Is Hawaiian Airlines First Class A321neo Worth The Upgrade?

It has been some time since we flew on Hawaiian Airlines A321neo narrow-body, and when last we did, it was in economy. To round out that experience, we jumped on an HA flight from Lihue to Los Angeles, and here are all the details. You’ll recall that we previously gave accolades to Hawaiian on their wide-body service in our review entitled, Stunned! Hawaiian Airlines First Class Lie-Flat Review.

Unfortunately, we did not have nearly the same experience on this flight. And being gluttons for punishment, we again flew into LAX, where, though no fault of their own, Hawaiian has the dregs in terms of its gate position and terminal. See Hawaiian Airlines LAX experience nightmare for those details, which unfortunately remains true today.

To contrast today’s article, we’ll next share a Delta Air Lines’ Hawaii first-class flight review on their A321neo plane, which was BOH’s return flight. The differences are significant and weren’t quite what we expected. But first, the Hawaiian Airlines first class review | A321neo.

Two editors jumped onboard HA flight 64 earlier this month. The 5 1/2 hour flight was onboard a 5-year-old Airbus A321-neo with 16 first-class seats.

Recently a comment from Deborah said about Hawaiian, “The best first class experience! I’ve tried 3 airlines to and from, Delta was the worst!!!! Hawaiian is by far the top no matter where you are in first, I will only fly this airline between Hawaii and California. Well worth the price!” We agree if that was a wide-body review with lie-flat seating.

As always, Beat of Hawaii paid in full for this trip, and unless they happened to check our reservations, Hawaiian Airlines was unaware that we would be onboard. The flight cost from Los Angeles to Honolulu Airport in First Class was $630. The A321neo is a traditional reclining seat rather than a lie-flat, which is usually priced significantly higher. Read on to see if you think it was a good investment.

You’ll find many other website reviews of this Hawaiian Airlines first-class product. This review is unique because our focus is exclusively on Hawaii, and we live here. While we travel outside of the islands and write about that as a means of comparison, we are entirely Hawaii-centric.

Also, in contrasting the A321neo on Hawaiian (and Delta, for that matter), we find the seating somewhat more comfortable than on Alaska Airlines first class.

What we liked and didn’t on Hawaiian Airlines’ A321neo first class.

First, the service was to be candid, lackluster. There was nothing terrible about it, but there was nothing particularly good either. We always had to ask for water, and the flight attendant was polite but not outgoing or proactive. When you pay extra for first class with a higher crew to passengers ratio, you expect more attentive service. Since Hawaiian knocked that out of the ballpark when we reviewed the A330 first class, we anticipated the same here.

Other things we didn’t like included the quality of service, the food concept, and the tight and uncomfortable seats.

This A321neo aircraft is on many of the Hawaiian’s west coast flights (and is also used by Delta and American). That’s especially true to and from the neighbor islands and on less busy routes. The wide-body A330 flights, on the other hand, are typically reserved for heavier routes such as Honolulu and Maui to JFK, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, Austin, and San Diego, among others. Airlines love the A321neo more than passengers do, because of its extreme fuel savings of 20% over other aircraft,

Cost: First class 10/10.

The amount that Beat of Hawaii paid was low by most standards. But that didn’t happen easily. When first looking, the price offered was eye-popping at $1,659, one way. As you may recall, Jeff decided to fly on another airline at that point until the alert he’d set told him the price had dropped suddenly to $630. Only one ticket at that price was offered, but after buying one, he was able to return at buy the second seat at the same $630 each price. Otherwise, trying to buy two together, the asking price remained stratospheric. That’s part of the airline industry’s games.

Read all this flight’s pricing details in How We Saved 62% On Hawaiian Airlines First Class.

62%-Off Hawaiian Airlines First Class | How We Pulled It Off

As for the value received for the $630 cost, it was good and far better than being stuck in the back. Had we paid $1,659, we would not have been satisfied. It’s good to note that four of the first-class seats were not occupied.

Check-in: 10/10.

