It happens. You buy flights to Hawaii and then find the price has suddenly dropped. If you have set an alert through Google Flights as we do, it’s easy to track price fluctuation. What happens next depends on the airline you are flying and if it’s been under or over 24 hours since ticketing.
So here’s how it works with the airlines flying to Hawaii:
You’re saved if the price drops within 24 hours of your Hawaii ticket purchase. The US DOT requires that airlines let you cancel without any fees. And we have found that very easy to do with Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, Southwest, and United. If it’s under 24 hours, buying a new ticket before canceling the old one is what we’d suggest. Then the first ticket is refunded to the original form of payment.
One tip we can share from our own painful experiences is to keep your own records of airline credits/refunds, including the original booking/ticket number. That is unless and until you can see your credit online.
But what if it is beyond 24 hours? Each airline varies significantly.
Alaska Airlines. You can use their price guarantee if you don’t have their cheapest (Saver Fare) and have regular main cabin economy or above. Money is refunded to your online Alaska Airlines wallet. It can be easily accessed for your next trip within one year of the original ticket purchase. We have done this many times, and it’s easy.
American Airlines. American provides a trip credit applicable towards future flights. You have one year from the credit date to use the money. American also offers refundable fares worth checking into. You’ll need to save the ticket number to access the credit.
Delta Air Lines. For all but basic economy, what Delta calls an eCredit will be provided. Those expire one year from the original purchase date and can be accessed on your SkyMiles account.
Hawaiian Airlines. They regularly offer refundable fares for less than 20% more than non-refundable. Those are the only ones where you can easily take advantage of price drops. If you think there’s a chance you might cancel, this could be cheaper than buying trip insurance.
Otherwise, your options beyond 24 hours with Hawaiian are canceling and obtaining a credit (except their cheapest fares) that can be used for a future ticket.
There are two problems. (1). When you are ready to book your new flight and use the credit remaining, you have to call them to do so. It cannot be done online. (2) The entire credit must be used at once. So, if you buy a $500 ticket, and the price drops to $400, you will get the $500 credit, but you have to buy something for $500, or you lose the difference.
Also, remember that seat assignment fees are not cancellable or refundable except when purchased with refundable airfares. Sometimes we’ll buy an exit row seat which is not refunded if we decide to cancel.
One comment today from Samo said this about trying to get a refund with Hawaiian: “Not sure if this airline is subliminally telling me to fly other airlines.”
Southwest. This is the easiest. There is no charge for changes or cancellations if you do that within 10 minutes of departure. The lowest fares receive a flight credit for future use, while the higher fares give you credit card refunds. Also, if you buy one of the early boarding options, those too will go back as a flight credit—the easiest.
United Airlines. United is also selling refundable tickets for not much more than non-refundable ones. BOH editors just bought those traveling internationally from Hawaii this summer. With the basic economy, you’re stuck, and there are no options after the 24-hour grace period. With regular economy, you can change each way for a $49 fee. United also told us that within 30 days of purchase, there might be another option for price drops, but the details of that offer aren’t clear.