Hawaii Travel Discouraged Amid Fires: How to Change Your Plans

Airlines serving Hawaii are offering discounted inter-island fares and loosening change and cancellation rules.
Sean Cudahy
By Sean Cudahy 
Edited by Giselle M. Cancio

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Wildfires in Hawaii continue to cause devastation, displacing thousands of residents, destroying property, closing roads and, tragically, leading to the deaths of dozens of people on the island of Maui.

The situation has also prompted the evacuation of many tourists from the island while leaving uncertainty for those planning trips in the coming days and weeks.

President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration for the state on Thursday.

As firefighters and other emergency responders continue to help with the catastrophic damage, state officials strongly discourage nonessential travel to Maui.

(Image courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority)

This could affect travel in the coming weeks.

Flexible airline policies in place

To assist with the evacuation efforts, airlines have been selling steeply discounted tickets to help travelers and residents more easily depart.

Numerous airlines, including Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines, have sold $19 one-way tickets from Maui to cities on other islands, including Honolulu.

Airlines have also issued travel alerts, which typically allow even customers with restrictive tickets, such as basic economy, to make changes, cancel or get a refund. Airlines frequently take this step when there’s a natural disaster and travel is complicated or discouraged.

Southwest, for instance, says customers with reservations with trips to, from or through Kahului (Maui) and Hilo (Hawaii Island), Honolulu (Oahu), Kona (Hawaii Island), and Lihue (Kauai) can alter plans, rebook or travel standby within 14 days of the original flight date without any extra charges.

Other airlines have travel advisories in place, too, making change policies more flexible.

Keep an eye on your airline’s website for updated alerts if you have plans to travel to Maui in the upcoming days. Check your reservation online or in the airline’s app to see if your trip is affected. You may be able to make a change online without waiting to speak with a customer service agent over the phone.

When will Maui be open again?

As emergency responders continue to contain the wildfires in Maui, it’s still unclear when the island will be safe again for tourists to visit.

Some hotels on Maui have temporarily shuttered operations and will remain closed for the coming days.

For instance, the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa has an advisory on its website that states it’s closed to arrivals and not accepting guests through Aug. 17. It’s refunding deposits and prepayments for even those guests who made nonrefundable reservations.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority encourages any travelers with plans to visit Maui in the next few weeks to check with their airlines and hotels about the travel status.

“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 agency said in an advisory on its website.

Can you use travel insurance for Hawaii wildfires?

Travelers planning to visit Maui in the coming weeks may wonder whether travel insurance might help.

Generally, travel insurance policies will not cover cancellations or evacuation costs related to a natural disaster if the customer purchases the policy after the disaster begins.

However, if you have a policy purchased before the wildfires began, then you may be able to recoup losses related to trip cancellation, interruption, or — for those who have been on Maui this week and had to leave suddenly — emergency evacuation.

Travel insurance can help you recoup prepaid expenses such as flights or hotel costs if the emergency prevented you from moving forward with your trip.

If you're a traveler without a travel insurance plan with an upcoming trip to Maui, it’s a good time to check if the credit card you used to book your trip offers trip protection benefits. This might be of help if you end up needing to cancel.

The bottom line

The situation in Maui will likely remain fluid for weeks as the community and officials deal with the aftermath of this week’s wildfires.

If you have travel planned to the island within the coming weeks, closely monitor updates from your airline, hotel and the Hawaii Tourism Authority to make the best decision.

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