Yay! You’re going to Hawaii! What a dream. But first you have to get there. What a nightmare. Just kidding. But seriously, I have soooo many people tell me that they’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii, BUT
They don’t think they can handle the flight.
They don’t even know how long the flight is…is it overnight?
How many planes do you have to take?
Which is the best airline to fly?
Are there a lot of flights or are they limited?
Do they serve meals?
Are some flights better than others?
You get the idea. People have a LOT of questions about flying to Hawaii and I’m going to do my best to answer all of them in this post. Stick around to find out: 1 ) How long the flight to Hawaii is 2) Tips for handling jet lag 3) Tips for booking the best flights to Hawaii including when to pay more 4) and tips for the flight itself.
How Long is the Flight to Hawaii?
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, America 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 directly 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.
Jet Lag Traveling to Hawaii
Now about jet lag. Hawaii does not observe Daylight Savings Time so the time difference depends on the time of year. It’s 2-3 hours behind west coast time, 4-5 hours behind Central Time, and 5-6 hours behind Eastern Time. So your jet lag experience will vary greatly depending from where you’re traveling. If you’re going from the west coast, you may not notice it much at all.
Here’s what I’ve found after traveling back and forth a lot: it’s way harder to adjust coming home than going there. Mostly this is due to the direction you’re traveling, but I also think adjusting to a non-vacation routine just isn’t as much fun as the other way around.
So, what’s the easiest way to adjust? Personally, when I’m traveling (only 4 hour time difference) for a week or less, I try to stick to my home schedule (wake up and bed time) as much as possible. It’s easy to get up at 5 or 6 in Hawaii with the time change and since sunrise is so early, I like to get my day started early (a good strategy for beating the crowds at popular spots) and hit the hay pretty early (with the sun!). This isn’t too hard on Hawaii as outside of Waikiki there’s not much nightlife. This makes the transition back home a lot easier.
Now if you’re trying to acclimate to Hawaii time…most flights to Hawaii arrive in the afternoon. Do not nap! Stay awake and busy as late as you can. If you can make it until 8 or 9 PM, I consider that a victory!
Tips for Booking the BEST Flights to Hawaii
Note: For me, there’s a big difference between “best” and “cheapest.” And often, they’re inversely proportional. The cheapest flights are usually the worst and the best flights tend to be more expensive (but not always the most expensive). These tips are targeted towards finding the “best” flights which I would consider to be the flights with the fewest connections and best flight times. On that note, here are my tips:
ALWAYS BOOK DIRECT. This is the cardinal rule of travel. Under no circumstances should you ever book through a third party company like Expedia, Travelocity, and I hate to say it but even Costco. Air travel is WILD. Wildly undependable. Flights get delayed, they get cancelled, plans get derailed. And when you’ve booked through a third party, you can’t deal with the airline directly. You can literally be in the airport at the gate and depending on what the problem is (flight cancelled, flight delayed and you’re going to miss your connection, etc) the gate agent may not be able to help you. You haven’t known frustration until you’re literally standing in front of a human that handles flight changes for the airline and they can’t help you because you have to call Expedia and be on hold with them for 6 hours instead. When you book with a third party, THEY hold the reservation, not you.
Here’s the other thing…these booking sites hardly ever have prices any cheaper than the actual airline anyways. Do your research using Expedia or whoever you like to shop and then go directly to the airline to book.
Be flexible. Obviously, the more flexible you are on dates (within your general time frame) the more likely you’ll be able to find not only a deal, but also the best deal on the best flights available. If you can pick a 2-3 week time frame and then search for dates within that block, you’ll find the best deals. Unless you’re super loyal to a specific airline, be flexible with the airline, flexible with the travel dates, and even flexible with the airport if you’ve got multiple options nearby.
Use Seat Guru. Use Seat Guru to look up the layout of your aircraft (just put in the airline and flight number). Not all airlines fly the “good” planes to Hawaii. And a lot of airlines fly different planes from different cities (or even different planes from the same city). For example, last time I was flying American Airlines from Dallas to Maui (direct flight) I noticed that the first flight of the day was the “big” plane with screens in the back of all of the seats, but the second flight was a much older aircraft with no screens. There may also be differences in leg room, how many seats across there are, how many bulkheads there are, how big the premium economy sections are, whether the seats in first class lay flat or not, etc. That’s another big thing…not all first class flights to Hawaii are equal! If a certain type of experience is important to you, make sure that the route you’re looking at flies the type of aircraft you’re expecting.
The Best Airline to Fly to Hawaii. I see this question a lot. And I see a lot of definitive answers (mostly people say Hawaiian Airlines) which always surprises me. The best airline to fly to Hawaii 100% depends on WHERE YOU’RE FLYING FROM. It’s easy for someone from the west coast to tell you that you should only fly Hawaiian Airlines, but if you’re flying from a city that will require 3-4 connecting flights across two different carriers to get you to your final destination, then Hawaiian Airlines actually could be the WORST airline to fly to Hawaii.
As far as which airlines fly to Hawaii, all of the main ones do: American, Delta, and United. PLUS Hawaiian, Alaska, and Southwest.
There are flights into all of the major islands from these airlines (not every airline has flights to every airline):
Honolulu, Oahu (HNL)
Kahului, Maui (OGG)
Lihue, Kauai (LIH)
Kona, Hawaii (KOA)
Hilo, Hawaii (ITO)
Interisland flights are PLENTIFUL and are dominated by Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
So, the “best” airline is usually the one that either 1) offers a direct flight to the island you’re wanting to visit or at least to Hawaii or 2) has a hub near where you live. If you live in Dallas, American is going to have the best flights. If you live in Atlanta, Delta is going to have the best flights. If you live in Houston, United is going to have the best flights. You get the picture. If you live on the west coast, you’re going to have a lot more options than if you live in the midwest or the east coast.
