Hurricane Season Cruising: What to Know Before You Go

U.S. News & World Report Travel
Sherry Laskin

Summer activities are winding down. Kids are back in school. The unrelenting heat of summer has started to fade. Sounds like the perfect time to book a Caribbean cruise. Then you turn on the weather report only to learn that Mother Nature is sending a wallop of a storm right where you planned to sail.

This story is retold every year, mostly from August through October. Although the six-month Caribbean hurricane season officially begins June 1 and ends November 30, the peak of activity usually falls toward the beginning of September — at the exact time the cruise lines lower their rates. It’s a heady combination to consider.

There are also the odds to consider. Hurricanes and tropical storms tend to affect the Bahamas, Bermuda, the eastern Caribbean, the East Coast of the U.S. and even Canada a bit earlier — between August and mid-September. Mexico and the western Caribbean seem to be a magnet for storms a bit later in the summer, from mid-August through October. Rarely does the Caribbean or U.S. get hit with a hurricane in early June or late November, but it can happen.

If you hope to avoid rough weather and save a little money, plan a cruise to the southern Caribbean. For years, islands in the southernmost Caribbean (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago) promoted themselves as being out of the hurricane zone. Historically, that is correct. Although there’s no 100 percent guarantee, this area could be your best bet to avoid a hurricane. But you still have to cruise to get there.

 

Getting there and home again

No matter if you leave from Florida, Texas or fly to the Caribbean to begin your cruise, there’s always the possibility that a major weather scenario may interrupt your plans. It’s yet another reason why it’s important to arrive at your departure port at least one day in advance of your cruise.

The good news is that hurricanes travel very slowly and can take up to two weeks to meander from their formation off of the west coast of Africa to the eastern basin of the Atlantic Ocean and beyond.

The bad news? While cruise ships never sail into a hurricane, they scurry like rabbits to find safe harbor. And here’s where cruising during peak hurricane season can get tricky.

Airports and ports can be closed. You’ve received notice from your cruise line that despite the impending possibility of a major storm or hurricane, your ship is still heading out to sea on the scheduled date of departure. There’s a slim chance that the ship may not be able to return to the port of embarkation. The same port where you’ve parked your car or booked your return flight home.

When something like this occurs, the cruise line makes arrangements to return guests to their original point of embarkation, usually by motor coach if it’s only a few hours away. Wi-Fi and phone charges are usually dropped so guests can make new air travel arrangements. Conversely, passengers departing on a ship whose embarkation isn’t where it was supposed to be will find themselves on buses going to the port where the previous passengers left the ship.

Itinerary changes. If you choose to cruise during hurricane season, be prepared to sail to ports that may not be on your original itinerary. Cruise lines can easily rearrange itineraries to change course or bypass a port based on weather conditions. They certainly do not want to risk running headlong into a full-blown hurricane. It doesn’t take a hurricane to churn up waves; a tropical storm can do it just as well.

Refunds and cruise credits. With simple port changes, passengers are rarely entitled to any refund, which is why it’s so important to read your cruise line’s terms and conditions before you make your final payment.

For example, if at the last minute your ship’s captain decides that it’s too risky to make it into port, you may spend a day at sea or on another island out of harm’s way. Whether or not you are eligible to receive a refund or cruise credit is clearly spelled out in the cruise line’s policy. Generally, there’s no compensation whatsoever that covers missed ports, shorter stays in ports or a totally new itinerary. Rough seas do not constitute a claim for compensation.

Strongly consider travel insurance

Hurricane and severe weather cancellation refunds are available with some cruise lines’ insurance policies, as well as through third-party companies. But again, you need to read the fine print. If you’re sailing during peak hurricane season (September and early October), purchasing trip cancellation insurance can save you from forfeiting the entire cost of your vacation.

Most insurance policies, cruise lines and third-party insurers, offer some sort of cancellation fee protection if the area to which you are sailing is under a hurricane warning issued by the National Hurricane Center. But note the cancellation period from when the warning is issued varies for each cruise line and insurance company. Do your research, discuss it with your travel agent and decide whether purchasing a policy through a third-party insurance company or via your cruise line is best for your needs.

