Seat Selection Up To $304 | Gotcha! On Hawaii Flights

First, it was mostly basic economy vs. regular economy. And with regular economy, you could, in most cases, be assured of being able to reserve seats. That’s something you can’t do with basic economy. But the problem is, even when paying the $4o extra for regular economy, advance seat assignments may not be available, and if they are, they may come with a very high price, as you’re about to see.

To be clear, we aren’t talking about “premium economy,” which is defined by different seats and services. That is entirely different and is offered on select Hawaii flights by American, Delta, and United Airlines. This is purely about regular economy.

What we now have is further obscure differentiation. There is basic economy, regular economy and premium economy. There’s also regular economy with or without extra legroom. And either with or without that legroom, there can be a substantial additional cost when buying flights for your Hawaii vacation.

$99 to $199 Hawaii airfare can unexpectedly double in cost.

While the idea of getting a deal on Hawaii flights in the range of $99 to $199 is great, you don’t expect this added fee. What happens is that halfway through the booking process, when you are presented with seating options, there is a gotcha. Southwest gets its ancillary seating money in an entirely different way, which we’ll also detail below.

Hawaiian Airlines – up to $272 for an advance seat assignment.

Kyle just commented as follows: “Paid to select seats on Hawaiian Airlines, and they went and changed our seats, splitting up my family (with toddlers). Called their reservations, and their only solution was for me to pay more.”

We checked airfare and seat assignment prices across dates from March until September, and here’s what we found.

LAX-HNL (Hawaiian Seat Map)

On flights we were looking at, between Honolulu and Los Angeles (above), for example, mid-week or mid-March, we found many flights with little or no seat assignment availability without paying significantly extra. On other days there were some seats toward the back section of the plane for no additional cost. In some cases, these were only the middle seats.

PHX-HNL (Hawaiian Seat Map)

We also looked at Phoenix to Honolulu since regular commenter Barbara pointed out that there was a problem. “I am Soooo mad at Hawaiian Air right now… Not only have they doubled the points needed to book a flight, they are now charging a minimum of $102 to sit in the first 21 rows of the plane!!!”

On checking, we found there were no seats available without additional payment on some days. In that case, the price for advanced seating varied between $29 and $140.

JFK-HNL (Hawaiian Seat Map)

Going further afield, from New York to Honolulu, the seating price went as high as $272. However, if the flight is far enough out, as in the image above, we found seats towards the back available without additional cost. Depending on the date, those are typically in the back half of the plane or even much further back. Also, note that sitting together except in a group of four is often another new premium cost option.

When we looked out six more months for travel mid-week in September, we did find many more seats available without having to pay extra.

Southwest Hawaii passengers get zapped with up to $50 for early boarding.

There’s no doubt about it, Southwest prices for ancillary fees are on the rise. So while Southwest doesn’t have seat assignments, and you can pick whatever seat you want once on the plane, they, too, have a good plan to increase ancillary preferred seating income.

Editor Jeff previously bought Early Bird check-in to try it. Between the mainland and Hawaii the cost was $25. That allowed check-in 36 prior to flight time to provide a better boarding position. Early Boarding, the other option, was $50, and offers a priority A1-15 boarding number (if one is available for your flight).

LAX-HNL (United Seat Map)

UAL does it differently – up to $304 for extra legroom.

UAL says, “A little extra legroom goes a long way.” Economy Plus from Los Angeles to Honolulu, was available at an upcharge of $169 to $219. For the date we checked in mid-march, the only seats that didn’t have an extra cost were a few middle seats near the rear of the aircraft. As we looked out six months, there were more free seat options on some days bu not others.

From New York (EWR) to Honolulu, the upcharge was $234 to $304 for extra legroom Economy Plus. Also available was “Preferred Location,” with no extra legroom seats. Those were priced from $33 to $49.

Are you paying extra for preferred seating or for Early-Bird?

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40 thoughts on “Seat Selection Up To $304 | Gotcha! On Hawaii Flights”

  1. We generally fly Hawaiian extra comfort on the A-330 from Los Angeles to Kahului. We have flow the HAL first class and regular Main Cabin Economy. At only 5’11” I have a fairly rough time with the 31 inches of pitch in economy. I get by, but usually cough up the extra ca$h for those 36 inches of Extra Comfort.

    Flying from Long Beach, which I love on the A 321 is not my favorite. I would love to see Hawaiian try a few of the A-330 flights from Long Beach (such as flight #71) and see if their bookings increase. I read to many posts one social media of people who say they will no longer fly Hawaiian out of LAX due to the horrible mess with the Bradley Terminal west gates.

    1. Can you elaborate on the mess you were speaking of out of the West gates? I have a flight out of there next month. Thank you.

      1. ….the HA gates are in the Bradley Terminal ( international) now. Takes about 15 -20 mins to get to the gate. Longer walk but more amenities…I much preferred the old terminal 2. Bottom line, show up early enough to take advantage of the shops and restaurants and appreciate the walk before sitting on an airplane for over 5 hours!

