me really quickly why that matters? Like does it matter if the airline classifies it as a weather delay versus a mechanical delay?
Suzy: Yes, if it is going to be something that you want to take up with the airline, then they might not necessarily reimburse you for weather delay. It's like well, this is what happens. If it's a mechanical delay on their part, then they do owe you some type of compensation. But a lot of times, if you can sort of finagle an email that asks nicely or just uses the word involuntary, and just be kind about it in the way you write your email, then a lot of times I've gotten my points back, even when they didn't really have to give my points back. So I'll often go through the airline first. then if that doesn't work, I'll go through the insurance company.
Devon: Okay, well, that's such a great tip. Thank you for sharing that. Now, you mentioned that you ran into a different problem on a trip going to Portugal. Tell us what happened for the Portugal trip. then what you had to do in terms of making that right or being covered by insurance for that.
Suzy: Yeah, so we were supposed to go to Portugal last June, the four of us. I have two teenage boys and then my husband and me. We were supposed to test for COVID before we could check in and then submit their results of those tests. So you do the supervised tests where somebody's watching you online, and they see you do the nasal swab. So three of the four of us had negative tests.
then I go to do my son, Jake again. he's not the one who's always sick. I've had to put in claims because of my other one, Nick. But in any event with Jake, I go do a swab. Person's watching us on the other end of the laptop. then as we wait for the result, I see two lines on the COVID test, and I'm like oh my gosh, no. he goes it's positive. I was like yes. All of a sudden I slammed down the laptop.
Then I was like oh my gosh. I need to let them see that and document that it's positive so that I can put in an insurance claim. Because obviously, we weren't going to get on an airplane with a sick boy. He was totally asymptomatic. as it turned out, later on that week, he started to develop symptoms. So he just rested at home for a while.
But for all intents and purposes with that because we had a lot more little side trips and things through Viator that were planned, I had to put in a lot more stuff as well as Airbnbs, that we had booked. Three different Airbnbs throughout Portugal. It was sad. But you’ve just got to do what you got to do and understand that if you're going to book a trip around the time that there's a pandemic, that this is something that can happen.
So I can't complain. It's kind of a first world problem. I'm glad that my son wasn't super sick from COVID. He was fine. He was just like a little panda bear sleeping all the time, the entire time. But for all intents and purposes, everything that I submitted with the Allianz plan, even though it took me pretty much three-quarters of the day to upload everything, scan everything, get the negative test from the testing site that was online. They eventually, after probably about six weeks, I got the full reimbursement for everything.
Devon: Yeah. When you say full reimbursement, is there anything that y'all had booked for that trip that you submitted as part of your claim that didn't get covered? Like I'm trying to understand the full breadth of what this travel thing was actually able to reimburse you for in terms of loss costs for the entire like every aspect of the trip that you booked?
Suzy: Yeah, they pretty much, like we were supposed to go. Well, on the way over there, we were using points that were through United. as a result, I just got it back into my United account. So we didn't have to worry about that. But on the way back, we were supposed to take Air Canada. So we were supposed to go through Canada and come back down to Dallas airport, but those had to go back into my Air Canada account, Aeroplan, but they charge like $100 or so to reinstate per ticket.
So Allianz reimbursed me for all that. They reimbursed me for all of the Airbnbs we had to cancel. There was one or two that I could cancel because I was still within the limits of when it was in the cancellation slot, like within two weeks or so. then there was also the cost of maybe the rental car too because we had done like a prepaid rental car to get it cheaper. I can't think of anything that they didn't pay us back for.
Devon: Really incredible to have that breadth of coverage. So I think one thing, if you haven't already taken away from this episode, is that getting for yourself or for your family a really comprehensive full coverage insurance plan can absolutely be worth it when you are planning a trip. I have no affiliation or sponsorship by any travel companies. Suzy, I don't think you do either.
This is just a product that you’ve chosen to buy as an individual and use as an individual. So just for complete transparency, neither one of us is going to benefit if you go out and get coverage from one travel insurance plan or another. But this is really just real stories of a real person encountering things that happen as they travel, and just their experience with their insurance plan.
