NEW YORK – Travelers along the East Coast are preparing for delays and cancelations as Hurricane Matthew heads toward the U.S.
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Airlines are preparing to suspend flights from Florida up through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, depending on where the hurricane strikes. Cruise lines are shuffling ship itineraries and many frantic vacationers are looking at insurance policies to see if they are covered.
Here's a quick guide as to what you need to know.
Most airlines are letting fliers change to a later flight with no penalty. Policies vary by airline, but passengers heading to or from most airports in the Southeast can essentially move to any flight within the next week or so for free, although a difference in fare may apply in some cases.
If you can't move your flight, don't expect a refund — yet. For that to happen, the airline has to actually cancel your flight. That usually happens a day before departure with a big storm. However, given the unpredictable path of a hurricane, airlines might wait until an hour or two before a flight to cancel it.
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Where to find travel alerts for the five largest U.S. airlines:
American Airlines: http://www.aa.com/travelalerts
Delta Air Lines: https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/advisories/hurricane-matthew.html
JetBlue Airways: http://www.jetblue.com/JetblueAlerts/WeatherUpdate.aspx?intcmp=global_travelalert
Southwest Airlines: https://www.southwest.com/html/advisories/swa_travel_advisory_20168281475106509419.html
United Airlines: https://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx
HOTELS AND CAR RENTALS
The good news for most travelers is that the vast majority of hotel rooms can be canceled without penalty up to 24 hours in advance and car rentals typically don't have any cancellation penalties. The exceptions are pre-paid bookings but travelers may still be able to get their money back if the hotel or rental company can't provide the service. That's especially true if there has been an evacuation order. Several travel providers also will refund money out of goodwill during such storms.
Cruise lines aren't canceling sailings but are re-routing many ships to avoid the storm. That might mean more days at sea or skipping certain destinations.
For instance, the Carnival Elation — which is currently in the middle of a five-day cruise — is skipping Half Moon Cay and Nassau in the Bahamas, adding in an extra day at sea and an extra day in Key West, Florida. The Carnival Conquest skipped a stop in the Dominican Republic for an extra day at sea.
It's too late to buy travel insurance to protect you from this hurricane. But those who already have a policy may be covered.
The key is to have a policy with hurricane coverage in place before Hurricane Matthew was named, according to travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth.
Typically, policies require the hurricane to render your accommodations uninhabitable or cause your flight or cruise to be canceled or significantly delayed, according to Squaremouth. Some policies allow you to cancel if there is a hurricane warning in effect for your destination right before your trip, or if there is a mandatory evacuation at your destination.
Don't forget to call your credit card company to see if they offer any type of travel protections. Some premium cards will refund a portion of a trip's cost if it is delayed or canceled due to a storm. But that trip must have been paid for with that card.
Follow Scott Mayerowitz at twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-mayerowitz.