Hurricane season & travel insurance. Worth it?

Get ready to meet Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, some of the named hurricanes that federal forecasters say have a very good chance of getting whipped up during the six-month Atlantic hurricane season, which kicked off Saturday.

The season is predicted to have an above-average number of hurricanes, making this the time of year when it makes sense to consider buying travel insurance if you’re planning on vacationing in a hurricane-prone hotspot.

Hurricane

Courtesy Keene Public Library via Flickr Commons

 

But don’t just click “yes” when booking your tickets online and you’re asked if you want to add on travel insurance without understanding what you’re getting into.

That’s what Dave Arnold would try to do. The 38-year-old project manager from Toronto has visited 41 countries and in 2006 a travel insurance policy he bought through bulk retailer Costco reimbursed him and a traveling companion for plane tickets and cruise days missed due to a family health emergency. “Totally worth the $50 we each spent on that,” he told NBC News.

Arnold continues to buy travel insurance and if he did find himself on a trip to theCaribbean during hurricane season, he’d lean towards a policy that included some weather protection among the options. “For instance, if two insurance companies offered insurance but only one offered coverage for hurricane or weather delays for a little more money, I would definitely select that option. My only concern would be the fine print,” he told NBC News.

The fine print – and the acceptable risk levels and concerns of each traveler – vary so much that Jeff Blyskal senior editor at Consumer Reports, which doesn’t rate travel insurance but has evaluated it as an option for travelers, suggests Arnold and others consider buying their insurance not from a travel agent who might be selling just one product, but from an online broker, offering a range of products from various sellers competing on price.

“We monitor world events, everything from terrorist events and cruise lines with fires to weather in order to guide customers to the best products for their particular needs,” Jim Grace, CEO of InsureMyTrip.com told NBC News. “Right now things are a wee bit active.”

Grace said there are at least five ways travel insurance policies can cover hurricanes, from very basic policies that reimburse non-refundable cruise and hotel costs if an airline can’t get you to your destination because of a hurricane to broad “cold feet” or “cancel for any reason” policies that permit you to call off a trip up to 48 hours before a departure even if planes are still flying and cruise ships are still sailing into areas threatened by storms.

“It doesn’t take much of a storm to really make a disruption” said Grace.

And if you’re going to buy travel insurance, do it early. “You can’t buy insurance for your house if it’s on fire,” said Grace. “And you can’t insure against a hurricane that’s already been named.”

For travelers extremely concerned that a hurricane might ruin this summer’s vacation, “simply avoiding hurricane-prone areas and going to Hawaii rather than the Caribbean,” might be the best option this year, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, told NBC News.

“But don’t believe everything you read or hear,” said Blyskal, “The press may really play up NOAA’s predictions as dire, but sometimes the big hurricane seasons fizzle out.”

(My story about hurricane insurance first appeared on NBC News.com)