Traveling to Hawaii? Here's what to know about the Maui fires. (2023)


By Megan Cerullo

/ MoneyWatch

Hawaii is a noted tourist destination, but after deadly wildfires wreaked havoc on Maui and other islands, it declared a state of emergency in all counties. Hawaiian officials are discouraging nonessential travel to Maui amidst the fire's destruction on that island.

Major airlines are assisting in efforts to evacuate residents and visitors from danger zones. People with trips planned to the second-largest Hawaiian island are being asked to postpone them, with airlines and accommodation providers offering travelers flexibility to rebook.

Here's what to know if you have a vacation in Hawaii scheduled.

What parts of Hawaii are experiencing fires?

A major blaze largely destroyedthe historic town of Lahaina, on Maui. As of Sunday officials said the Lahaina fire was 85% contained.

Fires also affected Kihei and Upcountry Maui, as well as the northwest part of the island of Hawaii, between Hapuna and Kawaihae.

Can I still go to Maui?

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is strongly discouraging nonessential travel to West Maui for the foreseeable future. Even tourists who are already there are encouraged to depart immediately, if they can.

Thousands of residents have evacuated their homes and major roadways on the island remain closed.

"Vacation travel to West Maui is strongly discouraged for the near future. Visitors in West Maui have largely heeded the call to leave the island. About 46,000 people have flown out of Kahului Airport since Wednesday," the Hawaii Tourism Authority said in a statement Saturday.

On Monday, the travel authority reiterated that all non-essential travel to West Maui remains discouraged through the end of August, in line with Gov. Josh Green's latestemergency proclamation.

Visitors with plans to visit other parts of Maui are urged to reach out to their accommodation providers to ensure they can still be hosted.

Concerns over drop in tourism

Some hosts on parts of the island that remain able to welcome tourists are concerned that guest cancellations could hamper the island's recovery from the wildfires.

A small business owner with a condo in Kihei, on Maui's southwest shore, said that while it's safe to visit, guests have been canceling reservations into the month of November.

The host, Chandrika McLaughlin, added that it's important that tourists continue patronizing businesses like hers so that she and others retain the means to support Mauians whose lives have been uprooted by the wildfires.

To be sure, would-be visitors to West Maui are still being asked to postpone their trips in part because federal, state and county governments are primarily focused on helping displaced residents and affected businesses.

"Visitors with plans to stay in West Maui in the coming weeks and months are urged to consider rescheduling their travel plans for a later time when the overall situation has improved for area residents," the Tourism Authority said.

Travel to the island of Hawaii remains unaffected, and the government said it remains safe to visit other islands.

Are commercial airlines flying to Maui?

Some are and some aren't. Many airlines are offering travel waivers that allow customers with immediate plans to travel to Maui to rebook their flights without fees, or to cancel them altogether for credit or, in some cases, a full refund.

"With the exception of basic economy tickets, almost all U.S. airlines allow you flexibility to either reschedule your trip or cancel and get the full amount you paid back for travel credit for future trips," Scott Keyes, of travel site Going told CBS MoneyWatch. "So, you automatically have a lot of flexibility to change your plans or save flight credit for a future trip. That was not really the case pre-pandemic."

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a travel alert describing how major airlines serving Maui's Kahului Airport have adjusted their operations and implemented flexible change policies for customers.


United Airlines said it's prioritizing the welfare of its employees on Maui and has scrapped commercial flights to the island. It is instead using empty passenger planes to carry Maui residents off the island.

"We've canceled today's inbound flights to Kahului Airport so our planes can fly empty to Maui and be used as passenger flights back to the mainland," the airline said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch.

The airline also haswaiversin place for United passengers who had been scheduled to fly to or from Kahului airport on Maui, as well as Honolulu airport.

Customers who were originally scheduled to fly between August 11 and September 16, and purchased tickets before August 9 may reschedule their trips and have any change fees and fare differences waived. The new ticket must be for a flight scheduled to depart before October 1. Passengers who wish to cancel their trips altogether are entitled to full refunds.


For its part, American Airlines is also waiving change fees on all flights to and from Hawaiian airports, through August 18.


Alaska Air has a "flexible travel policy" in place that allows customers to change their flights at no cost through August 31 or cancel them in exchange for a travel voucher worth the cost of the flight.

Some would-be visitors to Maui said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that they wanted outright refunds from airlines, as opposed to the option of rebooking within a short time frame. Given the extent of devastation the wildfires have caused, it may be some time before travelers may want to rebook.

Southwest Airlines said it had added flights between islands and back to the mainland U.S. "to keep people and supplies moving." Some fares from Maui to the mainland U.S. are under $100.

Hawaiian Airlines also said it's adding extra flights between Maui and Honolulu for as little as $19 "to facilitate urgent travel."

The Hawaii Tourism Authority added that "airlines are being very supportive during this emergency crisis and providing additional flights to help visitors depart from Maui. Airlines are also adjusting their travel schedules to support those visitors who had planned to arrive this week."

Will I be compensated for my hotel accommodations?

Hotels and resorts in vulnerable areas have lost power, halted service and stopped accepting guests altogether. Some are providing full refunds to scheduled guests, depending on the time of their planned stay.

They've temporarily stopped accepting new reservations, too, given the uncertainty of the situation. Hotels have pivoted from accepting guests to housing their employees and families until the fires are fully contained and travel on roadways becomes safe again.

They are also equipped to house evacuees and first responders helping with disaster relief efforts.

Furthermore, the Tourism Authority is asking visitors with forthcoming reservations not to try to contact their accommodation providers at this time, so as not to tie up or overburden their limited bandwidths.

"While efforts are underway to restore basic services, like power and communications, visitors are encouraged to refrain from attempting to reach West Maui accommodations for reservation adjustments until the situation improves," it said.

The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa said the hotel is "closed to arrivals and not accepting guests" for the time being. It will issue refunds including for deposits and prepayments to guests who had been scheduled to stay at the property through the weekend.

Homesharing site Airbnb said its extenuating circumstances policy has gone into effect for parts of Hawaii, including all of Maui. It is also allowing hosts and guests to cancel their stays without penalty. Guest are entitled to full refunds for reservations in the area they don't use.

Non-refundable reservations

In the case of non-refundable reservations, a travel insurance policy could help you recoup payments related to a trip you didn't take.

For travelers already on Maui, some of these policies also come with medical evacuation options that can help visitors on the island get to safer ground.

Some credit card companies already have protections related to travel built-in, without requiring that you sign up for additional protections.

"Many of them automatically include travel insurance, so check and see what you're entitled to," Keyes said.

—With reporting by Elizabeth Napolitano

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