Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean — and that includes the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and destinations in the Bahamas and Florida — runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. Hurricanes can strike at any time, but peak season runs August through October, when the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration says 96% of major hurricanes have struck.
That period, and extending through November, is also when resorts in the Caribbean, especially, offer rock-bottom rates, enticing budget travelers to risk a storm. For example, Calabash Cove Resort and Spa in St. Lucia currently has an all-inclusive deal for two people for five nights at $1,572 through Dec. 23 versus $3,485 in high season. Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas has rates from $189, or 30% off high-season prices this fall, including a $100 resort credit. The all-inclusive Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa in Jamaica is offering rooms in September from $213, a 45% discount.
Betting on good weather is always a risk. But what does it cost to cover the risk of your investment in the event of a hurricane?
It’s hard to put an exact figure on it, given the many variables of travel, but the cost of hurricane disruption can run from nothing — assuming the airline waives change fees and the hotel accommodates penalty-free rebooking — and start at roughly $50 a person to insure it. Below are some questions to ask before you commit to your trip.
Does your hotel have a hurricane-protection policy?
Many resorts offer their own protection policies in case a hurricane strikes, providing some assurance to travelers. For example, Club Med, which operates six resorts in the Caribbean, offers a Hurricane Protection Program that issues a future travel certificate equal to the value of the guest’s vacation for the number of nights affected by a Category 1 or higher-level hurricane, allowing guests to rebook for a future date without penalty.
The key is to ask about policies before you book, as terms vary. For example, once the U.S. National Hurricane Weather Center has issued an official hurricane warning, the Sonesta hotels on St. Maarten, including the Sonesta Ocean Point and Sonesta Maho Beach Resort Casino & Spa, will allow those unable to arrive to rebook at their original rates within the same calendar year.
If a hurricane watch or warning is issued within 14 days of arrival at the Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas, the resort’s hurricane guarantee allows guests to change their reservations without penalties, as long as they rebook within 60 days and are willing to pay whatever the prevailing rates are. (The rebooked trip must also be completed within a year of your original reservation.)
On St. Lucia, a dozen hotels offer a Holiday Guarantee permitting guests to cancel their stay without penalty in the case of a hurricane and apply deposits to future bookings.
Does your airline allow penalty-free flight changes?
Anticipating storms, most airlines have adopted proactive programs to encourage travelers to avoid them by offering options to change flights voluntarily without penalties a few days before or after a storm is expected to strike. This would apply to airports visited en route — for example, you are flying to Jamaica via Charlotte, North Carolina, and a storm is threatening the Carolinas, necessitating a new transit airport — or your final destination, in this case Jamaica. If your flight is canceled by the airline, you may rebook without penalty or receive a refund.
Other than flying within the storm-related window prescribed by the airline, which is usually within the week, changing your flight plans to an entirely new date — for example, you decide to try Jamaica in January instead — normally incurs a change fee and any fare difference between the original ticket and the one rebooked for January. For example, American Airlines charges $200 for a change to a domestic ticket and up to $750 for international travel; JetBlue change fees range $75 to $200.
Among major carriers, only Southwest Airlines does not charge a change fee. The carrier flies to several coastal and island destinations, including Belize, Cancún, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico, Nassau and the Turks and Caicos.
Have you looked into travel insurance?
You can insure both the airline ticket and lodging costs as well as any nonrefundable tours booked by buying travel insurance. But the key is to buy it before a storm hits; travel insurance is only available before a storm is identified.
Travelers buying insurance can expect to spend between 4 and 10% of the cost of the trip, said Stan Sandberg, the co-founder of Travelinsurance.com, a website that compares policies.
Prices vary based on what they cover and how generous they are with payouts. Some cover 100% of trip interruption, and others 150%. Remuneration for lost bags can run $500 to $1,000. Medical evacuation may be covered at $50,000 or $150,000.
Consumers should compare benefits before buying and, in the case of hurricane coverage, check applicable terms. Most will cover policyholders when a destination is deemed uninhabitable, as was Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, or evacuation is mandatory.
It’s also worth noting that buying travel insurance is a consideration that goes beyond weather. For example, cruises usually reroute during storms, rather than cancel, but Bob Levinstein, the chief executive officer of CruiseCompete.com, a cruise-comparison website, generally encourages clients to buy it for other reasons, such as a medical emergency, routine travel delays or job interference.
To evaluate policies financially, add up the cost of nonrefundable expenses in a worst-case scenario, such as airline costs, lodging deposits, the lodging balance you would be responsible for in the case of last-minute cancellation, and the price of any tour or cruise booked.
Running a few scenarios through the website Travelinsurance.com showed that a solo traveler from New York state seeking to cover an $800 trip could find policies between $22 and $74, with the average at $46, or 5.7% of the total trip. A couple from Illinois, both age 33, spending $1,500 on a trip would spend on average $120 on joint travel insurance, or 8% of the trip. A family of four from Massachusetts — parents, age 42, and children ages 10 and 8 — would spend close to $200 for all four to be insured for a $2,500 trip, also 8% of the trip’s cost.