So I've never actually used insurance through that company. So it's really nice to hear the experience of somebody else who has. All of the times, we'll get back to maybe one more very specific story about something your family has encountered while travel that required you all to use some sort of insurance protection.
But one of the things that I'm just wondering since you have so much experience with things going wrong and needing to submit for coverage, has there ever been a situation where you've submitted for coverage of something, and you've been denied getting compensated or reimbursed for it?
Suzy: As of now, no. We've gotten the runaround, and that was with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. But for all intents and purposes, everything has been compensated to me. Now, I'm still waiting on a claim to come through for a, well, we missed a connection when we were supposed to go from the Philippines through Abu Dhabi to the Seychelles this past July when we were doing an anniversary summer trip.
because of weather, there was a delay, missed the connection. so I submitted rebooking flights. I also submitted for the Airbnb, for one night that we missed in the Airbnb that we eventually got to, and also a taxi that we had to take to go out of Dubai airport as opposed to Abu Dhabi. Because if we waited for the flight that Etihad had put us on at Abu Dhabi, we would have missed 40% of our trip. They didn't have any openings for flights.
So I'm still waiting for them to approve it. So far they've approved the Airbnb, but there are other parts that like they're trying to get my miles back with Aeroplan. They said that they could try to get those miles reinstated because I didn't pay for the flights to get a sooner over to the Seychelles. I just use these Aeroplan miles that I had which had been transferred from my husband's Amex account.
So that is another type of “insurance” is when you have extra miles in reserve. It is nice to have that, so you don't have to pay any last minute crazy expensive cash fees to go somewhere. Another example of that, not to go off on too much of a tangent. But my mom had like a little minor cardiac issue when my sister and I were supposed to go do a girls trip.
So instead, we pivoted. We used our miles to go down to Florida where she was, and we were able to go visit her. Instead of paying last minute expensive prices to go see her, we ended up using our American miles. it was nowhere near as expensive. We definitely got a lot of like over two cents per mile on those redemptions.
So having some miles in reserve is another example of insurance. Because a lot of us, for example, have parents who are elderly. We are like sandwiched between the children we’re taking care of or the teenagers who were trying to put through school, and our parents who are now starting to get to that point where maybe they shouldn't be driving or driving at night, or maybe they're starting to have that little bit of dementia. we might need to get to where they are, especially if it's in a different state, right away. having extra miles is another example of an insurance that I like to keep around.
Devon: Yeah, I love that you mentioned that because I actually think about points sometimes in the same exact way. That if you are in a position where you have points available to you, especially in maybe more than one points currency, that when push comes to shove if something happens kind of last minute or if something happens to you while you are actually actively in the middle of traveling, and you need to create a backup plan fast.
Oftentimes, those last minute backup plans are going to be very expensive in cash. If you need to book a hotel room for the night of that you were not expecting if you need to book a flight the day before because you weren't expecting it. Having access to points, I really do think it's not, of course, the most Instagram worthy and like glamorous use of points, but it can be such an important insurance policy in and of itself.
As you were saying that, I was just thinking that, knock on wood, my family and I have been incredibly fortunate so far that we've never actually had something really major happen while we've been traveling where we've needed to file officially one of these insurance claims with our insurance company. But things do happen.
When we were coming back from our trip to St. Kitts this last December, a lot of the flights from St. Kitts back to the states if you don't happen to live in Miami, you're gonna have to take a connecting flight to get back to wherever you are. we had booked a flight on American Airlines that went St. Kitts, actually through Charlotte, and then Charlotte connecting back to Chicago, which is our home base.
there's not a lot of flights that are offered. It's basically each airline has one returning flight a day. so the connection in Charlotte that American Airlines had put us, this entirely bookable itinerary was about 50 minutes. Charlotte is not the largest airport in the country, but it also entails coming back in from an international destination. So you know in that 50 minutes, you have to get through customs, immigration, and passport control. You have to collect your checked bags and then check them back in through your destination.
long story short, in that 50 minutes basically, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. our family, we're traveling with our two little kids who were exhausted because we didn't get into Charlotte until probably like 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., which for our kids is already bed time for them. all of these things went wrong. We missed our connecting flight. This is actually the first time in my many, many, many years of traveling that I've missed a connecting flight.
