Headed to a hurricane-prone area this fall? Here’s how to prepare
Credit cards with travel insurance, concierge services can help you adjust your plans
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Fall is a great time to travel, but it’s critical to prepare and be flexible if you’re planning a trip to a hurricane-prone destination.
Some of the best hotel rates and airfare are found in autumn, and many destinations are less crowded than they were during the summer months. However, travelers also run a risk of encountering a hurricane while vacationing near the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.
But the good news is that there are plenty of ways to plan ahead for such an event and use the right credit cards to reduce your risk and grab a good deal.
How to prepare for a trip to a hurricane-prone area
Consider the destination
When planning a vacation during the fall months, you may want to choose a destination that has the infrastructure required to provide assistance and support amid a disaster. U.S. states such as Florida, Texas and Louisiana may be in the path of a hurricane, but they have the infrastructure to manage a disaster.
You can find well-prepared destinations in the Caribbean as well. For example, the Cayman Islands – which has a fall promotion of up to 45 percent off at resorts – has “the most advanced infrastructure in the industry,” according to Rosa Harris, director of tourism for Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. She points to modern and well-maintained roads along with mobile phone service, broadband internet and satellite TV, which she says are “on par with those available in the United States, UK and Canada.”
Take advantage of travel insurance
AAA recommends purchasing travel insurance if you take a trip to hurricane-vulnerable areas. This can enable reimbursement for a trip you need to delay or cancel due to weather.
However, you might also shop around for a credit card that offers some travel insurance. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve have some of the highest reimbursements for trip cancellation or interruption insurance (up to $10,000), which will cover you if your trip is cancelled or cut short due to severe weather. Other cards such as the Citi Premier Card and the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card provide coverage as well.
If you choose to buy travel insurance, AAA advises that you do so before a storm is officially “named” in order for it to provide coverage. But if your card has travel insurance, it will already be in place.
You also need to make sure your health insurance covers you overseas. If it doesn't, the U.S. State Department provides a list of insurance providers that offer overseas coverage.
Emergency evacuation insurance can also help ensure you'll be covered if you or a family member are injured and need to be evacuated. Chase Sapphire Reserve offers this insurance if you pay for your flight with the card.
Call your card’s concierge
In the event of bad weather, you may need to rebook a flight or hotel stay. According to Alex Miller, founder and CEO of the Upgraded Points website, credit card concierge services can be incredibly helpful, noting that American Express is the gold standard, though many cards offer similar services.
“You would be utterly amazed at the sorts of tasks that the concierge can help you with,” says Miller. “Calling is the first step, and don't hold back on asking for everything that you might possibly need.”
Concierge services can assist with researching areas that have hurricane-ready infrastructure and finding accommodations that offer easy access to evacuation routes, Miller said.
See related: Hurricane Florence: How you can help
Look for ‘hurricane guarantee’ lodging, or consider a cruise
If you do need to cancel or rebook a hotel stay, many hurricane-prone areas offer a “hurricane guarantee,” which typically means that participating resorts, condos and villas will allow you to cancel due to inclement weather with no penalty and get a full refund or a credit to use later.
Some destinations and resorts with hurricane guarantees include:
- Cayman Islands
- Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas
- Elite Island Resorts – Antigua, Barbados and more
- Zemi Beach House Anguilla
- Palace Resort in Mexico
- Walt Disney World Resorts
Bob Chambers, vice president of operations at Generali Global Assistance, says cruising can be a good option during hurricane season “as cruises are more flexible than flights and can detour to alternative ports.” AAA says cruise ships often adjust their itineraries to bypass poor weather or help accommodate travelers on other routes.
Prior to and during your trip, stay updated on weather and any other conditions of concern in the destination. You can read travel advisories and alerts on the State Department’s website, and AAA recommends registering international trips with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Doing this allows you to get notifications about safety issues where you’ll be traveling. It also gives the U.S. embassy your contact information and helps family and friends find you in the event of an emergency.
Bring an emergency kit
When headed to hurricane-prone areas, it’s a good idea to bring an emergency kit. The State Department recommends including:
- Cash in local currency
- Electrical current converter (if needed)
- At least five days’ worth of medication or two weeks beyond your scheduled trip if possible
- Copies of prescriptions
- Backup power for medical devices requiring electricity
- List of emergency contacts
Harris adds to the list a flashlight and a set of batteries. She also says it’s good practice to survey your surroundings when you arrive and “become familiar with the hotel, resort or villa property, so you know where to go for shelter in the event of a storm.”
What to do if there’s a hurricane headed to your destination
If you’ve been monitoring the weather and there’s a good chance a storm is headed to your destination during the time when you’ll be there, you’ll need to do the following:
- Check with your hotel and airline about their cancellation and rebooking policies, should that be required.
- If you purchased travel insurance or it’s available through a credit card you used to purchase your flight or hotel, review its coverage requirements.
- Stay tuned to the National Hurricane Center and weather to monitor the storm’s path.
- If you decide to take your trip, pack an emergency kit, enroll in STEP and review your hotel’s emergency plan.
- Review with your traveling companions what you will do in an emergency situation.
- Follow directions from local authorities and stay tuned to local weather news.
- Get help from the local U.S. embassy if needed.
- If you cannot get voice phone access, consider posting updates for friends and family on social media.
It’s important to be vigilant when planning a fall vacation, but don’t rule out a trip to the Gulf Coast, the East Coast or the Caribbean just because it’s hurricane season.
“Travelers during these months will likely be rewarded with hotel and airfare savings, along with less crowded beaches and warm tropical weather,” she says.
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