Hurricane Season is Here—Part 1: Protect Yourself

From now until November, residents of all US Atlantic and Gulf states, Mexico, and the entire Caribbean basin will be on the alert for the first indications of low-pressure weather systems, tropical waves, tropical storms, and ultimately hurricanes (or cyclones, as they are called in Pacific countries). If you have been through any, you will not forget—though if you’ve been through as many as I have, you would like to forget.

Residents in hurricane-prone areas know what to do in case of something developing “out there” off the coast of Africa. The most important thing, they know, is to take it seriously. But many visitors and tourists, not so much. Some see the pending arrival of a storm as added excitement, a novelty, an excuse for a party. Don’t make that mistake.

Related: Trip Cancellation Insurance Helps Tame Wild Weather

If you’re planning a trip to the southeast US or anywhere along the Gulf of Mexico at this time of year, you need to have trip cancellation coverage. Most travel insurers offer it, some as stand-alone products, others as add-ons to travel health policies. If you make deposits, purchase non-refundable airline tickets, or prepay for a week at a resort, you need to protect your money. Trip cancellation plans can help you do that—but don’t expect them to cover everything. Trip cancellation plans have many conditions and limitations on how much they will pay per incident, and it may not be as much as you have already paid.

If you get stranded and have to sit out a storm in Atlanta, don’t expect the travel insurer to cover your full tab, including meals, at the Ritz-Carlton. You may get a $300-per-day limit for a hotel, meals, taxis, and phone bills, for up to two days. But you’d better be modest about your expectations. The point of trip interruption/cancellation policies is to help deal with an emergency situation and get you to your destination, or home, with the least disruption possible. They won’t pay for all of your costs, and they can’t replace the enjoyment and memories of a vacation lost.

Related: Travel Mix-Ups: Lessons from Gerrit, Maureen, and Dave

And because hurricanes are so unpredictable, you won’t have much time to decide whether to take or abort that prepaid golfing trip to South Carolina after you’ve heard that a storm with hurricane potential is picking up steam on a trajectory to North Florida, Georgia, or Charleston. If you cancel several days ahead of time, and then the storm takes a right turn and heads towards Bermuda, leaving your golfing destination untouched, you’re not likely to get anything back from any source—including your insurer—unless you bought a “change of mind” or “cancel for any reason” policy, which may pay only 50 per cent or less of your trip costs.

That is why I urge you to seriously consider purchase of trip interruption/cancellation coverage. But you need to discuss it well, taking time to understand its limits and exclusions, and the best way to do that is to speak with an agent who specializes in travel insurance. That’s what our advertisers do.

In my next article, I will focus on what snowbirds need to do to make sure their properties in hurricane-prone areas remain safe and secure should “the big one” hit.

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