We're sitting there in Charlotte airport. Everything is shut down by the time that we actually got our bags and rechecked them. there were no more flights going back to Chicago that night. everyone was saying within the airport well, this was a customs issue because the baggage claim was broken.
Like that's why we missed the flight because the bags that were offloading, the baggage claim was offloading the bags that everyone on the flight had to reclaim and recheck shut down for an hour and a half. so they were saying this is actually not an American Airlines issue. It's a customs and immigration issue. They're going to have to set you up with a hotel for the night.
at this point, so many hours had passed. I've got exhausted children. I'm in Charlotte, and I'm just thinking okay, I'm not going to sleep in the airport with my kids. That's just not going to be working for us. I could stand in a line with 300 other people trying to get customs and immigration to tell me where some random hotel I can take my family to. Or I can just use some of the Marriott points I've had sitting in my account and literally book a room at the closest Marriott airport hotel right now after we knew that we were going to miss our flight and be able to get my kids at least to sleep for that night and then rebook us with American to get home the next morning.
it didn't even occur to me to file that kind of points expense as an insurance claim. I'm lucky that we had options for not very many points to use just to put us at an airport Marriott for the evening, but I do remember thinking well, I'm so glad I don't even have to consider this as a huge out of pocket costs for myself. I didn't have to decide do I want to pay $600 to put my family up for nine hours in a hotel because we missed a connection.
so, I think looking at your points too. Of course, it's amazing to do the fantastic trips with our points, but they exist for all sorts of reasons. So to be able to use your points as kind of their own insurance policy so that you can book that last minute very unexpected flight or hotel I also think is enormously helpful. So I'm glad that you brought that up.
But why don't you tell us one more really specific example or story of something that your family has encountered that's gone wrong when you've traveled, and then what you were able to do with your insurance to compensate or make up for that?
Suzy: This one is a much simpler story. It's not always Jake who gets sick or causes the bad things to happen that we need to use insurance for. But my older son, Nick, who is right now 17. A few years ago when we were actually in Oman. My boys like to scuba dive with my husband. I like to play tennis on the resort. we were staying at the Ritz Carlton at this time.
As they come home, I hear from my husband. Oh yeah, Nick got his hand all jacked up. He's got all these sea urchin spines on it because he accidentally put his hand down. he wasn't wearing any gloves. Some places don't allow you to scuba dive with gloves. now he has a whole bunch of them all over. all I'm thinking is like sea urchin granulomas and everything that we know from being in dermatology or you in derm, path, or path, or whatever.
So, I'm like I gotta take these out as soon as possible. All I had was this little like forceps. Well, it was my tweezers. I couldn't take them out. So thank goodness, the Ritz Carlton in Oman, which is gorgeous and wonderful when you book it all with points, which is what we did over the holiday weekend. It was over a Christmas weekend. we were staying there.
So as it turned out, they have a little infirmary where they have a nurse who is on call, and they'll bring them down. They charged you maybe $100, and they billed it to our room. So it was nice because I got some Marriott points for that too. But I was able to reimburse that.
the nurse just basically took it all out. He had all of the tools that he needed to remove it. If I were back home, I would have been able to do it all myself obviously being a dermatologist, but I had nothing. also it'd been nice to have my loops to be able to see something or dermatoscope. But I didn't have anything. I got to just kick back relax while somebody else did all the work. then just submitted that and got the extra points from the Ritz Carlton because it was added to our bill at the end. So those were the sea urchin spines, trying to avoid a good granuloma all over his hand.
Devon: Was that the same travel plan that you've mentioned that you've used for prior trips? Did you use the Allianz plan for that trip as well?
