While experts are calling for a slightly below-average hurricane season this year, that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider travel insurance before you go. And it's not just hurricanes you need to be worried about. Even the occasional political overthrow or surprise family illness might keep you from taking that long-deserved trip. "Today" travel editor Peter Greenberg offers these tips to help you protect your trip:
The 2005 hurricane season, which began June 1 and ran through November 30, was the most active Atlantic tropical storm season on record — 28 named storms, including 15 hurricanes. The frequency and severity of hurricanes in 2005 was certainly felt by the travel insurance industry. According to AIG Travel Guard, the combined claims that resulted from Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma surpassed those resulting from 9/11 — the costliest event in the history of the travel insurance industry. While experts are now calling for a slightly below average season for hurricanes in 2006, that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider travel insurance before you go... anywhere.Travel insurance and hurricanes: What's covered and what's not?
Travel insurance should cover any expenses or delays under the Trip Cancellation and Interruption coverage of the policy if...
- the storm directly affects your travel arrangements. For example: If an airport is closed due to the high winds, or your flight is cancelled due to severe weather.
- you are forced to evacuate your hotel or resort.
- the resort or hotel where you planned to stay is closed or made uninhabitable by the hurricane. Not all travel insurance providers covers this situation. Travel Guard does, and it’s an important consideration if you are traveling during hurricane season.
Travel insurance will not cover you if…
- You choose to cancel a trip on what you think might happen. For example: If you are worried that a named hurricane might affect the destination to which you are traveling, so you cancel your trip.
- You buy your travel insurance after a hurricane has been named. Insurance must be purchased 24 hours prior to when the hurricane has been named. Once the hurricane has been named, Trip Cancellation and Interruption losses resulting from the hurricane are excluded from the coverage of the policy.
And, just incase you needed to know:A hurricane is defined/validated by the National Hurricane Center, typically a tropical cyclone in which the maximum sustained surface wind is 74 mph (64 knots) or greater.Tips for smart travelers: Travel insurance is one of the safest, yet most misunderstood and overlooked ways for travelers to protect themselves from financial loss and travel challenges due to such unforeseen catastrophes as hurricanes. Following are a few scenarios of how travel insurance and travel assistance can help:
- Hurricane hits before trip departure, forcing trip cancellation. Travel insurance will provide reimbursement for nonrefundable expenses, up to the limit of coverage purchased.
- Hurricane forces traveler to evacuate during vacation. All trip expenses will be covered as well.
- Don't go hungry or sleep in the airport. Travel insurance companies will often cover charges for food purchases, hotels and alternate means of transportation if traveler’s flight is cancelled or delayed.
What is the cost for this kind of insurance?
Generally the premiums run about five to seven percent of the cost of the trip. (This is typical for almost all policies, including Travel Guard (and these guys do a great job.) In addition, a number of destinations and resorts actually offer their own hurricane guarantees:DESTINATIONS:
Island of Bermuda hurricane guarantee
Sixteen Bermuda (gayot.com/travel/destinations/bermuda) resorts are offering a “Hurricane Guarantee” that gives travelers refunds and rain checks should their trips be cut short or cancelled by a hurricane (as determined by the Bermuda Weather Service -- www.weather.bm)
Westin Casuarina Resort and Spa Grand Cayman
In the event of a hurricane on the islands of Grand Cayman, the resort will replace a guest's vacation for the entire duration of the reservation. This guarantee applies to room and applicable taxes.If anticipating a category three hurricane or higher, the hotel will not allow any arrivals. The Westin will waive early departure fees, if guests are leaving early due to category three or higher.Guests that are unable to travel to the resort due to a hurricane closing the Grand Cayman airport or The Westin Casuarina Resort will be given the option of a full refund or a one room category upgrade, based on space availability, on their next visit to The Westin Casuarina Resort within one calendar year.
Note: The policy only applies if travelers can't reach the island because the airport is closed, or if the hotel is shut down. Specific airlines that are delayed or cancelled do not count toward this.