The online check-in process was fine using their new Amadeus reservation system which was so painful for Hawaiian’s customers when it was recently implemented. There were a few glitches, such as when the system suggested an upgrade when no further upgrade was possible. The airport experience was fine too, using their Premier and first-class line with little wait. First class includes two free checked bags, which otherwise cost $70.

At Hawaii airports, first-class passengers have access to the Hawaiian Airlines Premier Clubs, which are just okay.

Boarding: 10/10.

Boarding was on-time, and there were no issues. Upon arrival at the aircraft door, there was no personal greeting or escort, which we did have on our HA wide-body A330 flight.

On-time Performance: 10/10.

The flight was on-time. Boarding commenced about 30 minutes before departure. The door was closed 10 minutes beforehand, and the flight departed the gate on time.

Food and beverage: 7/10.

No pre-departure beverages were offered other than bottled water left on our seats. Service was provided primarily by one flight attendant who never introduced themselves nor called us by name. The flight attendant offered a menu after takeoff and discussed options for beverages and food. Hawaiian, unlike Delta and Alaska, for example, offers no meal preordering. There was one personal touch when Jeff asked the flight attendant to create a mocktail not on the menu, which turned out great.

There was no traditional hot towel service which many airlines have suspended. Table linens were provided, then ordered beverages were delivered together with a bowl of macadamia nuts as is traditional for Hawaiian. When the food was served, it was done all at once (except for dessert), with no separate offering of salad/appetizer at the beginning. The different courses served individually are customary in first class and are done by Hawaiian on their wide-body A330 flights.

The entree choices were two, which is less than expected. There was either a Chicken Schnitzel or a Zucchini and Pea Risi e Bisi. Dessert was an Opera Cake. The food was acceptable, neither good nor bad. The variety and sensibility of the food seemed dated. The quality was acceptable but not excellent. The dessert, a well-prepared opera cake (below) from La Tour Cafe, was the best part.

Nowhere in sight were cans of Jason Momoa’s Mananalu long-forgotten water.

And as the final parting touch, a candy was offered. That seemed normal for economy, definitely not for first class.

Aircraft condition: 10/10.

The 5-year-old plane was in great shape, with no signs of wear and tear.

WiFi/texting: 0/10.

There is still no WiFi or texting on Hawaiian Airlines. However, they intend to finally provide free high-speed satellite WiFi starting in 2024. That will be a massive improvement as they are currently the only airline flying to Hawaii without any WiFi offering.

See how WiFi is working on flights to Hawaii in Wi-Fi Blues Strike Hawaii Flights On All Airlines.

Flight attendants: 7/10.

The staff-to-passenger ratio was significantly less than on the wide-body plane. The service was adequate but nothing beyond that. It was unengaged and paled compared to the stellar A330 first-class service—even a basic like getting enough water or having ice when you first asked for ice.

Notably, the A321neo is a very challenging plane for cabin crews, as we’ve heard many times across different airlines. It is hard for them to provide the same level of service with the single-narrow aisle configuration that can be done on a generously wide A330.

Cockpit crew interaction: 10/10.

Multiple professional announcements were made from the flight deck and by flight attendants from before the flight started until arrival.

Seating and comfort: 8/10.

The 2-across seats on Hawaiian are the very same ones used by American Airlines on their A321neo fleet.

A fleece blanket and a pillow in a bag were on each first-class passenger seat when entering the aircraft. The storage under the seat in front is almost non-existent on this aircraft.

Passengers cannot avoid crawling out over someone else in the A321neo. On the next A321xlr variant coming to American and United, the premium configuration will be just one seat on each side (instead of two). Also, unlike on the A330, there is no privacy screen between passengers. All first-class guests are provided with both USB-A power on the back of the seats in front of them. AC power is under the armrest next to the seat in a handy storage bin.

The seats are attractive but could be more comfortable for a 5+ hours flight with just okay legroom. While they are wider than economy, the seat felt hard into the flight, which we, at least, did not experience on the A330 wide-body. There is a tray table that both folds and has an extension for holding an entertainment device. Guest-controllable air vents and reading lights are above each seat which is nice. The overhead bins are substantial. As is the case on all A321neo planes, the lavatories are small and there are no accessible ones.

