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Approximately 5.4 million residents are under hurricane watches and warnings as Hurricane Florence draws ever closer to the Carolina coast. Those hoping to evacuate are being hampered by gas shortages with flight cancellations limiting backup options. And time is running out as hurricane force winds are expected to reach the coast Thursday night.

As of 11:00am Wednesday, Hurricane Florence has weakened slightly, but maintains Category 4 status with 130mph top sustained winds. The latest models show a notable southward shift and slowdown from the expected path of the last few days. Rather than stalling out over land in North Carolina, the storm is now expected to slam on the breaks before making landfall, churning off of the coast before finally meandering onshore on Saturday — rather than making landfall on Thursday as predicted a few days ago.

Catastrophic Rainfall Remains a Major Threat

While the storm’s shift is great news for Virginia and inland residents, this is terrible news for coastal South Carolina and North Carolina. Not only can these areas expect damaging winds and “life-threatening” storm surge, but forecasters say that it’ll also face “catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding” as the storm pummels the area over an extended period of time.

While some models are predicting up to 45 inches of rain in NC, the official National Hurricane Center rainfall forecast calls for:

  • Coastal North Carolina…20 to 30 inches, isolated 40 inches. This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding.
  • South Carolina, western and northern North Carolina…5 to 10 inches, isolated 20 inches.
  • Elsewhere in the Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic states…3 to 6 inches, isolated 12 inches.

Storm Surge of Over 9 Feet

While rainfall is going to cause widespread flooding, the biggest threat to coastal North Carolina and South Carolina remains disastrous storm surge. The powerful hurricane is expected to push a wall of water toward the coast as it approaches, with the worst conditions being on the northside of the storm due to the counterclockwise motion. The latest storm surge models forecast catastrophic flooding for the North Carolina coast, with large parts of the coast — colored in red below — expecting to be flooded with more than nine feet of storm surge.

Gas Shortages and Flight Cancellations

There’s approximately two million residents under evacuation orders, but evacuations are being made much more difficult by widespread gas shortages. There’s reports of gas stations running out of gas as far west as Raleigh.

Residents hoping to evacuate by air are getting an assist by JetBlue and Delta’s capped fares and Delta’s waived checked bag fees and pet fees. However, time is running out for those hoping to evacuate by air as flight cancellations are starting to pile up. FlightAware’s flight cancellation tracker reports 203 US flight cancellations Wednesday — which could include some non-Florence related cancellations — 407 cancellations for Thursday and 152 Friday flights already cancelled.

Charlotte (CLT) is seeing the most cancellations with 181 cancellations already for Thursday/Friday. FlightAware only is tracking 102 cancellations for Charleston, SC (CHS). However, that’s likely to increase dramatically now that the airport is reporting that the airport will shutdown at 11:50pm on Wednesday.

On Monday night, Boeing shut down production of Dreamliners at its Charleston plant. On Tuesday, the aircraft manufacturer evacuated all airworthy Dreamliners from Charleston to its other Dreamliner plant in Everett, Washington.

2.7 Million Expected to Lose Power

Based on the latest models, researchers from the University of Michigan are now predicting that the hurricane will leave approximately 2.7 million residents without power. This is a notable improvement from the prediction of 3.3 million left without power based on the hurricane forecast from Tuesday evening.

Image courtesy of Guikema Research Group from the University of Michigan.
Image courtesy of Guikema Research Group from the University of Michigan.

Airline Fare Caps and Fee Waivers

As it did last year in Florida and the Caribbean, Delta has capped airfares out of “select coastal and inland cities from Savannah, Ga., up to Richmond, Va.” While “fares range by cabin, flight distance and market,” fares are capped as low as $299 one-way in economy or $799 one-way in first class. JetBlue has also capped fares at a much-lower $149 one-way to/from Savannah (SAV), Charleston (CHS), Charlotte (CLT), Raleigh (RDU) and Richmond (RIC) through Sunday.

In addition, Delta is also waiving all luggage and pet-in-cabin fees — in addition to lifting the per-flight limit on the number of pets allowed in the cabin — in/out of the following cities from September 10-17: Charleston, SC (CHS); Jacksonville, NC (OAJ); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR); New Bern, NC (EWN); Newport News, VA (PHF); Norfolk, VA (ORF); Savannah, GA (SAV) and Wilmington, NC (ILM).

