Save 73% | Cheap Alternative To First Class Hawaii Flights

The cost of First Class travel to Hawaii is usually cost-prohibitive. But not always. Recently, we were able to fly for $599 each way in First Class, which was fair when you consider round-trip First Class airfares between the West Coast and Hawaii can be over $4,000 round-trip. But that was a very good deal, and even then, it certainly wasn’t cheap.

So when the cost of flying First to and from Los Angeles next month was priced at over $2,000 per person round trip, we intuitively resurrected a trick that we’ve employed countless times to obtain nearly as much comfort and space. It saved 73% compared with the cost of flying First Class. By the way, BOH editors just used this trick in Europe too and can report it worked perfectly there.

By way of introduction, there isn’t a more fussy airline flyer than editor Jeff. He’s been traveling the world since he was a kid, and having been through it all, mostly by the way in economy, he likes to be comfortable. He wholeheartedly endorses this technique as being among the best tricks ever, in order to be comfortable at 30,000 feet without breaking the bank.

In our case, the lowest cost First Class fare between LA and Hawaii was $2,018 round trip. For two passengers, that became $4,036. It was definitely not a workable plan in our minds for a five-hour domestic flight with not the greatest service in a narrow-body plane.

Instead of this, try buying three economy seats for two people.

The reality of three-across seating is that two people traveling together have few choices. But there is one, and that is simply buying an extra seat. That is entirely possible on all airlines that fly to Hawaii except for Southwest.

In our current situation, on United Airlines, the cost of an extra seat was the same as what we paid for the two passenger seats: $364 round trip. So we bought two passenger seats, plus an “extra seat,” for a total of $1,092. That’s a savings of 73% compared with the First Class price of two seats, which was $4,036.

If we had different dates or a different route, the three economy seats could have cost much less. This will work on any fare sale, so long as it is not for “basic economy,” since that precludes advance seat assignments.

These flights will be on a Boeing 737 Max. What’s the difference between First Class and three economy seats?

In our opinion, not much. Two BOH editors flew First on United to Hawaii this past weekend on the 737, and it just wasn’t great. It was okay, and we appreciated the extra space. The food was barely worth eating, and honestly, with food from home or takeout, we would have been just as happy in economy with three seats. After all, it is mostly about having enough space not to feel claustrophobic. There’s no great recline or beds to be had on narrow-body flights to Hawaii, period.

Keep in mind that we aren’t comparing great widebody First Class to Hawaii here.

We are comparing just okay 1st Class on a narrow-body to three seats in economy. There are options that are excellent when we can afford them. Not long ago we published a review of Hawaiian Airlines First Class onboard their widebody A330. It was excellent. Not only that, but we just flew United Polaris returning to Hawaii, and we’ll just tease by saying, it far exceeded our expectations. Stay tuned for that upcoming review .

How to book an extra seat.

This varies significantly by airline. We recently found in one case that it could be done online. In the situation above with United Airlines, however, it had to be done with a phone agent, who said that if you tried to do it online it would just make a mess. Hawaiian and American also require you call to book the extra seat. Delta shows it can be booked online but we still suggest calling first. The safest bet is always call the airline you’re thinking of flying with first. The extra seat will have it’s own boarding pass that is issued in the name of one traveler with the words “extra seat” clearly noted.

Two images courtesy of United Airlines.

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39 thoughts on “Save 73% | Cheap Alternative To First Class Hawaii Flights”

  1. Fantastic idea but maybe not necessary in the short term. Check your flights to Hawaii between now and Christmas. Most are going out and returning at plus-or-minus 50% capacity right now. Recent flight had flight attendants saying “Everyone take your own row. Plenty of room.” Surely the airlines will adjust. I always check sold seats before I book and look for those less desirable (read: likely empty) flights.

  2. So when the airline sees that there are only 2 people checking in do you honestly believe that they are not going to try to fill that seat with an actual body regardless of whether or not you paid for it!? It might work some of the time but don’t get your knickers in a knot if They decide to sell that seat to someone else.

    1. Hi Don.

      It’s never an issue. Airlines are completely familiar with this And it is completely within their fare rules.


  3. Amazing tip!! Thanks so much for sharing. We have our accommodations booked for our yearly visit in 2024 but not our tickets. We may try this for the flight over. For flight home we always use our FF Miles on Delta to upgrade to first class so we can rest better.. But if the 3 regular seats work out we may switch to that and save the miles for a different trip.. 🙂

  4. BOH: “There’s no great recline or beds to be had on narrow-body flights to Hawaii, period.” Beg to differ. We have flown United’s 757 First Class Polaris a number of times DEN-LIH-DEN and will again next February. Lots of room, lie flat seats (although the foot cubbyholes are a little cramped), and the normal first class extras. Food is OK, not always great, but the service has always been excellent. I usually give the flight attendants Starbucks gift cards and that is always appreciated. I await your review of Polaris to compare notes.

    1. Hi Rob.

      You’re right. That is the sole exception. But it represents very few flights. We’re referring to 737 and A321 which is the great majority. That UA757 business is sometimes called Fauxlaris because it is called Polaris but isn’t really. We’ll review that product as well.