For more information on Travel Insurance  CLICK HERE

Do your homework to prepare

You’ve booked your cruise and purchased travel insurance — what’s next on the list?

About two weeks prior to your cruise, start checking the weather across the Atlantic; the National Hurricane Center website and Weather Underground are resources to bookmark. While the majority of tropical storms and hurricanes materialize off of the coast of Africa, it’s always possible for something to form in the Gulf of Mexico, too. Hurricanes form off the coast of Mexico and make their way toward the Hawaiian Islands, meaning your California and Mexico coastal cruises are nearly as likely to be affected as the Caribbean.

If it looks like a storm is brewing, consider what to pack. Since it’s already rainy season in most of the Caribbean, a poncho and a sturdy umbrella should be in your luggage. If cruising with children, bring a few familiar toys, games and playing cards from home. If rain keeps everyone indoors, make it family time rather than sending your young ones into what could be an overcrowded kids club.

Cruising the Caribbean during hurricane season can be like any other time of year, especially in the early weeks of June and July. After that, when cruise prices drop, it’s important to realize there’s a chance that unforeseen weather conditions could spoil your vacation. Or, you might end up visiting a surprise port, have more family bonding time and relax knowing that if something unforeseen arises, your travel insurance has you covered.

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How To Save Big on Airline Tickets and Catch the Best Airfare Prices

Published April 28, 2014  by The Thrifty Couple

As you are contemplating upcoming travel plans, some of you may be considering flights! Well, we want to share tips with you to help you get the best prices for airfare and the lowest airline ticket prices that you can nab!

There have been times in which flying became cheaper than travel by car for the two of us. Obviously, the more that are flying, the cheaper it will be to drive, but this isn’t always the case.  Especially when you consider the gas, wear on your vehicle, potential hotel stays, the food and the nickel and dime expenses – the price and convenience may make flying out the most attractive option.

Well, we have learned and have applied a few of tips and tricks and so we want to share with you as we continue with “thrifty” travel plans!

Here’s tips to help you get the best deals:

Sign-up for the airline’s deal alerts.

Especially airlines like Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, they will have these great one-way airfare sales that can make for great deals.  Southwest seems to be one of the most common airlines where you can find flights for $49 for one-way a few times a year.

Plan to travel on the best days.

This is one of the oldest and still truest rules about cheap airline travel.  Traveling on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday seems to render the lowest prices.  Think about it, one of the biggest supporters of airlines are the business travelers. Most business travelers need to arrive at their destinations on a Monday.  This makes Sunday, Monday and Friday (Friday as they return home after the work week) travel the highest. Well, it is still true!

Shop at the optimal day and time!

Now this trick is a widely advertised one….. but what is the optimal time?  That is a question that doesn’t necessarily have a definitive answer, but here’s the times/days that we and others we have known have nabbed the “best results.”

Airlines update their databases in the mid week and so because of this, Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem to be best. And then to refine even further, the best times on these days are between 12 am – 3 am EST on Tuesday morning or 1-3 pm EST on Tuesday afternoons.  We even have a good friend that stayed up until Tuesday morning to make an airline ticket purchase in those wee hours of the morning and got over $100 off the rates posted earlier in the day! That is a great savings for one ticket, but if you need to buy many, that is a HUGE savings!  We would tend to lean more towards the 12 am – 3 am times.  If you think about it, lots of travel being booked by travel agencies and businesses are during the business times and the prices will tend to be higher due to supply and demand.

Shop at the optimal time from travel date.  

This one is a debate and perhaps one that changes and needs to be considered.  For years, many of us have heard about the 7, 14, 21 days out being the optimal times.  But this doesn’t seem to be the case much anymore.  Perhaps with the widely known knowledge of this trick, it became obsolete.  Well, the newest experience seems to be either far out or last minute.  Most tickets are being purchased a few weeks out and they do seem to be in the higher ticket range. Some have the best experiences 6-7 weeks out or literally the week of (the week of as they fill their final remaining seats).  This does make travel planning difficult, but it is at least a tip to consider.

