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How to adjust your travel plans for Maui during the wildfires

How to adjust your travel plans for Maui during the wildfires

Emma Fox | (TNS) Los Angeles Times

The Hawaiian island of Maui is asking visitors to stay away as it tries to recover from devastating wildfires.

Officials said Thursday morning that two of the three fires on Maui were largely contained. But the damage to portions of the island is extensive, particularly in the tourism-heavy region of West Maui, where fire appears to have incinerated much of the historic town of Lahaina.

The Kahului Airport on Maui remains open, at least in part because of all the people being evacuated (officials have asked all visitors on “non-essential” trips to leave). With the wildfires causing more than 50 deaths and an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion in damage and economic losses, the Hawaiian government is strongly discouraging tourists from coming to the island.

If you had a vacation planned, this is what you need to know.

Should I cancel my trip to Hawaii?

The state tourism authority emphasized that most parts of Hawaii continue to welcome visitors. “Travel to Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi” and parts of Hawaiʻi Island other than the Mauna Kea resort area “are not affected at this time,” the authority said on its website Wednesday. By Thursday, the Mauna Kea Resort on the big island was open again after three fires in the area were brought under control, the authority said.

Maui, and particularly West Maui, is a different story. The tourism authority said Wednesday night that visitors bound for West Maui in the coming weeks “are encouraged to consider rescheduling their travel plans for a later time.”

“In the days and weeks ahead, our collective resources and attention must be focused on the recovery of residents and communities that were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses,” the authority said.

Will my hotel charge me a fee to cancel my stay in Maui?

Under normal circumstances, many hotels penalize last-minute cancellations by charging fees that can be considerable. Some in West Maui are waiving those fees at the moment, but figuring out the policy at the hotel you’ve booked can be a challenge — the closer it is to the fire, the more likely that its power and phone lines are down.

The Hyatt family of hotels is waiving cancellation fees for arrivals “in the coming days,” the company said in a statement. It suggested that guests with reservations call its customer support line at 800-233-1234 “for additional details and assistance in alternate accommodations.” It also noted, however, that canceled reservations made through online booking sites and other third parties may be governed by those sites’ policies.

An Expedia spokesperson told The Times in an email that it is working with hotels that book through Expedia and Hotels.com to institute a “flex policy” for affected reservations through Aug. 23. “This means that travelers with upcoming bookings in the impacted area can change or cancel their hotel booking without penalty,” she said. “The flex policy can be accessed when you engage with a virtual agent once you log into your account or provide your itinerary number to the virtual agent.”

Expedia and Hotels.com’s customer service agents are available 24 hours a day by phone or online to help with travel arrangements.

According to a Marriott spokesperson, the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Ka’anapali, the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa and the Ritz-Carlton Maui in Kapalua have been evacuated and will close temporarily due to extended power outages. Cancellation fees at the three hotels have been waived through Aug. 31. She advised travelers to the area to follow the news and MauiCounty.gov for local situation updates. To adjust reservations, guests should visit Marriott.com or the Marriott app.

If you’re headed for other parts of Maui or the Mauna Kea resort area on the island of Hawaii, the state tourism authority says, you should talk to the hotel you booked for updates about how you might be affected.

Hotels in Maui may still be taking reservations, and some are providing refunds up to the date of travel. For example, you could book a room for next week at the Outrigger Kaanapali Beach Resort on Thursday afternoon, even though the power and phone lines at the resort were out, according to a reservation agent.

What can I do about my flight to Hawaii?

Some major airlines offer customers the ability to obtain refunds for travel to Maui in the coming weeks, as well as the option to reschedule their flights. The exact terms depend on the airline.

At United Airlines, if you had paid for a flight to Kahului Airport between Aug. 11 and Aug. 31, you can cancel and get a refund, according to the United website. You can also reschedule your trip and the change fees and fare differences will be waived under certain circumstances.

If your new trip is after Aug. 31 or is to a destination outside Hawaii, United will still waive any change fees, but you may have to pay a fare difference, depending on the flight.

At Delta Airlines, customers who can’t reschedule their trips to Maui may cancel their reservations and apply the ticket cost to the purchase of new flight — but that flight has to be booked no more than a year after the Maui ticket was purchased, the airline’s website says.

If you schedule a new flight on or before Aug. 18 at the same level of service as the Maui flight, Delta’s website says it will waive the change fee and any difference in fare. After that, only the change fee will be waived.

The American Airlines site suggests that refunds are possible for flights to or through Maui if you cancel by Aug. 13. You can apply for one on the airline’s website.

If you want to reschedule your flight, American will waive the change fee if you rebook by Aug. 13, but you may have to pay any difference in the fare. To see if your flight is eligible for a refund or fee waiver, use the “Find your trip” tool on the airline’s website. If you can’t change your trip online, call Reservations for help.

At Alaska Airlines, if you’d purchased a ticket to or from Maui by Aug. 9, you can obtain a refund as long as you cancel before the original flight’s departure date, the airline’s website says. You can also reschedule onto a new flight to or from Maui or three other Hawaiian airports through Aug. 31 at the same fare if you stay in the same cabin. But you have to exchange their tickets prior to the departure of their original flight.

Hawaiian Airlines is allowing customers to cancel their flights in exchange for a refund or a credit for future flights, or to change their flights to a different island, its website says. To change or cancel your flight, call the airline’s reservations line at 800-367-5320.

A spokesperson for the airline said, “We ask guests with non-urgent inquiries to please call back later so that we can assist travelers with immediate needs. Guests traveling through Kahului should continue to check their flight status on our website or app before coming to the airport.”

Can I cancel my Vrbo or AirBnb?

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Vrbo told The New York Times that wildfires and other natural disasters do not override its cancellation policies. But it also said that it had waived host penalties for canceled bookings on Maui and parts of the Big Island from August 9 through 16, hoping to give hosts an incentive to provide refunds.

Vrbo suggests that guests reach out to the hosts they booked with for more information on their specific situation, while also consulting their travel insurance provider to see if they can be reimbursed for their rental.

AirBnb customer service says that they will provide penalty fee cancellations for hosts and guests who request them. However, people need to call their customer service line at (844) 234-2500 to make sure that they are eligible.

Will travel insurance cover me?

According to the insurance comparison site Insuremytrip.com, “If a wildfire that affects your trip is known before you purchase a plan, your coverage may be extremely limited.” So if you are thinking of purchasing travel insurance now for a trip in the coming weeks, don’t bother.

What you can do is see if wildfires fall under the definition of “natural disaster” on your travel insurance policy. You may also be eligible for coverage under “trip delay” if your flight is canceled, “trip interruption” if your accommodations or primary residence are damaged, or “trip cancellation” if your destination has been evacuated, Insuremytrip says.

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