Hurricanes Ain’t No Joke on the Gulf Coast

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Aside from short stints in New York City and Austin, I have lived on the Texas Gulf Coast my entire life.  My parents have also lived on the Gulf Coast their entire lives, so there is no question that we take hurricanes seriously in my family.  Since my husband spent most of his formative years in Kansas, I have had to try and instill in him a healthy respect for these storms.  He knows a thing or two about tornadoes, but hurricanes are entirely different (and we don’t have basements to hide from tornadoes around here, so even they are very different).

For us, hurricane season means that you pay attention to storms even if they aren’t initially projected to head your direction, you have the necessary supplies on hand to stay in place for a few days, and you make a decisive call about whether to stay or evacuate before the roads get too congested to go anywhere (ahem, Hurricane Rita).  For the record, even though we live about 90 miles inland, I am an “evacuator” since I have no desire to be without power for several days, and we live surrounded by very tall trees that like to fall on houses.  If my husband wants to stay and “man the fort” the next time a storm heads our way, he has my full blessing.  The dog, the toddler, and I will head to Austin.  😉  In case you are a non-native coastal person, like my husband, and aren’t sure why someone 90 miles inland would evacuate, here is a shot of my current neighborhood after Hurricane Ike in 2008.  This wasn’t my house, but the whole neighborhood looked like this, and didn’t have power for days.  Not a fun situation to live in, or travel to.

Since most folks that read this site travel with some regularity, we all have to be aware of what hurricanes are doing this time a year as they can effect travel plans even if you live thousands of miles away from a hurricane zone.  Take Tropical Storm (soon to be Hurricane) Isaac for example.  This storm was initially projected to hit more toward the eastern portion of the Gulf states.  However, just a couple days later it is tracking like Hurricane Katrina with New Orleans appearing as a possible target for landfall.  Since we all know that projections are just that…..projections, it means that the area that is in the watch zone now extends as far west as East Texas.

We just returned from a trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and since our trip was during hurricane season, I bought trip insurance from USAA to cover my non-refundable expenses in the event that we weren’t able to make the trip due to a storm.  While we thankfully didn’t need it this time, that is a practice that I will continue to do in the future when we are booking a trip to a coastal destination during hurricane season. It just isn’t worth the risk to me otherwise when non-refundable expenses are involved.

This storm has yet to make landfall and yet there are already over 900 flight cancellations, so it is easy to see what a large impact something like this has.  The good news is that airlines are pretty proactive about offering fee waivers for changes, refunds, etc. when your destination is in the potential path of a hurricane or tropical storm.  Each airline’s policy will vary some, but here is United’s current policy related to Tropical Storm Isaac for many cities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana:

  • Original travel dates: August 26, 2012 – August 29, 201
  • Final travel must be completed by: End of Validity of ticket (one year from date of issue)
  • When rescheduled travel commences by September 1, 2012, change fees and fare differences will be waived.
  • For all other dates and ticket uses, the change fee will be waived, but a difference in fare may apply.
  • Refunds are permitted for processing to the original form of payment and must be requested from United Airlines. Go to www.united.com/refunds and submit the refund form.
  • Policies also apply to consolidator, internet tickets, and MileagePlus® award tickets.

If you want to see a good list of all the airline waivers currently available due to this storm, check out this write-up by “Today in the Sky”.  While I am not aware of a comprehensive listing of hotel cancellation waivers, I have found that most hotels are also flexible with changes/cancellations in light of these storms.  If I had travel plans that could even possibly be impacted by this storm, I would make a decision early on about what to do.  I am conservative with tropical storms, so I would likely make a decision quickly to change my trip to a later time, if possible, as soon as the fee waivers were available.  If you live in (or have plans to travel to) a location in the path of this storm, be careful.  Our thoughts will be with you!

Comments

  1. Safe travels to Austin. My sister evacuated New Orleans last night and her and her friends drove through the night to go to Austin as well. If you see a taller version of me, say hello!

    • @Deals, we aren’t evacuating this time since the storm is hitting to the east, but that is where we go if/when we need to evacuate. 😉 Glad your sister made it out. Austin is a great place to go to!

  2. .
    “We just returned from a trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and since our trip was during hurricane season, I bought trip insurance from USAA to cover my non-refundable expenses in the event that we weren’t able to make the trip due to a storm.”
    .
    I hear this sort of reasoning a lot and I think it is a mistake. Like extended warranties, this is a bet with an insurer that something bad is going to happen to you. But the insurer generally has far better information about the overall costs and payouts than do you.
    .
    If you can afford to pay for the trip than you do not need insurance. If you can’t afford the cost of the trip you shouldn’t be going. Now if you want to get airlift or medical insurance in case you are in some place where you might need medical care or transport you can’t afford, good to have the insurance. If you want to have some insurance on a rental car so that you are not out tens of thousands of dollars if you total it, great. Otherwise, you are throwing money down the drain.
    .
    I have been going to the Outer Banks for more than 40 years and I have never had insurance. In all of that time I have lost a total of two days on a rental house. I am more than compensated by the thousands I saved by not getting insurance in the past. Even if my whole week is lost, getting the money back won’t change that fact.
    .
    Ike

  3. @Ike, I have no doubt that selling that insurance is profitable for the ones selling it (just like with car insurance, home insurance, life insurance, etc.), but it also made sense for us. I think it was less than $30 for the trip, so it wasn’t a large financial investment for the peace of mind. We couldn’t get the time back if we weren’t able to go, but at least we could get our money back. Obviously that decision has to be made by each family. I don’t buy insurance routinely for every trip we take, but I did for that one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Prayers and best wishes to all who will be on the gulf coast this week and those who own property on or near the coast!

  5. I’m not sure I would buy insurance for travel during hurricane season. If you can’t travel due to the storm, the airlines do offer a refund as you mentioned with United. And if the hotels are lenient with their cancellation policies, what else would the insurance cover? Perhaps I haven’t thought this through.

  6. @Jim, good thing that trip insurance is optional so everyone can decide what makes sense for them!
    @Autolycus, agree.
    @DL, airlines do have waivers, but I was flying out of a city that was several hours from the coast, so I would be somewhat at the mercy of the “change fee Gods” as to whether or not that airport would be covered. Also, some home rentals from individuals don’t have the lenient policies that chain hotels likely would, so that is another big factor. So, those are some of the main reasons that it made sense for us. If we were flying into an airport on the coast and staying at a chain hotel then the decision would have likely been different.

  7. Oh yes Hurricane Ike. My inner loop neighborhood looked just like that and we were without power for two weeks. good times!

  8. To add to the trip insurance discussion, I’ll say that I have only bought it once. That was for a cruise in Europe that required full payment months in advance. If you can cancel or reschedule and recooperate almost all of your money, it doesn’t make sense. If you have substantial prepaid expenses that will be hard to get back, it makes a lot more sense. I was actually more worried about injury or illness keeping us from going than weather or something like the Icelandic volcanoes.

    • @Autolycus, I totally agree. If your trip is made up of refundable expenses than insurance often doesn’t make much sense. I also reserve it for the trips that have more non-refundable expenses – especially when there is an increased change that something may go wrong (like a coastal city during hurricane season).

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