The Fine Print: Fighting Citi Prestige’s ‘Trip Delay’ Shenanigans

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Disclaimer: The following is not legal advice. Please contact Alexander Bachuwa at Bachuwa Law if you have a consumer protection question or claim. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Introduction

As points enthusiasts, our priority is meeting the requirement to obtain the signup bonus. The next priority is to maximize the benefits that come with the card.  These perks include free Global Entry, reimbursement for airline tickets, and lounge access. An overlooked benefit is trip delay and cancellation coverage which can come in handy when itineraries don’t go as planned.

Citi Prestige: Nick’s Positive Experience

Nick has written about how he was reimbursed $500 for a trip delay when he used his Citi Prestige card. Here’s how it works: if you pay for at least part of your ticket on your Prestige card and are delayed for 3 hours or more, Citi will cover your expenses for things like food, lodging, and transportation up to $500 per person (including your family and those traveling with you provided you paid for their tickets with your Prestige card). In this case, Nick had a tight window to make his connection but because his flight arrived late, he missed his connection and was forced to stay overnight.

Citi Prestige: Alex’s Negative Experience

When it is honored, the trip delay protection is a fantastic perk. In the example above, Nick used the benefit successfully when a delay in one leg of his trip caused him to miss a connection.  He ended up being delayed more than 3 hours to his final destination. However, more recently, cardmembers have not had the same outcome. Here’s an example of an itinerary where the claim is now being denied. 

Alex purchases a flight from Las Vegas to Miami with a connection in Dallas. The first leg of the trip is delayed by 30 minutes. Despite his best efforts to sprint to the connecting gate in Dallas, Alex misses his connection to MIA. The airline does not provide hotel accommodations, and Alex has to pay an exorbitant price to stay overnight before taking the first flight to MIA in the morning. In this example Citi will deny Alex’s claim stating that the delay is not covered by the trip delay protection.  Why?  Because Citi argued that the flight was only delayed 30 minutes, not 3 hours.

Reconciling Nick & Alex’s Outcomes

To begin, let’s look at what Citi’s benefit brochure says to see if Nick got lucky or Alex is getting the short end of the stick.

Citi’s policy states that if the trip is delayed for at least 3 hours, they may reimburse you for expenses incurred because of the delay. It also says the following: To take advantage of this benefit, the following conditions must apply:

  • The delay is caused by the Common Carrier.
  • The Covered Traveler’s passport, money or other travel documents are lost or stolen.
  • The Covered Traveler(s) are not able to board because of overbooking.
  • The Covered Traveler’s Trip is delayed because of severe weather, a natural disaster, a previously unannounced strike, a quarantine or hijacking.

The decision as to whether a cardmember receives the benefit depends on what constitutes a “trip.” Unfortunately, there is not a court case or published arbitration decision that definitively defines it. In Nick’s case, Citi looked at the departure time of Nick’s first flight and the arrival time to his destination. In Alex’s case, Citi looked at the departure time of the first flight and the time that flight arrived. Changing the definition of trip is how Citi is able to approve Nick’s claim and deny Alex’s.

What Can Be Done?

  • Option #1: Do nothing. At most, Alex is entitled to $500 under Citi’s travel protection. That’s not enough money to justify the hassle of going through the dispute resolution process which may include hiring a lawyer. Even if Alex did win, Citi may require him to sign a confidential settlement.
  • Option #2: Fight! Regardless of the dollar amount, Alex’s claim is definitely worth pursuing. Why?

The strength of the claim is in a reasonable interpretation of what a “trip” is”. By that standard, the plain, ordinary, and reasonable meaning of the word “trip” refers to the entirety of the travel, not just an individual leg or segment of the journey.  The terms say that the overall trip must be delayed by that period of time. A potential claim seems clear cut–Citi is in the wrong. (see Beating Citi in Arbitration, What It Means for You and The Successful Fight Against A Citi Shutdown)

Some Final Questions

How pervasive is this? Is this a Citi issue or is it industry wide? Without public records of claims, we simply don’t know. My colleague who practices criminal law advises his clients that the job of a police officer is to make arrests. The police officer’s job is not to be your friend. Similarly, the job of insurance underwriting companies is to deny your claim. It is not their job to make you happy by reimbursing you. That’s why they will find any loophole, including the one above, to ensure that you are denied what may be rightfully yours. One would think that Citi and its insurer of choice are not alone in denying these claims on shaky grounds.

If I am covered for a missed connection, why are there companies that sell supplemental insurance for connections that are not covered by trip delay insurance?  There are companies that sell flood insurance in Arizona. Unlike the Citi’s insurance, some policies may explicitly state that they do not cover missed connections. That is when the supplemental insurance would come in handy.

Overall

Overall, it seems likely that Citi is in breach of its obligations but has never been called to task because consumers either do not know about the insurance to begin with or do not care to pursue a claim once they are denied. Hopefully, reading this post will change that.

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