Review: Hacking First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

Review: “Hacking” First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

We’re going to share how we were able to fly in Alaska Airlines First Class for barely $200 more than in economy. That’s a great deal, the “hack if you will,” and we’ll tell you how we did it and what the entire experience was like.

First, by introduction, as you saw when we recently compared Southwest and Hawaiian flights interisland, we never know how these reviews will go. And flying Alaska First Class has been one of editor Jeff’s favorite choices to the mainland since the airline first started flying to Hawaii. He finds it familiar and comfortable, albeit not truly luxurious. If he’d been a guessing person, he’d have expected to write a somewhat different review. But on this flight, it was not in the cards to work out exactly as planned.

You can generally count on consistency in this product above all else, both to Hawaii and elsewhere. There is nothing “Hawaiiana” about the service, but it is authentic with a distinctive Northwest flair.

The flight reviewed was AS 301 on Thursday, September 1, 2022, from LIH to SJC.

Boarding. No scoring.

Review: Hacking First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

Here things started to go awry, and it wasn’t the normal process, as seen from the photo above. First, for whatever reason, there was no jet bridge available. So boarding was via stairs down to the ground between gates 9 and 10, then up via a ramp onto the aircraft. Given the few passengers, however, it went pretty fast. BTW, the Southwest flight to SJC that shared the same area boarded normally at gate 9. While we can’t attribute the stair boarding process to a problem of Alaska’s making, it was nonetheless undesirable. Since we don’t know who was responsible for this, we will leave this section scoreless. If we had scored it, we would have given it 7/10.

Things That Could Have Improved:

WiFi/texting. 0/10.

Alaska says that nearly all of its fleet is satellite WiFi equipped, and they offer unlimited WiFi for $8. Even while free texting was announced by the flight crew, in the end, there was neither. Their website says, “Most of our flights offer internet access inflight.” Knowing there would be WiFi, Jeff planned to write this review online in flight but instead wrote it offline using docs. Ugg.

Greeting on Board. 0/10.

Jeff walked on soon after boarding started. There were two flight attendants in the forward galley. Neither one greeted him, which is unusual for the generally warm and friendly Alaska crew. They continued jovial talking amongst themselves. Wanting to let that go by, he waited to see if they would greet other First-Class passengers subsequently. But that never happened either, and the first interaction with the flight crew wasn’t until ordering drinks following departure.

Cockpit crew interaction 6/10.

Review: Hacking First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines


There was no welcome announcement from either the pilot or the copilot. There were no announcements by them after departure either. The only time passengers heard from them were the two times seat belts were required due to turbulence and with an update and weather report just before landing.

Flight attendants. 8/10.

The main First-Class flight attendant was pleasant, attentive, and hard-working throughout the nearly five hours aloft. Other than the lack of greeting and not calling passengers by name, she would have scored a 10. The other attendant, who wasn’t the primary person in First Class but assisted many times, had a rather dour demeanor and never engaged with anyone as far as Jeff saw. He appeared far more interested in his cell phone. While that’s okay in economy to a degree, it isn’t in First Class, where service is a signature component.

Seating and comfort. 8/10.

The First-Class seats are dated. Compared with the current narrow body offerings from Hawaiian and other airlines, however, the space, including legroom, was adequate, comfortable, and seems overall comparable. Wide-body planes with lie-flat First-Class seating on flights to Hawaii are typically dramatically better. One note is that the First-Class cabin shares its restroom with economy.

There was an electrical outlet and USB power at every seat. A blanket in a sealed bag was at every First-Class seat, but there was no pillow. 

Aircraft condition. 8/10.

Review: Hacking First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

The 737-800 was also clearly dated and appeared worn. However, the large “space bin” luggage bins, which are pretty new, were great. The front flight attendants’ jump seats were broken and inaccessible. As a result, the flight attendants blocked the aisle seats in row 1 for them. That required some jockeying of passengers. Jeff also noted that the back corner of the first-row seat was broken, as pictured.

What worked well:

Cost. 10/10.

Review: Hacking First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

Jeff used Alaska Air miles for the trip, and the First Class was available at the lowest price Alaska offers, which is 40k. That’s equivalent to $400 based on the estimated value of one cent per mile,  a value derived based on our experience. For any First-Class ticket to Hawaii, that is very reasonable and you’ll see them going for up to 90k across the airlines. It’s an especially great value since Jeff earned those miles shopping with their branded credit card and by flying on other Alaska flights.

Read: Upgrades on Flights to Hawaii | Tips and Tricks That Work.

Reservation process. 10/10.

