How to use credit card travel insurance

When a trip goes haywire, travel insurance suddenly comes into focus. A recent spat between a Boston restaurant owner and a customer highlighted the intricacies — and far-reaching impacts — of what happens when a trip is canceled.

According to posts on X, the now-viral incident began in January when New York resident Trevor Chauvin-DeCaro became sick and was hospitalized. Because of his condition, Chauvin-DeCaro says he was no longer able to travel to Boston as originally planned. However, he said he used credit card travel insurance to be reimbursed for expenses including hotel, train and restaurant reservations.

Here’s where the story gets a bit murky. Chauvin-DeCaro and his husband were set to dine at Table, an upscale restaurant owned by Jen Royle in Boston’s North End. In screenshots posted to X from a social media exchange with what appears to be Royle, Chauvin-DeCaro is scolded for disputing the $250 reservation cancellation charge.

“I just wanted to thank you personally for screwing over my restaurant and my staff when you disputed your cancellation fee,” the message reads. “I really hope in the future you have more respect for restaurants, especially small businesses such as mine. Pathetic.”

In a heated exchange, the restaurant insists the $250 charge was a credit card dispute while Chauvin-DeCaro stresses his use of credit card travel insurance, even noting that “the decision to use [it] to cover the lofty cancellation fee was not made lightly.”

Filing an insurance claim with your credit card company is different from a dispute. For many travelers, your credit card may come with built-in travel protections and you may not even know it. Here’s how to use it properly.

How credit card travel insurance works

Whether it’s a trip across the world — or in Chauvin-DeCaro’s case, up to Boston — having travel insurance can provide major relief if things go awry. Flight delays, lost baggage, illness, injuries and other unforeseen events can disrupt even the best-laid plans.

There are dozens of credit cards with embedded travel insurance coverage, which include policies like trip interruption and cancellation; delayed and lost baggage; rental car coverage; emergency medical assistance and more. Your credit card agreement will detail this coverage.

Many popular credit cards, like the Platinum Card from American Express or Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, offer these benefits. “If you have a card that’s travel-focused, there’s a good chance you may have travel protection benefits and not even realize it,” says Stella Shon, a credit card expert for Upgraded Points. “Every cardholder has a benefits guide online from their issuer so a first step is to check there.”

To qualify for coverage, a traveler must use that specific card to make the travel purchases and provide proof, as with any insurance policy. When the time comes to file a claim, there’s usually an option to either call a specific number to call or do it online, Shon says.

Filing an insurance claim vs. disputing a charge

While it may seem like semantics, there is a major distinction between a disputed charge and a travel insurance claim, according to Gary Leff, a credit card expert and founder of the View From the Wing blog.

“Disputing a credit card charge is for when you didn’t actually make a purchase that was billed to you, when the product or service provided isn’t what had been described, or when you don’t receive what you bought,” Leff says. In other words, a dispute addresses risks when the transaction itself goes awry. A dispute can be requested on any credit card under the Fair Credit Billing Act.

Conversely, embedded credit card travel insurance, underwritten by a third-party company and labeled as “trip interruption” or “trip cancellation,” for instance, operates differently. Typically, it’s higher-end credit cards like American Express’s Platinum Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card that offer this benefit.

Card travel insurance offers reimbursement for nonrefundable payments and other trip-related expenses when incidents arise before or during a trip. While monetary compensation is a primary benefit, there is another valuable perk of travel insurance: peace of mind.

“You may have agreed to make a purchase, but circumstances outside of yours and the merchant’s control mean you’re unable to take advantage of that purchase,” Leff says. In other words, travel insurance addresses risks outside of a transaction. In either instance, travelers must provide documentation to go along with the claim.

Then, on the merchant side, there are key differences between a customer disputing a charge versus filing a travel insurance claim. Axel Hellman, co-founder of transportation company OurBus, says that “a travel insurance claim has no impact on the business.” Hellman notes that he typically wouldn’t even know if a customer uses an insurance benefit.

Neither Chauvin-DeCaro nor Royle responded to a request for an interview by The Washington Post. Spokespeople for both American Express and Chase say there wouldn’t ever be a situation in which credit card travel insurance would submit a dispute for the cardholder.

However, a disputed charge filed by a customer can have “significantly negative” consequences. “Businesses like ours are not only fined when there’s a dispute, but eventually we could lose processing privileges,” Hellman says. “That’s regardless if the dispute is valid or not.”

Meanwhile, the social media exchange between Chauvin-DeCaro and Royle continued to escalate and ended with Table’s owner threatening legal action.

A combination of an insurance claim and a dispute may have been at play here. Leff suspects that Chauvin-DeCaro may have contacted his credit card company to make an insurance claim and the agent initiated a dispute on his behalf. That further highlights the importance of travelers distinguishing between the two.