Ex­treme weather’s ef­fect on travel plans

What to do when a hur­ri­cane blows away your va­ca­tion op­por­tu­nity

Kingston Whig-Standard - - LIFE - BETH J. HARPAZ

What do you do when a hur­ri­cane blows away your va­ca­tion plans? The As­so­ci­ated Press asked Pauline Frommer of From­mers. com and the Frommer travel guide­book se­ries for ad­vice.

Where to start

Frommer says it all de­pends on “how you booked that va­ca­tion.” If you booked an air-ho­tel pack­age through Ex­pe­dia, con­tact Ex­pe­dia. If you booked it “a la carte” — book­ing ho­tel, cruise and air­fare separately on your own — con­tact each ven­dor or com­pany separately.

How about re­funds?

If you’re go­ing to a Caribbean is­land that suf­fered some dam­age but the ho­tel re­opens, Frommer says you’re likely not go­ing to catch a break.

On the other hand, “If you’re go­ing to a place that seems like it’s been blown off the map, like sadly St. Martin, you may have a bet­ter chance of get­ting a re­fund,” she said.

Of­ten travel providers try to “get you to shift your plans.” Many of the cruise lines are an­nounc­ing they’ll still go to the Caribbean but just to a dif­fer­ent is­land than orig­i­nally planned.

“If you’ve al­ready been to those Caribbean is­lands and you were hop­ing to see ones that are not cur­rently ac­cept­ing vis­i­tors, you may be out of luck,” she said. There are also cases where seven­night cruises are re­duced to fournight cruises and cruise lines seem to be giv­ing money back in those cases.

For can­celled cruises, “they’re giv­ing not only full re­funds but de­pend­ing on the cruise lines, they’re giv­ing a lit­tle ex­tra: 25 per cent off an­other cruise or 50 per cent.”

Air­line pol­icy is “fluid,” Frommer said, with some waiv­ing change fees for fu­ture travel if you re­book be­fore a cer­tain dead­line, al­low­ing you to ap­ply the cost of the flight you no longer want to a new des­ti­na­tion. But de­tails vary, so con­tact the air­line.

Be pre­pared to spend time on­line or on the phone. “Pa­tience will be a real virtue right now,” Frommer said. If you booked through a travel agency, they may be able to make those changes for you. As a last re­sort, “con­tact your credit card com­pany. They may be able to duke it out for you.”

Ho­tels, home rentals and third-party sites

If you booked a home rental and made a de­posit through a site like Home­away.com or VRBO.com, they “act as the mid­dle­man” and “set up lines to help you get through to the in­di­vid­ual own­ers,” Frommer said. “They’re not go­ing to get you your money back but they are try­ing to fa­cil­i­tate com­mu­ni­ca­tions . ... How­ever, they will not step in if you can’t get your se­cu­rity de­posit back.”

What? No re­fund if we paid for lodg­ing in ad­vance?

“That’s a les­son we’re all learn­ing,” Frommer said. “It’s in their con­tracts that usu­ally they’re off the hook for all but the most egre­gious of cir­cum­stances, for ex­am­ple, if it’s a scam and there’s no home there. But with nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, there’s of­ten an act of God clause that means they do not owe you any­thing when things go hor­rif­i­cally wrong on a huge scale.”

Again, Frommer said, “it all de­pends on how you booked.” If you made a reser­va­tion with no money down, “you should be able to can­cel with­out penalty.” But if you paid in ad­vance for a dis­count on a ho­tel book­ing web­site, “you could be on the hook.”

Travel in­surance

poli­cies will cover you in those cases if you’re trav­el­ling and the place is un­safe,” Frommer said. But “you can­not buy the in­surance af­ter the storm has been an­nounced. Once it’s on the radar, you’re out of luck.”

In­surance may also fail to kick in if the ho­tel re­opens — even if the “beach is gone and the trees are down and all of its neigh­bours are in rub­ble . ... If you can get there and stay there safely, it’s con­sid­ered your va­ca­tion, even if it’s not the va­ca­tion of your dreams.”

WILFREDO LEE/AP

A mon­i­tor is shown list­ing can­celled flights at Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Mi­ami. In ad­di­tion to res­i­dents af­fected by Hur­ri­cane Irma in Florida and the Caribbean, thou­sands of trav­ellers’ va­ca­tion plans have been dis­rupted by can­celled flights, cruises that changed course and ho­tels and at­trac­tions that closed or were dam­aged by the storm.

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