Purchasing tickets online was easy and familiar. So was selecting and changing seat assignments. Everything worked fast and flawlessly. Meals can be ordered online in advance from their app, and Jeff selected an unusual teriyaki chickpea bowl. The only other option offered was chicken. On a side note, it does seem that when pre-ordering meals, more choices might be included. Jeff checked seats and meal options several times between the day of booking and the flight but made no changes. All good.

Customer service. 10/10.

Jeff decided to call and ask a question about mileage redemption, and there too, Alaska did a great job. Professional, courteous. The call was answered quickly by a representative in Boise. Good customer service.

Check in online and at the airport. 10/10.

This was smooth and seamless using the Alaska Airlines app for the boarding pass. A reminder to check in was sent exactly 24 hours before flight time.

At the airport, there was a separate First-Class line with no one waiting. The person working, who Jeff believed was a contractor rather than an Alaska employee, was excellent. There was really no line for economy passengers either.

On-time. 10/10.

The inbound fight left San Diego nearly 30 minutes late. So the departure from Lihue was also set to be slightly late. But in the end, and due in part to the extremely light passenger load, the plane departed right on time. PS. Jeff did just what we suggest you do. He checked the inbound flight’s departure time as the first indication of whether his departing flight might be late. He also checked the Mytsa app before heading out to avoid airport delays. Great job.

Service. Let’s face it, when you’re paying extra for First Class on a flight to Hawaii, it’s half about the extra space and half about the service provided.

Food and beverage. 10/10.

Review: Hacking First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

The meal pictured here was fine. Completely serviceable and adequate in every way and as good as we’ve found for domestic First Class. The entire meal, except for dessert, was served on one tray. That appears to be a Covid holdover, and we greatly prefer the meals being served in courses as is traditional. The entree followed a traditional beverage and warm nuts service. Real silverware and a cloth napkin were provided. 

Complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages were offered many times throughout the flight.

Review: Hacking First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

About two hours into the flight, an unusual and delicious handmade ice cream dessert was served. It was excellent.

Review: Hacking First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

One hour before landing the flight attendant brought around a self-serve snack basket with a variety of bars, cookies, chips, and other snacks. It was a nice touch and Jeff chose the tasty Lesser Evil popcorn. The flight attendant returned with the second round of snacks and this time made the suggestion of Karma toasted coconut cashews. The simple suggestion was an appreciated and elevated gesture of kindness that harkens back to the essence of First-Class airline travel.

Entertainment. 10/10.

Entertainment on board Alaska flights is all via personal devices in conjunction with the Alaska Beyond app. The variety was large, and to be honest, Jeff didn’t watch but one TV show. Some prefer seat-installed entertainment screens, but on a domestic flight, for us that’s not a big deal.

Baggage claim. 10/10.

The baggage claim in San Jose was extremely fast – less than 10 minutes. Alaska has a 20-minute bag claim guarantee which we have had to use before, but this time it all worked flawlessly.

Total review score: 110 out of a possible 140.


The return flight the following day was not on Alaska Airlines. That review will be published next.

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26 thoughts on “Review: “Hacking” First Class to Hawaii On Alaska Airlines”

  1. Appreciate your website and keeping us updated on Hawaii.
    Lots to digest. I flew asa F/A for 32 years. Everything back then from an Electra to L1011. I do not make a very good passenger because I see things that bother me after the type of career I had. The total destruction of what use to be a pleasant experience. Regarding Alaska which I have miles with has always had below standard seats and aircraft. They added another row in F/C. You can barely get out of your window seat. I now only sit in the first row of coach. The cost of fuel is raising prices and baggage fees. Might be time to think about that when you vote in November.

    1. Hi Dan.

      Thank you! Oops. Slipped right through the checking software for obvious reasons. And even with the author and two proof-readers.


  2. My experience was not up to snuff. Wife and I left Kona on the redeye in first class. It was pouring rain as we walked across the tarmac to the stairs to the plane. We were soaking wet when we got into our first class seat. I asked the attendant for some blankets and if possible a towel. I was told they had neither. Kinda crazy as not much later in the boarding process they laid some towels at the door to keep the rain from entering the cabin. Also no pillows. I don’t really remember what the meal was so it was probably just adequate. I wrote a letter to Alaska but got no response. Canceled my credit card with them. Very disappointing! Avoid Alaska Airlines.

  3. You had better get use to the Max aircraft in Alaska’s fleet. They currently have 14 Max aircraft with 45 on order and options on another 52. That’s a combination of both Max 9 and 10 aircraft. I don’t see Alaska doing much of anything with their older 800 and 900 aircraft. United also has plans for a very big order of Max 10 to replace the older 757. Something like 90 aircraft. Boeing is having difficulty keeping up with all the Max orders, mostly supply chain issues.

