For most travelers, airfare is the single biggest expense of a trip to Hawaii…after all, it’s a looooong ways over there. And if you’ve never booked international airfare before (I know it’s the US but because of the distance, flights to Hawaii work much more like international than domestic), it can be kind of overwhelming. First up, I’ll let you in on a few of the biggest things you need to be aware of before you start looking at airfare to Hawaii. Next, I’ll let you in on my 6-step system for booking the best airfare deal and finally, suggest a few scenarios where I think it’s worth it to pay a little more for a better flight.
Before I dive into some of my favorite money saving strategies, you should know that the single biggest factor that will save on airfare is picking the cheapest time of year to travel to Hawaii (read all about that here). Once you have a good idea of your general travel dates as well as the island(s) you’re headed to, you’re ready to start searching for bargains!
So first up, exactly how long is the flight to Hawaii?
Well it depends where you’re traveling from. From the west coast, flights are only 5-6 hours (6 hours going, 5 hours coming home). From the midwest, flights can be 7-9 hours (hey, the US is a big country and there’s a big difference between Denver and Atlanta). And from the east coast, flights can be 10+ hours (yikes!). Now I have not flown direct from the east coast, but I have flown direct from Dallas, TX (8 hour flight) so I have some personal experience here. I will say, these are DIRECT flight times (my preferred method of travel), but the majority of flights to Hawaii connect on the west coast so you’ll be able to break it up.
Things to Know About Booking Airfare to Hawaii
Before you start bargain hunting, here are a few general strategies that I’ve found save money on airfare no matter where you’re traveling:
Be flexible: Obviously, the more flexible you are on dates (within your general time frame) the more likely you’ll be able to find a deal. If you can pick a 2-3 week time frame and then search for dates within that block, you’ll find the best deals.
Check out nearby airports: If you live in an area with several airport options, make sure to investigate all of your options. It may also be worth it to drive a bit to fly out of a different airport, especially if they have a good connection to a west coast hub.
Know your connections: The lowest priced flights usually have the most connections. If you have more time than money, being willing to make another connection (especially through Los Angeles or Honolulu) will often save you money. Also, flights with long layovers (especially coming home) are usually the cheapest.
Fly on weekdays: As a general rule of thumb, weekday flights are always less expensive than weekend flights. Everybody wants to leave on a Friday morning and come home the next Saturday or Sunday so naturally that will always be the most expensive option. Being able to travel on a random Tuesday or Wednesday can really save you some big bucks.
Consider breaking the trip up. Narrow your airfare search to a west coast hub (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, etc.) because those are where you’ll find AMAZING deals. $200 round trip tickets to Maui anyone? Once you snag an awesome deal, then stalk flights from your hometown to that city. You can often save quite a bit using this method but it does require more planning.
Check to see how full your flight is. Once you find a flight itinerary that you like but you’re not sure if the price is at rock bottom or not, go to the airline’s website and look up the seating chart. That will tell you how full it is. If it’s mostly filled up, don’t expect the price to go down much. If it has plenty of availability, you might take the gamble of waiting to see if the price drops.
Check out Alaska Airlines. Although the name may confuse you, Alaska Airlines has a surprising amount of flights to Hawaii and they’re considered a budget airline so they’re usually some of the best options. They fly out of almost a dozen locations on the west coast, so always look into them as an option.
Southwest Airlines is now a player. Southwest has announced plans to begin flights to Hawaii (as well as interisland flights), so if you’re loyal to the airline, this is a great opportunity to cash in those points and check some free bags! Definitely keep an eye out for great rates with Southwest!
When in doubt, fly Hawaiian. Unless you’ve been to Hawaii before, you likely won’t have much experience with Hawaiian Airlines, but I really like them. They only fly out of a handful of hubs on the US mainland (although they have flights from Las Vegas and JFK in addition to the regular west coast hubs), but they have good partners so you can usually book with them from quite a few cities. In my experience, their places are always nice and they really nail the ambiance. They also partner with Jet Blue so if you have miles with them, you can use them to book Hawaiian.