One of the most predictably unpredictable expenses of traveling to Hawaii is the cost of airfare. It’s also one of the more expensive factors in your Hawaii vacation budget.
Fares fluctuate so often that it’s difficult to know when to purchase tickets. Finding the absolute lowest airfare is a mix of luck, knowledge and skill. In the absence of an exact science, we have make use of the available tools and make some calculated guesses. Here are some strategies to help you make a sound decision on when to purchase your flights to Hawaii.
Use Flight Search Engine Alerts
To make the best decision on when to buy flights to Hawaii, you need to make an informed decision. The best way to start getting helpful information is to sign up for the free email alerts from these flight search engines. I really like using the fare search engine CheapAir.com because it’s very quick and easy to use — especially if your dates are flexible and you just want to know what’s the lowest airfare available for your routes. Airfarewatchdog.com is another flight search engine that we’ve used, but they really push you to sign up for their alerts, over and over again, which we find annoying.
If you have the option, get the updates daily. Yeah, it’s going to stuff your inbox, but fares can fluctuate daily, so it’s best to be in the know on a daily basis, especially if you are anxious to book.
If you are headed to the Big Island, Kauai, and/or Maui, I recommend that you also check airfare to Oahu. Hawaii’s major airline hub is in Oahu’s Honolulu Airport (HNL), so that majority of flights from the mainland go in and out of Honolulu. On top of that, the vast majority of inter-island flights connect or originate in Honolulu. Let’s say you are going to Kauai, it’s possible that you could save some money by flying into Honolulu first and getting an inter-island flight from there. So, consider all your options by pricing out each scenario. (See my guide to inter-island travel in Hawaii.)
Check the Crystal Ball of Airfare Purchases
After educating yourself with the email alerts from the flight search engines, you’ll get to know when airfares lower. A useful tool to consult is Hotwire’s TripStarter, which shows the historical average airfares for your particular route. You’ve probably heard the phrase that past behavior is an indicator of future behavior. To some extent, that’s true for airfare. There’s certainly some seasonality to airfare prices that tend to be the same year in year out.
If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you can get better deals. Use the flight search engine’s flexible search feature to find the cheapest days to travel. You can really save some big bucks by being flexible.
Another way to be flexible is to consider flying from alternate airports. For example, Raleigh-Durham (RDU) is my preferred airport. If I found a fare that’s low enough, I’d be willing to drive to Charlotte (CLT) or Greensboro (GSO) for the savings. So, set alerts up for nearby airports.
Fly to Hawaii when demand is down making flights (and accommodations) cheaper
The best time to visit Hawaii is when the weather is great, the crowds are down and so are the prices. With the exception of holidays, April, May, September and October are the best months to travel to Hawaii. See our post on the best time to go to Hawaii for see other low demand times.
Aim to Fly on Weekdays
Weekend travel to and from Hawaii is in highest demand and therefore more expensive. If you can travel weekday to weekday, you tend to get lower fares and the flight may not be as full.
Best Time to Buy
A study by CheapAir.com indicates that 54 days from departure is the sweet spot to book a ticket with the best booking window being between 104 days (3.5 months) and 29 (1 month). Here’s more from their research:
In short, between about one month out and three and a half months out (29 days to 104 days) fares were at their lowest point. We call this period the “prime booking window” where the average fare on each day was within $10 of the lowest fare possible. This is the period where 2013 domestic flights were generally the least expensive and this was usually the best time to buy.
In this ABC News article, one of the top airfare gurus, Rick Seaney, says,
“Typically, airlines start actively managing their cheapest seats about four months before departure….Don’t buy too early; tickets purchased before this four month window will generally be priced at a midtier level. An exception: shopping for busy holiday times (Thanksgiving, Christmas); due to current price hikes and ever-increasing fuel surcharges, you may want to purchase these tickets earlier than usual, to lock in the price.”
Act When You See a Deal
When you come across a deal, snag it. Aim to make that purchase as quickly as possible as it could be gone the next day or even the next hour. I’ve experienced “purchase paralysis” and lost deals. I still remember a brief fare war a couple of years ago. I could have flown from Charlotte to Honolulu for around $250 round-trip, but I took too long trying to decide what to do, that I lost the chance to get that super low rate.
Beware of Sneaky Snake Advertising
When you see exceptionally low airfare, be sure to read the fine print before you get excited. Airlines will try to hook you in with a fly to Hawaii for $379. At first, that sounds great, but what they don’t tell you is that the fare is one-way based on round-trip travel and taxes and fees are an additional charge. So the flights to Hawaii that you thought were $379 are going to end up costing over $800 – not exactly the deal you were expecting from the glitzy ad.
Cheapest Isn’t Always Best
All flights to Hawaii are not created equal, so know what you’re getting when you book. Andy and I will often choose a slightly more expensive fare because it offers less stops, shorter overall travel time, and a bigger plane. We fly from RDU and most of the cheapest fares have us going through Dallas to Los Angeles to Hawaii. We much prefer to cut out the Los Angeles stop, fly in the larger planes, and save time. So, spend a little time educating yourself on the shortest routes and aircraft sizes to suit your preference.
Allegiant Air entered the Hawaii flight market with a bang and cheap fares in 2012, but in 2013 announced they’re pulling back service due to low demand – quite possibly a result of reports of extreme mechanical delays and a nickel-and-dime price model.
Clear Your Cookies
If you’ve checked airfare, then checked again later at the same website and the price has suddenly jumped up, clear the cookies from your computer and check again.
I wish you the best of luck in finding the lowest cost airfare to Hawaii!