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      2. From the entrance it is a long walk with several turns and curves. They are marked but iff you miss one it is Not Good. An average adult will make the walk in about 12 – 15 minutes but small children or people with some mobility issues will take longer. Upon return to LAX the walk to baggage claim is a maze of ups and downs and more turns.

  2. We have always flown Hawaiian until this year. With Hawaiian now charging for extra leg room, economy, premium economy, picking seat charges, etc…it’s more cost effective to just go with SW or American. Same hassle and hoops to jump through, might be a longer flight due to layovers, but it’s cheaper. I look at it as they have now priced themselves out, because of the way they implemented it. Hawaiian has always been more expensive than other airlines, had they just increased prices and kept their same structure (economy or first class) I think it would have been perceived differently. But now it looks like nickel and diming and no one want to feel like they are being taken advantage of or forced into a corner.

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  3. We will be heading to Oahu in just a few weeks for our 20th and most likely last visit to Hawaii. The prices are outrageous as well as crowds and since we live in MN we will be heading to the Caribbean from now on. I still love Hawaii but I was comparing what I will be spending for one week in Oahu compared to a full all inclusive for 10 days in the Atlantic. Plus the flight is way shorter and 1 or 2 time zone difference.

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  4. Wealthy people don’t care about any of this. Travel is getting more expensive, and will discourage mass tourism. Extra charges and rationing of access have become normal. If people can’t afford to pay, stay home or do local tourism. As an Asian Pacific Islander, there are some places in the USA that I would never travel to given the political and social climate.

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  5. If you want more, you pay more, not a new concept. And if you book earlier generally better prices unless the flight is not full, supply and demand, no surprise there either. SWA is basically in a similar structure as the ULCCs, but those are even farther off from actual price unless you show up with only your wallet, print your own boarding pass and, zero bags and don’t ask for water. Seat selection, extra. All carriers do it to varying degrees, nothing new. Book early, pay for what you want. A home development that says from the $500s….zero sell for that and if you wait it gets more expensive in a new development, and your Choices of a lot decreases. The discount prices go to the early, regular prices as plane fills up.

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    1. To your point, on SWA I just saw HNL to OGG “Business Select” for $124……a coach seat with priority boarding, yet they call it “Business”. That’s crazy, you’re paying extra just to avoid their cattle call boarding. You don’t get to select your seat, you just are moved up the survival boarding chain and the people that paid less fight over the scraps. Much better to pay for what you want and know in advance.

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  6. Hi guys. I did notice this new change when booking my flight recently. They also charged me 45+ thousand miles. It was 35,000 for a long time round trip. Looks like prices are going to keep going up for everything. At least I was able to extend my trip and get a non-stop back for no charge. Cost me $300 a few years back when I missed my flight by 10 minutes due to as n accident on Hwy 56. Hope you both are well and mahalo as usual. Looking forward to arriving on Tuesday.Aloha

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    1. My flight to LIH out of LAX was originally 35,000 miles. Went down to 26,000 and then down to 17,000. Back up to 26,000 and then again back up to 35,000. This happened over the period of about 3 or 4 months.
      Just like any perishable commodity, you have to watch pricing as it will probably bounce all over the map.

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  7. Since I ran out of words I shall continue. Again, a reasonable person, will not go for the ‘$99 dollar fare resulting in what could be a 6-7 hour flight ending up being a two day effort since it would require one to munch on their kneecaps for extremely long hours in basic economy in a middle seat with multiple connections, This whole $99 airfare subject is simply a marketing ploy and a farce that almost no one will ever use. It’s a marketing shell game that only the dumbest of consumers will ever fall for. It’s really not even worth the time to publish such rubbish. The reality is I just spent 10 times that amount for an economy ticket. Just short of a thousand dollars for my ticket in economy mid-week! Good luck with your $99 dollar deal

  8. Obviously, you guys are airline centric. I have to imagine either one or both of you used to work for the airlines in some capacity. I’m surprised it took you so long to address this. As a property owner in Kauai I come to the island at least three times a year. Currently, American serves this island nonstop from PHX and they have a monopoly on this market. I’m surprised you guys have taken this long to broach this subject. The whole economy seat pricing subject is a ‘shell game’. You often state super low prices to go to Hawaii. The reality is to garner such fares one would have to fly bizarre flight times, secure ‘basic economy’ seating which would require a person to forfeit their seat assignments and endure multiple connections.

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    1. “As a property owner in Kauai I come to the island at least three times a year.”

      As someone who used to live in the islands 365/6 days a year but now does so zero….will leave it for the 365ers to discuss.

  9. In my world there is no such thing as “price gouging” among airlines (your opinion may differ). The airlines are businesses that try to maximize revenue, like any other private enterprise, while I try to either minimize or optimize my spending with them. It is a natural push-pull on my travel dollars.

    I am a “willing buyer” making a purchase choice from multiple different airlines (“willing sellers”) selling different products (seats) at different prices (fares + options + taxes).

