By Kristen A. Lee -- AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — With swine flu dominating the headlines, planning a trip — especially an international one — may feel less like a vacation than a headache and a gamble.
If you're planning to travel, you may be considering an investment in travel insurance, which — depending on the policy — could offer you some coverage if you have to cancel or cut short a vacation.
Michael Ambrose, president of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, stresses that each policy is different. The key is to call your insurer and ask specific questions to determine the conditions under which you will — or won't — be covered.
"When you get the insurance, get the facts," Ambrose says. "Ask the questions up front."
To help start the process, here are answers to some key questions:
Q: Who buys travel insurance?
A: Ambrose estimates that about 30 percent of U.S. travelers buy travel insurance, which he said is probably dominated by travelers going on cruises, tours or international trips. Travel agency Liberty Travel said about 38 percent of its customers who buy vacation packages get a travel insurance plan.
Ambrose says the numbers have risen over the past few years as terrorism, natural disasters and other medical scares like SARS have highlighted the risks of going away.
"It's unfortunate that bad news sometimes helps our business, but the reality is people don't think about these things until they happen," Ambrose says.
Q: What special protection does travel insurance give me if my trip is ruined because of swine flu?
A: That will depend on your policy and the circumstances. If you get sick while you're on vacation, most policies will provide some benefits for medical care, evacuation or quarantine.
You'll also have access to guidance from your insurance company if you need to find a hospital or leave the area quickly.
It's a different story, though, if you decide to cancel a trip in advance because of a swine flu outbreak or CDC warning.
Travel Guard Vice President Dan McGinnity says most traditional travel plans will not provide coverage for canceling a trip due to a health scare.
"Most of our policies have a provision in there for terrorism but not for something like swine flu," adds Ambrose, who is also the president of Travelex Insurance Services.
For a higher premium, a "cancel for any reason" policy would provide you with at least a partial refund if you decide to cancel your trip in advance because of swine flu or anything else.
"You won't get back 100 percent, but you will get back a percent," Ambrose says.