Maui is in crisis and you're booked for a visit. Do you still go, or try for a refund?

ByMichael Finney KGO logo
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
With Maui in crisis, should you still vacation there?
In the wake of the Maui fires, tourists are still booked to visit in the coming months -- but wonder if they should go, or cancel.

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Maui deals with the aftermath of the fires, tourists are still booked to visit the island in coming months. Many wonder if the island could possibly be ready for visitors anytime soon. Most aren't getting a clear answer.

The island is the site of such devastation, many can't imagine going there to enjoy a vacation. Yet, airlines have a narrow window to change plans. Some hotels are not even reachable. Travel advisers say wait and see what happens, but tourists with vacations coming up want to know -- should I stay or should I go?

Matthew Axworthy and his wife Marguerite visit Maui often. "We're heartbroken. We know so many people over there, and we've been part of the community for probably close to 25 years," Axworthy said.

The couple owns a Marriott timeshare but aren't sure if they should go in October as planned -- or not.

"We don't know personally if it's the right thing to do for the people of Maui, Lahaina - we're hearing a variety of opinions - 'Yes you should go, they need your support,' 'No, nobody should go, they need to heal,'" said Axworthy.

RELATED: Planning to visit Hawaii? Here's what to know about fires on Maui and Big Island

Karen Smith of Danville planned to celebrate a birthday watching humpbacks migrate south -- but now the docks are gone. "Our plan was to go to Lahaina and go whale watching. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's going to happen," said Smith.

"Is it going to be rebuilt then? Nobody knows. I'd rather have some kind of assurance that that's going to be our trip, you know, so we can go to Lahaina and we can get a boat and go out and watch the whales, because that's what you do in Lahaina along with touristy things," she said.

Cindy Phan was supposed to go to Oahu this week, then on to Maui. She says she can't imagine going at all. "I don't know how you can have fun knowing people lost homes and lives," Phan said. "I don't have the heart, you know, it's just too sad to go. I'm not going to sit there and swim and enjoy - my anxiety levels would go crazy."

Many with upcoming visits are in limbo. Will Maui be ready for visits? Can they get refunds?

Clint Henderson of The Points Guy says visitors without travel insurance have few protections. Henderson said, "If you have an upcoming trip in the next couple of weeks, I would say go ahead and cancel, try to reschedule. Delay that trip for now. But further out, if you just don't want to go somewhere where they've had a lot of damage from fires, I think you're less likely to get a refund."

RELATED: Travelers wonder what their options are as wildfires devastate Maui

Many airlines are allowing passengers to change flights to Maui without penalty or even cancel for a refund -- but only until the end of this month, which gives folks little time to decide on travel.

Airbnb did refund Smith for her February stay, but Alaska Airlines offered only a voucher for her tickets. Phan canceled her hotel without penalty, but the airline did not refund her ticket because she flew first to Oahu. The Axworthys cannot get a refund to cancel his timeshare in Oct.

"If you have decided that you do not want to go to Maui, even if it's three months from now, call your hotel, call the airlines, see what they'll do to work with you," says Henderson.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to these trip interruptions. The Points Guy recommends buying travel insurance for every vacation, or booking with a credit card that comes with trip protections.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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