Suzy: Yes, yeah, that one was with Allianz. that one was probably the cheapest claim I've ever put in for any year. Everything else has been, that was like the one year where that was the worst thing that happened.
Devon: Of all the worst things that could happen and have happened to you, that sounds again like maybe not the most horrible one. I love that sort of tip too that, of course, this should not be the number one priority in terms of handling a health situation with your family member.
But the fact that you were able to have it taken care of within the hotel and add that to your hotel room so that you can actually use that as a points earning opportunity is a fun little twist to the story. Of course, I think all of us would rather not have the situation to begin with. But if it's something like that where you can also take advantage of resources within your hotel, never miss a chance to earn points if you can.
One of the things that you've brought up, and I'm hoping that maybe you have some additional tips about, is it sounds like to me one of the themes of your experience in terms of being in a situation where you need to take advantage of your insurance policies is documentation, documentation, documentation.
Sounds like you do a lot of documentation as you're just planning a trip, but also the documentation when you are in a situation where you realize you're going to have to be filing a claim that you seem to be very astute about making sure that you're on top of that documentation. I'm just wondering if you have any additional tips for people to make having that documentation available to yourself as easy as possible?
Suzy: Yeah, I mean, I think that as soon as something happens that's bad, starting to have a trail. I use something called Evernote. I think it's a wonderful database to save things like receipts, PDFs, write your notes. I put all my itineraries on there. So keeping organized so that you always have something that you can scan receipts. So just in case you lose them, they're always somewhere to be found easily.
But, again, as I had mentioned, emailing the airlines if you have any issues so that you can have it. I mean it took me from the people at Abu Dhabi Etihad, that airline took over a month in order to get their email that said this is what happened that caused them to miss their plane. this is how late they were. Putting in those claims as soon as possible or those letters in as soon as possible will help you be able to fill out your insurance claims right away.
Sometimes even just to videotaping what's happening, that's important. Like there was one time where my friends and I, we do an annual girls trip to New York for the neighborhood ladies. On our way back coming home to Richmond, our airplane on Delta ended up losing its guidance system. So it couldn't get us home, and we were in the air for about an hour as they're trying to get this thing restarted.
I was sleeping the entire time. My friends wake me up saying hey, Suzy, we're going back to LaGuardia. I'm like haha, that's funny. they're like no, seriously. We're going back to LaGuardia. So we ended up having to land. There's like all of these fire trucks. Anyway, as it turns out, I started taking a video of the announcement of the airplane. The captain was saying what was going on. We have to do an emergency landing. Having that video available.
then also when we got off the plane, there was the person who is at the desk saying hey, I don't know when we're gonna get you all out. I know you're all shaken from what's happened today. I know the captain and the crew are all shaken from what just happened. So I just had that all on video.
So if they had any chance of denying what was happening and reimbursing us, I ended up booking like a Hyatt that night and got some points for that for my friends and I. Ended up working the next day, got in at 8:00 a.m. to see my patients. But for all intents and purposes, just documentation, documentation. If you have to take a video, do it, and get it done as soon as possible. Being organized is so important in this hobby. I cannot emphasize that enough. So it'll help you make these stressful situations so much less stressful.
Devon: Yeah, that is such a great tip. I don't think I would have thought about what you were just saying in terms of being able to document using your phone, either like a voice memo or using the video to document something. So I think that that is a great tip, especially for people if you are in a situation that's obviously happening real time to be able to have that extra layer of documentation can only be helpful. So thank you.
Suzy: One thing I wanted to mention about that documenting with videos is as soon as we always rent a car, I always start videoing my car going all around it. If you can, go underneath it, go over the roof so that in case the car rental place says hey, this is something you did, you have a date and timestamp for everything of what your car looked like before you pulled it out of their lot.
Devon: Yeah, that's another amazing tip. I used to take just still photos of rental cars. But I think that idea of just doing a full walk around video, especially obviously get the permission of the car rental staff if they're there. If you can also have them included in the video with their permission just in terms of documentation to be able to show that a representative of the car rental company was with you as you were documenting the state of the car when you rented it.
