Budget Travel

When a Hurricane or Wildfire Damages Your Vacation Destination

Although we recognize that our vacation plans are nowhere near as important as the health and safety of the millions of people affected by recent natural disasters, there are a few common-sense steps you can take if your trip has to be put on hold.

We have watched in disbelief as hurricanes have battered the Gulf Coast, Florida, and much of the Caribbean, and wildfires have ravaged the Columbia River Gorge, Glacier National Park, and parts of Los Angeles. While reporting on those disasters in detail is beyond our mission, we can share a few pieces of advice for those who have flights, lodgings, or cruises booked in the areas hardest hit:

Contact your airline via phone, email, or Twitter. Airlines are stepping up with more flexible policies in the face of natural disasters, sometimes including waived change/cancellation fees, waived fare differences for changed flights, or refunds for canceled flights. We have found that airline customer service can be especially responsive to private messages on Twitter. What to ask: Is my flight still scheduled? What options do I have to cancel or postpone?

Contact cruise lines and package tour companies after reviewing your trip-cancellation policy. Often, cruise lines and package tour companies offer the option of at “cancel for any reason” policy, which can simplify your decision-making. What to ask: Is my cruise or tour still scheduled to go forward? Do I have a "cancel for any reason" policy?

Check on hotel status via social media or by calling directly. Hotel staff will have first-hand information about conditions on the ground. But bear in mind that in the days directly following a natural disaster, customer service may have to take a back seat to survival and repair. What to ask: Will the hotel be open on the dates I’m scheduled to stay? What can I expect when I arrive? What options do I have to cancel or postpone? (For hotels, of course, canceling is usually not a problem unless your reservation is within a few days.)

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