Q A San Diego reader booked tickets for a vacation in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, a Caribbean resort known for its beaches and golf courses. Tickets booked, airline reservations made and -- wait, what's chikungunya? The Centers for Disease Control says it's a mosquito-borne illness that causes "fever and joint pain" and has recently spread to the Caribbean. What were the chances the reader could change his destination without financial penalty?

A Not great. The hotel refunded his money, but he ended up paying $1,075 to change the airline tickets to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Most travel insurance doesn't protect you from what might happen, only from what has happened (or is happening). And even then, it doesn't always cover you. The reason for your cancellation must be a "covered reason," said Megan Singh of Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison site. Worrying about a disease isn't usually one of those. Read the policy exclusions. Pregnancy, for instance, often is listed as a "we're-not-paying" reason.

The one bright spot: There is cancel-for-any-reason insurance, which covers cold feet, fight with spouse, death of pet -- really, just about anything. There are two downsides: It's more expensive than a standard policy, and you don't get back the full amount, perhaps just 75 percent.


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-- Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times