What you need to know about Travel Insurance

Just over a month into the official 2008 hurricane season and in less than 24 hours, a tropical storm turned into a Category 3 Hurricane with winds up to 125mph; it was called Hurricane Bertha. For travelers who might have pending trips to Bermuda, which was in the possible path of this storm, it was not advisable to rush out to purchase travel insurance because the storm had already been named.

Travel insurance expert Chris Harvey, CEO of Squaremouth.com (a travel insurance comparison Web site), has prepared some tips for those vacationing during hurricane season and what they need to know to help ensure smooth sailing. The 2008 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Forecast predicts 12-16 named storms, six to nine hurricanes, and two to five category 3+ hurricanes for this year’s hurricane season (June 1November 30).

To help travelers navigate any weather turmoil, Squaremouth has provided the following essential tips to help customers sort through options when considering purchasing travel insurance complete with hurricane coverage.

Hurricane insurance tips:

1- No insurance covers absolutely everything that could happen when a hurricane hits or you need to be evacuated. New “Hurricane Warning” coverage from Travelsafe and Global Alert Administrators, for example, works only if the warning that a hurricane is about to hit comes within 24 hours of your departure date, and only if you’ve held the policy for more than 15 days.

2 – Buy the policy before a storm is named Or you won’t be covered for losses relating to that particular storm. This is because insurance is based on unforeseen circumstances; once a storm has a name it’s deemed to be foreseen. (The same is true for things like airline strikes: if the impending strike becomes public knowledge before you buy insurance, you can’t make a claim.)

3 – The wording of a policy may be vague. Some policies don’t refer to hurricanes at all; coverage may fall under the catch-all category of a “natural disaster” instead. And often they’re interpreted case-by-case at claim time.

4 – Some benefits that don’t specifically mention hurricanes can help. An example is “cancel for any reason” coverage, though most policies pay out less than 100% and stop within two days of departure (you’ll be covered for canceling travel plans ahead of time if a hurricane threatens; not for an emergency evacuation once the storm rolls in).

5 – If bad weather is predicted, but no warning is given No insurance carrier will pay claims in this situation. The only option is to buy “cancel for any reason” coverage.

6 – Consider options offered by the airline, cruise or tour operator. If you’re offered an alternate trip with the same travel dates, you can’t make a claim if you refuse their offer. If the dates are different, most insurance companies will pay the claim; however, you must surrender the tickets.

7 – There’s plenty of variation in hurricane benefits from one company to the next, so it pays to shop around. But keep in mind that policies offered by the same company tend to offer similar protection against hurricanes, although the carrier’s higher-end product might afford slightly better coverage.

Having traveled, via cruise and air, during hurricanes, travel insurance is the most valuable travel companion you can take with you. I recommend the “cancel for any reason” if you have doubts about traveling to hurricane prone destinations during season. I have used Travel Guard’s “cancel for any reason” protection plan, which is great if you are looking to cover air fare and are taking a cruise for example, as all elements are covered. For my vacations involving air and a hotel or resort, I traditionally ensure my travel agent books the package with tour operator Travel Impressions and I always opt for its “cancel for any reason” travel insurance product. In fact, I have had to use it as I was traveling to Florida the day Hurricane Wilma swept through Ft. Myers and Naples.