Prepare For Return Of Round-Trip, Minimum Stay Hawaii Airfares

Disappearing Act: Hawaii’s Cheapest Airfares in the U.S.

Even to us, it seems odd that Hawaii would retain the distinction of the cheapest airfares in the U.S. But it’s somewhat true in a limited way. And calling these a loss leader wouldn’t be far-fetched.

On this topic, BOH editors Rob and Jeff did an on-the-air interview with Hawaii News Now this past weekend regarding this phenomenon. Read on for those details.

The accolade of cheapest airfares in the USA speaks largely to the relationship between Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines. These fierce adversaries provide flights across a range of mainland and interisland flights, and it is specifically where the two companies’ flights intersect that you will find these cheapest fares.

We’ll also note that while these are the lowest airfares of any mainline carrier in the US, Avelo, Spirit, and Frontier have some even cheaper flights. Editor Rob considered jumping on a Spirit flight out of Las Vegas recently, but ultimately had no part of it. These are limited-service, ultra-low-cost carriers that do not currently fly to Hawaii.

We did mention last year, however, that Frontier Airlines flights to Hawaii are at least being contemplated by that company. It would be in conjunction with their long-range, narrow-body, upcoming Airbus a321xlr fleet.

“Catch them if you can” Interisland airfares for $39.

Southwest and Hawaii continue to offer a limited and declining number of interisland flights with seats priced at $39. If you are traveling interisland later in 2023, try to book those seats now for $39 if you can.

With both airlines unable to be sustainable at anything remotely near $39, in tandem, both have cut back severely on the available inventory of $39 seats. Who can blame them? This strategy appears to be working well. We’ll see later if Hawaiian and Southwest can further agree to no longer stoop so low as the $39 fares. That would allow interisland flight prices to rise to a higher and more sustainable level for the airlines.

To limit availability, both airlines only offer $39 airfares on specific days of the week (Monday-Thursday). Then too, $39 fares are only offered on specific flights on those days, and with a limited number of seats on those flights. The net result is that the two carriers are quickly removing as much of the $39 inventory as possible while retaining the public-facing appearance of having many if not mostly $39 airfares.

As a case in point, traveling last weekend interisland, we paid $59 each way, and for other upcoming flights in August, we are paying again $59 each way. Those fares are inching closer to the airlines’ cost to provide the flights but still need to be more profitable.

$50 airfares from the year 2000 are equivalent to about $90 today.

We’d like to conveniently forget that, and perhaps you would as well. Those days of the interisland coupon books are still fresh in our minds. But when we last bought those for $50, it was some 23 years ago. In today’s dollars, we were spending close to $90. So thinking that $39 is reasonable, isn’t rational, as much as we do like it.

The $39 airfares were, in theory, to end last year.

The two carriers started raising prices and, at one point, hoped to have the base fare of $55. But that didn’t hold. We aren’t sure which one bailed on that idea first, but we were soon back to the $39 loss leader fares once again. At this point it’s been over six months since Southwest announced that the $39 for every seat on every interisland flight would end.

That $39 offer from last year was shocking in itself. Hawaiian Airlines immediately stepped up and largely matched the fares at flight times when the two airlines competed. As we’ve reiterated, the cost for any airline to provide interisland service is multiples of those $39 airfares.

Going, going… Hard to find Mainland to Hawaii airfares of $119 are back in a more limited way.

The same model is deployed on mainland to Hawaii flights. The cheapest airfares are $119 each way, including all taxes and fees. But actually getting those is another matter. They do exist, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that to be the case when airlines promote discounted airfares. What we find, however, on looking, is that it just is about as challenging to get a $119 airfare from the mainland as it is to get a $39 on interisland.

We searched from San Jose to Kona to dig deeper. Our first stop was Google Flights, always the ideal place to start your Hawaii airfare search. We found that, for example, on August 22, the $119 airfare is available on three airlines, Alaska, Hawaiian, and Southwest.

As a side note, Alaska Airlines can sometimes be forgotten in the folderol emanating from the two larger-in-Hawaii players. But we do like flying Alaska ourselves and check there whenever we travel on a route that they fly. Your editors are flying Alaska this fall from Hawaii and will report back on that experience.

What does $119 get you?

On Hawaiian, the $119 will get you their main cabin basic fare. That does not offer a seat assignment, and you are last to board. The same is to a large degree true with Alaska Airlines. On Southwest Airlines, the same $119 airfare however also gets you two free checked bags, which on Alaska or Hawaiian (if you took advantage of checked bags) would cost you up to an additional $75 per person each way. Southwest has no seat assignments, and you can expect to be in the back of the plane with the same issues you’ll encounter on Alaska and Hawaiian. Hawaiian will provide you with a free snack (which they call a meal), while Alaska and Southwest won’t even venture down that slippery slope. Alaska provides beverages (plus food for pay), while Southwest has free snacks (of a sort).

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4 thoughts on “Disappearing Act: Hawaii’s Cheapest Airfares in the U.S.”

  1. If you carry the Bank of America-issued Alaska Airlines Visa credit card, you receive one checked bag free, and priority boarding. True, on their Saver fares, you’re not allowed to select a seat until you check-in (24 hours), or at the airport if the seat map is under airport control. If you choose (if available) you can pay to upgrade from Save to Premium seating which provides an instant seat assignment, fee snacks and cocktails while in-flight. Is it worth the cost to upgrade – you have to decide.

    Two benefits of flying Alaska and purchasing their Saver fares with the Alaska Airlines credit card is that the first checked bag is free, and priority boarding now applies to authorized users on the account (credit card issued in their name) and they no longer have to be flying with the primary cardmember.

    Saver fares on Alaska now have a 50% penalty fee if changed at least 14 days in advance – so not as punitive as before.

    As far as inter-island fares, it also helps the average Jet A fuel price during the second quarter was averaging around $2.40 a gallon – significantly less than one year ago. That in itself takes the “sting” away from the losses incurred by both HA and SWA on point-to-point inter-island service.

    SWA keenly knows how to price – as they have faced stiff competition for decades on their Dallas Love/Houston Hobby bread and butter route from the big boys. Somehow SWA has made money year-after-year, except during the pandemic.

    On the other hand, we wouldn’t want to see HA disappear as Aloha did back in 2008.

    If HA ran out of cash and was unable to obtain more lines of credit to sustain cash flow, would the current administration step-in with a bailout? Probably not, but the current administration would strongly encourage another airline (not SWA) to merge/take-over HA.

    Something to keep in the front with forward planning at HA.

    Can’t wait for Frontier to begin serving the islands with their body stuffing 240-seat capacity, single-aisle A321 XLR’s! Frontier’s majority owner, Bill Franke will be so proud!…lol

  2. I do remember when I was trying to book LIH-HNL the fares went up when the times coincided with Hawaiian’s departures to the mainland. It was like they knew what I was doing when I tried booking the closest times to their departure to PDX. Talk about nickel and diming.

  3. We were fortunate and scored 2 RT tickets on June 12th, San Diego to Lihue 11/25-12/4 on Southwest for a total of $414.78. Aloha!

  4. I snagged $519 first class seats (each way) on Alaska Airlines for a trip to Maui in September. My flight is direct from Portland. As I am retired I have the luxury of flying on cheaper days of the week. I get to Maui quarterly and find Alaska the cheapest, has the fewest delays or hiccups and the best in flight service. Fortunate to live on the west coast and being able to fly directly.

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