Maui has been affected by devastating wildfires fueled by hurricane-force winds. The fires have caused catastrophic damage and are heartbreakingly the deadliest ones the U.S. has experienced in many years.
The worst fires occurred in West Maui, as the historic area of Lahaina has been completely devastated by flames that have not yet been fully extinguished. There is also a fire in the Upcountry area of Kula that is only 60% contained, according to the Maui County Emergency Management alert issued late last night.
On Sunday, Hawaii’s Gov. Josh Green issued an updated proclamation declaring essential travel only to the island of Maui and declaring a disaster emergency relief period at least through Aug. 31.
Last week, Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke stated in an interview on CNN, “We encourage anyone with travel plans to Maui to cancel their flight … it is really a tragedy that we’re dealing with right now.”
President Joe Biden has signed an emergency disaster declaration for Hawaii, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is coordinating recovery operations.
Given Maui’s popularity as a vacation destination, numerous would-be tourists likely have upcoming trips scheduled and, given the scale of the disaster on the island, now need to make some decisions about their upcoming plans to visit in order to allow the island to focus on recovery efforts.
Here’s what to know if you have an upcoming trip to Maui planned.
Is it safe to travel to Maui right now?
It is currently not safe to travel to parts of Maui due to the multiple wildfires and evacuation orders that are in place. If you have a trip planned in the upcoming days and weeks, local officials are encouraging visitors to cancel or reschedule for a later time. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is providing regular updates and civic alerts on its website.
There are ongoing power outages in West Maui, phone service is down in parts of the island and communications should be reserved for rescue efforts at this time.
Even when it is safe to travel to Maui again, the island will have limited resources and infrastructure. Trying to visit for a vacation at this time will yield a different trip than you might be hoping for and could drain already limited resources on the island.
Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui is open, but the focus is on evacuating as many nonresidents as possible so that relief efforts on the ground can focus on helping residents who have lost their homes. In fact, some airlines have been only flying empty planes to Maui to relieve the strain on the island and get the stranded tourists back to the mainland.
Residents and visitors with upcoming travel bookings are encouraged to check with their airline for any flight changes or cancellations or assistance with rebooking.
When might it be OK to travel to Maui?
At this time, it is unclear when West Maui will reopen, but the devastation to historic Lahaina is very substantial. As a result, disaster recovery operations will likely be very lengthy.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority released an updated statement on Saturday that also included a section devoted to common questions and answers.
“Hotels in West Maui have temporarily stopped accepting bookings of future reservations,” the statement reads. “At this time, many hotels are housing their employees and families until the fires in West Maui are fully contained and travel on the roadways is safe. These same hotels are preparing to house evacuees and first responders working on disaster recovery.”
“While efforts are underway to restore basic services, like power and communications,” the statement continues, “visitors are encouraged to refrain from attempting to reach West Maui accommodations for reservation adjustments until the situation improves.”
Travel to the other Hawaiian Islands, like Kauai, Oahu, Lanai and the Big Island, is not affected at this time, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The group recommends the following: “Visitors who have travel plans to West Maui in the coming weeks are encouraged to consider rescheduling their travel plans for a later time.”
The tourism board also advises travelers with plans to visit other parts of Maui and the Kohala Coast on the island of Hawaii in the coming weeks to contact their hotels for guidance on whether their properties will be open at that 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 Hawaii Tourism Authority said.
It’s not yet possible to know exactly when Maui, especially the island’s western side, will be ready to support tourists, but near-term travel is not advised. For trips booked further out, start looking at the social media channels for your hotel or resort, as many are now posting status updates.
Some hotels in other parts of the island, such as the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, have posted statements on their websites.
“Our heroic first responders are making meaningful progress in battling the wildfires that have impacted and changed the lives of thousands of Maui families,” the Grand Wailea notes on its website. “Grand Wailea and our surrounding community of Wailea remain untouched by the fires, and Kahului Airport continues its normal operations.”
