Concerned travelers don’t need to rush to cancel their Gulf Coast vacations. In an effort to persuade people to keep their travel plans (and to entice others to book rooms) in spite of the BP oil spill, many Gulf Coast businesses are offering oil-free guarantees to patrons.

Hotels, realtors and travel agencies in the affected areas have instituted new 24-hour cancellation policies, which issue a full refund to travelers if a government agency or state authority officially shuts down their beach. Other organizations and chains are offering refunds if a traveler so much as spots oil on its beach.

Travel search engines such as Expedia , TripAdvisor and Orbitz are offering similar oil-free guarantees with their hotel partnerships.

"Expedia recognizes the situation is developing and could change. We do not charge Expedia change/cancel fees if our customers need to alter their plans. Many of our partners are also instituting flexibility policies," Katie Deines Fourcin, spokesperson for Expedia told  

These generous new policies exist because, contrary to popular belief, many Gulf Coast hotspots have not yet been affected by the oil spill. Expedia, for example, has set up a Web site so travelers see if their vacation destination is oil-free. Prospective Gulf tourists should monitor this site (or one of the many like it) to avoid unnecessary cancellations, especially since it’s not as easy abandon your airfare. Airlines aren’t currently offering oil-free guarantees and even vacationers who purchased travel insurance can have a hard time getting refunds for their tickets.

“Travel insurance provides very little coverage for the oil spill,” Damian Tysdal of Travel Insurance Review Inc. tells MainStreet. “It is not a natural disaster, nor weather-related. Rather, it is a manmade disaster for which there is no specific coverage language.”
Most domestic airlines will allow passengers to switch flights or move vacation dates if they pay a penalty (usually $50-$100, plus the difference in the flights’ costs). Complete cancellations often come at the expense of eating the full cost of airfare. However, travelers who haven’t yet booked a vacation can score a cheap flight to Gulf Coast cities in light of the oil spill.

If you are considering patronizing a Gulf Coast resort, here are some of the oil-free guarantees you can take advantage of.

TST Recommends

This travel search engine’s Open Beach Guarantee gives anyone who books a Gulf Coast trip with its hotel partnerships between June 15 to July 31 a full refund should a government agency close a beach within 20 miles of the property. (A similar refund will be issued if the property is declared “dangerous.”) Orbitz will notify users if a closure or advisory is issued. You can check out this listing of its participating partners.

Royal Shell Vacations

The largest vacation rental company serving Florida’s Sanibel and Captiva Islands has a provisional refund policy entitled the Royal Shell "Clean Beaches" Guarantee, which gives renters a proportionate refund if the City of Sanibel or Lee County authorities officially close either Sanibel or Captiva Islands beaches. You can check out their company Web site or Facebook page  for updates on whether or not their beaches have been affected.

Kaiser Realty

The Gulf Shore and Orange Beach, Ala., realtor offers renters a refund for the remaining days of their stay if the oil spill interrupts their vacation. Moreover, the agency will also issue a full refund without penalty for cancellation if the oil spill causes a renter to cancel their trip last minute.
Kaiser Realty also provides daily updates of the status of their beaches, and, sadly, some properties have already been affected by the oil spill.

Sterling Resorts

The vacation rental management company along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Northwest Florida also has a Clean Beach guarantee.

“We want our customers to have the confidence that they can still book their vacations with us and to know that if the beaches are closed due to the oil spill, we will refund their money or reschedule their visit for another time," Tracy Kundey, Sterling Resorts president, explains on the resort’s Web site.

Those with questions on current or future bookings can call 1-866-558-7008.

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