Think Basic Economy To Hawaii Is For You? Maybe Not!

Are still thinking about flying basic economy to Hawaii? Those are the very cheapest fares advertised, they are hard to pass up, and many people end up buying them. These are often Hawaii deals priced at about $99 each way. Here’s what basic economy to Hawaii is all about to help you decide if it’s right for you.

Airlines have their own names for it, but with these fares, you get very limited service, a teaser price, and some surprises you hadn’t counted on. These have more in common than differences. Basic Economy was Delta Airlines’ innovation and launched over six years ago. Now, all but one airline flying to Hawaii has its version.

Basic economy can save you $40 or more each way. So what’s the catch?

The answer is in this question: “why do airlines have basic economy to Hawaii? Read on for some fascinating thoughts you may not have considered.

Basic economy was created to get your attention and just maybe, to turn you off.

While basic economy fares continue to catch our attention and thus are very popular, they have severe limitations designed in part to turn off passengers to the very fares they have just purchased. So who is basic economy good for? In a word, the airlines.

1. Get to the top of flight searches. 

One of the main reasons the airlines moved to basic economy was to have a very cheap fare to show in search results, whether on the airline’s website, an OTA (like Expedia), or in Google Flights search.

2. A poor boarding experience in most cases.

Unless you’re traveling very light to Hawaii, which isn’t normally the case, you’ll at least get to board with a full-size carry-on. The problem is that the airlines may not have enough room when your last boarding group is let on the plane. That can create a problem, wherein airlines may then gate check your bag, hopefully.

3. Another intentionally created us vs. them situation.

All economy isn’t created equal. And those who pay anything more than the lowest price, in one way or another, are treated significantly better. Passengers who pay for a higher class of economy, or are frequent flyers, don’t have to fret and scramble just to get themselves and their belongings on a flight to Hawaii.

4. Bait and switch.

Airlines are betting that once you experience basic economy, you’ll choose one of the higher fares on your next Hawaii vacation. Does it work? We’d say it does, and quite well.

We only recommend basic economy to Hawaii except under specific circumstances.

  • You are traveling alone or not concerned about sitting with a travel companion.
  • You are content with storing your carry-on under the seat in front of you. That may be all the space you’ll get
  • You don’t care where on the plane you sit, including a middle seat at the back of the aircraft.

Reviewing each airline’s basic economy to Hawaii.

Basic economy to Hawaii. Is it for you?

Below is what you can expect when flying Basic Economy on the six airlines traveling between the US mainland and Hawaii. Most of the cheapest flights to Hawaii are now in this class of service. Airlines won’t offer basic economy on some routes, so you need to check carefully to see what you are getting.

In addition to the specifics below, check if you are trying to accrue frequent flyer points, as how each airline handles that on basic economy fares will vary. Also, rules can change frequently.

Alaska Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

Alaska was late to the party with its “Saver fares” that started in 2020. With Alaska’s basic economy, you still get a free, full-sized carry-on. Advanced seat selection is not included and when assigned by the airline, will most likely be in the back of the plane. Perhaps even in a dreaded center seat. There’s no guarantee that parties of 2 or more will sit together. You will also be boarding last so good luck finding a convenient place for a full-sized carry-on. Tickets are non-changeable and non-cancellable after the first 24 hours. Uniquely, fee-based upgrades are permitted. Service on-board is otherwise identical to regular economy. Several limitations on Saver fares relate to seat selection, changes, and refunds, as seen on Alaska’s website.

American Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

American Airlines basic economy does not offer seat selection opportunities. Those are assigned at check-in (24 hours before the flight). If you wish to pay extra, however, you may be able to snag a seat assignment up to 48 hours before a flight. A free, full-sized carry-on is permitted, although since you’ll be boarding last, finding a space could be challenging. AA frequent fliers may be eligible for upgrades, while others are not. Same-day changes may be possible for a fee, but there are no other changes or cancellations after 24 hours. Service on-board is otherwise identical to regular economy.