So, along those lines…instead of going with the cheapest flights you can find, here are some times it might be worth it to pay more (use these guidelines to help you find the “best” flights as well):
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
When to Pay More for Flights to Hawaii
I’m definitely one to spend some time hunting for a bargain, but there are times when I think it’s worth it to pay more. Flights to Hawaii are about 5-6 hours from the west coast, 8-9 hours from the middle of the country, and 11-12 hours from the east coast so that’s a long time to be miserable in a bad seat or on a less than stellar aircraft. Also, not all flight itineraries to Hawaii are created equal. Of course it’s all subjective, but here are times when I think it’s worth it to pay more for a better flight:
For a direct flight: While many times it’s cheaper when you can land a direct flight (especially if you’re near a west coast hub), the farther east you call home, often the more expensive the direct flight options are. But I think they’re worth it! For example, flying from Tulsa, OK, my cheapest flight path is usually through Dallas and then Los Angeles, however American Airlines has a direct flight from Dallas to Maui that for me, is so worth the higher price! Being able to bypass the connection in Los Angeles (which usually involves a terminal change and rechecking baggage) and extra layover is something I’m willing to pay a little more for. Of course, this is something you have to weigh for yourself.
Airlines like Hawaiian Airlines are starting to extend their footprint beyond the west coast so in some cases you can find pretty good deals on direct flights from cities like New York, Boston, Orlando, and Austin.
For fewer connections: Similar to my suggestion above, flights with fewer connections are often a little pricier, but make our travel day much smoother and cut down on any chances of missing your final flight to Hawaii due to delays on an earlier flight. My rule of thumb: the more flights you have, the bigger chance that you’re not going to make it to your final destination.
For a better seat: Many airlines offer seat upgrades to the bulkhead (no seats in front of you) or an exit row for a small fee (usually $40-60) and having the extra leg room can make all the difference, especially on a long flight. I recommend using Seat Guru, which will break down the seating configuration of the aircraft for different flights you’re looking at.
For a better aircraft: Not all routes to Hawaii fly the same planes and some are definitely better than others. When you’re looking into a specific flight, I like to run the flight number through Seatguru.com to see what kind of plane you’ll be flying on. Especially if it’s your first trip to Hawaii, the aircraft can make a big difference. Whenever it’s a good option, I like to fly Hawaiian Airlines because I feel like they really nail the ambiance.
For a better connection coming home: Many people forget about the time change between Hawaii and the US mainland when booking return flights. Hawaii time is 2-3 hours behind the west coast (depending on daylight savings time). If you’re traveling to the Midwest or east coast, you’ll need to leave Hawaii on one of the first flights of the day to get home on the same day. A 7AM flight leaving Hawaii will usually get you to the west coast around 2-3PM (Pacific time), which leaves you plenty of time to make another connection. A flight that doesn’t leave Hawaii until 3PM won’t get to the west coast until 10-11PM, which will leave you either sleeping in the airport or grabbing a hotel for a few hours sleep before your 6AM flight home. Not fun. And some airport terminals close down at night making staying in the airport not an option (make sure you know the rules at your specific airport if you’re going this route. FYI, the San Jose airport does stay open 24/7…I have first hand experience. The other option is taking the red eye from Hawaii, which usually gets you to the west coast around 4AM leaving you a respectable layover to hop on a 6AM connecting flight. Even if you decide to go the cheapest route, whatever that may be, at least check and see what scenario you’ll be dealing with so you’re prepared. This doesn’t really affect travelers whose final destination is the west coast, only those who need to make another connection before arriving home.
Tips for the Flight to Hawaii
Charge all of your devices: Make sure everything is fully charged, bring your cords, and I like to throw in a battery pack for good measure.
Download all of the things: Whatever you’re binging on Netflix, your audiobook, your favorite Spotify playlist. You may not have access to Wifi on the plane.
Nothing beats an actual book: A screen is great for watching movies and show, but for reading, nothing is better than an actual book for me.
Bring the right headphones: So many people use wireless headphones now, but if you’re wanting to take advantage of the in-flight entertainment, you’ll need the old fashion kind with the jack (the round jack not the flat one the iphones use!).
Bring your own food: I cannot stress this enough. Airplane meals I’ve had on flights to Hawaii have ranged from “meh,” to “I’d rather be hungry,” to “if I eat that I will throw up” to being completely non existent since COVID. If you have time before your flight, eat a good meal (but nothing too heavy) and grab a few snacks. If you’re tight on time, plan ahead and pack a meal.
Drink so much water: While you want to drink plenty of water once you get on the plane, if you’re already dehydrated, it won’t help as much. So make sure you drink plenty of water the day or two before your flight.
Get up and move around: Your legs will thank you. It will help with circulation and swelling. Also, when you’re drinking a lot of water, it will force you to get up and go to the bathroom so win/win.
Wear warm clothes and pack a blanket: Yeah, you’re going to the tropics, but they’ll let you change clothes once you get there. I always freeze on planes and there’s nothing I hate more than being cold. I always wear leggings, a tank top, a long sleeve shirt and a sweatshirt. Again, I’m a cold wimp, but also a blanket always makes me feel cozy even when I’m not cold.
Watch out for germs. This isn’t just a COVID thing. Airplanes (and airports) have always been gross. Take antibacterial wipes to wipe down the surfaces around your seat. Bring hand sanitizer. You won’t want to have to wash your hands in that tiny bathroom. Bring face towelettes. I don’t know about you but I feel so grimy after a long flight and being able to clean my face really helps. Take an Emergen-C (or Airborne). Traveling can wreck your immune system so I always take an Emergen-C packet everyday for a few days after flying.