Watch Hawaii Airfares Climb As Southwest + Hawaiian Learn Co-Existence

Southwest vs. Hawaiian: Comparing Hawaii Interisland Flights Amid Rising Prices

How do you choose between Southwest and Hawaiian when booking flights between islands? Here are ways to decide which airline suits your needs for interisland travel in Hawaii.

An analysis of costs, bag fees, seating, legroom, and atmosphere. Plus, our tips.

Tickets, Bags, Early Boarding, and More.

1. Ticket Cost. When both airlines compete together on routes, pricing is often the same. But not always. Prices are moving up after years of competitive $39 one-way airfares. The range is now typically between $100 and $200 round-trip on both carriers. But even then, the total flight cost can fluctuate greatly depending on how many bags you check and additional add-on fees you might select.

2. Checked bags. Here’s where you can save. Southwest doesn’t charge for two checked bags per passenger, but Hawaiian does. Expect to be charged $25 for the first and $35 for the second bag.

Tip: Join HawaiianMiles at no cost, and that will reduce your checked bag fees to $15 for the first bag and $20 for the second bag interisland. If you have premium status with Hawaiian or their branded, annual-fee credit card, checked bag fees may be waived.

3. Seat assignments. Hawaiian does offer them, while Southwest does not.

On Hawaiian, reserved seats are available without additional cost. But these can be toward the back of the plane, especially at popular times or when booking last minute.

Tip: The further out you book, the more choice you’ll have for free seating on Hawaiian Airlines. Seat assignments better ensure that everyone in your group will be seated together.

Southwest has its own challenges in terms of getting seats. It isn’t an issue for those familiar with the airline’s boarding and seat selection process. But lining up to board can be stressful for some, and while we do it, we never really like it. Then too, at popular times or with last-minute bookings, you may end up near the back of the plane due to low boarding priority.

Hawaiian Airlines Hawaii interisland Boeing 717
Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717.

Onboard Seating and Legroom.

1. Seating configurations. There are significant differences in seating between Hawaiian and Southwest when flying interisland. 

A. Southwest Boeing 737 MAX 8. Seating is in a 3 x 3 configuration.

B. Hawaiian Boeing 717. Seating is in a 2 x 3 configuration, allowing couples to be seated together without a third person.

2. Legroom. There’s more on Southwest. The seat pitch on Hawaiian 717 is listed as 30-31 inches on SeatGuru. The Southwest 737 MAX 8 has a published seat pitch of 32 inches.

Tip: Hawaiian does offer an option for significantly more legroom interisland at a nominal fee. For $10, the exit rows and the first rows of economy are great both for comfort, priority boarding, and, in the case of row 4, for example, quick exit from the aircraft on arrival.

3. Seat width and comfort. Hawaiian and Southwest provide adequate comfort in our experience, especially for the short distance of Hawaii interisland flights.

Southwest Airlines Hawaii interisland Boeing 737 MAX 8
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8.

Atmosphere, entertainment, USB charging.

1. Atmosphere onboard. We still consider this to be a toss-up based on personal preference. While the Hawaiian crew exudes a distinct island feeling, we find the Southwest crew to be customer-centric, engaged, and proactive, albeit in a mainland way.

2. Entertainment. The view will be the only source of entertainment flying interisland at the low, typically 15,000-foot altitude between islands.

3. USB charging. Southwest is in the process of adding USB-A and -C chargers at every seat. Hawaiian does not provide charging. BOH editors have yet to see an aircraft with the chargers installed.

4. WiFi. Southwest has $8 WiFi on all its flights, even on short interisland flights. While free Hawaiian Airlines WiFi is now arriving on mainland aircraft, there is no plan to add Wi-Fi on interisland flights.

5. Beverages. Both airlines provide water. Hawaiian takes it further with a choice of POG fruit drink throughout the day or coffee in the morning.

