Your Hawaii Flight Price Dropped | Gotcha Or Not?

Worst-Ever Hawaii Airfares Suggest Changing Vacation Strategies

If you think Hawaii hotel prices are soaring, you’d better look at what’s happening now with airline tickets. We previously reported trying to get from Hawaii to the mainland this August. Ultimately, BOH editors decided not to go to a conference rather than pay the airlines’ asking price. As editor Jeff said, “It was too insulting.” This could end up being a game of cat and mouse like we reported this past weekend on First Class Hawaii deals. We plan to keep revisiting the costs, and have alerts set that you might be doing as well.

A very rapid escalation of airline ticket prices to Hawaii has occurred over the past year or so. So it isn’t exactly new but it is decidedly unpleasant. Given that the airlines are arguably smarter and cagier than hotels, this is a bit more subtle while equally challenging. Hawaii airline ticket prices rebounded starting last year following Covid and are now, in many cases, at new highs never seen before. That’s true in all classes and across airlines, in economy, extra legroom (up to $304 more), premium economy, and business.

This foretells a different methodology we’ve found useful for visitors and ourselves.

It may be prudent once again to check prices and secure airfares before hotels and car rentals. That was the traditional way that visitors bought Hawaii vacations for decades: airfare, then hotel, then car rental. But when accommodations went through the roof that changed the order to start with hotels and vacation rentals.

So now, with airfares making it sometimes unacceptable to fly, we’d suggest something different that has been working for us. When you buy airfare, we now always compare the cost between refundable and nonrefundable options. While refundable used to be outrageously priced, that isn’t always the case anymore. We’ve recently seen the airlines offer an option to have the fare completely refundable to the original purchase method. On Alaska Airlines, we had that offered for as little as $50. On United this weekend, it was priced at 15%. Generally, we’re seeing these as options within the purchase process, rather than how it was previously, wherein you just chose to buy a refundable fare and knew it would be outrageous. You may well find, as we are experiencing, that this option works far better too than travel insurance, providing the ultimate option to say you changed your mind and get your money back. In the last week, editor Jeff bought three refundable Hawaii airfares. Two of those he ultimately returned, and the third one he kept. It worked out great!

Another example of Hawaii greedflation or something else entirely?

Why are ticket prices going up? We looked again at the basics of the airlines’ costs to get you to Hawaii and how those costs can be broken down.

Still, probably naively, we want a good or at least reasonable deal on Hawaii airline tickets. The reality is that the lowest-priced fares, which once went below $99 until soon after Covid, are largely gone for good. Remember, too, that those prices never began to cover the airline costs of flights to Hawaii.

Cost of jet fuel on flights to Hawaii.

We estimate that the current cost of fuel on your west coast flight to Hawaii is still about $62 per person each way. That’s roughly the same as when airlines were hungry for our business one year ago, and fares were ever so cheap.  So what changed? In a word, demand.

The cost of jet fuel did shoot up to an unprecedented high last spring. It has since returned somewhat to be sitting at about the same level as January 2022, per the image below.

Jet fuel costs currently sit at an average of $2.63 per gallon. And a typical 737 aircraft uses 750 gallons per hour. With a flight to Hawaii averaging 5.5 hours, the math yields a cost of $10,849. Based on an approximation of 175 seats per plane, that comes down to the average fuel cost of $62 per person each way.

And the longer-range review of jet fuel prices seems volatile, with the possibility of higher prices coming.

Source: S&P Global

Escalating personnel costs are the next biggest airline cost.

It has traditionally been estimated that airline personnel accounts for about one-third of airline expenses. However, those costs likely have grown to be one-half or more of airline expenses given the enormous pilot and other employee pay raises and the issues of hiring and retaining qualified staff. You’ll recall that at Hawaiian Airlines, for example, top pilots under their new contract can earn $448/hour. Some have said these extreme raises are not sustainable in the long run.

Other Hawaii airline costs we rarely consider.

1. Aircraft costs. These include everything from plane acquisition to depreciation and other related expenses. Airlines must constantly update their fleets for cost-effectiveness, reliability, and new aircraft desirability, among other things. Any way you look at it, aircraft expenses are a significant component of airline costs.

