Travel pros share their tips for weathering the storm in style.

Palm Trees in Storm
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When it comes to traveling, bad things come in threes—trust me, I should know. Over the past three years, I’ve had three idyllic staycations in Northern California thwarted by unexpected outages. (Two of them were understandable results of high winds, heavy rain, and lots of flooding. But the third? Well, it was a clear, sunny day, so that one remains a mystery.) “Wow, you have really bad luck,” a friend said as I dished about my latest travel tragedy over dinner.

The reality? As worry-free as vacations should be, it’s possible for anyone to run into a power outage…or a water shortage…or a forest fire. And unlike being at home, where you have everything you need and know your neighborhood like the back of your hand, having a natural disaster hit while you’re away can feel unsettling. So what should you do? And what exactly can be done about that vacation gone not-so-good?

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Get All the Information

For starters, you’ll want to check in with your hotel. “The biggest mistake a guest can make is taking action before understanding the magnitude, or severity, of a situation and not checking in with your hotel’s staff,” says Taylor Gandy, a Bay Area-based luxury travel advisory and independent contractor of Travel Edge. “A hotel has a certain responsibility for the guests they have on property. If they don’t have a pulse on where you are, they can’t report to authorities of your well-being.”

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According to Lindsey Graff—director of Leisure Sales at Preferred Hotels & Resorts, a network of independent hotels including the Montage Healdsburg, Farmhouse Inn, and Pendry in San Diego—a hotel’s general manager is in touch with local authorities such as an electrical provider or fire department to understand the problem. And sometimes hoteliers are scoping out the situation themselves. “I was working with one hotel when the 2017 fire happened in [Northern California],” Graff explains. “It was so hard to understand exactly what was going on. I remember our general manager got in his car and drove around to assess the fire.” 

Once your property has all the information—Graff says hotels should have a careful balance of acting swiftly, but taking enough time to make sure you have all the facts—they’ll inform customers via text, email, or physical letter. Gandy says that every accommodation has a different crisis plan that varies by the duration. “I also believe that brand and quality play a factor here as well,” he shares.

“I was at a hotel and there was a water outage for quite some time, but they offered guests a spa credit as an apology for the inconvenience” Graff adds. “Ultimately a hotel that is doing it the right way is always thinking of guests as people they invited into their home.”

Request a Refund

But if there is a more pressing, long-term matter such as a fire or days-long power outage, Graff says that’s when a “force majeure” may go into effect. “It’s basically a protection for both sides,” she explains. “If there’s an act of God that prohibits them from staying at the property, a guest is allowed to cancel.” The terms can be a case by case situation—for example, it might be easier to cancel a reservation for a guest with an upcoming reservation than for someone who has checked in—Graff says honoring force majeure can be a sign of “good faith.”

While hotels might offer to relocate you to a nearby property or issue a credit for a future stay, a last-but-likely step may be a full refund. “It’s important to ensure your guest has the best experience,” she explains. “News of a negative experience spreads far more than a positive [one].”

Hurricane Hilary tropical storm
Palm trees being blown by a tropical rain storm.

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Enlist Your Insurance

Don’t worry: If the hotel you’re staying at has been hit by a natural disaster and refuses to provide a refund, you have some other options to get your money back. According to Eric Rosen, director of travel content at The Points Guy, some credit cards have built-in insurance that can cover some of the fees you incurred during your vacation that went awry; however, it should be a secondary line of defense. 

“A separate insurance policy is typically more comprehensive and a bit smoother of a process,” Rosen explains. “You can call them while events are unfolding and they will tell you exactly what you have to do, whether getting a dollar amount from the hotel and reimbursement and then filing for the rest [as well as] what receipts you’ll need.”

If you do choose to use a travel insurance policy, it’s important to read the fine print: Some policies require very specific documentation and need to be filed anywhere from 30 to 100 days after the incident. And, if you want to buy insurance for an accompanying trip, Rosen recommends comparing different plans on InsureMyTrip instead of buying whatever add-on option is available when you book a hotel or flight. “It can be very difficult to ascertain what the actual terms are and what’s covered and what’s not covered,” Rosen explains. “They can be upsold, so we’re wary of them.” 

Depending on your needs, Rosen says insurance policies can range from $80 per person for a short trip to up to $500 for a luxurious safari. “There are annual policies that have the same protections as you’d purchase for individual trips,” he adds, estimating an annual policy can range from $200 to $600. “That can be a great way to go for frequent travelers—whether you’re a leisure traveler or a business traveler who’s on the road all the time.”

Rain Resort

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Hire a Pro

Alternatively, enlisting a travel advisor like Gandy might be helpful when booking a beautiful, blissful trip, but it can also come in handy if things go sideways. “[We] have preferred partner relationships with hotels,” he says. “Plus a main line contact with either a director of sales or the general manager.” But if you’re booking your holidays solo, take a deep breath and don’t panic: Ultimately, you and your lodging want to make sure you have a lovely, safe stay, regardless of whatever curveballs are thrown your way.

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