      1. I agree. Those UA 757’s aren’t true Polaris when compared to the 777’s and 787’s, but even though they are “Fauxlaris”, lie flat seats, a 76″ pitch, and 21″ width sure make for comfortable flying. I was wrong calling those flights first class, as they are actually business class. There is no first class on those flights. Also, have you flown United’s Premium Economy, available internationally?
        Mahalo Nui Loa

        1. Hi Rob.

          You beat us to it. We will also be doing the review of United premium Plus, their true premium economy product, on the non-stop from Washington DC to Honolulu. Thanks for asking.


  5. Never thought of doing that – booking an extra seat hmmmmmm
    Will try next time I make reservations since I usually book 2 aisle seats and first class on return flight. Thank you.

  6. You know…. It would be really nice if you’d explain to your readers how to actually book the empty seat. There’s nothing on the UA app that allows for it. I just looked. Your story could have been much more informative than it was.

    1. Hi Andy.

      It’s best to call the airline first And it is not done online with United. We did update that information accordingly.


  7. Thanks for the great tip BOH. You guys always have such good advice. Just wondering how it works purchasing an extra seat. When purchasing the extra seat, do you or your companion traveler purchase two tickets in your name? Can it be done online during your initial purchase or do you have to make a totally separate purchase? Hope this makes sense. Mahalo nui loa.

    1. Hi Pam.

      Hopefully our response to Andy and the updates we just did to the article answer those questions. It depends on the airline, and the only one that clearly allows it to be done online is Delta. Even then, we suggest calling first just to be sure you have done it correctly.


  8. Regarding more or less the same topic, I have a recent story your readers might find interesting. I’ll try to make a long story very short.

    I had an aisle seat in a 3 seat row from Miami to Phoenix. The middle seat was empty and a 30’ish male occupied the window seat. The middle seat was empty. However, the guy quickly took over the entire middle seat by placing his jacket and other stuff on it. Later he leaned his back against the window and lay his feet literally about 1 inch from my lap as he tried to sleep.

    But, it gets worse! About 2 hours into the flight he changed positions and put his head face-up 1 inch from my lap. . Now, it was getting creepy! He told me he paid for the seat, but I later learned it was a big lie. Crazy!!

  9. Just bought a coach ticket from Kona to LAX and upgraded to first class with points. We have a lot of Chase points so using our United points was not a problem since we had far less and don’t need them in the foreseeable future. First class ending up costing $450. Hope it’s better than our last experience.

    1. Hi Nancy.

      Let us know how it goes. We have not been as satisfied with any airline’s narrow body first class service as we are with widebody. It’s just that it’s often a lot more convenient than going out of your way to look for a wide body.


      1. We chose to go first class even though it is not truly first class because your first 2 bags are free and they can weigh up to 70lbs instead of the usual 50 lbs. The extra weight allows us to bring items for the fire victims and also not have to ship anything we buy back home at a high cost from USPS. We chose the flight we did based on it being non-stop and arriving home at 9:00pm. Many are overnight flights or they get in around midnight. I hope they will have a wide body at some later date.

  10. Sounds awesome.
    How do you fill out the paperwork for the third seat?
    Do you just put the same name down twice?
    I thought if you didn’t show up for outbound flight the return was cancelled?
    More details please.

    1. Hi Rob.

      Thanks. We updated the article, and just let us know if that doesn’t answer your questions.


      1. Aloha, Maybe when you board you also use the empty seat boarding pass so the system thinks the seat is occupied.

  11. Aloha, using your technique to purchase an additional seat 💺, how are you able to board and Not account for the person for the 3rd seat?

    1. Hi Fern.

      You will get a boarding pass for the extra seat and it will say extra seat on it. The airlines and their staff are familiar with this.


  12. I think that calling that cabin at the front of the plane on a narrow body jet First Class is a stretch. At best it’s Business Class, or really, Economy+. Like your article says, FC on a wide body is a whole different beast.

    1. Hi Joerg.

      Yes, entirely different. So much so that it’s better to go on board with a whole different set of expectations.


  13. My fear of buying three seats is all of a sudden the ground agent comes on board sees an open seat them puts a human in it. And then we get in to the argument that that person is a vip on their and I loose out sure I may get a refund eventually but is it worth the potential hassle

    1. Hi Wolfe.

      Having done this countless times before, all we can say is there has never been a problem. We did once have someone try to move into the empty seat, but we had the boarding pass for that seat so in the end it wasn’t an issue at all.


    2. This would be my fear. I have rarely had an empty seat by me that someone didn’t dive into right before take-off and then make themselves at home. I’m sure most people would just vacate if you got an attendant to ask them, but there are so many crazies out there now, that the thought of having to have that kind of confrontation right at the start of my trip is tiresome.

  14. Hello there, love reading beat of Hawaii. I would like to know what or who you put as the passenger in the 3rd seat in order to purchase it. Thank you

    1. Hi Jerry.

      We updated the content of the article, so hopefully we’ve answered your question. If not, please let us know.


  15. I like leaving it to luck whether I get upgraded to premium or first class on Alaska – or no middle seat.
    On my recent flight to Maui on Alaska Airlines I had the luxury of not having someone in the middle seat…
    I preordered food – 20% off using the Alaska visa – and it was lovely.
    In July, when my hubby and I flew to Kona we were upgraded to 1st class. It was quite nice, but I can’t envision actually paying for 1st class. Not worth it… 5.5 hours is a short flight. 🙂

    1. Hi Ellen.

      Yes it does have your name, but it also has the words extra seat next to your name on that additional seat boarding pass.

      Boarding pass 1: John Smith
      Boarding pass 2: John Smith Extra Seat


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