The resort’s statement continues, “The road to Lahaina remains closed to inbound traffic. Upcountry and the road to Haleakalā should also be avoided. Kahului Airport is open; please get in touch with your airline for the most up-to-date flight information. We encourage departing travelers to allow for additional time for check-in.”
Is it safe to travel to other Hawaiian Islands?
Travel to the islands of Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai and parts of the Big Island are not affected at this time in terms of safety. However, there may be some near-term capacity issues with so many tourists trying to relocate from Maui and even Maui residents who are now seeking shelter on the other islands.
Last week, there was a wildfire near the Mauna Kea Resort area on the Kohala Coast of the island of Hawaii that has since been contained, and restrictions have been lifted, according to local news reports.
If you have a trip planned to another Hawaiian island, operations are likely currently unaffected. However, contact your hotel or check its website or social media channels for any updates should the situation change. Additionally, be aware that while statements from officials are that the other Hawaiian islands are open and available for tourism, there is some sentiment among some who live in Hawaii that now may not be the time for vacations to the state while the area is grappling with this tragedy and working to support Maui with the resources and infrastructure that it needs.
Airlines allowing changes to Maui flights
In response to the fires, some airlines are adding more flights to help passengers evacuate. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines have ramped up their outbound services, according to CNBC and a local news report.
In the latest update from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 46,000 residents and visitors have already been flown off the island since the fires began last week. If you have a flight to Maui booked in August, you are encouraged to contact your airline and revise your travel plans. The airlines are prioritizing bookings through the end of August first.
Alaska Airlines has instituted a flexible travel policy for guests who would like to change or cancel flights to/from Maui. Currently, they are processing changes if your ticket was purchased prior to Aug. 11, 2023, and your plans are between today and August 31.
American Airlines passengers can change their flights to, through or from Kahului Airport (OGG) at no cost for tickets bought by Aug. 9 for travel originally scheduled through Aug. 18.
New flights must be booked for travel between Aug. 9 and 25 for the same cabin and origin/destination cities. Alternatively, passengers can cancel their originally scheduled trips and request a refund. This only applies to flight changes made by Aug. 18 for travel completed within one year of the original ticket date.
Delta Air Lines
Delta has issued a change policy specific to flights in or out of Kahului Airport (OGG). When rebooked travel occurs on or before Aug. 31, 2023, in the same cabin of service as originally booked, the fare difference will be waived. A fare difference may apply when the waiver is class-to-class restrictive and the original booking class is not maintained in the rebooked itinerary. There are additional conditions and restrictions listed to be aware of.
Hawaiian Airlines travelers can reschedule their flights at no cost for flights in and out of Kahului Airport (OGG) between Aug. 9 and 31 local time to new dates with no change fees or fare difference on the same city pair for travel and same cabin of service.
Tickets can be booked for new travel to/from the following airports: Kahului Airport (OGG), Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA), Hilo International Airport (ITO), Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) and Lihue Airport (LIH). However, tickets must be rebooked into the same compartment (Main Cabin or Business Cabin) by Sept. 1, 2023, and travel must recommence by Oct. 31, 2023.
Alternatively, these travelers can cancel their flights in exchange for a future flight credit, expiring one year from the original date of purchase. Those with flights booked to/from Kahului Airport (OGG) between Aug. 9 and 31 can also request a refund.
Hawaiian has increased the number of flights overnight to help people get off the island. Hawaiian’s CEO, Peter Ingram, announced that the airline is offering reduced $19 Main Cabin fares out of Maui to facilitate urgent travel needs, as reported by local news.
Southwest Airlines customers with reservations to, from or through Kahului Airport (OGG) between Aug. 9 and Sept. 4 can rebook in the original class of service or travel standby for free, so long as the new travel lies within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city pairs.