The Reef Resort Cayman Islands Hurricane Guarantee
In the event that hurricane force winds directly hit The Reef while you are a guest, they will offer a free replacement stay for the same duration as the one originally booked, regardless of how many days were affected by hurricane force winds. Guests holding a confirmed reservation who are unable to travel to The Reef because of the closing of the Grand Cayman airport or the resort have the option of a full refund or a one-category room upgrade on the next visit taken within the next 12 months.Marriott Hotels
At the 16 Marriott resorts in nine Caribbean and Mexican beach sites, guests holding confirmed reservations from June 1 to Nov. 30 will be offered full refunds or one-category room upgrades at the same hotel for reservations in the next 12 months in the event that a hurricane closes the airport or the hotel before they can get there, or if your specific airline cannot take off.If you’re on the property during a hurricane, you receive a certificate 3-night return stay valid two years, including room and tax.You must have a confirmed reservation with nonrefundable deposit, and cannot be able travel to the hotel because of airport or hotel closure.The Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & Spa, Puerto Rico Rest Assured Hurricane Guarantee
Will replace the balance of a guest's vacation for the duration of the reservation.In-house guests will not be penalized for an early departure in the event of a hurricane.Any unused portion of a deposit for in-house guests will be refunded in the event of a hurricane.Guests holding confirmed and fully deposited reservations and are within the non-refundable window that are unable to travel to the resort due to hurricane closing of the San Juan Airport or the Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & Spa will be given the opportunity to rebook your stay with a one room category upgrade at the same rate.Puerto Rico must actually be placed under a Hurricane Watch or Hurricane Warning by the National Hurricane Center for the Hurricane Guarantee Policy to be in effect.
Holiday Inn Sunspree® Resort Jamaica or Aruba Risk-Free Sunspree® Hurricane Guarantee Program
In the event that there is a category one hurricane or higher and operations at these properties are interrupted for more than 24 hours (from now until November 30th 2006).Guests who stay at either have the opportunity to receive a voucher for complimentary stays.Redeemable at the same resort within one calendar year for the same amount of days originally booked (upon availability and certain blackout days may apply)Guests holding an existing confirmation with a nonrefundable deposit who are unable to travel to the resorts because of a cancelled flight or if the resort has to close, will have the option to rebook their reservations without penalties and will be offered a room upgrade upon their next visit (not including suites).
The Westin and Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort
In the event of a hurricane on Grand Bahama Island, they will replace a guest's vacation for the entire duration of the reservation. This guarantee applies to room and applicable taxes. This policy is applicable to transient and group reservations as stipulated in their contracts. ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS
Superclub’s Sunshine Guarantee
For each and every day the sun doesn't show its face during your stay, the resort will issue a credit voucher equal to that day's Super-Inclusive room value, good for one year towards another SuperClubs vacation. At each resort the Water Sports Director will make each days official Sunshine determination. Valid at all SuperClubs' resorts in Jamaica, Curacao and the Dominican Republic.
Superclub Hurricane PolicyShould a hurricane happen to strike the resort, guests at the resort will receive a reimbursement for the total value of disrupted nights. In addition, a voucher for a future stay will be issued for the same number of disrupted nights for use during the same month the following year, excluding airfare.
