New Hawaii Inter-Island Routes

Are Expensive Hawaii Inter-Island Flights A Thing Of The Past?

The cost of Hawaii inter-island flights has been in the news for years. And it is about to be, once again. Read on for “Enter Southwest Airlines.”

Hawaii residents and visitors alike have at times been paying nearly as much for 100 mile flights as for a distance of 2,500+ miles. Some residents have filed complaints and local governments have even gotten involved. The situation has put a crimp on how often it was feasible to visit other islands.

Flights to Hawaii – Cost per Mile Comparison.

Mainland to/from Hawaii: We frequently publish great mainland flights to Hawaii, this week starting at just $288 round trip on both Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines. Those low fares came out to about $.07 per mile.

Hawaii inter-island: Using Honolulu to Maui or Kauai as example routes, fares during most travel times typically range from $118 (this week’s sale) to as much as $239 round trip. Based on a distance of 100 miles even, that comes out to between $0.59 and $1.19 per mile. That puts the highest of Hawaii inter-island fares near or at the top of cost per mile on flights within the US according to the Washington Post.

Causes of High Cost Inter-Island Flights.

1. Lack of Competition.

In our deregulated airline environment, airlines are free to charge what the market will pay, with the distance flown having very little to do with the cost of flights. It is far more about competition, or the lack thereof.

The Hawaii inter-island flight market has had no significant competition for years, ever since Aloha Airlines went out of business in 2008. While other airlines have tried to enter the market, including Island Air, Go! and Mokulele, nothing has really stuck. We have had, other than fringe players, only one primary inter-island carrier, Hawaiian Airlines, until now.

Contrast that with mainland to Hawaii flights. There, prices are kept in check through significant and improving competition from bellwethers Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines, in addition to the legacy companies American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines. That before Southwest enters the market and creates lower fares.

2. The cost of doing business in Hawaii is extremely high in all ways.

Hawaiian Airlines is one of Hawaii’s largest employers, with over 6,000 people here in the state.

3. Disproportionate fuel consumption.

Aircraft use the most fuel during takeoff. On short flights, such as here in Hawaii, up to 25% of the fuel consumed in the entire flight is during takeoff.

Enter Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines Hawaii flights will be announced within days. Those first flights will be from San Diego, San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento to Honolulu and Maui. That for starters. Either together with that announcement, or very soon thereafter, we will see the first Southwest Hawaii inter-island service.

Southwest inter-island service will never be a replacement for the all-day, every-day inter-island service offered by Hawaiian Airlines. That’s true for multiple reasons. First, the aircraft fleet used by Southwest is not designed for continuous short hops. Second, Southwest will not base their inter-island fleet in Hawaii. Instead Southwest will have a limited number of inter-island flights available, largely as extensions of their mainland to Hawaii service. Think mainland to one island, then inter-island to next island, and finally reverse this back to the mainland. Hawaiian maintains a large 20-aircraft fleet dedicated to Hawaii inter-island service.

Hawaii inter-island service from Southwest will start somewhat small, and grow over time. That according to company executives. Exact routes will be announced shortly.

Tips to reduce cost of Hawaii inter-island flights. 

1. Watch for upcoming competition-driven inter-island sales from Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines. We would not be surprised to see fares as low as $39 each way for the most competitive routes and times. Such low fares won’t be offered at other times and on routes with only one carrier.

2. Change the time/day of flights. If you can fly either very early in the morning or late at night, the costs will usually be less on Hawaiian Airlines. Sometimes the same is true of mid-week vs. weekend travel.

3. One viable inter-island vacation alternative that we like ourselves, is the four island NCL Pride of America cruise. That has a list of advantages including eliminating the need for inter-island flights.

4. Plan your Hawaii vacation during off peak travel periods whenever possible. That trick will reduce all of your Hawaii travel costs including flights to Hawaii, inter-island flights, accommodations, and activities.

Read the Cheapest Time to Fly to Hawaii for more information.

Updated 2/22/19.

10 thoughts on “Are Expensive Hawaii Inter-Island Flights A Thing Of The Past?”

  1. Does SWA have any short-hop airplanes it might eventually consider basing in the islands? That would let it compete on an even basis with Hawaiian.

