By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 11/6/2009 5:12:40 PM ET 2009-11-06T22:12:40

Last spring, thousands of cruise travelers with stops in Mexico had their cruises changed or canceled after a swine flu outbreak in the region. However, the swine flu, or H1N1, and seasonal flu strains aren’t just in Mexico anymore. Currently, 46 states have reported widespread flu outbreaks.

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It’s clear: The flu pandemic has potential to ruin your vacation. So, how to you protect your hard-earned cruise vacation? Here are some options.

Personal health check
The Centers for Disease Control says a number of travelers have an increased risk of complications from the flu and may want to consider postponing their travels. The agency states that adults older than 65, infants and children under 5, and those with chronic illnesses are the most at risk. Pregnant women have special concerns not only with travel risks, but also with cruise line rules. The majority of cruise lines do not allow women pregnant by 24 weeks or more may to cruise. The aforementioned should always seek the counsel of their doctors prior to considering a vacation.

An ounce of protection
Most cruise lines offer travel insurance, as do a number of independent third-party insurers like Travel Guard, Access America, and Travelex, to name a few. The cost of the insurance premium is determined by the price of the cruise vacation and the age of the traveler. A basic policy is on average 3 to 5 percent the cost of the trip.

Most travel insurance policies include coverage for five kinds of problems: trip cancellation (or interruption), trip delay, emergency medical expenses, emergency medical evacuation and lost or stolen luggage. Some policies even offer job loss insurance.

The best cruise deals around the worldBasic insurance will kick in only if the traveler actually contracted swine flu or some other illness before or during a trip, each insurer’s terms for medical care would kick in, providing for reimbursement for the canceled trip or the ongoing portions of a trip that are delayed and for medical care away from home. But beware, not all insurance are alike and exclude certain illnesses. For example, there are some policies that exclude coverage of pandemics. So, it’s vital to understand the terms of a policy.

Most basic travel insurance policies do not cover passengers who cancel or delay a trip merely because the itinerary has changed because of a flu pandemic. The only insurance option is to purchase a ‘cancel for any reason’ add-on to a regular travel insurance policy that is offered by some insurers and cruise lines. Depending upon the insurer, cancel-for-any-reason policies provide a cash payout of a portion of a canceled trip’s cost or for a cruise line a voucher for use on a future trip. This flexibility comes at inflated price — the add-on cost is approximately 50 percent the cost of the regular travel insurance policy.

Should you get ill during your cruise it’s important to understand that ordinary medical insurance coverage doesn’t travel the same way aboard ship as it does within the United States. Sometimes coverage doesn’t extend to foreign travel at all. Medicare beneficiaries should always purchase travel insurance when they cruise, because they do not have Medicare coverage outside the country.

Keep in mind third-party insurers usually provide primary coverage, i.e., the insurance company pays the traveler directly for any medical claim. Most cruise line insurance policies provide secondary coverage, which means that you must file your claims through your regular medical insurance carrier, then seek reimbursement from the cruise line’s insurance company.

The diagnosis is clear: Travel insurance is one way to vaccinate your cruise vacation investment.Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column. And check out her blog, ExpertCruiser.com.

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