Travel insurance is a must this season after Hurricane Beryl created 'giant mess' for travelers

Many travelers in the Caribbean were caught off guard when Hurricane Beryl formed earlier and further east than previous storms this early in the season.

Travel agents were handed a doozy of a task this week as they helped hundreds of people attempting to get out of Caribbean islands or make new travel plans. Major cruise lines changed their sailing plans instead of canceling cruises to avoid Beryl's impact, The Cruise Guy told FOX 35 Orlando. 

Tropical Travelers CEO Jennifer Byrne said they had to help clients in St. Lucia, Grenada and Barbados all trying to find flights out before Hurricane Beryl brought 150 mph winds to the islands.

"We had so many people down there. We had so many people heading down there. It was kind of a giant mess," Byrne said. "We have to go case by case. We have to look at the track of the storm. We have to look at what the airlines are telling us. We have to look at what the hotels are recommending, which island they're on, how many flights there are to get out."

The National Hurricane Center is forecasting an aggressive 2024 hurricane season, and Beryl has kicked off the season with a bang. Hurricane Beryl was historic because it became a major hurricane quickly and formed early in the season. 

Traditionally, the Caribbean is a popular travel destination during winter, but post-COVID, Byrne said people travel nonstop to the islands throughout the year.

Several travel agents said travel insurance is helpful if or when a natural disaster crashes your vacation. 

"People think insurance is a bad bet. When it comes to travel insurance, it is not a bad bet. I've been through this. I've been in this industry for 30 years. I have definitely been through my fair share of hurricanes, and you absolutely should have insurance," Byrne said.

Christine Hardenberger, owner of Modern Travel Professionals, said not all travel insurance policies are the same but will generally cover disruptions because of a hurricane. 

"Many travel insurance companies have policies that include hurricane protection. So it's really important to read the policy that you purchase and make sure that hurricane protection is included," Hardenberger said. "Most airlines in events like these do offer waivers where they'll allow you to change flights without any sort of additional fees in order to help people move around."

Hardenberger recommends purchasing travel insurance early in your travel plans, well before a tropical storm or hurricane forms. 

Victor and Terri Cochran, of Mississippi, own a travel company and were in Grenada when Beryl brushed the island with its Category 4 strength. 

"The reason we booked Grenada was to be below the latitude of where the hurricanes normally come this time of year. We're very hurricane aware, and we try to plan our trips around that," Victor Cochran said. "We've had this plan for some time, but, no, we did not expect this."

Even with their knowledge, the couple could not leave in time for the storm. Victor Cochran recommends working with a travel professional because, even if you can't leave, they can help accommodate hiccups. 

"If you use somebody planning it, they have hundreds and hundreds of people that have already been there … all these connections that they can stay in contact with and stay up to date with all the possibilities or the things that may happen while you're there," he said. "To know that is priceless."

Beryl offered a summer reminder that a hurricane does not care how early you booked your trip.

"This is unprecedented. They keep using this word. But it's absolutely true. This does not happen this early in the season," Byrne said. "We don't really understand why this is happening. Is it just because the waters are warmer in the Caribbean? We don't know. But it's not great for vacationers."