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Finding Deals Amid Competitive Battle | Hawaiian Airlines vs. Southwest Airlines

Hawaii is clearly in an enviable position as one of the world’s most in-demand, premium leisure destinations. So it makes sense that airlines would vie for dominion. Hawaiian has long reigned as Hawaii’s hometown carrier, but Southwest is fast encroaching on the territory.

And it isn’t just Southwest either, as Alaska, American, and United also stake out their own slice of island traffic. But we’ll focus on Southwest Airlines since, as you see, they present both the biggest competitive threat to bellwether Hawaiian Airlines, which will provide visitors the best opportunity for Hawaii deals.

There are 19 routes where Southwest competes head to head with Hawaiian Airlines.

Las Vegas to Honolulu. Maui.

Los Angeles to Honolulu. Kona. Maui. Kauai.

Long Beach to Honolulu. Maui  

Oakland to Honolulu. Maui. Kauai.

Phoenix to Honolulu and Maui.

San Jose to Honolulu. Maui.

Sacramento to Honolulu. Maui.

San Diego to Honolulu. Maui.

And that’s where you’ll find the best prices.

Competition always yields the best Hawaii deals, so we feel sure you can expect to find sales and the lowest prices on those routes above. Plan on one of those city pairs if you are looking for Cheap Flights to Hawaii.

Contrasting the differences and similarities. 

Food. Hawaiian provides complete complimentary meals, even including wine. Southwest provides only light snacks and beverages, so you’ll need to pack your own food for 5+ hour flights.

Checked bags. You’ll always get two free bags when flying Southwest. And that’s significant. On Hawaiian, expect to pay $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag. Multiply that times the number of people traveling and times two directions.

Seat assignments. On Hawaiian, you’ll be able to select seats at purchase, on all but their cheapest basic economy fares. On Southwest, there are no seat assignments. They do, however, offer a variety of premium pre-boarding options based on fares, elite status, and more. There is also a day of travel upgraded boarding available for $50 on flights to/from Hawaii.

Premium seating and classes of service. Southwest offers a single class of service. Hawaiian, however, offers premium economy seating with more legroom, early boarding, and other perks. They also offer business-class service (called first-class domestically) that includes comfortable lie-flat seating on A330 wide-body aircraft.

Economy seats. There is slightly more legroom on average flying Southwest vs. Hawaiian. The amount of difference to us, however, seems negligible. Seat width is typically comparable.

Loyalty programs and credit cards. Rapid Rewards and Hawaiian Miles are each unique, with Hawaiian’s being a more traditional miles-based offering, whereas Southwest’s is point and spending-based. Both companies also have branded credit cards that have perks and fees worth investigating.

We welcome your help in contrasting Southwest and Hawaiian and how you plan to take advantage of this burgeoning competition. 


31 thoughts on “Finding Deals Amid Competitive Battle | Hawaiian Airlines vs. Southwest Airlines”

  1. Thank you for your website! Such great information and helpful tips. We are flying to Maui out of Albuquerque end of February 2022 and are wanting to secure our plane tickets. Any idea with the current situation the best time to buy those tickets? I know things are very fluid but you are the experts and might know. Mahalo!

    1. Hi Robert.

      Thanks. For the end of February, you are probably going to find the best pricing in the early fall.


  2. Truthfully, I was just shocked to see a non-stop from SD to LIH on SWA. Until then, I did not know that SWA had non-stop service from SD to LIH. I was uncertain if BoH or other readers knew this either…maybe I was behind in the times? Either way, keep it up…you guys are great! Thank you

    1. Hi Rich.

      Thanks. Yes, that new service is great for multiple reasons, including that Southwest is building good connections from San Diego, such as Dallas.


  3. Thanks for the responses. I want to clarify. I am a retired person that flew often for work and pleasure. For the person that thought I was a SWA shill, that is an error. After 40+ years of experience with SWA and HA, SWA consistently has good service and systems. They are the only major airline that has never penalized for changing flights. They are also the only airline that does not charge for checking bags. HA has wonderful in air employees, but their Reservation systems are poor. They are still poor.

  4. BoH…been following for years. Thank you for your great info.
    Maybe a new fare/itinerary, but I just booked a SWA flight non-stop from SD to LIH. The price was great too at $139 in Nov.
    Keep up your excellent work! Mahalo

    1. Hi Rich.

      Thanks for your comment, and for being a regular follower and first-time commenter. Yes, that’s a great price.


  5. Please consider the major difference between Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines. From 40 years of experience, HA has an inferior reservation system. It is unreliable and frequently down. See the comments from others about being unable to reserve for past weeks using miles. HA charges for baggage is a large penalty too. Southwest always has attentive service and good spirited employees. The SWA reservation system it took notch. Despite not having seat assignments, SWA always boards in half the time because their system is more efficient.