Additionally, these customers can change their original departure or arrival flight to any of the below Hawaii airports without charge:
- Hilo International Airport (ITO)
- Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)
- Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA)
- Lihue Airport (LIH)
United Airlines is allowing travelers to reschedule trips and will waive change fees and fare differences for trips originally scheduled into Maui through Sept. 16, 2023. You can then alter your plans to travel by Nov. 18, 2023, at no additional cost to one of these airports:
- Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)
- Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA)
- Lihue Airport (LIH)
If your new trip is after Aug. 31, 2023, or is to a different destination, United will still waive any change fees, but you might have to pay a fare difference depending on the flight. Alternatively, if you cancel or don’t take your trip, you can request a full refund.
What to do if you have a hotel or an Airbnb booked in Maui
Most of West Maui is still without power and has limited phone service, so you may not be able to contact your hotel directly to cancel your reservation. It is recommended to call the central reservations number for your hotel company. If you are unable to reach the hotel, your next best option is to monitor your specific hotel’s social media channels and websites for any updates.
In a press conference on Monday night, Gov. Green continued to urge visitors to forgo any travel to West Maui through the end of August.
According to the latest statement released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, hotels in West Maui have temporarily stopped accepting bookings of future reservations. Hotels are being used to house their employees and families, evacuees and first responders working on disaster recovery — well over 1,000 people so far, with more to come.
Additionally, vacation rental owners and operators and anyone with available space are encouraged to make these accommodations available to temporarily house displaced West Maui residents. Since Monday, Aug. 14, the state has offered a referral program to make those connections possible to support West Maui residents in need of housing, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority statement.
Hotels in the Kaanapali area have now updated their websites with further guidance. The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa added an alert that the hotel is closed due to the extended power outage in the area. The Hyatt Vacation Club at Ka’anapali Beach posted that the area could be without power for weeks and that visitors are being asked to leave due to limited resources on the island.
If you booked a chain hotel directly, you can work with the corporate 1-800 number to alter your plans, but if you booked through a third-party online travel agency or aggregator like Expedia or Travelocity, it’s important to understand the cancellation policy. The OTA still owns your reservation prior to your travel, so contacting the hotel directly will likely result in you being referred back to the OTA or travel portal for assistance.
For those travelers who booked accommodations with Airbnb, the company has activated its “Extenuating Circumstances Policy” for parts of Maui. Eligible guests with reservations will receive a full refund, and both hosts and guests can cancel bookings penalty-free, the company said on Wednesday.
Will your credit card or trip insurance cover changes?
Generally, trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance will cover nonrefundable expenses, such as airfare, accommodation and activities, if you need to cancel your trip (or the remainder of your trip) due to a natural disaster like the wildfires. However, credit card insurance policies can vary, so check the benefits guide for the card you used to book your airfare for specific exclusions.
Also, note that you must have booked your trip before the natural disaster starts in order to be covered. This means that if you booked a new trip today, it likely wouldn’t be covered due to the wildfires already being labeled a declared emergency.
If you need to file a trip cancellation or interruption claim:
- Check your credit card’s benefits guide to see if you are eligible for coverage and what the limits are.
- Call your credit card’s benefits administrator, or start a claim online.
- Determine which documents you need to collect.
- Submit the documents within the required timeline.
“Many travel insurance policies can cover travelers who need to cancel or interrupt their trip due to a natural disaster, such as the Hawaii wildfires,” Steven Benna, marketing manager for Squaremouth, told TPG. “This can include cancellation coverage for travelers who are unable to travel because their destination is uninhabitable or under a mandatory evacuation due to the fires, as well as interruption coverage for travelers whose trips are cut short.”
“However, travel insurance is designed to cover unforeseen events,” he added. “In order for coverage to be available, the traveler must have bought their policy before the fires began.”
Depending on the needs of your trip, sites like InsureMyTrip and Squaremouth allow you to shop for plans that may fit your travel needs and compare coverage and pricing for multiple policy options at once.
