When subtropical storm Andrea became the first named storm of the hurricane season–about three weeks before the official hurricane season begins June 1–it raised concerns among many in hurricane-prone areas that this might be a particularly dangerous hurricane season.
Indeed, most climate scientists say that global warming could greatly increase the number and intensity of hurricanes. But after the high-profile devastation wrought by Katrina in 2005, many hurricane-prone destinations began offering what is generally known as a “Hurricane Guarantee.”
With most hurricane guarantees, the hotel, resort, or travel provider either gives guests full refunds, or allows guests to rebook their lost vacations within one year. But the policy usually only applies if an actual Category 1 (or stronger) hurricane shuts down airports and disrupts travel to or from the destination.
Hurricane guarantees vary widely by property and company, with different specific conditions as to when the guarantee kicks in.
However, some conditions are almost universal. First, nearly all of the programs depend on the National Hurricane Center as their main source. That is, their policies only kick in when the National Hurricane Center officially deems a storm a “hurricane,” when the sustained wind speeds reach 74 mph or above.
With few exceptions, the guarantees cover only part of your vacation. For example, while a hotel with the guarantee might refund the hotel portion of your vacation, you may still be out of luck with flights and other services you’ve booked. And keep in mind that in some cases, even if your airline is no longer flying and the island isn’t allowing in visitors, if your hotel’s doors are still open… you may not be eligible to get hotel reimbursement. So unless your guarantee is one of the more comprehensive ones, opting for travel insurance to cover your Caribbean vacation is usually a good move.
While there is no such thing as a “hurricane-free” island, there are some islands that do have a relatively low frequency of hurricanes.
As a general rule, the southern Caribbean is affected by fewer hurricanes than the central and more northerly regions, where Jamaica, Cuba,and the Dominican Republic are prime targets. The islands lying closest to South America, including Aruba, Trinidad and Grenada usually escape direct hits, but have received some ancillary damage in past seasons. Curacao and Bonaire are located outside the main hurricane path through the Caribbean, while Barbados lies southeast of the path of most hurricanes.
However, keep in mind that nature is unpredictable. With global warming on the rise, and the possibility of ever-stronger hurricanes, few places in the Caribbean can be considered completely safe from hurricanes.
Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa Grand Cayman
In the event of a hurricane on the islands of Grand Cayman, the Westin Casuarina Resort will replace a guest’s vacation for the entire duration of the reservation. This guarantee applies to room and applicable taxes.
Replacement vacation must be taken at the Westin Casuarina Resort within one calendar year. Reservations for comparable accommodations will be made on a space available basis. Black out dates do apply (as determined by the Westin). Other expenses including, but not limited to, airfares, food and beverage, or chartered services are not covered by this guarantee.
Guests holding confirmed reservations (and are within the non-refundable deposit window) who are unable to travel to the resort due to a hurricane closing the Grand Cayman airport or the Westin Casuarina Resort itself, will be given the option of a full refund or a one room category upgrade, based on space availability, on their next visit (which must be within one calendar year). For more information, call 345-945-3800, or visit http://www.westincasuarina.com
Bermuda Hotel Association’s “Hurricane Guarantee” Program
While its national drink might be the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, Bermuda is well aware that nasty weather can ruin your good time. As a result, 16 Bermuda resorts gathered together to offer a uniform “Hurricane Guarantee” which gives travelers refunds and rain checks should their trips be cut short or cancelled by a hurricane.
The program promises that if a storm is predicted to pass within 200 miles of the islands, guests will be able to cancel their reservations without penalty within five days. If a hurricane does strike during your stay, the hotel will provide your room, food and beverages free of charge, if and when normal operations can pick up again. And if the resort is so damaged that normal operations can’t resume, you have one year from the property’s reopening to return on your vacation.
Participating hotels include: Cambridge Beaches, Coral Beach & Tennis Club, Elbow Beach Bermuda, Fairmont Hamilton Princess, Fairmont Southampton, Fourways Inn, Granaway Guest House & Cottage, Grape Bay Hotel, Grotto Bay Beach Resort, Harmony Club, Horizons & Cottages, The St. George’s Club, Rosedon, Surf Side Beach Club, Waterloo House and Wyndham Bermuda. For more information, visit http://www.bermudatourism.com.
Sandals and Beaches Blue Chip Hurricane Guarantee
The Blue Chip Hurricane Guarantee offers protection during hurricane season. The free replacement stay is for the same duration and room category as the originally booked trip. The replacement is valid for one year after the original vacation. In fact, over the past nine years, Sandals and Beaches has reportedly paid out $5.5 million in replacement vacations.