Delta Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

Regarding Delta basic economy, the company says, “Please remember refunds and upgrades are not available at any time. Basic Economy is best for those traveling by themselves with firm travel plans.” Delta basic economy provides seat assignment selection at 24 hour check-in. There are no changes, cancellations, or upgrades permitted, and you do not accrue frequent flyer miles. Free full-sized carry-on and a personal item are included, but will there be room for yours? Service on-board is otherwise identical to regular economy.

Hawaiian Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

Main Cabin Basic” economy at Hawaii’s bellwether airline includes no advance seat assignment. Available seats can be self-assigned at 24-hour check-in or will be assigned at the gate at Hawaiian’s discretion. “We cannot guarantee that your family will be able to sit together. If it’s important for you to have all family members sit together, we recommend that you select another fare option with less restrictions.”

A free carry-on bag and one personal item are included with the same caveat about finding room. HawaiianMiles members continue to earn one mile per mile flown. Free meals, beverages, and snacks. Free in-flight entertainment. No upgrades, changes or cancellations (after 24 hours) are possible.

Southwest Airlines (no) basic economy to Hawaii.

Southwest does not have a basic economy offering and has made it clear that it is not likely to either. However, Southwest previously revealed through a customer survey that it was contemplating some form of new lower-end product, although nothing appears to be imminent. All Southwest airfares include two free checked bags, a full-size carry-on, and a personal item. Your boarding priority will determine boarding order and finding adequate space for your carryons. Be sure to check in exactly 24 hours before the flight and not five or ten minutes later.

United Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

With United Airlines basic economy, a seat assignment is provided 24 hours before the flight for free or up to 48 hours in advance for a fee of $10 to Hawaii. Service on-board is otherwise identical to regular economy. You will board last, and use of overhead storage is available for an additional $25 fee, although to Hawaii, the fee may not be charged. The rules read, “Carry-on bags are not included unless you’re flying to South America, across the Atlantic or across the Pacific. You can prepay to check a bag or check a carry-on at your gate for the regular bag fee plus an additional $25. Otherwise, only under-seat storage is permitted, not a full-sized carry-on. Premier members, however, are entitled to a standard carry-on even on basic economy fares.” There are no changes, cancellations or upgrades permitted, and frequent fliers won’t accrue points toward premier status. A recently new perk is that for $45, you can later upgrade your flight to a standard economy fare.

Which basic economy to Hawaii is best?

1. The winner is Southwest Airlines. Why? Because no basic economy is still the best basic economy. So that makes Southwest the obvious winner in this category.

2. After that, there’s honestly not much in the way of differentiation. We’d give Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines all a tie for the next best basic economy, albeit far worse than the winner. Each offers arguably varying degrees of better service than the other two legacy airlines.

3. Who’s the worst? United Airlines, which may or may not even allow a full-size carry-on for basic economy passengers.

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5 thoughts on “Think Basic Economy To Hawaii Is For You? Maybe Not!”

  1. Thanks for the very good info. With Southwest your boarding is very dependent on what kind of boarding you pay for beyond the 24 hour thing.

  2. I’ve flown to Hawaii many times almost always with Hawaiian using Basic Economy. In every case I’ve been with my partner, and every time we’ve been able to sit together. We’ve also never experienced an issue with stowing our carry on bags. We’ve often been seated near the back, but often a window seat was included. Just imagine the scenario where no one chooses Basic Economy? Then what? There would always be issues with no overhead space for carry on bags and up to 20% of passengers would be sitting In middle row seats anyways and groups of two or more might not be sitting next to each other.
    I’m all for basic economy. I check in right at the 24 hour mark. And if I have seating issues I’ll have a friendly chat with the gate agent.

  3. With covid and other nasty viruses around its hard to have firm travel plans anymore. Tolerance to risk is an individual thing. I’m not a risk taker by nature. It’s important to me to choose my seat & be able to cancel or change my flight if necessary. So I will pay extra for that type of ticket & when I fly SW I pay for Early Bird so I can get a better boarding number. That’s just me.

  4. Considering Green doesn’t want low end visitors, maybe this will eliminate airline basic economy seats to Hawaii since the new, more desirable visitors will only fly first class!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hahahahhaha

  5. You make it sound like they leave your carry on behind if you board at the end and there is no space. Please confirm that all airlines will put your carry on in the cargo hold and there is no charge.

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