Various membership associations, such as USAA, AAA and Costco, also offer travel insurance policies for purchase. Typically, these organizations partner with a specific provider, so you may want to compare the policies offered through the organization with other policies to get the best coverage for any future trips.
There’s also a type of coverage referred to as “cancel for any reason” coverage. You might only get 75% of the trip cost back, so depending on the trip, it might not be worth the hefty premium.
Related: 4 times your credit card’s travel insurance can help with travel woes, and 7 times it won’t
What to do if you have a cruise to Hawaii
For cruise passengers, it’s important to understand the cancellation or rebooking policy for the specific cruise line you will be traveling on.
Cruise lines might reroute to avoid Maui and affected areas. Per the terms of the cruise contract to which you consent before sailing, cruise lines do not owe you compensation if they alter your itinerary. If changes are made, you will be refunded for any shore excursions you booked through the cruise line that were to take place in the ports you’re skipping. (Check with your tour provider directly if you’ve booked a third-party excursion.)
TPG’s guide on what happens if a cruise gets canceled is the next place to refer to for guidance if you receive notice that your cruise is canceled.
A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line shared this statement with TPG regarding Pride of America, its Hawaii-based cruise ship that sails weekly on a seven-night all-Hawaii cruise from Honolulu:
We are deeply saddened to hear about the wildfires currently impacting the town of Lahaina in Maui. We have a very special relationship with the people and islands of Hawaii as we sail to the beautiful state year-round. It is a magical destination and one that is highly sought out by our guests for its natural beauty, culture and unparalleled experiences. We are closely monitoring the situation in Maui, impacting the west side of the island, opposite the Kahului Harbor, where we call. At this time, there is no impact on our scheduled itineraries. As always, our top priority is the safety and security of our guests and crew. We will communicate further updates as appropriate.
Princess Cruises offered the following statement:
Given the severity of these fires and their significant strain on local resources, Emerald Princess will cancel her scheduled call to Maui (Lahaina) on Monday, August 14, and will instead call to Kona.
As we continue to monitor the situation, we are actively reviewing the itineraries of our upcoming voyages. If any adjustments need to be made to our published itineraries, we will advise guests and our Travel Advisor partners.
Related: What happens if my cruise line changes my itinerary or ship?
How to help support Maui’s recovery efforts
In collaboration with the Hawaii Community Foundation, state leaders and nonprofits, the Maui Strong Fund is accepting donations to assist with recovery and relief efforts.
“The Maui Strong Fund was created to provide community resilience with resources for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery,” according to the Hawaii Community Foundation. “The fund is currently being used to support communities affected by the wildfires on Maui,” with 100% of funds being distributed for community needs.
TPG and Lonely Planet have teamed up to donate $25,000 to the Maui Strong Fund, and if you also want to help, you can learn more about the organization and donate here.
Aloha United Way has established a Maui Fire Relief Fund on its website, and 100% of the proceeds are directed to Maui United Way, whose partner agencies, such as the Maui Food Bank, the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army, are distributing relief funds according to the community’s most urgent needs.
Donating miles or cash via airlines
Hawaiian Airlines has updated its website with a message allowing loyalty members to donate HawaiianMiles, which will be used to transport volunteers and staff to Maui. Up to 30 million miles in donations will be matched by the airline for the month of August. You must log in to your account to donate.
American Airlines is also supporting the American Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts, and American Airlines AAdvantage members can earn 10 AAdvantage bonus miles for every dollar donated to the Red Cross via its microsite (note that there’s a minimum donation amount of $25).
This is a devastating, life-altering event for Maui. The most important things to consider right now are the safety of everyone on Maui and efforts to help those affected by the disaster, both by considering tangible donations and allowing space and time for relief and recovery efforts.
Adhering to the requests of local government officials to cancel or postpone trips to Maui at this time is the best course of action.
Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner, Matt Moffitt and Meghna Maharishi.