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July 25, 2012

Hurricane Season Travel 101

By Kate Chandler

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Hurricane Ivan, 2004 (Stocktrek/Thinkstock)

Summer just begs you to hit the beach. But as the months wear on, you need to be aware of how hurricane season can affect your travel plans. Here are the basics:

Where? We're talking about hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean (which is what pretty much everyone means when they say "hurricane season"). Hurricanes here can affect the Gulf Coast and East Coast beaches, plus those in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.

When? Officially, hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30, with August through October being peak season. The real hot spots come between late August and early September, so perhaps hold off on you dream Caribbean vacation during those weeks. 

What? This year is predicted to be an average year by NOAA, calling for four to eight hurricanes, with one to three of them predicted to be big (category three or higher). 

So, what does all that mean to you and your late-summer beach vacation? For one thing, it means that if you're willing to take a bit of risk and book during this time, you're likely to find some great deals on hotels, especially in the Caribbean. (In the United States, Labor Day weekend kind of gets in the way of hurricane season deals.) It also means you'll see far fewer crowds and perhaps score some discounted airfare. 

If you're traveling to one of these areas during peak season, consider buying travel insurance. Sites like Travel Insurance Review explain the ins and outs of travel insurance and let you compare quotes from major providers. A recent search resulted in quotes starting at $69 (total, not per day) to insure a week-long vacation to Antigua (which is pretty exposed) in early September. That's super cheap for peace of mind, especially because you probably saved a bundle on your hotel. As always, read the fine print before you fork over your credit card.

And if you do get stranded somewhere due to bad weather, remember to use the tools at your disposal. Tablet and smartphone apps let you quickly book a hotel and/or rental car. Some, like Orbitz's app, give you mobile-only access to "tonight only" bookings that knock as much as 65 percent off the price of the hotel room. You can also use Twitter to get the attention of your airline's customer service division. Major carriers, like Delta, have real people monitoring their Twitter accounts 24/7. Maybe that's what all those baggage fees go toward... 

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