Southwest Hawaii

After $49 Airfares What’s Next | Southwest vs. Hawaiian Airlines

Bellwether Hawaiian Airlines is feeling the heat from Hawaii newcomer Southwest Airlines. The big question is what’s next in Southwest vs. Hawaiian Airlines competition, following short-lived yet eye-popping $49 Hawaii Airfares. In a nutshell, let’s just say this isn’t over, in fact it’s barely started. 

Introductory $49 airfares.

On Monday at 6am HST, Southwest released their first Hawaii routes replete with introductory $49 Southwest Hawaii deals. Those were between Oakland/San Jose and both Honolulu and Maui. First flights start on March 17, with staggered introductions throughout May including inter-island flights.

In the first round Monday, $49 airfares were sold out in less than one hour. The lowest price then went to $79, and those sold out within about 90 minutes. So in a few short hours, the best long-awaited introductory airfares were gone and we were back to pricing somewhat as we know it.

Best prices as of today.

$99 airfares remained and those have lasted to some degree. If you can fly in September, there are still a limited number of $99 airfares available from Oakland, but you’ll need to hunt to find them. In September, Southwest’s best prices range from $99 to $179. Hawaiian’s best prices on that route range from $139 to $179. The Southwest fare includes two free checked bags, while the Hawaiian fare includes advance seat selection, which Southwest does not offer.

$29 Inter-island fare war.

$29 introductory inter-island airfares stuck around for some time, actually nearly two days. When introduced, those were met with a nearly immediate $29 Fare War  on Hawaiian Airlines Inter-Island. As of today, however, both carriers have raised the lowest price of inter-island to $49. In itself that price harkens back to fares of 20 years ago.

We haven’t really even begun to see competition.

There was immediate relief for the industry, as Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and the legacy carriers (American, Delta and United) did not even need to respond to Southwest’s introductory airfares. Why? Because these sold out almost immediately and before others could even respond. That’s because there was an enormous demand for the cheapest fares, and because the dates of availability were only through September. So, round one came and went with very little bloodshed and without a wide-ranging fare war. But that was just round one.

Three things that will incite Hawaii airfare wars.

1. On or about March 14, Southwest will extend their schedule through November 2, 2019. That will create another month’s worth of Hawaii inventory. We don’t know how aggressively they will price it, but we think it will be at $99 or perhaps even lower.

2. Southwest will soon introduce a number of near-term Hawaii routes. Those could be announced, without prior notice, at any time. Upcoming routes include nonstop service to Kona and Kauai from San Jose and Oakland, as well as flights to all four islands from San Diego and Sacramento. With these will come more introductory airfares, again at $99 or perhaps even lower.

3. Lastly, more inter-island routes will be announced. When more of these are announced, another round of inter-island fare wars will ensue.

Hawaiian Airlines on competition with Southwest.

Regarding competition with Southwest Hawaii flights,  CEO Peter Ingram said: “I am very confident that we have cost structure that will allow us to be competitive…. We compete effectively because we focus on a single thing, our unique brand of Hawaiian hospitality. How we do that… won’t change…. We won’t try to do what they do.”

Peter said that competition in our Hawaii market isn’t anything new. “…(When) we had Allegiant start service to Hawaii and I remember a lot of the investment analysts…were sort of prophesizing the immediate doom of Hawaiian Airlines. We’ve had Alaska coming into the market… ATA was in the market…. there is a long list of competitors we have dealt with.”

Beat of Hawaii’s take on Southwest vs. Hawaiian Airlines competition.

While there has always been strong and changing competition in the Hawaii market, 2019 unquestionably represents a major paradigm shift. We saw that this week, with brief but totally unprecedented $49 Southwest Hawaii deals from the mainland and $29 Hawaii inter-island airfares. And, as a result, Hawaiian Airlines stock was down 11% on Monday.

An entrant the magnitude of Southwest Airlines is something that we have never seen in Hawaii before. You simply can’t compare the legacy airlines, Allegiant, ATA, or even Alaska Airlines to Southwest.

As an interesting side note, Andy Watterson, arguably the brains of Southwest Hawaii plans, and their EVP and Chief Revenue Officer, was previously the VP of Planning and Revenue Management at, you guessed it, Hawaiian Airlines.

While the $29, $49 and $79 deals are gone for the moment, don’t despair. More of these cheapest time to fly to Hawaii deals will be returning in the days ahead as more routes and available dates are announced by Southwest and as Hawaiian and other airlines respond to competitive pressure.

We’re also awaiting Southwest Hawaii red-eye flights, that will allow them to join their Hawaii flights to the entire US route network.

