Trip Delay Protection – Part 2

Freebird

Overview

I had, at one point, planned to do a full article all about Freebird, but I had to scrap that plan for reasons explained below.

Launched in late 2015, Freebird, https://www.getfreebird.com/, is a relatively new service that bills itself as a better alternative to traveler’s insurance. If your flight is cancelled or delayed by 4 or more hours, Freebird will notify you (by text), and you’ll have the option to rebook yourself on a new flight to get you to the same destination and be reimbursed by Freebird. Freebird likes to emphasize how their service allows you to rebook yourself on any airline, not just the delayed/cancelled one. In contrast to the other options discussed, Freebird will not pay for any lodging or food expenses, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Costs

Freebird has been running a promotion since their launch where one ways can be covered for $19 and roundtrip flights covered for $34. Their notes state that after this promotion ends, prices will vary based on each flight and the likelihood of disruption, but it should typically be less than $30 for a one way. This is fairly comparable to coverage through Allianz for one ways but is otherwise fairly expensive.

I want to emphasize this point. The current flat-rate promotion has been running since their launch in November 2015. They refer to it as their “winter travel and launch promotion” that will end. This clearly hasn’t been updated in over a year. On the other hand, their terms of use was just updated in November of 2016, so they’re still clearly operational. My advice is to exercise caution.

Paid and Award Flights – Domestic Only

Freebird is only available on domestic US flights. There is no language anywhere indicating limitations on Hawaii or Alaska, so those should be covered. In running some test searches, flights to and from those two states showed up fine, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Puerto Rico also showed up without issue.

Unfortunately, in my tests for the US Virgin Islands, I was met with the message that it “[m]ust be a major U.S. airport.” Similar results for some of the less “standard” domestic airports, so be aware of this limitation.

Freebird can be purchased “until approximately two days prior to departure”. I contacted their support, and they confirmed a limit of up to 48 hours before a flight. This does mean extremely last minute flights can’t be covered, but for most people, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Layovers/Stopovers

Freebird is only available on nonstop or one-stop flights. The terms of service explicitly state if you want to cover a flight with two or more stops, you need to purchase coverage more than once, and the same flight segment cannot be covered more than once. This can significantly raise the cost for people who have multi-segmented itineraries or people who live far from hubs and need multiple positioning flights. Imagine the following flight: JFK to ORD to SFO to LAX. This itinerary would require two separate insurance plans: for example, JFK to ORD to SFO and separate coverage for SFO to LAX. Importantly, each coverage plan is separate and does not interact with other insurance plans. Thus, an interruption in the JFK to ORD nonstop flight invokes coverage on one insurance plan and not the other. This also means there could be a situation where coverage would be useless. An interruption in the ORD to SFO leg could be eligible for coverage, but Freebird would only cover this leg and not the rest of the journey to LAX. Flight availability may mean it’s smarter to let the airline rebook you directly to LAX instead of trying to work out a new connection. However, as detailed below, choosing not to use Freebird entitles you to a $100 gift card.

An interesting note is that there is no definition of a layover/stopover beyond a “scheduled stop en route to the intended destination”. This means you could have a multiple day trip be covered by a single Freebird plan; e.g., HNL to LAX, a stopover for 2 days, and then LAX to JFK. I’ve tried contacting them for information on this issue, but they’ve been stonewalling me and refusing to answer any more questions, hence why I wasn’t able to make a full post just about Freebird.

When Does Coverage Apply?

As mentioned above, coverage applies when a flight is cancelled, delayed for more than 4 hours, or when a connection would be missed as a result of a delay shorter than 4 hours. Freebird apparently has a behind-the-scenes system that determines if a connection cannot be made following a delay, but they haven’t given any further information on how that’s determined (e.g., on a per itinerary basis or a standard amount of time). That lack of transparency is especially troubling in that Freebird could say you could make a connecting flight in 45 minutes. That might be enough time to get to a nearby terminal in a small airport but may not be enough time if you need to get to a terminal across the airport in a busy hub.

An interesting benefit is that if you choose not to use Freebird, you’re offered a $100 gift card to various merchants. Thus, if you are able to get rebooked by your original airline or just choose to cancel your trip entirely, you can claim a $100 gift card. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of what merchants are available, and Freebird hasn’t responded to my request for information.

What’s Covered?

As mentioned above, Freebird will reimburse you when you book yourself a new flight when your original flight is cancelled or delayed more than 4 hours. According to the FAQ, “You can choose from any available non-stop or one-stop flight we receive from our airfare search engine with the same intended destination as your original itinerary.”

This is a potentially major issue. I’ve searched the terms and tried contacting support, but I haven’t been able to find any mention of class of service/cabin class. You could book an expensive first class ticket (award or paid) and Freebird coverage only to find your flight significantly delayed and Freebird only showing economy fares. The FAQ does say “Freebird is powered by the same search engine as leading travel sites such as Kayak, Orbitz, and Hipmunk, as well as airlines such as United and Delta”, so you’d expect it to have the same options. However, it continues by saying that “[a]lthough Freebird will never purposefully limit search results, the search engine may not provide us with availability for certain airlines and/or unpublished fares.” It’s not unreasonable to assume they would only show the most basic available tickets, leaving you without what you paid for.

Finally, Freebird won’t cover things like checked bag fees or anything not included in a regular fare. Thus, if you’ve already checked your bags with one airline and choose to use Freebird to fly on another, it’s up to you to manage your baggage situation.