Getting the best seats on Hawaii flights can be challenging if you’re unwilling to splurge in some way (including on Southwest Hawaii flights).
Of course, who doesn’t want to luxuriate, have less stress, extra legroom, or even snag an upgrade? Unfortunately, that’s not always feasible due to cost. Nowadays, premium seats on Hawaii flights are in such high demand that people are willing to pay a pretty penny for comfort. In such cases, the only viable option may be to go for the best available seats in economy. Did you know that in some cases, the cost of extra legroom can be up to double the cost of the actual flight itself?
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered for the best seats. How we paid just $10 extra.
Airlines, including Hawaiian, Southwest, and others, charge extra for access to specific economy seats, whether by one method or another. Hawaiian regularly charges $10 to $250 or more for the best economy seat assignments when making your reservation. While at Southwest, you can pay either $15-$25 for one step-up to Early Bird boarding or $30-$80 for the best step-up to Upgraded Boarding. But is it worth it?
If you don’t spring for more desirable seats, you could end up being crammed in the middle seat or separated from your travel companions, which puts a damper on your Hawaiian vacation. That recently happened to us. You can also end up with less legroom.
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to the best seats. Here’s ours.
We flew this week on Hawaiian Airlines – 4 flights in total. We upgraded each of the segments and for that, we paid $10 per person for each, or $40 per passenger. That put us in the exit row, row 18. There, the legroom was nothing short of ginormous. Of course, the seat width doesn’t change, but we did both love the seats – oh yeah! These were chosen at the time of making reservations.
If we had flown on Southwest instead, we would have also liked to have been seated either in their exit row 16, 2-passenger-only row 15 (although it has no extra legroom), or near the front of the plane, row 2. With more carry-ons, we’d opt for the exit; without, we’d opt for the front. For the interisland flights, the Southwest cost would be either $15 per segment for Early Bird or $30 per segment for Upgraded Boarding. Be aware that in our experience, Early Bird has not worked to access the exit rows; only the more expensive Upgraded Boarding has worked. That’s a function of how far in advance you booked, too, in terms of how far these upgrades actually get you; the further out you book, the better. And it also comes down to how busy your flight is.
Although seats within the same class (think economy class) boast the same physical dimensions, they may not be equal in other significant ways, as seasoned travelers can readily attest. One crucial decision to make is whether you favor an aisle seat or a window seat. If you’re traveling as a duo, are you willing to compromise and take a middle seat? Also consider the importance of proximity to the door for easy, quick entry and exit, as well as access to the lavatories.
Do you prefer being seated toward the front of the plane? We generally do, but not always…
There’s something about not having to gaze at a sea of humanity that inexplicably makes the cabin feel less claustrophobic. Being among the first to disembark upon arrival is another true delight. And sitting closer to the front also alleviates concerns about making connecting flights.
Will you have easy access to overhead storage for your carry-ons?
This is a legitimate concern that isn’t always easy to discern. We mentioned that on Southwest recently, the overhead bins above our seats were used to store snacks instead of passenger luggage. Rob had to head back quite a few rows which wasn’t a problem putting the bag on, but it definitely was getting it off.
Then too, flight attendants sometimes utilize overhead bins near bulkheads. Generally, sitting further back provides greater accessibility to overhead storage, depending on when you board and the airline’s boarding scheme.
Two-across economy seating — a vanishing luxury.
Airlines flying to and within Hawaii now predominantly employ single-aisle, narrow-body aircraft, which typically feature 3-across seating. When booking your flight, check to see if any flights offer wide-body or other aircraft with some 2-seat across options. American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and United Airlines offer such options depending on the route and aircraft. Conversely, Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines exclusively operate narrow-body aircraft with 3-across for their Hawaii flights (although Southwest has row 15 with two seats alone).
Aisle and window seats are now premium commodities too.
Airlines know that passengers despise middle seats and capitalize on this by monetizing window and aisle seats whenever possible.
The old trick of leaving a middle seat vacant rarely works.
In the past, passengers would try to reserve an entire seat row by selecting the window and aisle seats, preferably towards the rear, and leaving the middle seat empty. When the plane wasn’t full, this often led to two individuals comfortably sharing three seats. However, with airlines filling nearly every seat these days, this clever ploy is unlikely to succeed any longer.
But some old tricks still hold.
When traveling with a companion and neither of you is willing to endure a middle seat, many opt to choose adjacent aisle seats. We’ve done this ourselves, and it has worked well for us. Some feel that this is inappropriate, however.
Another trick that still works is to check your reservation frequently, from the moment you book until your departure. In today’s rapidly shifting travel landscape, your flight could undergo changes, such as a different aircraft type or the availability of new seats. Whatever the circumstances, make it a habit to check and ensure everything aligns with your expectations. This, of course, is true for all except Southwest since they don’t have seat assignments.
Editor Jeff is flying next week and is rechecking today to see if he can improve his seat assignment. He plans to check again precisely 24 hours before the flight time. That’s another trick that sometimes works.
We use these websites to find the best seats for our Hawaii flights.
As a reminder, we suggest using Seat Guru and Seat Maestro, two websites we use to provide comprehensive seating information for all aircraft. Check both since sometimes their seat maps are out of date. These offer seat maps, highlighting the better seats and explaining why they are preferred and seats to avoid.
When we are looking at long Hawaii flights from and to the mainland, we open the seat map sites suggested above before we even enter the booking process. So we know the seats and how people are rating them all. That way, when we look at the airline’s seat assignment map, with standard, and extra legroom options, we’re prepared to decide.
On the flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu (seat map above), we had a choice of seat pairs together with extra legroom at $112 per person. Or, for nothing extra, the same seat pairs with somewhat less legroom available further back in the aircraft. For aisle seats, the options were $102 for extra legroom, $31 for standard seats towards the front, or no extra cost for aisle seats further back. Which do you choose?
Make your seat plans early and other final suggestions.
Planning ahead gives you the broadest range of options to choose from. Ideally, seat selection (or Southwest boarding upgrade) should be part of the flight purchase process. If that’s not feasible, ensure you obtain seats 24 hours before departure and set an alarm to check in promptly. This 24-hour mark is also the opportune time to not only switch seats but also look for the possibility of a last-minute and sometimes lower-cost upgrade. When all else fails, arriving early at the airport allows you to explore other possibilities. You may recall that we recently upgraded from business to first class on British Airways because we inadvertently got to the airport four hours in advance.