What to do when a hurricane blows away your vacation plans

By Beth J. Harpaz

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

What do you do when a hurricane blows away your vacation plans? The Associated Press asked Pauline Frommer of Frommers.com and the Frommer travel guidebook series for advice.

WHERE TO START

Frommer says it all depends on “how you booked that vacation.” If you booked an air-hotel package through Expedia, contact Expedia. If you booked it “a la carte” booking hotel, cruise and airfare separately on your own contact each vendor or company separately.

HOW ABOUT REFUNDS?

If you’re going to a Caribbean island that suffered some damage but the hotel reopens, Frommer says you’re likely not going to catch a break.

On the other hand,  “If you’re going to a place that seems like it’s been blown off the map, like sadly St. Martin, you may have a better chance of getting a refund,” she said.

Often travel providers try to “get you to shift your plans.” Many of the cruise lines are announcing they’ll still go to the Caribbean but just to a different island than originally planned.

“If you’ve already been to those Caribbean islands and you were hoping to see ones that are not currently accepting visitors, you may be out of luck,” she said. There are also cases where seven-night cruises are reduced to four-night cruises and cruise lines seem to be giving money back in those cases.

For cancelled cruises,  “they’re giving not only full refunds but depending on the cruise lines, they’re giving a little extra: 25 per cent off another cruise or 50 per cent.”

Airline policy is. “fluid,” Frommer said, with some waiving change fees for future travel if you rebook before a certain deadline, allowing you to apply the cost of the flight you no longer want to a new destination. But details vary, so contact the airline.

Be prepared to spend time online or on the phone. “Patience will be a real virtue right now,” Frommer said. If you booked through a travel agency, they may be able to make those changes for you. As a last resort, “contact your credit card company. They may be able to duke it out for you.”

HOTELS, HOME RENTALS AND THIRD-PARTY SITES

If you booked a home rental and made a deposit through a site like Homeaway.com or VRBO.com, they “act as the middleman” and “set up lines to help you get through to the individual owners,” Frommer said. “They’re not going to get you your money back but they are trying to facilitate communications. … However they will not step in if you can’t get your security deposit back.”

WHAT? NO REFUND IF WE PAID FOR LODGING IN ADVANCE?

“That’s a lesson we’re all learning,” Frommer said. “It’s in their contracts that usually they’re off the hook for all but the most egregious of circumstances, for example, if it’s a scam and there’s no home there. But with natural disasters, there’s often an act of God clause that means they do not owe you anything when things go horrifically wrong on a huge scale.”

Again, Frommer said, “it all depends on how you booked.” If you made a reservation with no money down, “you should be able to cancel without penalty.” But if you paid in advance for a discount on a hotel booking website,  “you could be on the hook.”

TRAVEL INSURANCE

“The majority of travel insurance policies will cover you in those cases if you’re travelling and the place is unsafe,” Frommer said. But “you cannot buy the insurance after the storm has been announced. Once it’s on the radar, you’re out of luck.”

Insurance may also fail to kick in if the hotel reopens even if the “beach is gone and the trees are down and all of its neighbours are in rubble. … If you can get there and stay there safely, it’s considered your vacation, even if it’s not the vacation of your dreams.”

Live in Canada but own property in Irma-hit areas? Here’s how to handle insurance

By Carolyn Ray, CBC News

Insurance bureaus north and south of the border say Canadians who own property in U.S. areas hit by Irma need to get on the phone and learn whether their homes have been damaged.

In 2015, the Bank of Montreal estimated that 500,000 Canadians owned property in Florida, parts of which were walloped by the hurricane Sunday and Monday.

Amanda Dean, vice-president Atlantic of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said it may be too soon to travel to the region, but it’s not too soon to contact your insurance company.

“The last thing you want to do is get in the way of first responders,” she said.

Both the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the American Insurance Association have tips for what property owners should do in the days ahead.

Call your caretaker

Whether it’s a caretaker, property manager or neighbour, ask someone who is already in the area to visit your property as soon as it is safe to do so.

“Have them take some photographs in the wake of a storm, so they can give you an idea of whether your house is generally in good shape or if you need to make a claim,” said Mike O’Malley of the American Insurance Association.

Contact your insurance provider

Both Dean and O’Malley said it’s important to be clear with the insurance provider that you are not in the country, and ask specifically what steps they need you to take.

