What You Can Do If Your Trip Is Affected by a Wildfire
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Last weekend, wildfires swept through the Greek isle of Samos, and more than 1,000 residents and tourists had to evacuate. Five different hotels beachfront were vacated, and many residents and tourists took shelter in an indoor stadium in the nearby town of Pythagoreio.
In particular, there are five main ways in which wildfires could affect your trip. You might find that your hotel is uninhabitable; that your destination has been evacuated; your travel is delayed; you no longer want to travel to the destination; or your home is damaged.
In the following sections, we’ll go into detail about how much you can generally expect credit card travel protections and travel insurance to protect you if your trip is affected by a wildfire. Then, we’ll help you consider your options if you aren’t covered by credit card travel protections or travel insurance. Note that, although this particular guide is focused on wildfires, most of the information could apply to trips affected by other types of natural disasters, too.
Credit Card Travel Protections
With Citi removing most travel protections from its cards as of Sept. 22, 2019, the Chase Sapphire Reserve takes over the top spot for credit cards that offer travel protections. So, in this section, we’ll consider the protections offered by the Sapphire Reserve your best bet in helping you if your trip is affected by wildfire or another natural disaster.
Trip cancellation insurance reimburses you if a covered loss prevents you or your immediate family members from traveling on or before the departure date and results in cancellation of the trip. The insurance also reimburses you if a covered loss causes interruption of a trip on the way to the point of departure or after departure of the trip.
There are two types of covered losses that may apply if your trip is cancelled or interrupted by a wildfire, including:
- Severe weather, which prevents a reasonable and prudent person from beginning or continuing on a covered trip.
- Finding your dwelling, or your traveling companion’s dwelling, is uninhabitable.
So, you’d be covered if your home is found to be uninhabitable due to wildfire. But, you wouldn’t otherwise be covered to cancel or interrupt your trip due to wildfire unless Chase (1) considers the wildfire to be a type of severe weather and (2) agrees that a reasonable and prudent person wouldn’t travel. Plus, based on this Reddit thread, it seems Chase generally doesn’t cover wildfire-related cancellation claims.
Trip delay reimbursement covers up to a maximum of $500 dollars per ticket for reasonable expenses incurred if your trip is delayed by a covered hazard for more than six hours or requires an overnight stay. Chase says covered hazards include “equipment failure, inclement weather, labor strikes and hijacking or skyjacking” but doesn’t say these are the only types of hazards that can be covered.
If Chase considers the wildfire as inclement weather, or is willing to otherwise consider wildfire as a covered hazard, you’d be covered for alternative lodging and additional expenses incurred during the delay. That said, you aren’t covered for any covered hazard delay that was made public or known to you prior to the departure for the covered trip. Prepaid expenses aren’t covered, either.
Travel insurance provides coverage that’s similar to the travel protections offered by select credit cards. But, as discussed in the previous section, the protections offered by credit cards may exclude some situations that are covered by some travel insurance policies. Of course, each travel insurance policy is different — so it’s critical that you read a sample coverage description before purchasing so you know what’s covered and what’s not. In situations like these, you definitely don’t want to be caught off guard.
For travel insurance, three types of coverage may apply if your trip is affected by a wildfire: travel delay, trip cancellation and interruption and cancel for any reason coverage.
Similar to the trip delay protections provided by select credit cards, travel insurance delay coverage may reimburse the expenses you incur if you are delayed but your trip isn’t completely cancelled.
These expenses usually include food, transportation and lodging if you’re delayed by a set amount of time that’s defined in your policy. Some policies will even reimburse you for lost prepaid trip expenses such as non-refundable hotels or tours.
Trip Cancellation and Interruption
Travel insurance with trip cancellation and interruption benefits may reimburse you for nonrefundable, pre-paid trip costs if you have to cancel or interrupt your trip. In the case of interruption, your benefits may also cover the cost for you to return home or continue your trip. Covered reasons related to wildfire may include:
- Your primary residence or destination is rendered uninhabitable due to wildfire.
- Your travel carrier can’t get you to your original destination for at least 24 consecutive hours from your originally scheduled arrival time due to wildfire.
- Your tour operator cancels your multiday tour due to the wildfire, assuming the tour was purchased prior to your departure date.
- Government authorities order a mandatory evacuation at your destination that is in effect within 24 hours prior to your departure date or while you are on your trip, assuming you purchased your policy before the evacuation order or warning was issued.
- You miss at least 50% of the length of your trip due to wildfire (only for trip interruption).
Cancel for Any Reason Coverage
Some travel insurance providers also offer cancel for any reason coverage, either included as part of a policy or as a paid add-on benefit. This coverage allows you to cancel your trip completely without having to provide an explanation — so you could cancel your trip for reasons that normally aren’t covered. That said, be sure to read all the fine print around this type of coverage, and note that most policies will only reimburse part of your total trip cost.
Your hotel is uninhabitable: Ask the hotel for a refund, to accommodate you at a nearby partner property or to honor your booking at a later date once the property is restored. If the hotel doesn’t provide a suitable solution, you may want to file a credit card dispute.
Your destination is evacuated: Consider visiting a nearby destination that you can reach by train, bus, car or a cheap flight. You may not need to travel far to escape the effects of the wildfire.
Your travel is delayed: Ask airlines to waive change fees, although many will likely already offer travel waivers due to the fire. Determine if your hotel stays can still be canceled or modified free of charge, or for a small fee. Otherwise, you can always try asking for a courtesy refund or voucher to cover the missed nights.
Your home is damaged: Most trip cancellation and interruption benefits offered by credit cards and travel insurance policies will cover you if your house becomes uninhabitable due to a wildfire. If you booked with a card that doesn’t offer this protection, you’re not entirely out of luck. Your best bet will be to talk with the travel providers, since some might be willing to waive change or cancellation fees given the severity of your situation. If you can’t get the fees waived, it may be worth paying the change or cancellation fees so you can get some money back or take your trip at a later point in time.
You no longer want to travel to the destination: Consider visiting a nearby destination instead that you can reach with an extra train, bus, rental car or a cheap flight. But, remember that fire damage is often localized — so you may still be able to visit a destination even if part of that area was recently affected by wildfires.
The travel protections provided by select credit cards may not provide coverage if your travel is affected by a wildfire. For this reason, if you are traveling to a region that has high fire risks when you plan to travel, you may want to purchase travel insurance for your trip even if you don’t usually do so. If you decide to purchase travel insurance, be sure to read the coverage details of the policy you choose before purchasing to ensure it includes the coverage you need.
Featured image of the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country during 2017 fires in Santa Rosa, California by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
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