Inflight Entertainment: 9/10.

There is no seatback entertainment on this aircraft. The A321 first-class features fully-loaded iPad-based in-flight entertainment, including TV shows and movies, handed out after take-off.

Total score: 91/110.

Have you tried the A321neo first class on Hawaiian Airlines?

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26 thoughts on “Is Hawaiian Airlines First Class A321neo Worth The Upgrade?”

  1. I just re-read your review and wondered if I had commented months back. We have not flown First Class on the A321 but have on the A 330. I tend to believe that the service you received was just due to that particular flight attendant that day. One of the things that helped us standardize on Hawaiian was the quality of FAs vs other airlines. We have on occasion, flown with FAs who are just “putting in the time to get done” while in my opinion Hawaiian’s FAs usually really try to make you feel special, even sitting in economy on the A330.

    1. Hi Jim.

      Thanks for 80 comments to date! We fly “business” on both planes and find that they are simply not comparable. The airlines including HA deliver a very different product on widebody compared with narrow-body.


  2. I am still waiting for a $630 refund for an upgrade I purchased May 12, 2023 prior to departure on Flight HA 22 on May 13, 2023. Abbreviated version:
    Our luggage never made it.
    The flight was over 3 hours late leaving.
    We missed our connecting flight for which the upgrade was purchased.
    They refused to allow us to use the upgrade on the replacement flight, even though there were seats and we had been told we could use them.
    Agent Edward attempted to refund my money on May 14 but was not allowed to.
    I have a written promise that I will get a refund for $630.
    Today, I was told HA is working on complaints that predate my complaint, though I am in queue.
    My luggage arrived via Delta Airlines almost a week later, even though we paid $60 for luggage handling.
    And BTW, we stayed overnight in Seattle with no help, food, water, NOTHING. I Did Not Even File A Claim For That.
    In the time they took today to check the status of my claim, they could have posted the refund.
    Hawaiian Airlines is a failing airline that is poorly run and poorly managed. Customer service is non-existant. Hawaii is beautiful, but don’t fly this poor excuse for an airline to get there.
    J. P.

  3. We’ve been to Kauai many times but this year as a special treat we would like to fly first class. Which is the best first class flight from Los Angeles? Thank you!

    1. Hi Tracy.

      The answer is highly subjective. Keep in mind that all the flights LAX-LIH will be narrow-body, which already means far less comfortable regardless of the airline. Because the difference isn’t great, perhaps consider the airline you generally prefer or have loyalty points with. Otherwise, if none of that matters, we’d pick Hawaiian for the typically good island vibe. But again, narrow-body limits the quality. If on the other hand you’d like to fly through Honolulu, that’s a different beast and you have a widebody option.


  4. I flew Kahului to San Diego the day before yesterday and have to say my flight and service was outstanding. We left only 10 min after the departure time, arrived 20 min early before arrival time. The flight attendants served drinks before departing and the meal was very good. There were two flight attendants in First Class on our A321neo, and one First Class seat was empty. I’m not saying it’s always like this, but that day it was outstanding. I expected less with it being a major holiday, but perhaps they were better staffed for that reason, who knows. I frequently fly to HNL from San Diego and used to fly non-stop from SNA with United until they stopped that route. I’ve also flown first class w/Alaska Air to HNL and a lot to be desired.

  5. As someone who is Pualani Gold holder with many flights from Los Angeles and one out of Long Beach, I am a bit surprised that the service was a bit lackluster. We have flown the A330 in first but the expense for the 5+ hours just doesn’t justify for us. Extra Comfort is our standard now. We standardized on Hawaiian simply due to the service from the flight attendants. I just wonder if perhaps on your flight you had a tired attendant doing a turn back to LAX who just was not having a good day?

    I can’t agree more on the Hawaiian LAX experience! I still would love to see the A330 fly from Long Beach!

  6. Oh, the daze of yesteryear. Back in the day, when I flew on Northwest first, everything was great. Before takeoff a mimosa and they offered to hang up my coat. So much food, I was full when I arrived. Endless drinks, etc. I guess now, even first has been downgraded. Very sad!

