How to Survive 10 Travel Emergencies
Crashed your rental car? Missed a flight? Lost a passport? Don't panic: When the you-know-what hits the fan, we have the strategies to salvage your vacation.
What Should I Do When...
...I MISS MY FLIGHT?
Get to the airport right away and ask to be put on the next flight. If an agent gives you grief, explain why you missed the flight—particularly, why it wasn't your fault (snarled traffic, for instance). Airlines are more likely to ask for additional payment if an agent thinks you missed the flight simply because you wanted to change your ticket without paying a change fee. With a little luck (and a sympathetic agent), you'll be on a flight later that day at no extra charge.
Worst case: Paying the difference between your new ticket and the original fare, plus a ticket-changing fee of about $150 for domestic flights.
When all else fails: Realize that no matter what the official policy is, agents can cut you some slack. Mentioning that you belong to the airline's frequent-flier program can't hurt. May we also suggest crying as a tactic?
...THE AIRLINE LOSES MY LUGGAGE?
Take the obvious first step and contact the airport's lost-and-found. File a bag-claim form and ask about the airline's policy for reimbursing you for toiletries and other essentials. Most bags are recovered and will be shipped to you (at home, a hotel, wherever—and at the airline's expense), so stay polite.
Worst case: About 2 percent of delayed luggage disappears forever. If your bag vanishes for good, file a form that itemizes what was inside it. Most airlines won't pay for precious items, including cash, artwork, electronics, and jewelry. So don't pack them in luggage. For covered items, you'll be paid for the depreciated value, not what it would cost to buy brand-new gear (including the bag itself). Sometimes you'll even have to produce receipts. On domestic flights, a carrier's liability maxes out at $3,300 per passenger. Weirdly, liability on most international flights is even less—about $1,700 per passenger.
When all else fails: Instead of looking for receipts for items purchased years ago, bring in printouts of the current value of comparable items for sale as "used" on Amazon. Overall, the moral is: Never pack anything of value in your checked luggage.
...I CRASH MY RENTAL CAR?
After the accident (here or abroad), insist on calling the police (even if it's a minor fender bender), and make copies of the report. If you declined collision damage waiver insurance coverage, your auto-insurance policy should cover damages. If you declined rental coverage and don't have auto insurance, the credit card you used to pay for the rental should pay for damage to the vehicle.
Worst case: You didn't check for loopholes in your policy's fine print, and now you're stuck with a huge bill. Coverage provided by your credit card or auto insurer often doesn't apply to vans and luxury vehicles. Rentals in some countries, such as Ireland and Jamaica, may not be covered either. That's why you need to call your credit card company and check the fine print before you depart.
When all else fails: Never agree to pay anything to the rental company on the spot. If you've looked into all the other options and it looks like you're on the hook for thousands of dollars, call a lawyer.
...MY TOUR OPERATOR GOES OUT OF BUSINESS?
Hopefully, you paid with a credit card, which you should always do because it offers the most protection. If so, call your card company and explain what happened. Your money can be refunded if you contest the charges within 60 or 90 days of when your statement is mailed to you.
Worst case: You paid with a check and didn't buy travel insurance that specifically covers the financial default of a tour operator. In which case, you're not getting your money back.
When all else fails: Contact the United States Tour Operators Association (ustoa.com) to see if the tour operator was a member of their group—and as such, would have been required to keep $1 million in reserves to refund to customers.
...MY PASSPORT IS STOLEN—AND I'M THE VICTIM OF A CRIME?
For most crimes except minor pickpocketing, call the police. If you've been hurt or robbed, or your travel plans must be changed, the police report will help you file claims with health and travel insurers. Cancel any stolen debit and credit cards, too.
Worst case: Your passport was stolen, and without it you won't be allowed back into the country. Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate ASAP. With luck, you normally either travel with a photocopy of your passport, which will help speed up the process of getting a new one, or you've e-mailed a scan of your passport to yourself at a Web-based account you can access.
When all else fails: Bust out your emergency stash of traveler's checks, which you brought along for just such an occasion—and which should hold you over until you get your hands on new cards and a new passport.