  • Boeing 737 Max 8 costs $121 million.
  • Airbus A321 costs $115 million.
  • Boeing 777 costs $275 million.
  • Airbus A330 costs $240 million.
  • Boeing 787 costs $250-$300 million.

2. Aircraft maintenance. Some Hawaii aircraft maintenance is farmed out to other countries. Nonetheless, not cheap, either locally or in another country, in terms of obtaining parts or the qualified personnel required.

3. Insurance. Another significant expense for airlines and necessary for everything they do.

4. Reservation and management systems. Southwest is an example, as the company is now forced to update its systems following last December’s massive issues and yesterday’s nationwide ground stop due to more technology problems.  That airline recently said it is allocating $1.3 billion for required “technology investments, upgrades, and system maintenance.” Hawaiian just did a huge reservation system upgrade as well.

5. Ticket distribution costs. Airlines pay to help sell tickets through OTAs, among other things.

6. Non-fuel flight costs that include catering, supplies, etc.

7. Landing fees. Airlines typically pay a landing fee to use airports. Prices vary by airport, as well as by aircraft and other factors. An average cost could be $5,000 per flight.

8. Ground handling fees. These can include government and airport fees and for providing ground services that include fueling, servicing, cleaning, and more. We’d estimate these costs from $1,000 to $2,000 per flight, depending on the aircraft type.

So what’s your take on the latest costs of flights to Hawaii, and what strategies are you using?


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62 thoughts on “Worst-Ever Hawaii Airfares Suggest Changing Vacation Strategies”

  1. We have traveled to Hawaii 23 times.The prices are now going up ridiculously.We recently traveled to Mexico, a much cheaper alternative with less travel time. The weather is comparable to Kauai.We also get the impression that Kauain residents aren’t too fond of tourists any longer. Our future trips will be minimal due to the above.

    1. One of the biggest differences between Hawaii and Mexico is that in Hawaii I’m not really concerned about being kidnaped. Mexico, not so much… the state department has issued a level 4: Do Not Travel warning for 4 Mexican sates for this exact problem. So, stick to the seriously tourist destinations, don’t drive cross country, and stick close to your resort and you should be fine vacationing in Mexico. If you don’t want to worry about any of that, pay the extra money and just go to Hawaii.

  2. The rise in cost could do two things. The first being God willing it will deter the trashy(appearance,attitude,behavior)
    people off flights. The second, if there is any good to the rise in cost, maybe families will do more stay-cations with their families at home! Hey one could hope.
    The excuse the airline is using to rise costs we all know is garbage because I’m thinking they hope it will curb the amount of trashy people disrupting flights.

  3. Just booked a trip using our Alaska Visa $99 yearly companion fare. This brought the ticket prices to $275 each from San Jose, CA to Kona. My daughter used a $200 voucher she received from Alaska when she had to sit on the tarmac for 3 hours due to a bomb threat at SFO which put her ticket to $200. Looking at the rental home and car prices was shocking. We are renting a home we rented before and it’s $100 more a night! Very slim pickings to choose from too as we are booking last minute. The car rental is at least double what we’ve paid before. We’ll be packing food in our one free checked bag from Alaska with the Alaska card. 🙂

    1. There is no such thing as a tarmac at airports. Just saying. I’m surprised that she got a credit from Alaska due to a bomb threat not being any fault of their own.

      1. You can google this: Tarmac refers to the area of an airport where airplanes taxi, or pull up to a gate, or head out to the runway. It’s the paved area of the runway.

        And yes, Alaska gave my daughter a voucher because of an airport bomb threat and having to wait on the tarmac for 3 hours after landing.

  4. Last August picked up our tickets round trip 4 people from the midwest less than 1200 total. Checked prices everyday and the dates that was the cheapest is what we took. Black friday picked up our hotel and restaurant gift cards. 1 week before take off got a great deal on car rental for 7 days. Once again we are planning our 2024 return. By watching the prices daily for airfare will etermine when we vacay.

  5. Interesting info about airplane costs. As for Hawaii it is very beautiful but overpriced and overrated and overrun by tourism.

  6. We want to go and are hoping I come across a decent price. As it stands now, the airfares are no where near our budget and that’s without a hotel and rental care (We stay with Ohana.

