She doesn’t want to risk it. Can she cancel the trip to the Big Island?

Gloria Reyes faces the prospect of saying aloha to her vacation in Hawaii — and $1,600 in rebooking fees. But she doesn’t feel that it’s safe to take her family there because of the Kilauea volcano eruption on May 3. But can she cancel the trip without paying a penalty?

Reyes’ concerns for her family’s safety are understandable. But Travelocity isn’t willing to allow her to reschedule her trip without assessing her the rebooking fees. Reyes has trip insurance, but the insurance company won’t cover the rebooking fees if she cancels her trip.

“I think it’s really bad that Travelocity is going to make this kind of money off a terrible situation,” says Reyes.

Unfortunately for Reyes, neither Travelocity, her travel agency, nor our advocate agrees with her. Her case is a reminder to understand what your insurance policy does and doesn’t cover. It’s also a warning that travel companies are rarely willing to issue refunds for nonrefundable tickets, as Reyes discovered the hard way.

The Kilauea volcano eruption

As I type this, lava is flowing from fissures in Kilauea, a volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island. The U.S. Geological Survey has issued a red alert warning for Kilauea and lists the threat potential as “very high.” Residents of nearby communities, such as Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens, have evacuated the area. However, the eruption has not affected the north and west sides of the Big Island, which are still open to tourism.

In January, Reyes booked a family vacation for her family of four to the Big Island, and purchased trip insurance, through Travelocity. (She didn’t identify any of the companies with which she made bookings.) The airfares were nonrefundable. But after Kilauea erupted, she became nervous. By May 12, she was no longer willing to risk her family’s well-being and decided to cancel their vacation.

“Can I avoid these rebooking fees?”

On May 12, Reyes contacted Travelocity to ask whether she could rebook her vacation. Travelocity’s agent told her that she would have to pay rebooking fees of $400 for each of her family members if she rescheduled her trip.

She tried calling the airlines directly to ask for help. The airlines’ rebooking fees were lower than Travelocity’s. (Hawaiian Airlines currently allows penalty-free rebooking for flights to the Big Island.)

But because Reyes had booked her flights through Travelocity, the airlines’ employees told her that they could not assist her.

Reyes then called her insurance company to inquire whether she could file a claim for reimbursement of the rebooking fees. But the company would only pay a reimbursement claim in “extenuating circumstances.” And according to the employee to whom Reyes spoke, the Kilauea eruption doesn’t qualify as an extenuating circumstance.

No help from Travelocity…

Travelocity’s terms of use don’t contain any language that directly addresses rebooking fees. But they indicate that:

if you have purchased an airfare, please ensure you read the full terms and conditions of carriage issued by the supplier, which can be found on the supplier’s website. You agree to abide by the terms and conditions of purchase imposed by any supplier with whom you elect to deal, including, but not limited to, payment of all amounts when due and compliance with the supplier’s rules and restrictions regarding availability and use of fares, products, or services.

Unless the Kilauea volcano eruption completely closes the Big Island to tourism, Reyes will have to pay Travelocity’s rebooking fees. Booking her flights directly through the airlines would not have enabled her to completely avoid these fees. But had she done so, the fees would have been lower than Travelocity’s.

…or from us

Reyes might have appealed her case to higher-ranking executives of Travelocity, a property of Expedia, using our executive contacts. Instead, she asked us for help in getting Travelocity to cancel her trip without assessing her the rebooking fees.

Our advocate Michelle Couch-Friedman told Reyes, “The airline (and trip insurance company) isn’t forcing you to take your family to the Big Island. They are just pointing out that the financial penalty is yours at
this point. Nonrefundable tickets are the lowest fare tickets, so they come with penalties.”

So we can’t help Reyes. We hope that they have a wonderful vacation, despite the unavoidable rebooking fees.

Should travelers be permitted to cancel their current plans to the Big Island without penalty?

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