This year, I'm planning my Caribbean and Atlantic trips for—not around—hurricane season. Though many travelers avoid these high-risk areas during the active storm months (June through November), it is possible to really take advantage of lower airfares and hotel rates.
Play the Odds
According to meteorologist Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center (nhc.noaa.gov), no Caribbean or Atlantic island is immune to tropical storms. But you can plan your trip when a hurricane is statistically less likely to develop, based on historical data and predicted weather patterns.
Hotel Hurricane Guarantees
Hotels in vulnerable areas are increasingly issuing "hurricane guarantees," offering some degree of financial protection if a storm ruins your vacation. Frequently, inbound guests who have confirmed and fully deposited nonrefundable reservations, but who can't reach their destination because the airport or resort is closed, can rebook their trips within a year at the same rate. Generally, however, the resort or airport must close for the guarantee to kick in. If your airline suspends operations but the destination airport and resort are still open, you might be out a one-night deposit. Be sure to ask your hotel or resort about the details of its policy.
Get Coverage Early
I'll admit that I don't always buy travel insurance. But trip-cancellation insurance can be a more comprehensive way of covering your vacation than relying on a hotel's guarantee—it should cover travel delays, medical evacuations, and lost luggage. Some policies have a "cancel for any reason clause" (find them at insuremytrip.com). But know that an often overlooked loophole, the "named event clause," frees insurance companies from covering you if you buy your policy when a storm already has a name. That means that if I'd needed a policy earlier this year when my namesake subtropical storm had already been dubbed Andrea, I'd have been out of luck.
Ten resorts in the Bermuda Hotel Association (experiencebermuda.com) promise that if a hurricane is predicted to pass within 200 miles of the island within five days of your arrival, you can cancel without penalty; if the island is hit while you're there and power and water become unavailable, the hotel will pick up your tab. If the property closes, you can come back for a complimentary stay within a year.
Westin Resorts (westin.com) pledges that in the event of a hurricane their guests in the region won't be penalized for rebooking the balance of reserved nights left unused, and that a portion of their deposits will be refunded.
If a hurricane watch or warning is issued for La Romana within 48 hours of your scheduled arrival at Casa de Campo (or your trip there is cut short), the hotel will give you the unused portion of your deposit back, plus a 5 percent resort credit.