Stay tuned.

68 thoughts on “After $49 Airfares What’s Next | Southwest vs. Hawaiian Airlines”

  1. Hi! My family of 4 is going from San Diego to Maui July 7th. I already booked our return flight on Hawaiian using miles only. I am looking for a flight going. I noticed I can get Nonstop on SWA for $189 each. That is over a $100 less than I can do on Hawaiian right now. My inclination is to jump on it but I wanted to make sure I am reading this right….you are saying there will be times coming up when the price on Southwest will drop lower? Maybe I should hold off??? Also, as far as comfort goes, do you think one airline is way better than the other? My husband is a bigger guy and so I don’t want to make him too uncomfortable. I don’t travel too often so I can’t remember one standing out over the other. Thanks!

    1. Hi Laura.

      Not expecting price to much lower if at all for peak summer travel. It is already highly discounted compared with other years.


  2. Aloha and Mahalo for your updates on the Southwest Airlines service to Hawaii. However, I am noticing the words: maybe, not sure, the company doesn’t disclose that, later, no connections, holiday travel is expensive, etc. At this point I think a lot of people are expecting a lot more than Southwest is offering. Everyone expects a $49 fare from California and are frustrated when Southwest offers basically the same fares as all airlines. I think it would make a lot of sense for BOH to compare all the airlines that serve Hawaii with black and white information. Could you please make a chart that includes FAA statistics like: average ticket price, on-time performance, cancelled flight rate, misconnect rate, leg room, seat pitch, number of seats and class of service on each airline, type of aircraft used, flight times, baggage delivery time, lost bag rate, customer complaint rate. It would also be helpful to compare food service, advanced seat assignments, in cabin entertainment options, what services each airline charges extra for, and what does each airline do when they cancel a flight or misconnect their customers. Thank you.

  3. Donna says,
    We are looking at flying to Honolulu in December for Christmas either from San Diego or Phoenix. Any idea when Hawaiian will lower their fares from either market during that time frame or would we be better to wait to travel in January. Thanks

    1. Hi Donna.

      Christmas will always be the most expensive time, period. So definitely suggest January. Fare sales for January might start from late summer on.


  4. Hi, I’m flying to Kauai July 30-Aug 5, do you think SW will be flying to there by that time? Trying to decide if I should wait to purchase tickets a couple weeks until the announcement. Thanks!

    1. Hi Emily.

      You did not say where you are flying from. Looks like Illinois. We do not expect one ticket service on Southwest from Chicago at this point in time. From the west coast we do anticipate they will fly to Kauai this summer.


  5. I looked for fares between OAK and HNL mid May and best SW could offer was just under $1200. HA with full service was over $400 less!

  6. Mahalo for keeping up with all the various options. I have purchased a one way fare from Austin, TX to Honolulu in late July and want to go back early August. How likely do you think it is, that they will introduce red eye flights in the near future? I could just go back on a different airline, but if you think it is imminent I will wait for SW.
    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Stig.

      It would seem logical for them to get this going right away. On the other hand, they have resisted red eye for years. There were technical issues, which we believe have been resolved. Yet, still no red eyes. So it is anyone’s guess.


  7. I’m looking to go to Kona in late June. From Tampa. What would be my best bet and cheapest way to go round trip.

  8. Hi, I love reading your column.
    I’ll be purchasing airfare for 2 from CLT to KOA. Dates:
    April 7th to April 21st. Is Southwest going to affect
    flights from the East coast?


    1. Hi Tracy.

      Doubtful that they will impact the pricing you need. Long story, but they don’t have their (east coast) route network ready integration with Hawaii flights quite yet. That should happen soon, but probably not for your trip n ext month.

      BTW prices are terrible for your dates and could improve a bit by waiting. Only problem is your Sunday travel dates. Even moving to Tuesdays (which probably isn’t feasible) would lower fares by $200 or more RT.


  9. Hawaii wasn’t on my travel radar for 2019 until my mom called me after hearing about Southwest’s intro fares on the news. Needless to say, we missed out. After reading your updates, I’m cautiously optimistic that we may be able to take advantage during the next round of intro fares. Do you anticipate Southwest will release intro fares for their additional routes/islands in the early morning like they did on Monday? Any strategic suggestions for scooping up one of the specially priced fares during the next round? Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Jaidyn.

      Honestly we don’t know what the next round of fares will be or the timing on their release. Only the airline knows that. Originally they had planned to release the fares at a different time, so obviously this can be very fluid.


  10. We won’t be going to Maui until next February. Will all the newness and good deals be over before we can book? I would book tomorrow for February if possible but southwest doesn’t go out that far.

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