Ten airlines have issued weather waivers for the area — many of which have been expanded since they were originally posted. As of 5:00pm ET, the following waivers have been issued for Hurricane Florence. See here for waivers for Hurricane Isaac (Caribbean) and Hurricane Olivia (Hawaii).

In This Post

Alaska Airlines

  • Travel dates: September 10-16
  • Covered airports: Charleston (CHS); Raleigh/Durham (RDU)
  • Tickets must have been purchased by September 10
  • Rebooked travel must occur between September 10-October 1
  • If you purchased your tickets directly from Alaska Airlines, you have a few options. Click one of the links below: Change my flight or Cancel my flight and deposit the ticket value into My account.

Allegiant

  • Travel dates: September 12-16
  • Covered airports: Asheville, NC (AVL); Charleston, SC (CHS); Concord, NC (USA); Greensboro, NC (GSO); Greenville, SC (GSP); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR); Norfolk, VA (ORF); Richmond, VA (RIC); Roanoke, VA (ROA); Savannah, GA (SAV)
  • Passengers with reservations to / from any of the above cities, will be able to request a one-time change to their travel plans without incurring change / cancel fees. To do so, customers must call Allegiant Customer Care at 702-505-8888 at any time 24 hours per day, seven days a week.
  • Itineraries must be changed within 14 days from this weather advisory for travel on any future open date to any city in the Allegiant network, excluding San Juan.

American

  • Travel dates: September 10-16
  • Covered airports: Asheville, North Carolina (AVL); Augusta, Georgia (AGS); Charleston, South Carolina (CHS); Charlotte, North Carolina (CLT); Charlottesville, Virginia (CHO); Columbia, South Carolina (CAE); Fayetteville, North Carolina (FAY); Florence, South Carolina (FLO); Greensboro / High Point, North Carolina (GSO); Greenville / Spartanburg, South Carolina (GSP); Greenville, North Carolina (PGV); Hampton / Newport News, Virginia (PHF); Hilton Head, South Carolina (HHH); Jacksonville, North Carolina (OAJ); Lynchburg, Virginia (LYH); Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (MYR); New Bern, North Carolina (EWN); Norfolk, Virginia (ORF); Raleigh / Durham, North Carolina (RDU); Richmond, Virginia (RIC); Roanoke, Virginia (ROA); Savannah, Georgia (SAV); Wilmington, North Carolina (ILM)
  • Must have purchased ticket by: September 10
  • Rebooked travel must occur between September 10-20
  • You may change your origin and destination to any another city affected by this alert. You may also change your flights to depart from or arrive at: Baltimore, Maryland (BWI); Washington Reagan, Washington D.C. (DCA); Washington Dulles, Washington D.C. (IAD)
  • Rebook in the same cabin or pay the difference.
  • Avoid the phone queue. Changes available on both AA’s website and in the AA app.

Delta

  • Travel dates: September 11-16
  • Covered airports: Charleston, SC (CHS); Charlotte, NC (CLT); Charlottesville, VA (CHO); Columbia, SC (CAE); Fayetteville, NC (FAY); Greensboro, NC (GSO); Jacksonville, NC (OAJ); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR); Norfolk, VA (ORF); New Bern, NC (EWN); Newport News, VA (PHF); Raleigh-Durham, NC (RDU); Richmond, VA (RIC); Roanoke, VA (ROA); Savannah, GA (SAV); Wilmington, NC (ILM)
  • Tickets must have been purchased by: September 10
  • Tickets must be reissued by: September 20
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: September 20
  • Changes to origins and destinations may result in an increase in fare. Any difference in fare between your original ticket and the new ticket will be collected at the time of booking.
  • When rescheduled travel occurs beyond September 20, the change fee will be waived. However, a difference in fare may apply. Final travel must be completed by end of ticket validity, one year from date of original issue.
  • If travel is not able to be rescheduled within these guidelines, customers may cancel their reservation and apply any unused value of the ticket toward the purchase of a new ticket for a period of one year from the original ticket issuance. Applicable change fee and fare difference will apply for new travel dates.

