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Cruising During Hurricane Season -- to Insure or Not? (ContributorNetwork)

With Hurricane Hilary churning off the coast of Baja California and tropical storm Philippe causing chaos in the Caribbean, I caught up with Travelzoo Senior Editor Gabe Saglie to ask him about cruising during hurricane season.

Q: To your knowledge, what percentage of cruisers purchase trip insurance of some sort?

A: I don't have a good data on how many cruisers buy travel insurance. Some purchase directly from the cruise line, others through third parties. I'd safely say not all cruisers who purchase travel insurance make the investment on every cruise. I think it's a safe bet that most cruisers would rather take the gamble that nothing will go wrong with their trip

Q: What are the most likely scenarios for cruising during hurricane season? Will travel insurance cover an extra night in a hotel if my cruise is delayed, or if I miss my flight home because my ship stays at sea to avoid a hurricane? What about missed ports?

A: For the most part, travelers taking to sea even during hurricane season will see no problems. Let's face it, most days that fall on "hurricane season" -- June through September -- are void of storms. But, especially later in that season, bad storms become more likely. Cruise ships can be safe havens during tropical storms and hurricanes since these vessels can easily sail around them. This means the traveler needs to be flexible and open to skipping ports or visiting alternate ones, as well as open to the possibility some of their travel days will be rainy. Travel insurance generally will not cover wet days or changed itineraries.

The key to any insurance policy is to read the fine print, and if you're confused or unclear as to what exactly is covered, call your insurer before you travel so you don't have any lingering doubts about what is covered. That said, yes, most policies will cover expenses (not always 100 percent of your costs, though, so read the fine print) incurred by things like delayed or lengthened cruises, like hotel stays. While cruise lines will generally help passengers in cases where these altered plans are their fault, it's not always clear how much of your trip cost will be covered. Keep in mind cruise lines could be handling thousands of passengers at once, so a call to your travel insurer could resolve issues like rebooked flights or missed hotel stays much more quickly. Depending on your policy, insurance can also pay for the cost of getting you, or your mishandled luggage, to the next port, should you (or your bags) miss setting sail on day one.

Q: Sometimes people tell me, "We self-insure." Do you have anything to say to those people?

A: Self-insurance can be a safe bet for most travel scenarios; again, odds are that the vast majority of the travel we do over our lifetime will happen unaffected by the unforeseen. The potential downfall is that not enough money is set aside for unexpected mishaps. The cost of a missed hotel night or even flying yourself to the next port of call if you miss your cruise's departure time may be manageable. But on very expensive trips, or trips to exotic ports of call, the biggest concern is that not enough self-insurance was planned to offset some of those very high costs. It all comes down to your own, personal capacity and financial wherewithal for risk. For many people, investing an extra 8 to 10 percent on third-party insurance for that bucket list trip may be worth considering.

Q: What are some things that travel insurance doesn't cover? For example, if I miss an extra day of work due to a hurricane delay, will it cover lost wages?

A: Weather is often the biggest sticking point when it comes to insurance. Certainly, trip delay, trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance will come to your aid should a hurricane derail your cruise -- but keep in mind this counts only if you've bought insurance before the storm develops. But bad weather during your cruise will not be covered. Also, since cruise lines reserve the right to skip ports of call or visit alternate ones due to storms, itinerary tweaks are also generally not covered.

You can find a policy to insurance against a wide range of scenarios. I know, for example, that some policies will cover the cost of your vacation if you need to cancel last minute because you lost your job and can no longer afford to go. Lost wages may be covered by some insurers, but it must be clearly stated in your policy before you go.

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