Flights to the 50th state can be found on all of the major U.S. carriers but Hawaii also has its own airline that provides friendly Hawaiian hospitality from the moment you check-in. Hawaiian Airlines is often ranked the most on-time airline in the U.S. and although it doesn’t face the challenges some other airlines face, it’s always nice to start your vacation without delay.

Tips for Traveling on Hawaiian Airlines

To familiarize yourself with how Hawaiian Airlines operates and what to expect onboard when traveling across the Pacific or an interisland flight, I’ll explain how a Hawaiian Airlines flight compares to other U.S. airlines.

What to Know Before You Book with Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines flies from several West Coast cities and a few major cities in the Northeast to/from its hub in Honolulu (HNL). Other islands are also served nonstop from select West Coast cities to Maui (OGG), Kauai (LIH), and Kona (KOA). It also has many interisland flights within Hawaii both on Hawaiian Airlines itself and ‘Ohana by Hawaiian, which is operated by Empire Airlines. For international flights, Hawaiian Airlines provides service to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania, with a unique opportunity to add a stopover in Hawaii for a small fee.

Hawaiian Airlines isn’t part of any major airline alliance, but it does have a few partnerships that allow it to sell tickets from more destinations. JetBlue is its main partner on the mainland and it links up with international carriers such as Japan Airlines and Virgin Australia to provide more connecting service to cities across the Pacific Ocean.

The biggest competitors for Hawaiian Airlines are Alaska Airlines and Southwest, which both fly many of the same routes between the West Coast and Hawaii. Hawaiian Airlines also competes on price with the “Big 3” legacy carriers American, Delta, and United, and has a similar bag fee structure when flying between Hawaii and the mainland of $30 each way for the first checked bag and $40 for the second. For flights within Hawaii, the bag fees are slightly less at $25 for the 1st bag and $35 for the second. When comparing airfares, note that Southwest is the exception in this category and includes 2 free checked bags for all fares, on all routes; and United’s lowest Basic Economy fares only include a small personal item. All Hawaiian Airlines fares include a full-size carry-on bag plus a personal item.

The main perk you’ll get by flying Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaii is that all long-haul flights include a hot meal service in the economy cabin. This is a bonus compared to other carriers that usually only include a small snack. American and Delta do include meal service on select routes to Hawaii, but it is not included on all flights and United doesn’t even include a meal on its 11.5-hour flight from Newark.


Related: How to Fly Southwest Airlines (And Get the Seat You Want)


Main Cabin Basic vs Main Cabin Fares on Hawaiian Airlines

At the end of 2019, Hawaiian Airlines introduced its version of Basic Economy, which is called Main Cabin Basic. These fares were initially rolled out on just a few routes, but have since expanded to the majority of Hawaiian’s flight network between the mainland U.S. and Hawaii. It can now be expected that the lowest fare you see on Hawaiian Airlines flights between Hawaii and U.S. cities on the mainland will be Main Cabin Basic fares.

These fares include the same amount of baggage as a regular Main Cabin fare, but there are restrictions on flight changes, seat selection, and boarding. The worst restriction is the fact that your ticket will not be flexible at all when traveling on a Main Cabin Basic fare. No ticket changes or upgrades are allowed — not even for a fee. Early seat selection at the time of booking is also not possible, but you may be able to choose a seat for free during check-in. Sometimes, you may have to wait for your seat to be assigned at the gate. Main Cabin Basic passengers are also last to board and do not qualify for Pualani Elite bonus miles, but standard miles will still be earned on Hawaiian Airlines flights. However, miles will not be earned on partner airlines.

The upgrade from a Main Cabin Basic fare to a regular Main Cabin fare varies by route, specific sales, and travel dates. I’ve seen it as low as $30 more each way on a flight between Los Angeles and Honolulu and up to $55 more each way from New York. Main Cabin fares include standard seat selection during booking and allow ticket changes for a fee. Regardless of which type of fare you purchase, you’ll always receive a free inflight meal and the same standard of service onboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight. At the time of writing, Main Cabin Basic fares are not sold on flights within Hawaii or to/from international destinations so you won’t need to worry about any extra restrictions when flying those routes.

If you hold a Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard, you will still enjoy all benefits, including one free checked bag, when traveling on a Main Cabin Basic ticket. Pualani Elite members receive most of the same benefits such as a free checked bag and priority boarding/check-in, but will not be eligible for upgrades or any flight changes.


Related: A New Look at Basic Economy for Domestic and Short-Haul International Travel


sunset in Honolulu Hawaii over infiniti pool

How to Book a Flight with Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines flights can be found when searching all of the major online travel agencies (OTAs) and prices tend to be the same across all channels. When booking itineraries that require connections on other airlines, you may find more options by searching third-party sites that wouldn’t appear when searching directly on Hawaiian’s website. The best practice when searching for flights is to always compare with a few different websites to ensure you’re finding the best deal.