In the unlikely event that hurricane force winds directly hit the resorts while you are a guest, interrupting the use of all the included activities, the company will offer a free replacement vacation to be taken at any Sandals or Beaches Resort of your choice. This rain check stay will be for the same duration as the one originally booked, regardless of how many days were affected by the hurricane. The replacement stay will be in an equivalent room category to the one originally booked, and is subject to certain blackout dates, generally the major holidays. For more information, call 888-726-3257, or visit http://www.sandals.com
The “super-inclusive” resorts of SuperClubs boast not only a hurricane guarantee but also a “sunshine guarantee”: each day the sun doesn’t come out, you’ll receive a day’s worth of credit toward another SuperClubs vacation.
Since rain and low-grade tropical storms are much more likely during hurricane season than an official hurricane, the sunshine guarantee may end up being a pretty good deal. (Note that the water sports director at each resort is responsible for determining when and if the sunshine guarantee kicks in.)
As for SuperClubs’ hurricane policy, guests whose stay is disrupted by a hurricane will be reimbursed for the value of the disrupted nights and receive a voucher for a future stay for that same number of nights. If your arrival at the resort is delayed by a hurricane, you can stay for as many nights as you originally booked (if space is available), or stay for a reduced number of nights and receive a voucher for future travel for the price of as many nights of your vacation as you missed.
Note: Not all SuperClubs properties are included in the guarantee, so be sure to read the policy carefully. For more information on SuperClubs, visit http://www.superclubs.com.
The Reef Resort- Cayman Islands Hurricane Guarantee
While the Cayman Islands are officially in the Hurricane Belt, the risk of your particular vacation at your particular time of year actually being disrupted by a hurricane are statistically low, so don’t let the dates of the official hurricane season deter you from making vacation plans.
In the event that hurricane force winds directly hit The Reef between June and November during your stay, the resort will offer a free replacement stay for the same duration as the one originally booked, regardless of how many days were affected by hurricane force winds.
Guests holding a confirmed reservation who are unable to travel to The Reef because of the closing of the Grand Cayman airport or the resort have the option of a full refund or a one-category room upgrade on the next visit taken within the next 12 months. For more information, visit http://www.thereef.com.
CheapCaribbean.com has introduced a “Free Your Mind” travel protection program that covers you if you need to cancel your trip for any reason–including bad weather–up to three hours before your departing flight from the U.S.
All airline and hotel penalties will be waived and you’ll get a credit voucher for the full value of your vacation, which you must redeem within a year of cancellation. The travel protection program is free with the purchase of your trip.
FunJet Vacations has just added a hurricane plan to its existing Pre-Travel Penalty Waiver, available for $69.99 per person for domestic vacations ($89.99 or Mexico/Caribbean/Hawaii vacations) when you book your vacation.
Called “Fun for Sure,” the plan allows travelers to cancel their trip for any reason up to departure time and receive full cash back. If your vacation is affected by a Category 1 or above hurricane, you’ll get money back for any interrupted or unused nights, as well as a $100 credit toward a future FunJet vacation.
The terms of the plan are pretty standard, but one thing we like about it is that you get cash back for your vacation rather than a credit voucher. This is valid for charter/value flights from July through October. For more information, call 888-558-6654 or visit http://www.funjet.com
Expedia.com offers a “Hassle-free Hurricane Promise” which is basically this: If a hurricane watch or warning has been issued for your destination and you need to change your plans, Expedia.com cancellation fees will be waived. Expedia will also “advocate for you” with their travel partners to waive those fees as well–though they don’t guarantee anything in this respect. And they’ll help you re-book your entire trip, from your flight and hotel right down to your activities.
Alternately, there’s the Expedia Package Protection Plan. Before you leave, you’ll be able to cancel or make changes once for any reason and receive a refund on your entire trip, including hotel rooms, flights, and activities.
If flights are disrupted, airlines will usually allow you to rebook at a later date, but you will not get a refund if you have booked a non-refundable ticket, nor in most cases will you be allowed to change your ticket to a different destination; rather, you will be expected to reschedule your trip for a later date–most often without any kind of change penalty.
Some airlines will waive change penalties when a hurricane is a possibility (though not a certainty) so you can rebook your trip in a limited period of time; this gives you an “out” to avoid a rain-soaked vacation you no longer want to take (airlines do this so they won’t be bringing a lot of travelers into an area that they might have to evacuate later).
If you find yourself stuck on an island during a hurricane, just be aware that your departure may be delayed while aircraft are flown in to deal with the backlog of tourists trying to get off the island, and since the delay is weather-related, the airline isn’t required to reimburse you for any additional costs, including extra hotel nights, restaurant meals, or telephone calls back home.
By Matthew Calcara for Petergreenberg.com.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Storm Chasing Vacations
- Hurricane Guarantees and “Hurricane-Free” Islands
- Death Map Plots Where Mother Nature Likeliest to Kill You
- Climate Changing Travel