  4. I have never experienced Alaska Air’s “legendary” customer service wether in first class or coach. Flight attendants just seem to do the bare minimum that they can. On a recent morning flight from Everett to San Diego in first class I was served an egg and sausage breakfast sandwich that was very cold in the middle, yum. I told the flight attendant and the person sitting across the aisle also said theirs was cold too. Took both of ours, she was given a cheese platter and I would they were out. Also had to get up and ask for beverage refills.

    1. Alaska is not what it used too be.. they canceled our 6 months reservations of 9 on the same flight with seats coordinated. Now we are a day latter in Oahu. At 1 am. On 2 differnt flights. All the seats are rows apart. Lost a whole day. And how do we get our rental car now at 1 am.. we was to arrive at 1 pm in Hawaii.. all they offered was a full refund 3 weeks before our vacation. Alaska …

  5. We flew first class (approx $1,400 ea) leaving Seattle 8/29 to Oahu for granddaughter wedding. Husband, 87, stage 4 Cancer born & raised on Kauai, last time home! What a huge disappointment in all aspects. We are flying back to Seattle from Kauai, another $1,400 ea. I now know to order food ahead, I ended up with a scrawny cheese plate!

  6. I disagree with the entertainment rating . From Hawaii for 6 hours who wants to stare at their phone . What happened to the TV monitors . Virgin had a very nice set up when Alaska took over . Compare to united and delta I rate entertainment at 0

    1. They figure most folks that want to watch a movie bring their own tablet or phone with a predownloaded selection long enough to last for all of their flights going and coming. Or read,video games or sleep.

  7. I prefer the lie flat seats on a AA 787 or 777 which use the international business class seats. United uses domestic lie flat seats on their 777 to Hawaii. Would like to try Delta lie flat seats as they are supposed to be good as well.

    1. Hi Alfred.

      Yes, concur that lie flat on a widebody is great. The only thing is it doesn’t operate in this or most markets. So narrow-body, or connecting flights it is. Of the two, we’d typically prefer nonstop.


  8. I very much enjoyed your review. Probably the reason for the unusual boarding is that Alaska is usually the last flight into LIH. We liked Alaska while using them. Then they started routing only out of Seattle and that caused too many missed connections. If you live in Northwest, Alaska it is just about your only choice in airlines. SW does a poor job of service to the Northwest. Not sure about Hawaiian. I found it amusing when flight attendants would compare themselves to SW as a low cost airline. I agree Alaska did a good job with customer service but, I like SW even better.
    I think our favorite flight to Hawaii, was getting to sit behind Izzy, he took up two seats. A few years later we got to see in concert just before his passing.

  9. I believe flight attendants do not start getting paid until the aircraft door closes. So given labor/staffing issues and everything flight attendants have had to endure since COVID started, it’s understandable if they aren’t enthusiastically greeting everyone.

    1. I feel like if one has chosen the hospitality industry as a career path, there is an indelible expectation to demonstrate a cheerful and welcoming disposition. Especially when in uniform and most certainly at the entrance of the airplane. In the digital age we occupy everyone’s professional behavior is constantly being scrutinized and disciplined or terminated/cancelled. Why should flight attendant get a pass?

  10. One thing to know about Alaska’s -800 aircraft is they are scheduled to start interior refurbishments this month so they will be getting new interiors.

  11. Alaska airlines are the Best in just about every way, I was so surprised 😯 about the flight attendants they are the most friendly, helpful in the business. There mileage requirements are always very fair. That’s why they always score the highest grade of satisfaction on the Freddie awards……

  12. The broken things onboard that are obvious makes me wonder about the things we can’t see. Alaska should do better. Thank you

  13. I enjoyed your review. However, I think most travel blogger folks would disagree with your statement that 40k Alaska miles are worth about $400, or about one cent a mile. Most bloggers value Alaska miles at well above one cent a mile. TPG, for example, values Alaska miles at 1.8 cents a mile. That would make the actual cost of your first class trip to Hawaii a whopping $720. Personnally, I value Alaska miles at about 1.5 cents a point, which would make price your Hawaii trip out at $600.

  14. I took a bump on my flight out of Seattle. The gate agent was overzealous and bumped me to an unusable arrival time after quoting me an arrival time 5 hrs earlier. Part of the deal was a first class upgrade. I always fly as cheaply as possible and was really looking forward to the experience. Long story short, I would up getting screwed out of my upgrade altogether, had to cover the extra night room out of pocket with later reimbursement,flew in an aisle seat in coach,and would up needing to spend more than 12 hours on hold just to get the flight credit promised.I had much trouble getting them to honor their own screw up. And never got a whiff of first class.

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