With Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida many families will need to change their vacation travel plans.
Patricia Mickus, co-owner of Simple Luxuries Travel has this advice.
What if I have a reservation and want to change it?
"Every hotel, airline or tour operator has hurricane policies posted on their websites. Your first action should be to visit the FAQ section of the website for current policy and follow the instructions listed. This is not something you can usually cancel or modify online. Calling the 800 number or number listed on any storm related email or announcement should be what you do first. Be prepared to wait on hold for hours. I waited on hold 6 hours this weekend to reschedule a client’s vacation. Make sure you have your travel confirmation in front of you. Don’t chit chat, be polite to the operator when they answer. If you are not satisfied, request to speak with a manager or escalate to guest services. But be patient, thousands of people are calling the same number looking for help."
What is a Hurricane Policy?
"Most Hurricane Policies will not go into effect until a Hurricane Warning as been issued for the location you are visiting. Just because Miami is under evacuation does not mean the policy will cover your trip to Orlando. You must read the fine print. Once under a Hurricane Warning most vacation packages can be cancelled or rescheduled if you this warning was issued within 7 days of arrival."
What is Disney doing specifically? How about Universal Studios?
"Disney and Universal both have specific hurricane rescheduling policies in play right now. Here are links to the FAQ’s for both resorts and also information about closings over the next few days."
What if I have a Disney Cruise scheduled?
Cruise lines sailing out of Florida notified guests late last week that these sailings would be cancelled. Disney Cruiseline's gave guests the option to cancel with full refund or to reschedule a future cruise with a 25% discount.
What about just a hotel/room reservation?
"Room-only reservations have more lenient cancellation policies. Many can be cancelled up to 24 hours in advance with no penalty."
What about my flights?
"Even if your resort is closed the airport could re-open in which case the airline will not have mercy on you. Also its important not to try to do things online with airlines – make the phone call – stay on hold. Officials will try to get the airport up and running as soon as possible. Once again you need to look at the hurricane policies for your airline. Most will offer a short limited time to cancel or rebook your air without fees. Make sure you have the 800 number for the airline. If you are at the airport be prepared to wait in line. I have been known to stand in line at an airport while holding on the phone calling the 800 number. You never know who will be able to help you the quickest."
What is your best recommendation for our viewers thinking of future travel plans to Florida or the Caribbean?
"Book with a travel professional. We are monitoring the situations on the ground for our clients. Vendors keep us updated through emails, social media and websites. We have the most up to the minute knowledge of the storm’s impact to the property and what their cancellation and re-booking procedures are for their guests. Why do you want to wait on hold for hours when we can?
I cannot stress enough the importance of insurance for travel. You can book with the knowledge that if you have to cancel you are only disappointed and not out the thousands of dollars your vacation cost to book. Once a storm has been named you can no longer purchase insurance for coverage."
I have a family member stranded in Florida or the Caribbean is there anything I can do?
"Whenever I travel out of the country I make sure to enroll with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This program is a free service to allow travelers to enroll their trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans. In addition, this helps the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
Resorts will do their best to keep you safe. But be prepared to pay for any extra nights you spend stranded at the resort. Many will offer a distressed rate but you very rarely will be accommodated for free. Another reason to purchase travel insurance so these type of charges can be added to a claim. If you do decide to ride out the storm at your resort follow their directions. These resorts have policies set in place for your safety."