    1. LOL Joel, you sound like an SWA employee trying to take shots at Hawaiian and it sounds a little like the local vs tourist silliness elsewhere on here.
      I received an email from Hawaiian (I’m a frequent Flyer member) the other day and they apologized for the reservation snafu’s they have had recently. There was so much demand in a very short period of time that it essentially overwhelmed their reservation system and app. Not good of course but understandable…. hardly indicative of a long term problem. I’m sure once it’s addressed it will be just fine. Hawaiian has a very long reputation for outstanding service. To try and say differently says more about you then Hawaiian.

  6. SWA is bringing much needed competition to Hawaii. Two free bags & the ability to pick you seats is huge. Our family has flown on SWA twice to HI, and on inter-island flights as well. They are a good airline, that does a really good job!

  7. Finally, been waiting a long time for some competition for direct flights from Phoenix…

  8. This current fare war reflects the reason to disband the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Hawaii has been able to sell itself over the past century. It is no longer necessary to have another bureaucracy in the State Govt. The counties, airlines and hotels are able to market Hawaii vacations themselves.

  9. HA website for members to purchase with miles has been down now for 6 days and they are not allowing us to place a hold on the faire to pay for the trip with our miles. But, they will gladly take my money. I’ve got close to 300K miles and would have liked to take my family to Maui in October. Calling is out of the question. I was on hold for over an hour yesterday just to try and book. I finally got through to someone via their chat on the mobile app. Thats when they told me I couldn’t purchase tickets using points at this time. I think we are just going to use our Alaska buy one get one for $99 voucher.

    1. The website wasn’t down for me when I booked my April trip, but I needed to speak with an agent to book my flights. I had a cancelled trip I was carrying over and miles to use. I stayed on line until I could speak with a human. There was a fee involved to book this way but I did not know how to use credits and miles. I wish you lunch.

  10. Points cash combo with the Hawaiian card got family to 3 RT from CA in October for less than $500 total. Got hotels, now the big question; when to rent the car for October? Now or wait?

    1. Reserve it now while one is available. But do not pay for it yet. You can cancel it and rebook if rental prices go down.

    2. If you rent thru Hawaii Discount Car Rentals or Costco you can always cancel up to the last minute if you find a better deal. Lock in a rental now because of the possibility that it could get more expensive later on.

    3. Upcoming trips …

      1. Hawaiian … direct flight, no changes
      2. SWA … originally a direct flight, they’ve changed it twice, now on connecting flight thru LA

      I’ll stick with Hawaiian in the future!

  11. I paid $35 for my checked bag each way on Hawaiian. They should change that policy if they truly want to compete. Also I would not consider the warm sandwich a meal. Thanks for the comparisons.

  12. Hi! Thanks always for the great tips your site provides! We’re planning a trip in mid October this year and wondering how far in advance we should book our flights for the best price? Thanks so much for any input!

    1. Hi Anjanette.

      We can’t say exactly. There have already been sales for after summer, and there will be more between now and mid-summer. If airlines see that demand is high, sales will be less, and if low, then they will be more.


  13. While fare wars are temporary, what works for me is that each airline always seems to match the other. If SWA introduces a low introduction fare you can usually find a competitive match on Hawaiian and I think few would disagree that a Hawaiian Air flight is a better way to start a Hawaiian vacation.
    Inter island there is no comparison. Hawaiian has a dedicated inter island fleet staffed by people that live in Hawaii full time. SWA has some airplanes that are meant for their transpac flights and are used to fill in an inter island schedule and staffed by crews in Hawaii for the day. If a mainland flight is delayed it has a ripple effect. There is a definite difference there. I prefer to “buy local”

  14. I have been a loyal Southwest customer forever. Whenever I’ve flown to Hawaii I’ve always flown Hawaiian. Two great carriers. I never check bags so that is a non-issue for me. I do enjoy the First Class option with Hawaiian and since I’m Pualani Gold they will continue to be my choice from PHX to HNL and OGG. But Southwest might get the nod as I can now fly nonstop to Kona and Lihue. Also Southwest has an easier rebooking process if I change dates. I’m more about convenience and time vs cost. I’ll never fly American.

    1. Have to agree both good airlines. As is Alaska. I rate Alaska above SWA and just below HA. All three better then AA, UA, and Delta….

  15. As much as I love flying Hawaiian, Southwest’s Wanna Get Away fares are so low that they almost make sitting in the middle seat for 5 or 6 hours acceptable. I’d take Hawaiian’s higher level of service any day – usually – but after comparing prices for a late summer Maui run, I may take Southwest out of San Diego. The money saved can go towards nicer rooms, food, etc.

    It’ll be very interesting to see where this goes. Hawaiian and the other players in Hawaii, especially heavy hitter United are going to have to respond to Southwest’s low fares and increasing frequencies. Just how low will they be willing to go? How much extra service will they add to attract fliers? United is bringing back hot meals in first. Will they drop fares, too?

    Whatever happens, this will be fun to watch!!!

  16. I recently flew first class to Oahu on Hawaiian. Amazing service. Two years ago I flew economy but enjoyed the flight. I have the Hawaiian MasterCard.

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