I think these are the types of things that if you don't have after the fact, it becomes much more challenging than if you had spent, like you said, just a little bit of time thinking about how can I just get prepared in case anything goes where I'm going to need this documentation later on. So those are all really, really incredible tips.
One of the things that came up when you and I were first chatting before we hit record was I think there are a lot of people, and they don't even have to be traveling using points. I think this is just people's experience traveling in general where when things go wrong, I think it's incredibly understandable that we can get very, very frustrated. Or we can think, like you said, maybe this wasn't even worth it to have to go through all of these things. Maybe I just don't even want to be going out there and traveling.
you were sharing with me a little bit about your perspective, especially as someone who has encountered a lot of things going wrong in your travels. It hasn't deterred you whatsoever from continuing to be excited, to get out there and explore the world. I thought it would just be so helpful and useful for our listeners to be able to hear from somebody who really has been through a lot of it. What is your philosophy and your perspective that allows you to continue to just be really excited about planning travel and continuing to travel?
Suzy: Well, I think that being in medicine, for a lot of us, it's the grit that we're used to having because that's what got us to where we are and got us to become medical physicians. Because we're dedicated. We try to persevere even when times are tough, emotionally, mentally, physically. you almost have to take travel as something like that. It can be like internship sometimes. A lot of times, most of the time, it's very, very rewarding when you see the fruits of your labor.
But with travel, you have to assume that sometimes things are going to go wrong. Go in with the Murphy's Law attitude. as best you can, try to make your itinerary so that you minimize risk. I don't like taking a lot of risk. I want to make sure that my vacation, I'm the least amount of stressed. I'm the most amount of happiness for me and my family so that we're not tired. We're not running from one gate to the other trying to make a connection.
So there's a couple of tips or a couple of things that I can talk about. I always make sure our connection times if it's domestic it's at least an hour preferably. Because airplanes are always usually going to be late. Especially the later on in the day it is, it's going to be late. You're better off booking, if you have the luxury of booking earlier in the day because they're less likely to be behind or be canceled.
Another thing too is looking at the type of airplane that you're going to be flying. If it's a bigger plane like a 737 as opposed to a little Embraer that has the one seat on the side and two on the other, they're more likely to cancel the smaller airplane then mess up more people's flights that have over 100 people passengers on it. So looking at the type of aircraft.
Also, you can look at Flight Aware. Flight Aware has statistics on how often flights are going to be canceled. if you can look those up and see like there's a good chance. I have a two in three chance that I'm going to be late. So I better not take connection. You can make that judgment for it. Also, avoiding certain busy air spaces, or even like certain airports that are miserable to go through.
New York airspace in the summer is awful because they don't have enough air traffic controllers a lot of time, and the weather doesn't always work out. There's just so much congestion because of the three airports that are there. I try to avoid New York airspace if I can if making a connection. Those are a couple of the things that I tried to do, philosophy wise, just to be prepared so that we don't have to suffer.
Now, you can't always avoid it. We still have gone through cancellations. A lot of times it's weather delays that you can't avoid. If you're going to travel, try to avoid hurricane season if you can. Or if you do want to go somewhere around hurricane season and it's the Caribbean, go to the ABC islands Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are outside the hurricane belt.
Go somewhere like that. Plan the right way so you don't put yourself in a place where you're going to be rained on the entire time. Do a lot of research. It's important. Just like when we studied in med school and studied and were pimped by our attendings. It's going to be the same thing. Just being prepared.
Devon: Yeah, I think that is such great advice. Because something that I've definitely experienced is that, and I think this is true of so many people who've been traveling recently, is that post-pandemic things just seem to go wrong more often. Just things that didn't, in my experience, go wrong quite as frequently pre-pandemic in terms of understaffing of airlines, delays. Obviously, weather can happen anytime, but it seems like the airlines have a much lower capacity post-pandemic to deal with some of the things that have always come up.
so understanding that chances are something could go wrong. Of course, we hope nothing goes wrong, but understanding that it could go wrong and just knowing that if something does go wrong, having your own personal plan for how are you going to prepare yourself for that to happen? Do you have credit cards that give you lounge access if you do happen to find yourself spending more time in an airport than you had planned?