Sandals And Beaches Blue Chip Hurricane Guarantee
In the event that hurricane force winds hit the Sandals or Beaches resorts whileyou are a guest, interrupting the use of all the included activities, you receive freereplacement vacation to be taken at any Sandals or Beaches Resort of your choice(excluding airfare).They will replace your entire vacation, even if you are able toenjoy the first few days of your trip without incident.If you can’t get to your resort due to hurricane threats (your flight doesn’t take off, theairport is closed or the resort is closed) they will reschedule your trip.WEBSITES
Expedia.com Hassle-Free Hurricane Promise
Applies to customers who have booked travel on Expedia.com to any North American destination (including Mexico and the Caribbean) affected by hurricane-related problems during the time of travel. (For additional details: expedia.com)Cheapcaribbean.com Free Your Mind Travel Protection Program
If a named hurricane is 48 hours or less away from your destination, departure city, or connection city (based on your departure time) per the National Hurricane Center, CheapCaribbean.com allows customers a one-time waiver of penalties when canceling a trip if you notify at least three hours prior to U.S. departure. Receive a credit voucher in the full vacation amount redeemable for a CheapCaribbean Mexico or Caribbean vacation within one year from the date of purchase. (Additional details: Cheapcaribbean.com)Tnt Vacations "Worry-Free Hurricane Protection Plan" ($95 per person)Under the plan, you're entitled to a replacement vacation if your original stay is interrupted for more than 24 hours by a hurricane as defined by the National Hurricane Center. (The company considers your vacation interrupted "when a hotel substantially interrupts all operations for 24 hours or longer.") The protection is available to packages including air and at least three nights' accommodations taken through November 11, 2006. The value of the replacement vacation must be equal to or less than the value of the original vacation, and total no more than $2,500 per person.AIRLINES
United Vacations (travel packager subsidiary of United Airlines) Bonus Values
(added to its trip cancellation waiver)
The price of the plan is $69 for adults and $45 for children.Travelers whose vacation is disrupted for 24 hours or more by a hurricane receive a refund in their original form of payment for any unused or interrupted vacation days or nights, as well as vouchers toward a future United Vacations package ($100 per adult and $50 per child) and 1,000 Mileage Plus Bonus Miles per adult. The existing Trip Cancellation Waiver already guarantees travelers a money-back refund for vacations canceled (for any reason) at least 24 hours before departure..United’s Travel Protection Plan From Worry-Free Vacations (worry-freevacations.com)The plan is available from $39 to $119 per person and must be purchased before you make your final trip payment. Includes a hurricane benefit that will refund the cost of your vacation and waive cancellation penalties if the area you're visiting is under a hurricane watch or warning, or directly hit by a hurricane. Unlike some other vacation providers, the company will include the price of the Travel Protection Plan in your refund. Note that your refund will come in the form of a Worry-Free Vacations gift card or travel certificate — not cash.United will consider on a case-by-case waiver of change fees ($100 domestic) for travel to and within hurricane-affected regions. Recently, the waiver was implemented for travelers affected by the threat of Hurricane John. If you’ve purchased your tickets for travel and there is a hurricane advisory, you can reschedule your tickets for no extra fee. INSURANCE, ETC.
Access America Insurance
Most of their policies cover trip interruption, cancellation and delay coverage when a natural disaster causes delays, airport closures and destinations made uninhabitable. For example, if travelers’ flights are delayed or airports close and they can’t get to their destination, then they are eligible for coverage. And if the destination becomes uninhabitable, then they have trip cancellation or interruption coverage.Also, for people who live in hurricane zones, the company also offers trip cancellation coverage for them if their home is made uninhabitable due to a natural disaster and they can’t go on their trip.They also have 24-hour assistance to help people with emergency situations, including message relays to family and friends, which can be helpful if the power goes out or cell phones are down in the insured’s location.TRAVEL INSURANCE AND TERRORISM:
Traditionally, this falls under TCI (trip cancellation interruption) insurance. But terrorism may be covered under these policies. Coverages are still evolving and it really gets down to a definition of terms. For example, many policies refer to an "incident" or "outbreak." And many of the policies didn't cover travelers stranded after the August 10 events in London because there was no terrorist incident or outbreak under their definition. Bottom line: For the moment, terrorist attacks are not always covered by these policies. However, some insurance policies, like one from Travel Safe, allow you to cancel a trip for any reason. And the August 10 events certainly were covered under that policy. (travelsafe.com) But buyer beware: The cost for these policies generally range 40 percent higher than normal TCI policies. And almost no travel insurance policies cover your general fear, or state of mind.FOR MORE INFORMATION:
- USTravelinsurance.org (a group of 19 travel insurance companies provides this informational website)
- Insuremytrip.com (gets you travel insurance quotes from numerous companies)
www.travelinsure.com (same type of service)
And if you want to track storms:
- nhc.noaa.gov: National Hurricane Center that announces the storms.