O’Malley said emergency adjusters will be sent to the area to help sort through the thousands of claims and they will want to visit the property. You don’t have to be there to move ahead with the process.

“Most policies are going to require you to report as soon as reasonably possible,” said O’Malley. “You need to have somebody with keys to your house down there. They’re not going to break into your house to see interior damage.”

Clarify your coverage

In the United States, hurricanes fall under two different plans for homeowners.

Most plans generally cover damage from wind. But storm surge is covered by a secondary policy sold by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Make sure you are in contact with the appropriate insurers if you have different policies.

“Get that claims process started as quickly as possible,” said Dean.

Hire someone to fix immediate issues

It’s your responsibility to do any quick fixes, such as cover a hole in the roof.

“A homeowner’s insurance policy generally has some duties that are placed upon the policy holder upon the event of a loss,” said O’Malley.

“If you have damage to your property, it is your duty to make sure that if there are things you can do … that would prevent further damage to the property. You have a duty to do those things.”

Plan for next time

If you were one of the fortunate ones who didn’t experience any damage, this is a good chance to review policies and plan ahead.

Call your insurance company and ask direct questions about scenarios to make sure you’ll be covered the next time a storm hits. Snap a few photos on your phone to keep on hand if you experience any kind of damage.

“You really need two different policies, especially if you’re in a flood-prone area if you have storm surge,” said O’Malley, who suggests calling soon so “you wouldn’t be faced with the unfortunate prospect of trying to figure that out after the fact.”

Worst case scenario not happening and insurance sector soars

NEW YORK _ Though damage from Hurricane Irma is extensive, property insurers are breathing a sigh of relief with the storm nowhere near as catastrophic as many had feared.

Shares in insurance companies that had been hammered in the days leading up to the storm are surging Monday, the first day of trading since the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Particularly strong are companies with a strong presence in Florida, like Federated National Holding, HCI and Heritage Insurance.

Citi analyst James Naklicki is estimating U.S. insured loses to be about $20 billion, with totals reaching up to $50 billion. A direct hit to Miami, he says, could have meant up to $150 billion in costs.

Larger insurers like Travelers, Allstate and Progressive are also rising.

Couche Tard braces for hurricane Irma while rebuilding from Harvey’s destruction

By Dan Healing

THE CANADIAN PRESS

LAVAL, Que. _ Employees of Alimentation Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B) in the Florida region are bracing for hurricane Irma as Texas staff continue to try to recover from “devastating” damage from hurricane Harvey, CEO Brian Hannasch said Wednesday.

“The flooding and damage done by Harvey is among the worst in our U.S. history and we continue to monitor daily the situation to help out our employees, their families and our customers,” he said on a conference call.

“As we approach the weekend, we’re now preparing for hurricane Irma while at the same time hoping the storm loses strength and turns back into the Atlantic.”

Alimentation Couche-Tard said it closed 123 stores because of Harvey and 24 were still shut down as of Tuesday.

Employees in the Florida region are topping up store inventories of fuel, water and batteries while hoping they don’t see  “panic buying” as occurred in San Antonio and Dallas where lineups for fuel forced people to wait as long as five or six hours, Hannasch said.

He said the company has had to deal with hurricanes since buying Circle K in 2003.

But its recent spate of acquisitions have increased its exposure, especially its deal that closed in June for San Antonio-based CST Brands which included more than 600 stores in Texas.

He said that deal and one for CrossAmerica Partners wholesale fuel network have “critically strengthened” the company.

Alimentation Couche-Tard has some property insurance for storms but doesn’t carry business interruption insurance, he said.

‘We view ourselves as being very, very geographically diversified and certainly that’s an advantage to us with situations we faced with Harvey and potentially here with hurricane Irma,” said Hannasch.

His comments came as Couche-Tard, which reports in U.S. dollars, announced it had $365 million or 64 cents per share of net earnings in the first quarter of its 2018 financial year.

After adjustments to exclude numerous items including the impact of the acquisition of CST and the sale of some of its assets, Couche-Tard says it earned about $380 million or 67 cents per share.

The adjusted earnings were up 17.5 per cent from the same time last year and total revenue including acquisitions was up 16.9 per cent at $9.85 billion as of July 23, about a month before devastating flooding began sweeping the U.S. Gulf states.

Analyst Irene Nattel said she has modestly increased adjusted earnings forecasts going forward because of the quarterly trend but added those predictions don’t include potentially negative results due to Harvey and Irma.

