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Does travel insurance cover hurricanes?

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Weather plays a huge role in our day-to-day activities. In fact, it’s one of our favourite topics of conversation as we start every day at home — and when we travel. That’s why people ask

Most Canadians know the importance of getting medical travel insurance before they travel, but they may not be as aware of the importance of trip cancellation and interruption insurance to help prevent a major financial loss, particularly with the recent increase in extreme weather, like hurricanes.

What should I know about hurricanes?

According to Environment Canada, here is what you need to know about hurricanes:

Hurricane:
Hurricanes are tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of at least 118 km/h. A Category 3 or higher is considered a major storm that will cause significant damage. Hurricanes are known as typhoons in the western Pacific, very severe cyclonic storms in the North Indian Ocean, and severe tropical cyclones in Australia.

Hurricane Season:
Hurricane season in the North Atlantic officially runs from June to November, which is when almost 95% of all tropical cyclones occur. About 85% of “landfalling” tropical cyclones in Canada occur between August and October.

Hurricane Watch:
A hurricane watch is an announcement for a specific area that a hurricane or an incipient hurricane condition poses a possible threat within 36 hours. This watch does not mean that a hurricane is definitely going to strike — it means that everyone in the area covered by the watch should pay attention to the weather forecast and be prepared to act quickly if definite warnings are issued that a hurricane will strike.

Hurricane Warning:
A hurricane warning means that within 24 hours, a specific area may experience

  • average sustained winds of 118 km/h or higher, and/or
  • dangerously high water, or dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves, even though the wind may blow at less than hurricane force.

By nature, a hurricane also implies the threat of local flooding from heavy rainfall.

What does that mean for your travel plans?

While Canadians travel worldwide, traditional hotspots we like to visit include hurricane-prone areas like those along or in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and we often find it easier to escape during summer months when the kids are off school and the travel deals are endless. But when you travel, it’s important to keep the weather in mind.

In 2017, the southernmost areas of the U.S. and parts of the Caribbean were inundated with hurricanes. The Canadian government issued travel warnings for many of the most popular destinations, including Cuba, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Florida, and Antigua and Barbuda during one of the most destructive hurricane seasons on record. The region saw four major storms in succession — hurricanes Irma, Harvey, Maria and Jose.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma alone, it was estimated that more than 400 Canadian travellers were left stranded. While most airlines added extra flights to repatriate Canadians, many tourists incurred expenses they had not foreseen or budgeted for. Having travel insurance with trip cancellation and interruption benefits could have made their ordeals easier to endure.

Forecasts for 2019 suggest there may be above-average hurricane activity, potentially replaying 2017 conditions, with possible storms in December.

What does a hurricane mean for your travel insurance?

Travel cancellation/interruption insurance is especially important during hurricane season, but here’s the most important thing: it is critical to understand your travel insurance plan limitations and exclusions.

Trip cancellation insurance is designed to cover only prepaid monetary losses that are not refundable by the travel supplier, like reservation deposits, payments for tour packages, or cruise ship tickets. It’s not meant to compensate for the disappointment of a lost “dream trip.”

If your Caribbean cruise is shortened by two or three days due to unscheduled rerouting to a safer port because of weather, and the cruise line offers a make-up voucher for future travel, that’s considered a refund and disqualifies you for a claim. It’s the same story if an airline leaves you stranded and then offers a voucher for a future trip, or a resort offers free make-up days later on.

There is no double dipping, but your travel insurance does provide important protection for other costs you may incur, such as refunds for costs such as a hotel room, meals and transportation in the event your vacation is interrupted. In addition, trip interruption coverage may reimburse you for expenses incurred to get home or to another destination.

When should you buy your coverage?

When you buy your insurance is vitally important.

Before your trip, always check the Government of Canada website for travel advisories for information on the weather in the place you are going, to ensure the coast is clear.

Purchase trip cancellation/interruption insurance when you buy your trip (or preferably within 72 hours) not weeks or months later. Once the government issues a travel advisory or a storm is named, it’s too late to buy travel insurance to cover it.

Because hurricanes and tropical storms are notoriously unpredictable — they can strengthen or dissipate overnight or change their predicted track — it isn’t until an official government “warning” for a given location is issued that a cancellation is justified.

For example, if you cancel a vacation just because a storm out in the Atlantic is predicted to possibly come ashore close to your chosen location, you need to check your policy or call your agent for advice before proceeding. If the storm changes direction and leaves the vacation property undamaged, cancellation benefits won’t apply.

If, on the other hand, you are impacted by a hurricane while you are away, contact your travel provider to discuss options. Many airlines offer itinerary changes free of charge.

If you need assistance or details on your travel insurance coverage, call the number found on your travel insurance policy or wallet card.

Don’t Forget your Travel Medical Insurance Safety Net

In addition to your trip cancellation/interruption coverage, you will definitely want to get a travel medical plan that covers emergency services such as

  • Physician fees
  • Hospital stays
  • Surgery fees
  • Medications
  • Ambulance

Your coverage will include travel assistance which is available 24/7, or handy apps that help you access local emergency phone numbers and locate hospitals and healthcare facilities as well as translate key first aid terms.

Preparing to deal with a hurricane? Stay flexible.

Ideally, besides buying appropriate trip cancellation coverage, if you are heading into a storm-prone area, put down as small a deposit as possible to hold down your trip reservation. Place the deposit on a credit card (as these companies have more leverage in securing rebates), and consider maintaining travel flexibility by driving to your chosen site if possible.

It’s true that most airlines flying into storm-affected areas will waive rebooking or rerouting fees. But who wants to be stuck in an airport for several hours — or days?

You can take better control of your vacation by fully understanding what your travel insurance can do, and what it can’t do.

Talk to SBIS well before your departure

We will take the time to help you understand and consider your coverage options as well as any exclusions or limitations. Play it safe this hurricane season with travel insurance.

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