Strategies for Finding the Lowest Airfare to Hawaii

flight map to Hawaii

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.)

Be Flexible
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.

Check the Crystal Ball of Airfare Purchases
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. After educating yourself with the email alerts from the flight search engines, you’ll get to know when airfares lower. In years past, Bing’s Farecast and Hotwire’s TripStarter, were useful tools to review historical average airfares for your particular route. From my observation those tools haven’t been kept up to date. As such, I’ve almost deleted this suggestion altogether. I’m keeping it here just in case it might provide any useful data. Kayak.com also has a “price trend” feature, but normally when I check it, it says there’s not enough data. I believe these tools mainly work when you are examining a direct flight. 

I wish you the best of luck in finding the lowest cost airfare to Hawaii!


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About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

16 comments

  1. Shhhhh!

    You’re giving away all of the tips we use to get the best flights. Now thousands of Go Visit Hawaii readers will be on the same planes as us! :-P

  2. Excellent advice, Sheila. No matter how long I’ve been playing the “cheap airfare” game, I still sometimes wait too long to book something and miss out on a deal. It’s a lot like gambling or investing in the stock market. Only we gamble on the hope that airfares will go lower in a few weeks. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. :-)

  3. This might come in handy!

    “New iPhone app sends real-time alerts when airfares drop”

    http://travel.usatoday.com/destinations/dispatches/post/2010/08/airfares-farecompare-app-iphone/109589/1

  4. While cheap airfare is for some, I’d much rather pay the extra and fly Hawaiian. Receiving the superior food choices (sushi, edamame, etc.), service, and other amenities, I cannot see myself flying anything but Hawaiian!

  5. Looks awesome. I have never been to Hawaii but hear people rave about it all the time. Trouble is the Caribbean keeps calling me. Cheers to islands everywhere!

  6. How far in advance do you recommend buying flights for early-mid July 2011? Looks like some USAir flights from CLT are already selling out.

    • Susan – sounds like you’re looking to travel around or shortly after July 4th, which is usually a high demand time for Hawaii. If flights are selling out already, then it might be time to make your purchase.

      Though we may not get the absolute best airfare, sometimes having the peace of mind that you have the flights that you want and hopefully have good seats is worth the extra $25 or more per person in airfare.

      I wish I had a crystal ball to better answer your question, but using the strategies above is as close as we can get. Best of luck with your decision.

      • Thanks! Luckily I have had time to put your suggestions into practice & have been very surprised (although I shouldn’t be) at the wide range of airfares. And no, not going July 4th, but rather for the TransPac later in the month.

  7. I think Kayak is a great tool. I even use it to book outer-island hotel, airfare, and car packages.

    I also have to agree with Jake. You simply can’t beat Hawaiian Airlines!

  8. Sheila:

    I think that I have probably one of the best deals you will ever read about…

    My wife and I are going to Hawai’i next March (2014). She is a travel consultant for Carlson Wagonlit/SATO, and she works emergency military travel (she works overnights, which is fine with me, but it really cuts into our social life…). Last Christmas, at the annual party, she won two tickets on Delta (coach), anywhere they fly. Guess what her destination was? :-) Save for the minimal fees for baggage (we are planning on only one suitcase) and the mandatory government imposed, we are traveling basically FREE! And an added bonus: she knows several property sales managers who work the Hawai’i accounts…so lodging might be next to nothing!

    We are looking to Honolulu as our major in/out. I do intend to see the Hawai’i Volcanoes Park, and we sure want to do the Dole plantation and, naturally, stay on Waikiki for a day.

    I happened upon your Hawai’i travel guide. Very informative! I will certainly be consulting your wonderful guides here until departure.

    One more thing: I have a couple of friends in Georgia who are natives, and I have been in touch with them! Great advice and tips from them as well!

    MAHALO!

    • We are saving for the interisland flight between Honolulu and Kona. I am checking the various carriers for rates. And given that she has the better advantage of being an IATA travel agent, she might even get us a better deal.

      And, just for jollies…I am a part-time DJ. I like to put together destination-related music, on CD and, if our rental happens to have such, on mp3. This trip I plan to have Don Ho, Elvis’ “Blue Hawai’i”, and of course the Beach Boys. :-)

      And I would really like to have our wedding vows renewed before a Hawai’ian priest, if such is possible. We will be there for a full week, but I do not want to overplan.

      Looking forward to our trip! Have the countdown clock going to March 11, 2014…

  9. thanks for the info. my maiden name is beal. wonder if we are of any relation.

  10. We want to fly out on July 14th but want to wait a week or two to book. Is it pretty likely fares will increase??? It’s May 29th today.

    • Adam – there’s no way to know if fares will go up or down. Consider your booking window per this bit we shared above in the article:

      “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).”

  11. Phx. To Honolulu ? Best time best price

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