Checklist for choosing between Southwest and Hawaiian flying interisland:

  • When an island feeling is not necessary, and you do not qualify for free bags on Hawaiian, consider Southwest.
  • If you qualify for free bags on Hawaiian, choose Hawaiian and get a free seat assignment or a reasonably priced extra legroom upgrade.
  • Should you prefer an island feel, including POG drink on your flight, pick Hawaiian.
  • If you want USB charging, choose Southwest (pending fleet-wide installation).
  • When you prefer premium options like first-class and extended legroom in economy, choose Hawaiian.
  • If you are concerned about needing to cancel and rebook, choose Southwest. Hawaiian does not offer the ability to re-deposit and use funds as easily as Southwest.

What criteria do you use in choosing Hawaiian or Southwest flying Hawaii interisland?

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9 thoughts on “Southwest vs. Hawaiian: Comparing Hawaii Interisland Flights Amid Rising Prices”

  1. The most important factor is schedule, HA has triple what SW offers giving you more flexibility. And if you don’t have any checked bags they can move you up if you’re early.

    4
  2. How do you choose, BOH editors correctly ask?
    Simple in my opinion, Fly your Aloha State airline and support one of the most unique and friendly airlines in the world! The minute you board a Hawaiian Airlines Flight you know that you’re in Hawaii, and on an inter island flight you are blessed to know that when this short flight in paradise ends you will still be in beautiful Hawaii!!!
    I live in Texas and avoid SW like the plague. SW is a Texas based airline, but within the state their flights are not unique to Texas culture or the Texas vibe. BTW….you can’t get a Mai Tai on any SW flight, but you sure can on Hawaiian!!!
    Fly Hawaiian Whenever You Can!!!
    Aloha to all.

    6
  3. Actually, on Southwest routes of Honolulu to Hilo as well as Kahului to Lihue (in both directions) a full drink selection is offered off their menu, providing weather in route allows the crew to be up.

    5
  4. We always have the SW Companion Pass. It can be good for almost two years if you time it right. You have to have large credit card spend, and or, sign ups for SW credit cards bonuses.
    This is probably the best miles award program in the travel industry.

    6
  5. Some considerations:
    The two seats together on the Hawaiian side are nice, but sometimes you have to pay.
    Movies. I love that as soon as I get on the SW plane we can start watching movies. Of course without a major delay you can’t finish it. On the return flight we noticed somehow where we left off was saved and we continued seamlessly. Long flight delays on the ground are now OK. Also we sometimes are in the middle of a great scene so de-boarding quickly is not what we want! Bring your headsets and make sure you have the SW APP downloaded.
    Hawaiian has finally lowered it’s amount of miles now needed to fly inter-island matching value with SW.
    Seat pitch is the worst on Hawaiian airlines compared to All airlines. SW the best.

    6
  6. I prefer SW for the extra legroom, free checked baggage and for bringing airfares down in the inter island market. Easy to deal with and the app and website work consistently.
    HA’s app has left me unable to open my boarding pass at the airport more than once. Their website invariably leaves me frustrated.
    I’m still holding a grudge for HA’s price gouging when they had the market to themselves.

    6
  7. It is absolutely insane that an island state has no ocean ferry connecting islands. Has to be the only place on earth with highly inhabited islands with no regular ferry service.

    10
  8. My criteria is:

    Whoever is cheapest. The flights between islands last no more than 45 minutes (at the longest between Hilo and Kaua’i, shorter for HNL to any other island flight). I can deal with no WiFi or lounges or whatever for flights this short.

    And I think that is where SWA makes their money over Hawaiian. People flying interisland kind of just want to get there and see our family & friends. If SWA and Hawaiian are the same price, but I am paying baggage fees both directions, I am picking SWA every day. To me, the flight and cabin crews are interchangeable experiences for both airlines. Never had an issue with either.

    4
  9. I choose Hawaiian as they have twice the flights, so even if there is a delayed flight you have more back up options and I do prefer the local experience. I believe in the “Buy Local” ethos to support Hawaiian and the people that live here. That will still be true if Alaska keeps it’s word (all indications seem to point that way) and maintains HA as their vehicle of choice for Pacific expansion. HA also outshines SWA when weather/operational challenges arise due to their local knowledge. That said SWA is good competition to have and I respect their upbeat enthusiasm.

    7
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