Have flexible travel dates and airports. 

The more options you have, the better the deal hunting will be.  We try to make almost all of our air travel flexible as this contributes to a vast amount of savings.  We have saved hundreds before just by leaving a day earlier or traveling a day later.

We personally haven’t had a ton of different airports to pick from for our departure airports, but this extra option for certain areas gives you even that much more flexibility.  We have changed our arrival airports (like Newark instead of New York and Long Beach instead of Los Angeles, etc.) and have saved tons on certain destinations with multiple airport options.

Check often and clear your browser history. 

This may sound weird, but do a search a couple of times a day at different times of the day and if you are not satisfied with the results, do it again the next day.  Airline ticket prices are unpredictable.  Even with the tips and tricks we share here, any one of these rules can be broken because there really are no rules.  So checking often and at different times for several days get’s your “bearings” on the flight you are hoping for.  We did this recently for a flight. For about a month, I would check a couple of different flight times at a couple of different times of the day and would get ranges almost $100 apart for the exact same flight.  But they would always be in the $300 range.  Sometimes low $300 sometimes high $300.  Well, then all of the sudden, the flight dropped to $229.  BUT….. in order to really see the best prices, you will want to clear your browser history!

Why?

Well, some travel and booking sites record your web browsing data and with this information, some of them will raise prices because they know you are interested in this flight! So by clearing your browser history, you can possibly find the original lower price or even a lower price!

Use travel sites to compare prices, but you might want to go with the airline directly.

We recommend check at different travel sites like Travelocity, Priceline, Kayak and more and see what prices they come up with! Honestly, there is not much change in prices between many of these sites and the airline directly.  So why do this?  Well, it gives you a quick glance at your options to decide which airline to go and work with directly.  But then working with the airline directly, you have a bit more flexibility, rewards and perks.  You will also want to book online to get their online prices.  The travel sites can be a great way to go if you are needing multiple parts to your trip (like hotel, car, etc.) but just airfare may be best with the airline.  Don’t forget, airlines too have travel packages which can save you a bundle! Southwest and Delta have some of the best packages for hotel and car with airfare that is out there!

Even if you don’t think you will ever earn enough for a free flight, always join the frequent fliers program. 

You never know, life may change and you may earn a free flight from frequent flying in your future.   But it is more than that – members of the frequent flier program receive special emails and snail mail deals.  Plus you can sometimes receive deals from their partners, like a hotel.  So even if you don’t fly to a destination, you might get a special hotel deal! It doesn’t hurt to be a member as it is free.  Plus, when you actually do infrequently fly as part of the frequent flier program, frequent fliers can sometimes receive perks on the day of your flight, even if it is just boarding the plan a little sooner.

Get an airfare refund if the prices go lower. 

Here’s a nice one! If your ticket prices go any lower than what you purchased them at, you can get a refund for the difference! Yapta.com is your source for details on your airline’s refund policy and being alerted to when you can claim a refund if your price drops!

Here’s a couple of “off the wall” tips:

  • Buy discounted gift cards to the airlines from places like Cardpool HERE.
  • Consider a red eye flight.  We did this once, and yes we saved a bundle, but it ruined our first whole day of vacation due to complete and utter exhaustion (you can read the story HERE). However, it is something to consider and may work with your travel plans.
  • Book one-way flights.  Sometimes booking this way will render some nice discounts, but not always. It is at least worth checking!
  • Book multi-stop flights. These are a pain and risky as the more flights you have the greater the risk of delays, but it could save you a good chunk of money!
  • Be bumped. This is more for a future flight instead of a current one.  If the opportunity presents itself, consider skipping a flight at the gate for an “over-booked” flight and you can end up with a free future flight. You will then be “bumped” to the next flight, which is often several hours later. We have personally done this 3 times in our marriage and it paid off big time with free tickets to use on a future flight and one of those three being bumping us to a flight the next day, so free accommodations that night.  My parents have also done this a number of times.  But you do have to consider how this alters your travel arrangements and needing to get back home or to your destination as it usually means coming home or arriving several hours to a day later.