If you’ve been dreaming all winter of a beach vacation in the Caribbean, you’re probably also aware that travel experts recommend traveling during the ‘off-season’ for a range of reasons: fewer crowds, cheaper flights, shorter lines, better resort prices, etc. The off-season in the Caribbean coincides with summer time when many families have kids out of school and work schedules slow down. It’s also hurricane season.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts in just a few weeks – June 1 – and ends November 30th. August through October are statistically the peak months for hurricanes, so the chances of getting caught in a hurricane at either end of the season is reduced but still a risk. Many travel advice articles tell travelers to avoid the islands in hurricane alley, which are the Dutch islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao – dubbed the ‘ABC’ islands – but that’s too simple because it’s not going to prevent your vacation from being ruined. After all, if you can’t get to the so-called safe island because all the flights are grounded anyway, then you’ve lost those days of your vacation. Ditto if you want to get off the island.
For all the media attention surrounding hurricanes, hurricane season is also the time when travel suppliers – cruise lines, resorts, and airlines – tempt budget-minded travelers with cheap prices. Here are 6 tips to keep a hurricane from ruining your Caribbean vacation.
1. Check the small print for cancellation options
Some hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals in hurricane-prone areas have what are commonly called ‘hurricane guarantees’ but they’ve all but disappeared in recent years.
Many established resorts offer their own hurricane protection programs, but those are usually isolated to issuing a guest credit towards a future stay rather than providing reimbursement. Plus, their policies are limited to when flights are cancelled or evacuations are ordered.
When a hurricane is imminent and flights are grounded, many airlines waive the change fees and allow you to rebook your trip (within a certain amount of time).
2. Determine how to abandon your trip
While pre-trip cancellation is one thing, it’s entirely another situation when you’ve started your trip and a hurricane strikes. Again, it’s important to look into the details for your lodging and flights so you know what you can and cannot do. While you might be safe riding out the hurricane where you are, the odds are pretty high you won’t have the vacation you wanted.
If you’re renting a beach house, for example, check your rental contract to find out if the owner will reimburse you if authorities order and evacuation while you’re there (most won’t). If you’re staying at a hotel or resort, ask about their hurricane guarantees.
While the airlines have recently been generous with letting people change their flights when a hurricane is headed their way, your departure may be delayed until additional aircraft can be re-routed to deal with the backlog of evacuating tourists. In addition, the airline won’t reimburse you for additional costs like extra hotel nights closer to the airport.
3. Buy travel insurance
Travel insurance coverage for hurricanes can reimburse travelers for their pre-paid travel costs in the even their primary residence or their travel destination is rendered uninhabitable. If you want the option to get your money back even if the resort isn’t completely destroyed, you’ll need to add ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage.
The right travel insurance plan will cover the following with regards to hurricanes:
Trip cancellation – when listed as a covered reason for cancelling your trip, you can recover up to 100% of your pre-paid non-refundable trip costs if a hurricane destroys your vacation.
Trip interruption – this is post-departure coverage that reimburses a traveler for unused pre-paid travel expenses and unexpected additional costs if they have to end their trip and leave to avoid a hurricane.
Missed connections – this coverage reimburses travelers to unused pre-paid expenses and reasonable additional expenses if they miss a connecting flight or cruise departure as a result of hurricane cancellations.
Travel delay – this coverage reimburses travelers for reasonable expenses if they are delayed over a certain number of hours as a result of hurricane-caused travel delays.
It’s important to take careful note of the details regarding each coverage. Most travel insurance plans help travelers when they’re ordered to evacuate as a result of a hurricane, for example, but they won’t cover your expenses if you simply got tired of the rainy weather and want to leave. If your resort gives you a credit toward a future stay, you won’t be able to recover that money with your travel insurance claim. Think about it: you essentially got your money through the credit and getting it again would amount to double-dipping.
The key is making sure that travel insurance plan you buy specifically lists hurricanes as included in the coverage – without that, you won’t have coverage even if your plan says it covers trip cancellations.
4. Do a little emergency planning
Hurricanes are natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, blizzards, and volcanic eruptions. They can’t be controlled or helped. The best you can do is avoid them and have an emergency plan to deal with the consequences should you get stuck in one.
A little emergency planning can go a long way if you have to handle a particularly uncomfortable situation. If you can’t get out of the way of the hurricane or cancel your trip ahead of time, then you may have to be prepared to ride the hurricane out where you are. That may mean being holed up in a hotel with the windows boarded up, no air-conditioning, and very little services.
There are somethings you can do to protect yourself:
Have a simple travel medical portfolio for each member of your party
Have a basic travel medical kit on hand in case someone needs basic medical attention
Your best bet – as always – is to avoid the hurricane if you can. If you’ve started your vacation and a hurricane is headed your way, you may be ordered to evacuate as many people along the eastern shores of the Atlantic were during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
5. Pay attention to the weather
Keeping one step ahead of a hurricane is critical to being able to get out of its way in time. Hurricane hazards come in many forms, including storm surge, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, high winds, and rip currents.
The National Weather Service is responsible for protecting life and property through timely watches and warnings, but it’s essential to pay attention to the news if you’re traveling during hurricane season. After all, many people were stranded for days as flights were cancelled across the country when Hurricane Sandy, a classic late-season hurricane, swept through the southwestern Caribbean Sea before it eventually made landfall in New Jersey.
Due to its tremendous size, Sandy drove a catastrophic storm surge into the New Jersey and New York coastlines, making Sandy the second most costly cyclone to hit the U.S. since 1900. At least 147 deaths were recorded across the Atlantic basin due to Sandy, with 72 of those occurring in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S. – well outside the typical path of hurricanes.*
6. Have a backup vacation plan
If your vacation time is really tight and you want to be sure to have one this year, you might consider this your best backup plan: cover your Caribbean trip with full travel insurance (including ‘cancel for any reason’) and have a backup vacation plan in mind
If a hurricane seems likely as your vacation draws near, you can cancel your trip, book your alternate trip, and still have a good vacation.