Shelter from the storm: Hurricane cancellation policies 2009

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Not only are Caribbean guests protected at a number of resorts should hurricanes interrupt, cancel, delay or ruin a tropical vacation, but countries also are.

The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, established by the World Bank in 2006, administers an insurance pool that triggers payouts of emergency cash to 16 participating Caribbean nations and territories after devastating hurricanes or earthquakes.

In 2008, the insurance pool paid out more than $6 million to Turks and Caicos after Hurricane Ike.

Resort policies vary, but most properties will offer some form of compensation.

Here's a partial rundown:

• Sonesta resorts in St. Maarten -- If a hurricane warning (as defined by the U.S. National Weather Service) is issued for the island, Sonesta Maho and Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resorts either will refund guests for the unused portion of their stay or issue a travel credit for the same time the following year for the number of interrupted nights.

If a hurricane interrupts a planned arrival, guests can delay their arrival with no penalties until the warning is lifted, or Sonesta will issue a full credit for travel for the same period up to one year. Air is not included.

• Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort Montego Bay reinstated its Risk-Free SunSpree hurricane guarantee for the fourth year. Guests are protected if a storm closes Sangster Airport or disrupts resort operations for 24 hours.

• Sandals Resorts -- Until it was retired last year, Sandals and Beaches Resorts' Blue Chip Hurricane Guarantee had paid out more than $16 million since 1997 to replace vacations interrupted by hurricanes.

The current Cancel Anytime plan, an optional program priced at $99 per adult and $79 per child for purchase within seven days of the initial deposit, allows cancellations for any reason within 24 hours prior to travel, including inclement weather, illness or any other interruptions beyond the guest's control.

If guests are at the resort when a hurricane hits, refunds or compensation are decided on a case-by-case basis. When Gustav poured torrents on Jamaica last year, guests were offered a free additional night. In Turks and Caicos, guests due to arrive as Hanna pounded onshore could either rebook for another time or move to one of the three Beaches resorts in Jamaica.

• SuperClubs -- The Hurricane Guarantee at its eight resorts reimburses guests for the total value of disrupted nights if a hurricane strikes the resort during their stay. In addition, a future-stay voucher is issued for the same number of disrupted nights for use during the same month the following year, excluding airfare.

For every day that the sun does not shine, SuperClubs' year-round Sunshine Guarantee gives guests a credit voucher equal to that day's room value, good for one year.

• Marriott's Caribbean Travel Interruption Policy, introduced in 2006, offers two scenarios. Guests with confirmed reservations with a nonrefundable deposit who are unable to travel due to an airport or hotel closure related to a hurricane receive a full refund of the deposit and can rebook for a future date. This policy does not apply to flights canceled or delayed due to severe weather.

Guests at a resort directly hit by a hurricane receive a certificate for a free, three-night return stay, valid for two years.

• Starwood Hotels & Resorts -- The Caribbean Travel Interruption Policy covers guests with confirmed, nonrefundable reservations who cannot travel due to closure of the resort or airport. They can opt for a full refund or a one-category room upgrade, valid for a year.

Guests who depart early due to a storm will not be charged a cancellation fee and will receive a refund for any unused portion of the deposit.

• Disney resorts in Florida permit guests to reschedule or cancel without penalty up to seven days before arrival if a hurricane warning is issued for the Orlando area. Rates start at $65, depending upon the length of stay.

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