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.


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 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, 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

Helpful freebies for travelers heading to Thanksgiving

Holiday travel can get mighty hectic. And if something goes wrong this Wednesday- the day before Thanksgiving and the notorious “busiest travel day of the year” – an inconvenience can turn into a disaster.

So it’s nice to know that the travel insurance and assistance company Travel Guard North America will be offering emergency travel assistance services free to all U.S. travelers on Wednesday, November 23.

The company’s services include flight rebooking, hotel booking, emergency cash coordination and message relay, as well as emergency medical assistance such as referrals, access to air ambulances, medical providers and more.
It’s a service I hope you won’t need to use. But if you do, here’s the number: (866) 644-6811.

And on Wednesday, if you manage to avoid travel emergencies and find yourself on a plane equipped with GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi, you’ll be able to jump online –free – for 30 minutes of shopping courtesy of a Fly & Buy promotion with Nordstrom’s, Target, Wal-Mart, Amazon and other retail companies. The promotion runs through January 2, 2012, but for the Wednesday’s kick-off some companies will be throwing in extras.

Home store is entering each customer in a Fly & Buy contest to win a $5,000.00 shopping spree and also handing out in-flight shopping vouchers in several terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Swine flu messing with your travel plans?

With the swine flu alert level at level five, the anxiety level for many travelers has been  cranked up to 11.

And while the World Health Organization hasn’t officially called for a restriction on regular travel – just yet – worry about exposure to the deadly influenza bug is spurring many people to cancel or postpone their scheduled trips to Mexico.


If you have travel insurance you may be wondering:

Will my policy cover the costs associated with making those changes?

Briefly, it seems that the answer is: if you’ve got swine flu, yes; if you’re just worried about getting the bug, then maybe not.

Unless, that is, you’ve purchased an upgrade commonly known as “cancel for any reason” insurance. But even those policies come with restrictions: Usually a trip must be canceled 48 hours before departure and the policy must be purchased 14 days from the date of an initial trip deposit. And even then, there can be exclusions.

That’s why the U.S. Travel Insurance Association is urging everyone to “check with their individual travel insurance company and carefully review their policy to see what is covered.”

No insurance? You still have options

Most airlines, hotels and travel agencies are being flexible in relaxing reservation policies and waiving fees for cancellations and refunds – but each has set it’s own deadline for that. Right now the range is from May 6 through  the end of May.

If you’ve got a trip planned and are considering making changes, sit down and start charting your options, deadlines and alternatives.  Many airlines, resorts and hotels will let you make changes online, but if you need to call a supplier, set aside some time and patience: there are plenty of people in your situation, so you may be on hold for a long time.

phone5For more on this, see my complete column – Insurance may not cover your canceled trip – and the related articles on that site.

Tidbits for travelers: A travel job & offbeat travel insurance

Laid off or worried about getting laid off?

In addition to JetBlue’s  promise to refund your airfare if you get laid off, here are two other travel-related outfits that want you to rest easy:

In Park City, Utah the Washington School Inn’s “Pink Slip Protection” package promises to refund your deposit if you get laid off. And the folks at SkyRoll are offering to sell new job seekers (i.e. folks recently laid off) a 50% discount on luggage that might be useful for traveling to your next interview.


And  if you don’t have a job,  then consider applying for this:  The folk at STA, a student and youth travel company, are looking for two summer interns.  This is no “go get coffee” internship:  the lucky interns will get to travel around the world for free.  Along the way, they’ll blog, shoot and edit video and take photos.

Interested or know someone who should apply? The deadline to turn in a video application for the STA internship is  March 8th.

I’m thinking about it…