Or do you have points currencies available to you that give you flexibility, again, if you need to reroute yourself, and you don't want to wait for an airline to do that for you maybe three days later? Do you have points currencies that you can use in a pinch to reroute yourself either on an airline or to stay somewhere in a hotel using your points?
so the specifics of that might look different for everybody, but I think it's helpful to hear conversations like this to hear about the types of things that other people have encountered and understanding that it doesn't have to end your love of travel, and that it also doesn't have to be a financial catastrophe for you. so thinking about what are the ways in which you can really fully cover yourself when you do make travel plans.
So one final question that I had for you, just from a pure points perspective is that if someone wants to go out and purchase a travel plan, this is probably going to differ based on which plan they pick. But with your experience with that travel plan that you like to purchase, how does it end up coding on your credit card statement? Is there one particular credit card that allows you to earn more points for the purchase of your travel plan? If so, what is it so we can all keep that in mind when we're purchasing our own travel insurance?
Suzy: Oh, yeah, I don't think there's any good multiplier that you can get by using that. So I usually will use something like my 2x that I'll get on my Capital One Venture X, or I might use my Bank of America because I get 2.62 cents per dollar. But in any event, there's no special way to hack that one unfortunately.
Devon: All right. So unfortunately purchasing travel insurance is not going to count as a travel category, a travel merchant category. So we're not going to be able to benefit in terms of our points earning from that. So.
Suzy: Unless you purchase it from a travel agent. If they put it on as part of their bill, then it may be coded as travel.
Devon: All right. So that is fantastic to know. So if you are purchasing a travel insurance policy through a travel agent, then you do want to be using a credit card that's going to bonus you for travel spend. Otherwise sounds like it falls into that huge bucket of non-category or non-bonus spend that a lot of us encounter.
So if you happen to have a rewards credit card that gives you elevated bonus points return for non-category spend, like Suzy mentioned the Capital One Venture, Venture X credit card. If you have a Chase Freedom Unlimited or if you have a Citi Double Cash card, these are just some examples of rewards cards that will give you more than one point per dollar spent on your non bonus spend.
The last thing that I would just say in terms of doing due diligence is, of course, let's not put the cart before the horse in terms of I wouldn't go specifically and buy a travel insurance plan through a travel agent for the purpose of being able to earn extra bonus points for it. Always pick your travel insurance plan based on the coverage that's going to be most appropriate for you or your family.
So please do your due diligence in reading through the actual fine print of these different policies about what they cover, what they don't cover, to make sure that you are in the best position possible to be able to benefit from using that insurance policy if you do find yourself in a position where you have to make a claim. So.
Suzy: Yes, and also a little corollary of that is I would avoid trying to buy the insurances that the airlines or that the cruise ships might offer you then if you buy directly with them. Because a lot of times the way that those are set up are going to be in the best interests of the carrier rather than in the customer’s best interest. So I would go with an independent plan rather than the ones they sell you.
Devon: All right. Well, thank you so much. You offered us so many amazing tips on this episode and so many great stories. I'm really sorry your family had to experience a lot of that, but your experience has created such a wealth of knowledge that you've shared with all of us here today.
So Suzy, thank you so much for joining me, for sharing your experiences, all of your tips around what to do and how to think about it when things go wrong, and how we can be all a little bit more careful about getting ourselves proper insurance coverage for all of the travel that I hope we all have in store for us. So thank you so much for joining me here today.
Suzy: Oh, it was my pleasure. This was a lot of fun recounting a lot of the stories. We can all look back on it and laugh now. So that was what's great about it.
Devon: Absolutely. Well, everybody thank you for joining, and I will see you again back here next week.
Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of Point Me to First Class. If you want more tips on turning your expenses into travel, visit pointmetofirstclass.com to learn more. See you next week.