Frontier

  • Travel dates: September 10-16
  • Covered airports: Charleston, SC (CHS); Charlotte, NC (CLT); Greenville-Spartanburg, SC (GSP); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR); Norfolk, VA (ORF); Raleigh-Durham, NC (RDU); Savannah, GA (SAV)
  • Customers who are ticketed to travel between Monday, September 10, 2018 and Sunday, September 16, 2018, who
    purchased tickets on or before Monday, September 10, 2018, may make one itinerary change – rules/restrictions
    regarding standard change fees, advance purchase, day or time applications, blackouts, and minimum or maximum stay
    requirements will be waived.
  • Travel must be completed no later than Monday, October 1, 2018.
  • Origin and destination cities may be changed.
  • Frontier has already cancelled dozens of flights. See the full list here.

JetBlue

  • Travel dates: September 11-16
  • Covered airports: Baltimore, MD (BWI); Charleston, SC (CHS); Charlotte, NC (CLT); Raleigh/Durham, NC (RDU); Richmond, VA (RIC); Savannah, GA (SAV); Washington, DC (DCA); Washington, DC (IAD)
  • Customers may rebook their flights for travel through Thursday, September 20
  • Original travel must have been booked on or before Monday, September 10
  • Customers with cancelled flights may also opt for a refund to the original form of payment
  • Make the change online in the ‘Manage Flights’ section of jetblue.com or by calling 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583) prior to the departure time of their originally scheduled flight

Southwest

  • Travel dates: September 10-17
  • Covered airports: Baltimore/Washington (BWI); Charleston (CHS); Charlotte (CLT); Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP); Norfolk/Virginia Beach (ORF); Raleigh/Durham (RDU); Richmond (RIC); Washington Dulles International (IAD); Washington DC (Reagan National DCA)
  • Customers who are holding reservations to/from/through the cities listed above on the corresponding dates, may rebook in the original class of service or travel standby (within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs and in accordance with Southwest’s accommodation procedures) without paying any additional charge.
  • Customers who purchased their itinerary via Southwest.com or Southwest’s mobile app are eligible to reschedule their travel plans online or from their mobile device. Customers who did not purchase a ticket via Southwest.com can call 1-800-435-9792 to speak with a Customer Representative. Customers in the U.S. scheduled to travel internationally must call 1-800-435-9792 to speak with a Customer Representative for assistance with rebooking.

Spirit

  • Travel dates: September 12-16
  • Covered airports: Asheville, NC (AVL); Greensboro, NC (GSO); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR); Richmond, VA (RIC)
  • Modification Charge/Fare Difference waived through: September 20
  • After this date, the modification charge is waived, but a fare difference may apply.
  • Guests can make changes to their reservations affected by this event by going to Spirit’s Manage Travel page, or by calling the Spirit Reservations Center at 801-401-2222 to make their flight changes. To make changes to Spirit Vacation packages contact Spirit Vacations at 954-379-8866.

United

  • Travel dates: September 10-16
  • Covered airports: Greenville/Spartanburg, SC (GSP); Columbia, SC (CAE); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR); Charleston, SC (CHS); Wilmington, NC (ILM); Fayetteville, NC (FAY); Raleigh/Durham, NC (RDU); Charlotte, NC (CLT); Greensboro, NC (GSO); Asheville, NC (AVL); Roanoke, VA (ROA); Norfolk, VA (ORF); Richmond, VA (RIC); Charlottesville, VA (CHO); Shenandoah Valley Airport, VA (SHD); Savannah, GA (SAV)
  • The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing between September 10-16, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.
  • For wholly rescheduled travel departing after September 20 or for a change in departure or destination city, the change fee will be waived, but a difference in fare may apply. Rescheduled travel must be completed within one year from the date when the ticket was issued.

WestJet

  • Travel dates: September 14
  • Covered airports: Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR)
  • To find out more about the change and cancel options due to these advisories, please call: WestJet flights: 1-888-937-8538 or WestJet Vacations: 1-877-737-7001

Protect Your Travels

These storms are yet another reminder of the importance of booking trips with a card that offers solid trip delay and cancellation insurance. When I got stuck in Japan for four extra days due to a typhoon, I was very grateful for the Citi Prestige’s trip delay protection, which reimbursed $1,000 of our expenses.

Although the Citi Prestige used to be my go-to for booking flights, a recent devaluation to the card’s travel benefits knocked it out of its top spot. Currently, I’m using my Chase Sapphire Reserve to book my flights going forward. Other top choices are the Chase Sapphire Preferred CardCiti / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and the Citi ThankYou Premier Card.

Stay tuned to TPG for updates on Hurricane Florence, Tropical Storm Isaac and Tropical Storm Olivia. Browse to www.thepointsguy.com/hurricane for the latest info.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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