Booking a tropical Caribbean or seaside vacation during hurricane season is always a gamble. The odds of the storm stats affecting your trip are rather slim, but certainly not zero. And while the years have been calm, with only a handful of hurricanes threatening the tourist area, the overall trend appears to be toward increasing hurricane intensity.
Understandably, this might make you consider hurricane travel insurance for your next trip to a hurricane prone area. But there are a few things you should know before buying coverage.
You have to buy well in advance
Like all forms of insurance, hurricane travel insurance usually protects you from hurricanes that can occur. If you wait to purchase coverage until a hurricane appears, has formed, or has been named, the insurer may claim that the storm in question is a “forecast event”, which does not qualify for coverage. Every insurance policy is different — some stipulate that you must purchase coverage 24 hours before the storm is mentioned, while some require you to buy sooner.
Bottom line: Don’t wait for the storm to roll toward your destination. If you are traveling to a disaster-prone area during peak hurricane season, purchase insurance in advance.
Fine Print Flood
It’s no secret that insurance companies load their policies well. Hurricane travel insurance is no different. Travel insurance providers have very specific parameters for what “counts” as a hurricane, at least when it comes to protecting customers. The threat of a hurricane is usually not enough to qualify—the storm should directly affect your trip.
Insurance provider Travel Guard explains that if a hurricane “prevents your trip or directly affects your accommodation, you may be entitled to a Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption benefit.” However, making an independent choice to cancel in anticipation of inclement weather is not covered. For example, unexpected storm damage to your accommodation prior to departure may be covered by your package (“under the terms of the insurance policy”), but the option to cancel your reservation in anticipation of potential damage is ineligible.
Cancellation vs. Interrupt vs. Delay
Hurricane travel insurance plans (and most travel insurance plans) typically cover three main scenarios, with different levels of coverage: Advance cancellation, travel disruption, and delay. Each is self-explanatory, but cancellation includes the full cancellation of your trip prior to departure. Travel interruption covers your loss for the unused portion of the trip cut short by the storm, plus transportation costs to get you home. Travel delay coverage takes care of food, lodging and other expenses incurred when travel is delayed due to weather.
The bar for cancellation coverage is quite high. In most cases, your provider, such as an airline or tour company, will have to completely stop service for at least 24 hours due to the storm. This could include closing the resort due to storm damage prior to your trip. The point is, you usually can’t choose to cancel your trip due to a hurricane (except for those who purchased one particular type of insurance; more on that below). Your trip must be canceled by your provider for insurance to take effect.
The same applies to travel interruptions and travel delay coverage. If you choose to leave because you are concerned about a storm actually heading your way, your policy will likely not apply. Your provider must suspend all services for a short period of time for coverage to take effect.
Bottom line: You can’t decide when your insurance starts, so you need to understand exactly how your policy determines your coverage threshold.
Cancel for any reason
One way to circumvent all of these rules and conditions is a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason (CFAR). This policy is exactly what it says: They let you cancel for any reason, including if you’re concerned about a storm that could affect your trip, but the policy only covers cancellations; interference coverage remains separate. CFAR coverage is usually expensive, and comes as an optional addition to regular insurance. It doesn’t always offer the same rate of replacement, but generally provides the greatest guarantee you’ll get something if and when you are worried about storms.
Where to Compare
There are dozens of sites where you can shop for hurricane travel insurance. The best place to start is a comparison site that lists options from several insurance providers, such as SquareMouth, InsureMyTrip, QuoteWright, or TravelInsurance.com. From there, make sure you evaluate your policy carefully on the site of the actual insurance provider. NerdWallet also has a very comprehensive list of insurance providers and comparison sites if you want a longer list of options.