Hurricane season is officially here, and with it comes the question, "To travel or not to travel?" The season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 (peaking late July through early October) which, unfortunately, coincides with summer vacation and some of the year's best weather.
Traveling during hurricane season has its pros: most notable, cheaper prices. The con, of course, is the increased chance of having a vacation ruined by a storm.
The 2012 hurricane season is predicted to be less active than last year's: NOAA predicts a "near-normal" hurricane season, with one to three "major" hurricanes. Good news for travelers, although it pays to know that facts just the same.
But the chances of a hurricane ruing your vacation are actually lower than you might think. Not only because the instances of severe hurricanes are relatively rare, but because airline, hotel and cruise policies are pretty flexible when a storm does actually hit. So while you're vacation might have to be postponed, it's unlikely it'll be a total washout.
The ABCs (and I) of hurricane season travel.
A is for Airlines. For all the flack we travelers give the airlines, they do right by travelers when a storm – rain or snow – hits. Even travelers with the most restrictive, non-refundable, non-changeable tickets are able to take advantage of the flexible travel policies issued by every major airline when a storm hits. The policy will generally go into effect a day or two before the storm is scheduled to arrive and allows customers holding tickets for travel in the next few days to postpone their trips to a later date or get a full refund. The refund, however, mighty come in the form of a voucher that needs to be used within one year.
If a storm is scheduled to hit a destination to which you're traveling, from or through, you don't need to wait until the policy actually goes into effect to take advantage. When the policy is issued, it will be found on the airline's homepage. If you don't see it yet, call the airline and find out whether you can actually change your plans before the policy is posted. It might be that the policy just hasn't been posted yet, but is already in effect.
B is for Beds (Hotels). In general, hotels are far more lenient with cancellations than airlines all times of the year. Storm or no, many hotels only require 24-hour advance notice for a cancellation with no penalties. If you're traveling during hurricane season, it's worth knowing a hotel's cancellation policy before you book.
But it might not be as easy to cancel if you pre-paid for the room. Hotels will, at times, offer lower rates if you pay in advance. This is often the case when you book with online travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. In those cases, the online travel agency is bound by the rules of the hotel. You'll find however, that, similar to airlines, even the most restrictive policies become more lenient in the case of a hurricane. If the storm is so bad that your hotel has to close, you can count on a refund, no matter how (or how much) you paid.