Hawaiian Airlines has started to advertise more sales since it has introduced Main Cabin Basic fares and flight prices to Hawaii have been falling ever since Southwest has entered the market and Basic Economy has expanded on the major carriers. To find out about both advertised and unadvertised flight deals, sign up for FREE airfare alerts.

When booking on Hawaiian’s website, first choose your desired route in the “from” and “to” boxes and click “continue”. You can then choose to pick specific dates or click on the “Price Calendar” link underneath the “search flights” button if you’d like to see fares on a flexible date calendar. On the calendar view, you can click on the arrows to switch between months and choose the desired trip length for it to search. There is also the option to toggle between a bar graph chart and a calendar view. These tools make it easier to find when the lowest fares are available.

Once you’ve chosen dates, you’ll be given the option to choose between Main Cabin Basic, Main Cabin, Extra Comfort, and First Class fares. If you choose the Main Cabin Basic option, a pop-up will appear asking to confirm your selection and accept the restrictions. After entering passenger information, the booking process continues to the seat selection step. If you’re booking a Main Cabin Basic fare, you’ll see another pop-up on this screen informing that you’ll need to upgrade to a Main Cabin fare in order to select seats. If you don’t want to pay extra, make sure to click on the “No Thanks” button to continue to the payment screen.

After completing the purchase, you’ll still have 24 hours to cancel for free as long as the flight’s departure is at least 7 days away. This is the policy for any type of fare — even Main Cabin Basic fares — so if plans fall through and you need to cancel or if you’d like to make any changes, make sure to do so within one day of purchase. Booking on certain third-party sites may allow free cancellation for last-minute flights within one-week of departure.


Related: The Best Tools for Flexible Date Searches


couple relaxing in Hanalei Bay Resort in Kauai, Hawaii

Check-In and Boarding a Hawaiian Airlines Flight

Online check-in opens 24 hours before departure and closes 1 hour prior. It is recommended to arrive at the airport 2 hours and 30 minutes prior to departure for flights between the mainland U.S. and Hawaii; and 1 hour and 30 minutes early for flights within Hawaii. Bag tags can be printed at the kiosk and flights departing Hawaii will need to be inspected for agricultural products. You must be checked-in and bags dropped no later than 45 minutes prior to departure for flights between Hawaii and the mainland; 30 minutes prior for interisland flights, and 1-hour prior for international flights.

After check-in, make sure to be at the boarding gate 30 minutes prior to departure to assure you receive any last-minute seat assignments. The boarding process includes 8 separate categories starting with pre-boarding for guests needing special assistance, followed by Premium Cabin and elite members of Hawaiian’s frequent flyer program. Main Cabin boarding begins with early boarding for active-duty military and families with children under 2. Zone 3 is reserved for guests who opted to pay for “Extra Comfort” or “Preferred” seats, which is followed by Main Cabin seats in zones 4 and 5, and, finally, the last group to board are travelers who booked Main Cabin Basic tickets. Since overhead bin space may fill-up, it may be required for the last few passengers to gate-check bags to the final destination. This will be free of charge.

Hawaiian airlines plane taking off

The Hawaiian Airlines Inflight Experience

The island mentality begins once you’re onboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight. All passengers receive a free in-flight meal and island-style snacks and refreshments. Entertainment options include free streaming on mobile devices via the Hawaiian Airlines app, which must be downloaded before take-off. Seatback screens also show movies on demand, TV series, and games so you’ll have plenty to keep you busy on the flight half-way across the Pacific.

Economy seating on Hawaiian Airlines has a standard amount of legroom with a seat pitch ranging from 30-31 inches depending on the aircraft. You’ll get a few extra inches with “Extra Comfort” seats and even more in the premium cabins. For those looking to be connected to the world wide web, unfortunately, Hawaiian Airlines does not currently offer Wi-Fi on any of its aircraft.

Extra Comfort seating is available on Airbus A330 and A321neo aircraft. The upgrade offers more legroom, priority services, and additional amenities such as a personal electrical power outlet and a comfort kit. The Premium Cabin includes lie-flat seating and gourmet meals along with lounge access and First Class service to ensure you arrive well-rested on the long flight to/from Hawaii.

Overall, Hawaiian is one of the better airlines to fly to the tropical islands in the Pacific. The hospitality onboard and free meal service mean you’ll be immersed in the island spirit from start to finish. If Hawaiian flies from your local airport or is a possible connection on your itinerary to Hawaii, make sure to include Hawaiian Airlines in your comparison search. And if you’d like to visit one of the destinations served in Asia or the South Pacific, flying Hawaiian Airlines can be a great opportunity to stop in Hawaii for a few days either on the way to or back from your final destination.

Here’s a list of current fares on Hawaiian Airlines to locations throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Stay on top of breaking sales, fare drops, and more! Follow us on Twitter @Airfarewatchdog. And make sure to sign up for FREE airfare alerts to be notified when prices drop.

Featured image: dejjf82 / Shutterstock

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