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Airlines waive change fees for Hawaii, Florida

Heavy Rain, flooding, weather
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

It's time to reassess your Labor Day travel plans.

As Hurricane Madeline approaches Hawaii and Tropical Depression Nine strengthens near Florida, airlines have begun waiving change and cancellation fees for destinations that could be affected.

Meteorologists are watching several storms in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The National Hurricane Center had advisories in place Wednesday on three Atlantic storms, the most serious of which is for Tropical Depression Nine. The center cautioned that the system could strengthen into a tropical storm (which would be named Hermine), and has issued alerts of possible hurricane or tropical storm conditions for various parts of Florida and Georgia.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm.

"It is crucial that every Floridian has a plan in place to ensure their families, homes and businesses are fully prepared," he said in a statement.

The other Atlantic storms may have limited impact. Hurricane Gaston is expected to continue moving eastward away from the U.S., and Tropical Depression Eight is moving away from the North Carolina coast.

This satellite image taken Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 and released by NASA shows Hurricane Madeline, left, and Hurricane Lester over the Pacific Ocean in a composite built from two overpasses by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite.
NASA | AP
This satellite image taken Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 and released by NASA shows Hurricane Madeline, left, and Hurricane Lester over the Pacific Ocean in a composite built from two overpasses by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite.

The Central Pacific Hurricane Center, meanwhile, has issued an advisory for Hurricane Madeline, with alerts of possible hurricane or tropical storm conditions for several islands, including the Big Island and Maui. The National Hurricane Center has also advised consumers to monitor the progress of Hurricane Lester, which could also track toward Hawaii.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige declared a state of emergency ahead of hurricanes Madeline and Lester.

"During this time, I ask residents and visitors to closely follow emergency instructions as we prepare for the storm," he said in a statement.

What you can do

For travelers worried about the prospects of that Labor Day trip, the first step is to check the cancellation and change policies for hotel, airfare and other travel components. Until there's a direct threat from the storm, you're likely at the mercy of standard policies. Unless you booked a nonrefundable room, many hotels offer penalty-free cancellation with just a few days' notice; on airfare, a change fee typically applies.

Travel providers have begun waiving change fees and relax policies for select travel dates and airports in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and South Carolina. Check the provider's travel advisory page.

Call customer service to plead your case even if a travel provider doesn't have a waiver on offer and the return policy seems ironclad. Reps may have some leeway to offer a refund or change waiver on a case-by-case basis, Jason Clampet, co-founder of travel site Skift.com, told CNBC.com earlier this year.

"Humans can always make choices at these travel brands," he said.

If you already bought travel insurance, call the provider to confirm coverage details.

Worries that there could be a hurricane typically aren't covered, unless you bought a cancel-for-any-reason policy, Rachael Taft, a spokeswoman for travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth.com, told CNBC.com last week. Some policies allow for cancellation once there's a hurricane warning in effect for your destination; others may require a more substantial effect like a flight or cruise delay, or accommodations rendered inhabitable because of the storm.

Policyholders usually also have coverage if storm-related travel delays cause problems (like a late flight that means you miss your cruise) or extra costs (meals at the airport or an extra night's lodging at your destination because there are no flights home).

Depending on which weather system you're worried about, it may already be too late to buy a policy.

"You can't buy a policy once a tropical storm or hurricane is named," said Taft. "At that point it's too late."

To be safe, buy your policy over the phone instead of online. Ask specifically about the worrisome weather.

"They'll usually know if a storm is named," Taft said – and confirm that you haven't missed the deadline to get coverage.