  7. I too flew from Maui to San Diego on a 321neo a week and a half ago. First class sounds good, but my experience wasn’t even business class! We were late getting away from the jetway, 45mins. No drinks were offered/provided, and the flight attendant was nowhere to be found all that time. WTH! I hate to use the ‘call button’, guess I should have. The meal was ‘good’, but the original flight attendant kept disappearing. Fortunately another person (Asian, not Hawaiian) came up to help, and things got better. What a lousy experience!

  8. I did a “bid up” to First Class from HNL to SEA 2 years ago on an A330. The menu options were the same, no pre-flight drinks, staff not very attentive. I’ve mostly flown extra comfort, so the seat space was a plus. Wondering if COVID19 still plays a role in meal service? I recall either Delta or Hawaiian stating on their website that meal would be served all at once to lessen contact. I love HA generally, but extra comfort for 6 hours is fine for me!

    Thanks – Betsy

  9. I personally do not think the A321neo’s layout has any bearing on service that you termed as “lackluster” and “unengaged”. I’ve flown in the front cabin in both the A321neo on the SFO/OGG route and more often in the A330 widebody on the SFO/HNL route. I occasionally experience 7/10 service in First Class on the A330. I think the fault is simply that your flight attendants were the B-Team, less experienced FAs that the airline is rotating into the front cabin for training. Case in point, on my HNL/SFO flight 2 weeks ago, the Purser was a nervous wreck. When making the usual pre-takeoff announcements and introductions, she even messed up the name of her colleague the lead FA in the coach cabin. Service was definitely lackluster.

    1. Hi Jon.

      Thanks. With your theory in mind, we’ve got more flights upcoming on Delta and Hawaiian.


  10. I still prefer Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class to the rest of them. Too bad they don’t go from LAX to HNL.

  11. We just flew first class on Hawaiian out of San Jose to Maui. The flight crew was amazing! We had drinks before we took off, the crew was overly attentive in offering drinks and asking if we needed anything to make the flight more enjoyable. We had at least 2 crew members in first class. I think your trip lacked the additional crew member that made our trip wonderful.

  12. I flew 1st class on a A321neo from San Diego to HNL and your review summed up my experience too. When my wife and I fly to Hawaii we drive up to Vegas for a fun couple of days before boarding an A330. No comparison to the A321neo as the 330 is superior in every category.

  13. Nice to see a story on first class. On a rush work trip I booked a trip from OGG to PDX via HNL. Boarded to a laydown seat. Never had one on a direct from OGG to PDX. What a treat and as usual staff was great.

    Only downside I have with Hawaiian is my dog (service – not comfort) flies as freight. He’s 75#s and crate another 30# puts him over 100# mark and that is $500.00. Where Alaska is a flat $100.00.

    1. Hi Lucy.

      As just mentioned to Michelle, it is simply Google Flights. Do your search there and then you’ll be given the option to receive alerts.


  14. I agree, usually fly 1st from Sacramento to HNL, they are always the lay flat seats. Unfortunately paid same for Maui and were terribly disappointed with the small regular seats on the smaller plane. Totally not worth it to us.

  15. We have always loved flying Hawaiian Airlines First Class. However, the current RT fare of $2400 from California is crazy! I would love to be able to sign up for a price drop alert, but have been unsuccessful in finding such a website. Would you be so kind as to share that information with me? Thank you for the ongoing vital information!!

    1. Hi Michelle.

      We simply set up price alerts on Google Flights. Very simple to do. Give it a try and let us know if you have any questions.


    2. From LAX, $830 is a good far during high season on the A330 to HNL, and $630 during low season. Delta also offer flights once a day on the B767 with like flats, similar prices. We did a mix of both airlines for our upcoming trips.

      The only thing with Delta is that on that way back from HNL to LAX it’s only the 1pm flight with the lie flats versus the overnight option with Hawaiian.

      But $1300-1700 it totally doable round trip anytime of the year in first. That is, if you fly into HNL. But then we just take southwest onto the island of choice, worth it for the lie flat seats.

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