Historically, Hawaii hasn’t been particularly cheap. However, times they are a changin’ – and today, travel to Hawaii just might be one of those “hidden in plain sight” gem-like opportunities that you’d normally never think about — but should.
Listen as Anne McDermott talks to Bruce Fisher of hawaii-aloha.com about what islands to visit and why.
Before I address the typical Hawaiian “measurements” – those useful nuggets of information about weather, crowds and more that help you filter your decision on the best time to visit – let’s tackle what you really want to know: how to get cheap airline tickets to Hawaii. When to buy tickets and what are the best days and times to fly there? To me, these are the fascinating nuggets, but then – I’m an airfare geek.
Quick Hawaii Air Travel Background
Air travel to Hawaii has historically been a $750+ roundtrip proposition for most across the United States (except for those of you on the West Coast, which we’ll highlight in our “cheapskate strategies” coming up). And when I say historically, I’m talking in part about the 1990’s, when Japanese visitors popped up in Hawaii in droves and the islands were booming. Every seat on every plane to Hawaii was pretty much full – all year round.
But all good things come to an end and stratospheric ticket prices was certainly one of those things (at least, for the airlines); the Internet bubble burst early in the new century and demand waned even as folks pulled back in general from flying after 9/11. This coupled with the Japanese economy getting stuck in the muck has thankfully tempered ticket prices to the islands more recently in the 21st century.
Fast forward to 2008 which had the makings of grimly high Hawaiian tickets, as oil zoomed to $145/barrel and unfortunately both Aloha and ATA airlines bit the dust, thereby removing nearly 25% of all the seats flown into the Islands.
Typically fewer seats equals higher prices, but not this time as the recession began to kick in and tickets over $200 weren’t going to be purchased by anyone, hula skirts or not.
A (not so) urban legend had it that airlines were reticent to add planes to Hawaii because every time they did the planes sold old instantly with reward point redeemers – putting a crimp in revenue per (paying) passenger and those darned ROI or return on investment calculations.
Hawaii is one of the most sought after air travel reward redemption destinations in the world – also making it one of the most frustrating to score a “free” ticket. You and millions of your not so closest friends start exactly eleven months out (when airlines take reservations) trying to find that elusive handful of award seats for Christmas (take my advice, buy a lottery ticket, you’ll have a better chance).
Or better yet, let’s hash out some strategies to make that perfect Hawaiian Island air travel purchase decision.
Hawaiian Airfare Geek 101
Before we dive in too deep, let’s do a quick analysis of the rock bottom cheapest roundtrip airline ticket prices to Honolulu from the top 50 U.S Cities for the past few choppy years:
Note: that we have to pretty much toss out 2009 unless (hold your breath) we have a double dip **cession.
This year has looked a bit more like what I would expect, and note that prices can be quite volatile (small dips on many city average data points usually translates into wild swings on certain routes).
What you should take away from this chart is pretty simple:
- Hawaiian airline ticket recession ended in May
- Absolute cheapest ticket prices range wildly between $450 and $700 roundtrip
- You need to start shopping early to catch potential sales (preferably 3-4 months or more before travel)
- A family of four can save enough for a several night-hotel stay (or buy up) if they purchase airline tickets wisely
Favorite Cheapskate Hawaiian Air Travel Strategy
In case this is your first foray to the Hawaiian Islands and you haven’t eyeballed the airplane “aloft time” – think Europe.
When you see prices that are out of your range, it might be worth a look to check out flights from the West Coast to get a feel for the difference in price (this works for other destinations as well, like Australia).
Which leads me to one of my favorite cheapskate Hawaiian strategies – buying a cheap domestic roundtrip ticket to Los Angeles or San Francisco (possibly on a low cost airline that doesn’t service the islands) and combining that with a separate roundtrip ticket from the coast (leaving appropriate connection time (what I call, leg stretching time) – like a day in Santa Monica, one of my favorite U.S. cities).
The reason this strategy works in some cases is pretty simple – competition (if there isn’t a need to discount, the airlines won’t).
Take a look at the number of daily non-stop seats (flights) flown to the Hawaiian Islands from cities in the United States and Canada (as you might expect, the West Coast dominates):
The West Coast dwarfs the rest of the nation in “lift” to Hawaii, and if you couple that with distance, these are the best ticket prices – and because of competition, likely to have much more discounting than other mainland cities.
Hawaii “Do I Travel” Filters
Some things you should consider about Hawaiian travel that will help you filter out (or in) some travel periods or events include:
- Hawaii is typically a very pricey trip for winter snow bird escape departures
- Summer can be very hot, humid and crowded (with kids)
- The Hawaiian hurricane season (hurricanes are extremely rare – last major one in 1992 – Iniki) is June through November
- The “dry” season is April through October
- The “rainy” season is November through March (though recent years have been less wet)
- Many locals say the perfect weather months are April, May, September and October
- Water temperatures range from the low 70’s to low 80’s for the Hawaiian Islands
- Each island can contain several “micro” weather systems (Hawaiian micro-climates – wet on one side, dry on the other)
- Temperatures range from the mid 70’s to low 90’s (other than at high elevations)
- There are approximately 11 to 13 hours of daylight (a very small variation)
- Other big events to avoid (or join)
Wrap Up and Prediction
To wrap up let me go over the most common questions and provide some guidance – along with a prediction.
First, the prediction – recently Southwest Airlines said it is going to introduce the Boeing 737-800 aircraft into their fleet in early 2012 (perfect from some West Coast flights into Hawaii as Alaska Airlines is already using this aircraft on this route). In the past Southwest had a code share relationship with bankrupted ATA airlines into the Hawaiian Islands and it had worked out pretty well for them – look for Southwest to add Honolulu to its nearly seventy list of cities serviced and cause a ripple on those semi-transpacific prices of flights.
When to Shop?
Start at least 4 months before travel and sign up for alerts to keep in touch with price drop activity. Bookmark our Hawaii deal finder page. Sales typically occur on Monday night so shopping on Tuesday is a great time to start. Recently a price war to Hawaii occurred from major hub cities, so keep an eye on your closest big city.
When to Buy?
Buy outside 21 days from departure; and, be aware of the $200+ winter holiday premium.
How to Shop?
Shop for 1 passenger first to get a baseline price (in case only a few cheap seats are left) and follow Twitter/Facebook deal listings. Try for free awards but don’t get upset if you never find a seat.
What is a Good Price?
Anything under $650 including all taxes and fees (except from the west coast which is $450) is a good deal and check out staying for the day (or a night) on the West Coast as a low fare pricing strategy. Recently we have seen some hub price wars to Hawaii for travel in the $500 range (from places like Miami) so keep an eye out — airlines like to show their displeasure with other airlines by sending a signal to them, the signal sometimes is cheap prices to Honolulu from the competitors hub cities.