Will CSA refund her missed vacation rental in Kauai?

Andrea Stewart had one day left to decide. She had booked a stay in Kauai, but torrential rains were falling and the area was flooding. Should she cancel, or should she try to continue with her vacation?

Stewart canceled her stay. But CSA Travel Protection won’t reimburse her for her missed vacation rental in Kauai. (Note: See update at the end of this story for the happy ending.)

Stewart’s story is a reminder to go over your vacation rental contracts with a fine-toothed comb before canceling your stays. If the contracts don’t allow for refunds, then your costs will be washed away. Our advocates can’t help you obtain reimbursements for your rental deposits or other expenses.

Not a luau

Between the eruption of Kilauea on the Big Island and intense rainfall on Kauai, Mother Nature seems to have it in for Hawaii. During the weekend of April 14, Kauai received over 27 inches of rain, inundating Hanalei, Wainiha, Haena and Anahola. The airport at Lihue was inaccessible. Mudslides closed Kuhio Highway, Kauai’s major road.

Stewart had reserved a trip for six days for herself and her daughter. They would fly on Alaska Airlines to Honolulu, where they would stay in Waikiki for three days. Then they would go to Kauai, for another three-day visit to Princeville. She rented a condo from AHH Aloha for $923 for their stay in Kauai and purchased a travel insurance policy from CSA Travel Protection (now Generali Global Assistance).

They arrived in Waikiki on April 14, where Stewart received warnings about the rain in Kauai.

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“The news over the next couple of days was devastating mainly for the North Shore, which was our destination,” says Stewart. “Local news reports were saying things like ‘Don’t travel north of Lihue.’ We were seeing people being evacuated by helicopters. People [were] in Red Cross shelters that were running out of food and water.”

No reimbursement for a missed vacation

Stewart and her daughter were scheduled to fly to Kauai on April 17. But the warnings she received about the flooding caused Stewart to cancel the remainder of her vacation:

I had less than 24 hours to make a decision on whether to leave a safe island with my six-year-old and travel to a place that was in a state of emergency, [where I didn’t know if] I would be able to get to my destination; and, if I couldn’t, if I would be able to find lodging.

She notified AHH Aloha that she and her daughter would not be staying at the condo and asked for a refund of her rental payment.

However, Stewart’s rental agreement contained the following disclaimer: “Any interruption of services within the property or inclement weather during your stay will not serve to void or cancel the rental agreement.”

Although AHH Aloha would not normally offer a canceling renter a future credit, its personnel agreed to give one to Stewart. She could rent one of its condos within the next two months if she paid for any price difference between her original and new rentals.

Alaska Airlines was unhelpful. The airline charged Stewart change fees of $92 for her flight home and refused to give her credit for her flight from Honolulu to Lihue. When she inquired about the additional costs of approximately $380, Alaska Airlines responded that the flight was so full, it had to charge her for a connecting flight. The airline agreed to waive the change fee and offered Stewart two $50 vouchers for future flights.

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But these “solutions” didn’t work for Stewart. She couldn’t afford to return to Kauai within two months. Nor would she be flying Alaska Airlines any time soon.

No CSA refund

Stewart filed a claim with CSA Travel Protection for the cost of her vacation. But she was out of luck there too. Her insurance policy included this language:

We will only pay benefits for losses occurring within 30 calendar days after the evacuation order is issued. … We will only pay benefits for losses occurring within 15 calendar days following the event which causes the interruption of road service.

CSA responded that it contacted AHH Aloha. The insurance company denied Stewart’s claim because there was no mandatory evacuation order or road closure in effect in the vicinity of Stewart’s rental property. According to AHH Aloha, the property was still accessible when she canceled her stay.

No case for our advocates

Stewart contacted our advocates to request help in obtaining reimbursement from CSA and Alaska Airlines. (Contact information for both companies is available on our website.)

Our advocates had seen similar situations following Hurricane Irma last year. Gary Molinaro decided to cancel a vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., before Irma made landfall, when its ultimate path was still unknown. Molinaro’s vacation rental contract didn’t allow for refunds for cancellations resulting from inclement weather.

Unfortunately, Stewart found herself in a similar situation. Our advocate, Carrie Livingston, advised Stewart that we weren’t going to be able to help her get a CSA refund.

And as our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, notes, the language in vacation rental contracts and trip insurance policies doesn’t favor travelers.

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All we can do is advise vacation renters facing potential inclement weather not to cancel reservations unless mandatory evacuations and road closures are in effect. Otherwise, the storms will blow your expenses away — and you won’t be able to get your money back for your missed vacation.

Should vacation rental companies be legally prohibited from refusing to issue refunds resulting from inclement weather?

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Update (7/2): After this story was written and filed, but before it was published, CSA re-opened the case and honored the claim. CSA just informed us of this, and we’re happy to update the story with a new ending.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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