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Nail down your vacation plans for hurricane season travel

SmarterTravel

If you plan to visit an area within the hurricane belt, it’s important to know what to expect should a hurricane cause your trip to be canceled or disrupted. Each travel provider deals with severe weather problems differently, and many opt to make decisions about trip cancellations and interruptions on an individual basis. Thus, you’ll have to read the fine print and ask questions before booking to know what sort of compensation you’re entitled to should your trip be affected.

Here are a few general guidelines:

Air travel

As your departure date approaches, check your airline’s website for hurricane advisories. If a hurricane is predicted, most airlines will post information about the routes and travel dates likely to be affected along with rules for changing your flight. Policies vary, but if you are ticketed to fly to or from an at-risk airport, airlines will usually waive the change fee if you decide to travel on different dates. To qualify for a free flight change, you must have booked your flight before the storm was predicted. Generally, you must also keep the same flight routing as your original ticket and depart within a week or two of your initial travel date.

Cruises

Cruise ships have the advantage of being able to sail around hurricanes, meaning that if a storm is forecast to pass through an area on your itinerary, your cruise line will likely select alternate ports rather than cancel the sailing. While you may be unhappy that you didn’t get the same cruise you booked, don’t count on any refunds, as cruise lines reserve the right to change ports due to inclement weather.

If a hurricane is forecast to strike your port of embarkation, as happened multiple times last year in Florida, your cruise may be delayed, cut short, or canceled. In this instance, you’ll usually receive some sort of compensation, as decided on a case-by-case basis. In 2004, for example, when Hurricane Frances caused port closures in Florida, Carnival Cruise Lines was forced to delay and cut short or cancel several sailings. Passengers booked on Carnival’s canceled cruises could either apply for a full refund or future cruise credit. Those booked on abbreviated sailings could either go on the cruise and receive a partial discount, shipboard credit, and future cruise credit, or cancel for a full refund or future cruise credit.

Be aware that even if your cruise is scheduled to sail on time, hurricane-related airline delays might cause you to miss your ship. Cruise lines can’t promise to get you to the ship unless you booked airfare through the cruise line, and compensation for a missed cruise isn’t guaranteed. To avoid losing out, Julie Benson of Princess Cruises recommends that passengers always buy travel insurance and consider getting to their departure port a few days early. You might also want to purchase your flights through the cruise line, even if it costs a bit more than buying fares separately.

Land vacations

Most hotels aren’t under any obligation to offer you money back should bad weather affect your vacation. However, some resorts in hurricane-prone locations have “hurricane guarantees” that promise refunds, free future stays, or some other compensation should a hurricane disrupt your stay. For instance, Sandals and Beaches resorts in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, The Bahamas, and Turks & Caicos offer the “Blue Chip Hurricane Guarantee,” which states that guests will receive a free replacement vacation should a hurricane interrupt their trip. A recent statement put out by Sandals resorts in Jamaica in advance of Hurricane Emily also notes that guests won’t be charged if they’re forced to stay additional nights.

SuperClubs resorts in Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Curacao also have a “No Hurricane Guarantee” that provides guests with reimbursement for the total value of the disrupted nights, plus a voucher for a future stay, excluding airfare. Guests will also not be charged for extra nights if they must delay their departure from the resort.

If you happen to be staying overnight during a hurricane, most hotels and resorts will do everything they can to keep you safe and comfortable, including moving you to a safer location. For example, last year, when hurricanes forced closures at Walt Disney World Resort (which does not have a hurricane guarantee), Disney moved all guests staying in its campground to resort rooms and offered free children’s activities and entertainment in the resort lobbies. Before booking a hotel, ask a representative about the hotel’s severe weather polices so you’ll know what to expect should a hurricane strike.

Vacation providers and tour operators may also offer hurricane guarantees, but policies vary greatly. Make sure you read the fine print before booking to find out exactly what’s covered.

Travel insurance

To avoid getting stuck with a bill for a trip that was canceled or disrupted by a hurricane, purchase travel insurance that covers weather-related problems. Read through the plans you’re considering thoroughly, as not all policies offer weather coverage, and those that do usually have exclusions. For example, Travel Guard International insurance will not cover you unless you purchase a plan before a hurricane is predicted.

You can often purchase insurance through individual travel providers such as cruise lines, but you may be better off buying a general plan that covers your whole trip. For example, David Craychee of CSA Travel Protection says that his company’s plans cover clients “from the time they step outside their home until they return home.” To quickly find the right plan for your trip, use a travel insurance comparison site such as InsureMyTrip.com or QuoteTravelInsurance.com.

By knowing what to expect from your travel provider and getting properly insured, you can at least relax knowing your vacation investment won’t be lost should a hurricane come roaring through your destination. Of course, if you really want to play it safe, you can avoid hurricanes altogether by visiting the Caribbean islands that are south of the hurricane belt—Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. These three Dutch islands typically have good weather year-round, plus off-peak prices in the late summer and fall.

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