Travel Planning Lessons for Canadians from Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma has left a long-lasting legacy on many island countries of the Caribbean as well as the US southeast, especially Florida—a legacy that Canadians must factor into any short- or long-term travel plans for these regions.

Full recovery in many of these areas—even those not prominently covered in the media– may take a long time. The full extent of damage is yet to be tallied, so be patient when trying to get more precise information about friends, family, or properties you may have in the affected areas.

In the Caribbean, Turks and Caicos, Antigua, Anguilla, St. Barts, Bahamas, Cuba, and Saint Martin/Sint Maarten are all under Canadian government “Avoid All Travel” or “Avoid All Non-Essential Travel” warnings. In the face of hurricane Maria, Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico are also under advisement. These warning levels may change from day to day. To stay current, view the advisories online.

Take note that these advisories are more than kindly “suggestions.” They have serious implications as most travel medical insurance policies issued in Canada may restrict policy benefits on trips taken to any designated country after the government has issued either “Avoid All Travel” or “Avoid All Non-essential Travel” warnings.

And if you are already in a designated country or region when a warning is issued, your policy may allow you a certain amount of time, say 24 to 48 hours, to leave and get out of harm’s way. Know your policy conditions. If you don’t, you may find certain benefits voided, or you may even find your entire policy voided. That depends on the policy you purchased.

It’s important to know your policy and to have trip cancellation/interruption insurance explained to you clearly, by well-trained travel insurance specialists. And always travel with your full policy in hand.

Certainly, anyone anticipating travel to the Caribbean region, Mexico, Latin America and any of the US Gulf states during hurricane season (June through November) should insist on trip cancellation/interruption coverage. As Irma has shown, storms can come up quickly, change direction in a few hours, and leave unprotected areas ravaged beyond description.

Though vacation facilities and residential areas in the US have a remarkable ability to regenerate and restore services, those in many Caribbean countries don’t have the same depth of resources to get back on their feet as quickly. So if your future vacation or other travel plans take place in the wide swath affected by Irma, do your due diligence.

Make sure you know the state of readiness of any property when making your vacation plans, and before you put down a deposit—even though you intend to cover your investment by purchasing trip cancellation/interruption insurance.

You need to know your policy. You need to ask your selling agent some hard questions:


What happens if the resort I reserved and paid for is not totally completed, or up to the level I expect? Can I get my money back if I cancel?

That depends on the coverage you bought. Some policies may allow you to change your mind about completing your trip and may reimburse you if you feel uneasy about completing your trip. But that reimbursement may not cover all of your deposit as many policies have limits on what they will pay. These limits should be clearly explained in your policy. You need to know them.

If you’re reserving a five-star hotel costing you $1,000 USD per day, you need to know that your policy may only cover $200 or $400 or whatever the per-diem limit may be.

And remember also that you will only be covered for money you have already paid that is non-refundable. You cannot be reimbursed for the loss of a “dream” trip. The coverage is for money you have paid out.

And even if your resort—or cruise, for that matter—offers you a voucher for a future trip, that will be considered payment in kind and your insurer will not be expected to pay. Double dipping is not part of your insurance contract.

The bottom line is—know the limits of coverage in your trip cancellation policy.


When should I buy trip cancellation coverage?

Some insurers will require you to buy trip cancellation coverage when you reserve and pay for your trip—be that for a resort, cruise, or tour. You can’t wait for the first signs of a storm to show and then suddenly order cancellation coverage.

For more guidance about pre-storm travel coverage, read our Tips for Hurricane Season.

Over the next few weeks we will get a clearer picture of the extent of devastation caused by Irma throughout the Caribbean, Florida, and the southeast coast states of Georgia and South Carolina.

As we approach the winter leisure travel season, you need to be vigilant about the status of rebuilding efforts and the availability of properties and services in the area you intend to visit—be it in more exotic locations of the Caribbean, or the more familiar landscapes of Florida—the Keys, Winter Haven, Pinellas, Pasco or Polk Counties, Port St. Lucie, Ocala, Sarasota, or the Mexican Riviera.

We’ll be here to keep you posted.


Planning your next trip? Do not forget your travel insurance.

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