  2. We are occasional visitors to Hawaii, and I’ve meet locals who travel to the mainland more frequently than they travel to a neighboring island. Given the proximity of the islands to each other, car ferries would be so logical. But if the airline (and car rental companies) hold the political clout, then ferries don’t happen.

  3. Saddens me to say, the worst CRIMINALS in Hawaii are not the drug dealers, child sex abusers, or drunk drivers. Its the politicians and corporations who do business in Hawaii! The latter steal from everyone, especially tourists (case in point, raising room tax to supplement the outrageous billions stolen from tax payers for Rail Fail) yet they are above the law, and we allow it. Hawaiian Air only PROFITTED 244M last year, up about 35% from year before. Even with having a boat load of money, I still don’t understand how they can sleep at night. Shame on them all for screwing us, yet SHAME on us, for allowing it.

  4. The wife and I have been to Hawaii many times over the last 25 years. We usually do a couple islands on each trip and I still needed our interisland flight. I had already booked an open jaw flight into LIH and back home from HNL. The tickets were $159 less each by omitting the interisland. Surely, I figured I could do better getting that leg on my own. And since we developed a good image of what a good deal on an interisland flight should be, when I saw one-way fares for $68 each from LIH to HNL, I jumped on it. Since this brings me in way under my break-even, I really felt like I got a deal! Well, that was the case until I read this article and thought about the per mile cost. Now, it seems like all I accomplished was being less of a patsy.

  5. There is a huge void, thus a great opportunity for an additional inter-island air service. The kamaaina are hugely disadvantaged, whether it be for health care, family celebrations, memorial services, athletic competitions, business meetings, and many other reasons for important daily travel. I can’t answer to the environmental concerns of a ferry service, but I do urge the governing leaders to take a close look at the price gouging that affects the residents of Hawaii. You are correct in conveying the good news that major airlines will get visitors to their destinations, but full-time residents don’t benefit from the mainland-to-island service. I hope that another airline, in additon to Ohana, will both hear the plea and see the potential of throwing their hat into the ring. Thank you for hearing a voice that’s not often heard.

    1. Hi Betsy.

      Good points. Only we don’t agree that island residents don’t benefit from mainland to Hawaii service. We certainly do. But that doesn’t mitigate the issues of lack of affordable inter-island transport. We still remember the coupon books for inter-island flights that started in the $20’s and ended in the $50’s per flight. And with those you could virtually get on any flight. It’s a whole different world now. We’ve paid over $300 round-trip inter-island at times.


      1. I just paid $400 round trip HNL-ITO. Had limited time constraints due to a death in the family and I booked the most expensive flights of the day at $194 each way. Had to cancel a screaming deal I got from HNL-PDX, was less than this interisland trip, both on Hawaiian. I do a lot of interisland and west coast travel, mostly on Hawaiian. I want local businesses to do well and employ the community. I hope competition strengthens interisland travel while making the cost more competitive. Sure do miss the couplin books!

  6. Thank you for bringing this most odious problem for the people of Hawaii to the forefront. Every other community throughout the world that is divided by water has a ferry system to connect its various locations. But can this community, which is obviously very much in need of a ferry service, have this very practical system to go between the islands? – absolutely not!! No, the knot-head, much misled, got nothing better to do “environmentalists” said “NO!”- might hit fish – but of course, it’s fine for all the cruise ships and all the massive numbers of freightliners, and huge military ships – why – they are ok – it’s only the ferry that might do some damage to a fish, or sea mammal. Absolute hypocrisy! The elimination, through our heavily “persuaded” judges, of this wonderful service , where people of any island could take their car and travel to another island, where visitors with their rental cars could do the same, was eliminated. Eliminated!-at great cost!- financially, but more importantly, the loss of our people to get around this wonderful State of Hawaii! Such a shame. An unfathomable loss to our people – At the hands of so few.
    John P

  7. Hawaii residents need Southwest to fly inter island – NOW and stop Hawaiian Airlines from gouging the locals as well as tourists. Yup! competition will help put an end to HA’s dominance. HA was probably behind the movement to end the great ferry service. ” Hawaii flies with us” is despicable.

  8. You failed to mention how Hawaiian Airlines have paid off the politicians to stop cheaper inter island Ferry service.


Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top