New rain-check refunds gamble on the weather

December 30th, 2010 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Have you ever planned a weekend away from it all only to end up stuck the whole time in your hotel room because it was raining outside? Obviously, no one can stop mother nature from doing what she pleases, but one travel service has come up with an option that may take the anxiety out of such unforeseen situations. A company called Best Reserve recently started a “weather insurance plan” (otenki hokentsuki plan). Customers who book rooms at the 1,500 hotels, inns and resorts that participate in the plan will have their entire room charges refunded if it rains.

Pennies from heaven: Best Reserve's weather insurance plan

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. The conditions are fairly simple and straightforward, but also rather strict. The “premium” for the plan is 5 percent of the room charge per day, and both the charge and the premium must be paid at least eight days prior to the date of arrival at the accommodation by means of credit card through Best Reserve’s internet reservation system. Also, Best Reserve makes the judgment on what constitutes a rainout. In order for the room charge to be refunded (the 5 percent premium, it should be noted, is non-refundable, rain or no rain) it has to rain for ten hours during the day that is covered by the insurance; specifically, five consecutive hours from 1 to 6 p.m. on the day of arrival, and five consecutive hours from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. the following day. In order to confirm the rain, they use data supplied by the National Meteorological Agency’s particular AMeDAS rainfall measurement device nearest to the hotel or resort where the patron is spending the night. AMeDAS must show at least 0.5 mm per hour in the vicinity of the hotel during the ten hours that qualify for a refund. And guests don’t have to do anything like file a claim. Best Reserve automatically makes the judgment and if it discovers that the stay qualifies as a washout, the company sends an email to the customer asking for the bank account where the refund should be sent. However, the bank handling fee is subtracted from the amount refunded.

The weather insurance plan applies to all precipitation, including snow, but, obviously, if the participating accommodation is a ski resort or a hotel in an area where snow is the norm in the wintertime, the plan doesn’t apply. Nevertheless, Best Reserve is seriously thinking of offering the insurance for such accommodations on a seasonal basis, between, say, April and September.

It’s conceivable that you could have people making reservations and then gambling that the weather is bad, just so they can get a free night’s accommodation; especially businessmen, who usually don’t care if rain or snow or frogs fall from the sky during their overnight trips. It will also be interesting to see if more people take out insurance in places that customarily have more rainfall. For the record, the Japan Sea coast is the rainiest place in the country. The top three prefectures in terms of days of precipitation are, in order, Toyama, Akita and Ichikawa.

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