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.