Hurricane Irma is already causing insurance stocks to plunge

Hurricane Irma is already causing insurance stocks to plunge

Thomas Franck Investments Reporter for CNBC.com.

Hurricane Irma is not expected to touch Florida for several days but its impact was already being felt in the U.S. stock market.

Stock prices of home insurers tied to Florida plunged Tuesday after Irma strengthened into a Category 5 storm. This latest storm system follows Harvey, which dumped several feet of rain, destroyed thousands of homes and killed over 50 people in a matter of days.

Shares of HCI GroupUniversal Insurance Holdings, and Heritage Insurance Holdings, which provide property and casualty homeowners insurance in the Sunshine State, were down 13, 16, and 13 percent, respectively.

Reinsurers XL Group and Everest contributed some of the largest losses to the S&P 500’s decline, down 5 and 4 percent, respectively.

Collectively, insurance stocks are having their worst day of 2017. The S&P Insurance Industry (.IUX) is down 1.9 percent, on pace for its worst daily performance since Brexit lows in June 2016 when it fell 3.16 percent. The SPDR S&P Insurance ETF (KIE) is down 3 percent, also on pace for its worst daily performance since June 2016 when it fell 3.14 percent.

Its direct path is not yet clear, but Florida Gov. Rick Scott was not taking any chances, implementing a state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state on Monday.

With winds topping 175 mph, Irma on Tuesday became the strongest hurricane on record in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Roberto Friedlander, head of energy trading for Seaport Global Securities, said that while the storm isn’t poised to have a major impact on energy infrastructure like Harvey, the focus will be on densely populated Miami.

“There is no modern historical precedent for a Miami hurricane, because the last direct hit was back in the 1920s. A direct hit from Irma could disrupt rail and container activity, and damage infrastructure for transportation, in addition to putting thousands of lives at risk,” wrote Friedlander. “Combined with rainfall, then we are looking at catastrophic flooding to a vast area that already has problems with water levels. Real estate risks are simply gigantic.”

HCI Group is headquartered in Jacksonville. Universal is based in Fort Lauderdale and Heritage is in Clearwater.

Experts are already predicting that final damage assessments of Hurricane Harvey will smash previous storm totals as the most expensive natural disaster in American history. Widespread flooding caused historic water damage to houses in southeastern Texas, displacing thousands who must begin the rebuilding process.

SGI: Wildfire evacuation expenses may be covered under insurance policy

The northern Saskatchewan wildfires have forced hundreds to evacuate their homes and communities. SGI is providing some important information for people in the impacted areas.

“We encourage SGI CANADA customers to contact their insurance broker, as they may be eligible for coverage of living expenses while displaced from their homes,” SGI President and CEO Andrew Cartmell said. “Their insurance broker can provide details about the amount of coverage available.”

All SGI CANADA customers with a personal property policy (Prestige, Home, Mobile Home, Tenant, Condo or Agro Pak) who have been evacuated from their communities have mass evacuation coverage, subject to limitations in their policies.

Mass evacuation coverage includes:

  • expenses for hotel/motel stays or subsidies for those staying with friends or family members
  • other expenses related to the evacuation, including fuel, meals and transportation costs

These costs can be covered up to a period of 30 days, Customers should save all their receipts to submit if they decide to put in a claim. Insurance payouts are subject to the policy’s deductible.

SGI CANADA personal or commercial property policies will NOT be cancelled if their policy expires or due to non-payment, for a period up to 30 days past the expiration or non-payment date.

Likewise, Saskatchewan Auto Fund customers who have been evacuated do not have to worry about their insurance lapsing while they are away from their home and unable to renew their driver’s licence or vehicle plate insurance.

“We will take care of our customers who, due to evacuation, have been unable to renew their licence or plates,” said Cartmell. “If a customer incurs a claim, customers will be able to renew their expired driver’s licence or vehicle plate and access Auto Fund coverage, subject to their deductible.”

SGI will have employees on hand at the Saskatoon and Prince Albert shelter locations to provide assistance to evacuees.

SGI CANADA policy holders can also contact their broker to inquire about their coverage under their existing policies. In the event of an emergency, if customers can’t reach their broker, they can call the claims hotline number 1-844-745-2015.

Customers with questions related to driver’s licences and vehicle registration can call the Customer Contact Centre at 1-844-TLK-2SGI (1-844-855-2744).

SGI CANADA and Saskatchewan Auto Fund customers can learn more via our online FAQ.

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