Fine print, Protecting yourself

Hurricane Harvey wreck your trip? How your credit card may come to the rescue

Summer Hull

Hurricane season is a part of life for those who live in or travel to areas near the coast. For cities in that geographical zone it isn’t a matter of whether there will be a tropical system that wreaks havoc on travel plans, but a matter of when and where it will happen.

If you plan to travel in any locations that can be impacted by a tropical system during hurricane season, then you know you are taking your chances and simply hope you don’t draw an unlucky hand.

When free airline flight changes aren’t enough
A lot of the time that strategy works out just fine, but right now Hurricane Harvey is endangering many lives and threatening travel plans. While the airlines are largely proactively offering weather waivers so you can change your flights without incurring a fee, your credit card can sometimes have your back in the event that isn’t quite enough to cover your needs and expenses.

For example, while it is helpful that some airlines are allowing free flight changes, they aren’t going to help you with unexpected lodging, meals and other expenses if you are stranded because of severe weather, or if you miss out on some non-refundable pieces of your planned trip.

How your credit card can cover trip delay or cancellation costs
Many of the more premium credit cards, and especially the travel-focused rewards credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige or Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, have really good travel cancellation and trip interruption protections. These protections can help cardholders when severe weather delays or cancels your travel plans, as long as you used that card, or even potentially used miles or points earned by that credit card to book your airfare, cruise or other travel.

These protections generally kick in once your travel is delayed by three to 12 hours, requires an unexpected overnight stay, or is canceled by the operator, depending on the credit card you used to book your trip. You can find your specific trip insurance coverage in your card’s benefit guide that was mailed when you received your card or online by searching for your card’s benefits guide.

In addition to covering expenses incurred during a trip delay or cancellation, some credit card protections can also kick in due to “severe weather, which prevents a reasonable and prudent person from beginning or continuing on a covered trip.”

The odds are pretty high that a Category 3 hurricane would qualify as severe weather that prevents a reasonable person from beginning or continuing a trip, so you may be covered if Harvey has impacted your trip even if your flight somehow makes it out as scheduled.

Putting your credit card’s trip coverage into action
If your situation is covered by a credit card’s trip protections, then it is generally up to you to work with the airline, hotels and tour operators to avoid as many expenses and fees as possible. You also will need to save your receipts for any unexpected costs incurred as a result of the trip delay or cancellation to submit to the company that handles your card’s benefits.

Documentation of the delayed or canceled flight also will most likely be a part of the required documents. If your trip is derailed and you aren’t sure where to start, call the number on the back of your credit card and ask how to get the claim process going.

There is a maximum covered amount that ranges from a few hundred dollars to $10,000, depending on the card used and the type of trip protections that are available. So, while credit card trip protections aren’t perfect and don’t fully replace traditional trip insurance, they can help take a bit of the sting out of rained-out travel plans when hurricanes or other serious weather events strike.

See related: How your card’s travel insurance can save you big bucks, headaches, Can you count on your card’s travel insurance?

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