Big weather events like storms—and the many airline cancellations that result from them—always raise the question of the extent to which your travel insurance can help to recoup lost bookings when bad weather hits. Otherwise put as: “Does travel insurance cover weather problems?” The short answer is that some types do. But you’ll find lots of variation: Policies vary substantially in what they specify as “covered reasons” to provide payment.
What to Look for in Travel Insurance If You Want Protection from Weather Problems
You have to take a close look at the fine print details about the travel insurance’s conditions surrounding weather problems before you buy. Three different coverage types usually apply if you want your insurance to cover weather problems:
Trip Cancellation/Interruption (TCI)
Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, or TCI, covers expenses caused by delay or cancellation that you can’t recover from your airline or hotel. TCI policies typically include a laundry list of “covered reasons” that qualify for this benefit, and almost all include at least some coverage for weather-related delays and cancellations:
- Better policies promise, simply, that the insurer will pay, in the words of a top policy, because of “inclement weather causing delay or cancellation of travel.” That’s pretty straightforward: If weather problems cancel or delays your trip, the insurer pays.
- At the other end of the spectrum, other policies hedge their coverage. Quite a few pay the cancellation only for a delay lasting at least 24 hours; quite a few also limit payout to “weather that causes complete cessation of services of your common carrier for at least 24 consecutive hours.”
- The main exception is that a disruptive weather event must be unforeseen at the time you buy the insurance. If the National Hurricane Center has already located and named a possible upcoming storm, insurance purchased after that time would not cover a weather delay.
- Policies don’t agree on definitions of “weather.” I haven’t seen any policies that would have covered last year’s extended West Coast forest fires and smoke as covered reasons.
- According to John Cook, president of travel insurance agency QuoteWright, “total” doesn’t mean that an airline has to shut down its entire system; it refers to service in the areas on your itinerary. Still, “complete cessation” is an unsettling loophole.
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Airlines almost always waive ticket-change fees and fare increases for travelers on canceled or delayed flights and allow them to rebook on later—and sometimes earlier—flights. But those waivers severely limit the time frame to rebook and the time frame to take an alternate flight. If you can’t, or don’t, want to rebook and fly within those narrow limits, you face the likelihood of a change fee, a fare increase, or both. And airlines don’t let you rebook to a different city, even if it’s relatively convenient: Milwaukee instead of Chicago, for example, or Oakland instead of San Francisco.
Most bundled trip insurance also includes a “delay” benefit: payment that covers your incidental expenses when you’re caught in a delay. As with TCI, delay coverage kicks in for a variety of circumstances, such as a traffic accident en route to a terminal or a natural disaster, and most include delays due to weather.
Typically, airlines are not responsible for covering food and lodging expenses you incur due to a weather delay, a hole that travel insurance can fill. Typical coverages range from $100 to $250 per day; most establish a minimum time threshold of five to 12 hours. If you want this coverage, look for a policy paying at least $200 a day; $100 is not likely to cover an overnight stay plus meals. But many credit cards provide similar delay benefits at no cost, so you may not need a separate policy.
Missed Connection Coverage
Many bundled policies also cover cases where you miss a connection. As with delay coverage, policies vary: Total benefits range from $250 to $2,500. Most policies are limited to connections missed by three hours or more, and some low-end policies don’t cover missed connections at all. Normally, airlines take care of missed connections due to weather; this coverage is geared more to missing cruise and tour departures, but it can also apply to separate-ticket flights on different airlines.
QuoteWright has posted a comprehensive table listing weather-related benefits and limits for 32 different policies from all the big suppliers. It also shows ratings of those policies for their weather coverage: Top-rated policies include Travel Insurance Select from USI, CSA’s Custom Luxe, and Travelex’s Travel Max. If you’re considering weather insurance, try comparing those plans.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Everything You Need to Know About Travel Insurance
- 5 Common Travel Insurance Questions, Answered
- How Annual Travel Insurance Could Save You Money
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.