  7. Maybe all this has to do with how the country is being run? Last time we made it to Hawaii was 2018…man those were the good ol days eh?

  8. You surely have that, Demand thing absolutely correct! We just returned from Kauai a few days ago. I have never seen so many people on the island as we had this last trip. This time of year is usually a slower time of year. It was impossible to get a dinner reservation most anywhere on the island. People must be making a dinner reservations a month before coming to the island. I counted over 200 people on the lawn in front of the Beach House.

    1. I’m in Kauai and things couldn’t be better…
      We are on the north side staying with family. Eat in or out, all has been great. No problems with locals or people in the stores. The sky is Not falling, at least here on north side. 🙂

  9. The cost analysis presented here is of limited value b/c it is not specific particularly wrt time periods and the recent price increases in airfare. In other words, all these costs were incurred when ticket prices were lower, so they do not explain the airfare market at this time.

  10. With the average jet fuel cost of $2.63 per gallon on flights To Hawaii, I’m thinking that the price of jet fuel cost on flights From Hawaii might be 20% more thanks to the Jones Act

  11. This breakdown all makes sense in many ways and I, personally really appreciate it. It’s always been the same distance from the mainland to Hawaii and all the costs have been there. Different times, different economies, what cost us $2,000. for a two week vacation in paradise (airfare, hotel, rental car), may very well cost us close to or well over $12,000. now for the same amount of time. What cost me $14,000 for 3 weeks in 2018, cost me the same last year for 9 days last year in Maui, no car! Maybe they are trying to see what it’s like to be self sustained. Time to find a new favorite paradise perhaps.

  12. Thank you for this information. Having relocated to Texas after being a Mauian for 43 years, I wondered why my son d his family can’t all come out to visit. This ga e me quite a bit to think about and I can help in the future. From mainland to Hawaii costs are fairly reasonable. Mahalo Nui Loa.

  13. I visit my family every year on the Big Island from NY. I usually purchase R/T fare. This year I have done it with two O/W tickets for each leg of the trip. Hawaiian Air still has the most favorable deals for me, so that’s my go to carrier. It worked out to about the same $$ but was more convenient for me to use my Hawaiian Credit Card. As for a rental car, I utilize American Airlines points and secure a rental for about half the cost. I do stay with family for half the trip, but I indulge in a 4 to 5 night stay at The Grand Nani Loa, also utilizing points and very early booking for a rate about $500 off by doing so. Shopping at local small businesses and restaurants,is always on my list. See you in November.

  14. Its very simple.

    Don’t Fly First Class unless you can afford it.
    If you are having to price shop a trip then you should not be flying first class.

    We never fly first class because we cant afford it. Like other things we do in life it comes down to compromises.

  15. You neglected to mention that Southwest Airlines never charges a change fee and if you cancel, you have one year to use the funds.

    1. The old policy was Southwest Airlines flight credits expired after one year.

      Southwest Airlines announced on July 28, 2022, they were removing flight credit expiration dates.

      (Google search for “Introducing Flight Credits that Don’t Expire”)

  16. The Big Island [of HawaII} has been of refuge of tourism all my life (51 years) because there are no beaches, sun never shines, taxes are way too high, rent a car that you’ll pay for the rest of your life, don’t even think about buying a timeshare. Honeymooners stick with Waikii, buy a shell lei.make it a keepsake.

    1. The sun never shines on the Big Island? You must have spent your 51 years in Hilo! Kona has so much sunshine, it gets too dry sometimes. No beaches? Congratulations on those who kept them secret. One of the best beaches I have ever been to was on the Big Island, but since it’s hidden, I won’t tell …

  17. Hawaiian airlines was down ( webside) for several days, so during that time I could not nook my first class flight. When the website was up and running again, the fare in first class I attempt to book had gone from $1250 to %2200. That seems crazy!! Van anuonevtrcyify this,?

  18. Interesting that no one considers CEO pay or using subsidies to boost stocks, when calculating these kinds of inflation.

    Here’s a few headlines
    “Southwest Airlines’ CEO got 75% pay hike ahead of service meltdown”
    “U.S. airlines reject lawmakers’ request to refrain from share buybacks”

    I think I found the reason!


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