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Swine flu means watching travel insurance's small print

Let's say you don't want to get the H1N1 swine flu shot, but you've planned a big trip and worry about the cost of canceling or cutting it short if you made the wrong call.

You can hedge your bet by purchasing travel insurance. But experts warn that you need to know what different policies do and don't cover.

First, a little background. Travel insurance packages cost 4 to 10 percent of a trip's total price. At SquareMouth.com, a Web site based in St. Pete Beach that lets you compare travel insurance, the typical policy runs around $200 for a $3,000 trip, CEO Chris Harvey says.

That should cover nonrefundable travel expenses if you cancel a trip or need to leave early, plus emergency medical costs and reimbursement for lost baggage.

The swine flu throws a few wrinkles into the deal. A handful of companies have pandemic exemptions that won't let you collect if you catch H1N1 before you leave or during your trip. Ask before buying and stay away from those policies, Harvey says.

None of the regular package policies will cover financial losses for hotels, airlines or cruises for canceling a trip because you're worried about catching swine flu at your destination. For that, travelers must upgrade to "cancel for any reason" coverage.

That adds about 40 percent to the premium price. The extra coverage typically pays 50 to 80 percent of your loss, Harvey says. And there are a couple of caveats: You must buy it within 14 days of making the initial travel deposit and cancel your travel two days or more before the departure date.

Travel insurance Web sites like Harvey's, and travel agents, who also sell policies, were flooded with inquiries in the spring when the swine flu appeared in Mexico and grew into a pandemic.

Business is a little swifter than normal now with swine flu all over the news. Travel agents like Robin Smith of Caladesi Travel in Dunedin routinely advises cruise customers to buy a policy. Most cruise lines have ironclad rules against refunding money for missed trips, she says.

Of course, they sell travel insurance, too.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Swine flu means watching travel insurance's small print 10/13/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 10:53am]
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