    I am free to agree to purchase from one airline amongst their many seat/fare offerings, or I am free to shop at other different airlines, or I am free to refuse all of their offerings and choose to travel by other means or not travel at all.

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    1. Agree. I think the more options an airline offers the more fair they are being. Want to save money? Go for the cheapest offering, want a nice seat? Pay a little more or a lot more (First Class) depending on what you choose? Seems totally fair to me person opting for a middle seat in coach should pay less then those in the better seats….only issue I have is with SWA’s survival of the fittest boarding procedure. Much more appreciative of knowing in advance what I’m getting for what I paid.

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  10. The airline industry seems to be begging for regulation, though I have little confidence that we will be able to regulate it in such a way that it works. Until we, as a society, begin to value service over greed, we seem doomed to keep going in this unfortunate direction.
    There is no “them here.” Them is “us.”

    2
      1. I can imagine that to be true. My son lives in New Orleans and he hates tourists.

        The problem is, if you raise all the prices to such a degree, only the rich can experience the holiness and wonder of Hawaii, and who wants that?

        I wish the government would charge tourists for certain things and make them free for residents. And I also wish they would make certain areas off-limits to tourists on the weekends so residents can enjoy a less crowded paradise.

        All love.

    1. I can imagine how frustrating it must be to read all of this. It is for those of us who live here as well. But let’s not be too hasty to cast blame. As an example, look at your own community and your own work. Does it put profit above service? If it does, it is a rare bird in these times. This is not an issue peculiar to Hawaii. Vacation areas everywhere have become overrun. Imagine if your town were suddenly so full of cars, the restaurants booked up, and the natural places around your house were so trampled that the environment was threatened. Would you have some strong feelings even if your town depended on that income?

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    2. Gloria, what’s that got to do with the price of airline seats? Hawaii doesn’t control what the airlines charge.

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  11. I’m paying $215 for premium Main cabin on Hawaiian in early September Boston to HNL direct an 11 hour flight. I don’t mind because of the long flight. I would not pay that for lax to hnl. I should mention I am in the tow directly behind first class . No one in front of me.

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    1. I’m paying $120 for the exact same seat for LAX – HNL
      I think that reasonable.
      Are you in the dbl seats (by the window) or the quads?

      1
  12. Mahalo BOH for keeping your readers abreast of what the airlines are up to. Your second graphic for LAX-HNL must be United rather than SWA as it’s a wide body and refers to United’s Economy Plus.

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  13. We pay for SW Early Bird check-in to avoid the hassle & get a better number. Last few SW flights we sat at the front of the plane in aisle & window seats. No one took the middle. Lucky break that everyone went past us to fill seats further back. We flew Hawiian last month & paid $19 pp to choose 2 seats in a 2 seat aisle. No extra leg room but did ok because passengers in front of us didn’t push seats back. Price for Extra Comfort seats was outrageous. So yes, we pay extra to choose our seats & cross our fingers it works out.

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  14. We have been to Hawaii over 20 times and sometimes even for 3 or 4 weeks and now wonder if we ever go again. No one seems to want us unless they gouge us. Some of the locals don’t want us. The government adds taxes and fees. The hotels and restaurants have raised their prices. The car rentals agencies are gouging. Gas is ridiculous. And now airlines are playing games with the cost of seats.

    Maybe all travelers should decide not to travel for this summer and especially to Hawaii.

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    1. The airlines aren’t playing games with Just Hawaii flights. They do that with All flights to All destinations. For instance SWA, has that same policy for all destinations. Not just Hawaii. So to infer this is unique to Hawaii flights is incorrect.

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    2. I agree, I used to live on Oahu and still have family there. Otherwise it is much cheaper to go on a cruise or to the Caribbean.

      2
    3. We will be going to Kauai twice this year. Yes prices are up because demand is up.
      Sure I wish I could pay what I did ten years ago, but that’s not reality.
      We always pay for the extended legroom seats and upgrade to First Class
      when it’s not too outrageous.

  15. It’s the old adage “You get what you pay for.“ Makes sense that better seats will cost more. What baffles me is the fact that none of the airlines have yet started charging for access to the in-flight entertainment. As long as one brings one’s headphones, the music and movies are still free. That can’t just be an oversight; they must’ve done psychometric studies showing that passengers are more likely to sit still and be quiet if they’re watching the latest Adam Sandler movie. Oh, one more thought: all checked baggage should be free, and all carry-on baggage should be charged. This would make the boarding process much easier because few passengers would be blocking the aisles as they stuff their stuff in the overhead bins.

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  16. Hawaiian Airlines is a ripoff. All there non first class seats should have the same leg room.
    Southwest seats have great leg room. Yes no seat assigned but get on the plane together and usually you sit together. Also family boarding so you are all together and early boarding after A 15.

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  17. Miles make no sense on Hawaiian unless you can snake a first class ticket. By the time you add up seat fees and baggage it’s more expensive than southwest.

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