Monday, August 20, 2007

Hurricane policies: Do they hold water?

Watching the storm predictions, you might think twice about booking a Caribbean vacation during hurricane season. Many Caribbean tourism providers have created guarantees to ease fears. But with most, a hurricane may have to hit -- or at least prompt a government warning -- before the policies kick in.

Though airlines don't usually have standing policies regarding hurricanes, they typically allow passengers affected by hurricanes to rebook without penalty. Spirit Airlines offers "Hurricane Buster Protection'' that kicks in once a hurricane watch is issued; affected fliers may rebook without fees during specific time periods.

At Sandals -- which has Sandals and Beaches resorts in St. Lucia, Antigua, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and Jamaica -- the Blue Chip Hurricane Guarantee provides affected guests with a free replacement vacation for the same duration as their originally booked trip; it must be taken within one year after the original trip. The guarantee formally kicks in if hurricane winds hit the island where the resort is located, though Cathy Decker, a company spokesman, said via e-mail that îîSandals and Beaches work hard to accommodate guests wishing to revise plans when a hurricane watch is issued.''

SuperClubs offers a Hurricane Guarantee that reimburses guests for the value of disputed nights and adds a voucher for a future stay during the same month the next year. Guests can also reschedule
if a hurricane watch or warning is issued, said spokesman Jennifer Friedel via e-mail.

If a hurricane is predicted, ClubMed's staff will work with guests to try to change their air travel. If a hurricane hits, guests at the affected resort will get a future travel voucher for the land value of the days affected, said spokeswoman Kate Moeller via e-mail.

Travel insurance can also help. Though policies vary, travelers often can cancel within 24 hours of their slated departure if a hurricane warning is issued … provided the policy was purchased within two weeks of booking. At Travel Guard, the policy must be purchased before a storm is named, and though the policy doesn't officially kick in when a hurricane threatens, the company does look at situations on a case-by-case basis, said spokesman Carol Mueller.

ClubMed offers its guests an optional policy that allows them to cancel for any reason. (Travel insurance policies also offer relief if a hurricane warning is issued here at home.)You can compare polices at


Still, if a hurricane threatens, inconvenience and worry are simply part of the deal. While the travel advocate in my soul wishes for more liberal policies -- if there's a hurricane watch two days before you're due to leave, why should you be forced to go? -- my business side understands that resorts have to make money, too.

If there's a silver lining, it's this: Many Caribbean hotels offer good deals during early fall. Worth noting:

ø‚Travelers booking five nights at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman get accommodations for two, daily breakfast for two and a $500 airfare credit on the airline of their choice. September rates start at $349. 800-241-3333.

ø‚Cayo Espanto, a highly acclaimed luxury private island off Belize, offers an airfare credit of $350 on five-night stays and $600 on seven-night stays for stays through July 2008. 888-666-4282.

ø‚Air Jamaica offers a sale fare of $149 roundtrip from Miami/Fort Lauderdale to Kingston or Montego Bay and $269 from Fort Lauderdale to Barbados through Dec. 14; tickets must be purchased by Aug. 23. 800-523-5585.

For hurricane updates, click here.

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