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 flight search engines. What’s a flight search engine? Flight search engines monitor fares for all the major airlines.

The sooner you start to watch fares — the better, but ideally start at least around five or six months before your desired trip. (If you’ve already passed that mark, start where you are. It’s not too late.) You’ll quickly start to learn low fares from high fares.

My favorite fare email alert system that I reference almost daily is Airfarewatchdog.com. I have found numerous fare sales for my route to Hawaii via Airfarewatchdog.com’s fare emails.

For a quick and easy search to determine the lowest available fare for your routes, I like using the “Flexible Dates” tab at CheapAir.com. (Note that if you purchase your flights via CheapAir.com and the fares drop, you may be entitled to credit up to $100 towards a future flight purchase. It’s a little bit of fare reduction insurance, so to speak. We’ve actually used that feature and did get credit. You are responsible for monitoring drops. This feature is subject to change, but here’s a link to the policy that’s active as of February 2016.

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.

When you are setting up your alerts, 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. (Maui’s OGG is emerging as Hawaii’s secondary hub.) 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  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.

If you are trying to get the lowest airfare to Hawaii, don’t plan your vacation around a holiday. That’s when demand is high and the airlines don’t discount. If you must go over a holiday, experts recommend flying on the holiday itself to get the cheapest fare.

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 the average prime booking window is between 21 and 112 days of your departure. They’ve created a customizable booking window predictor for your particular route.

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.”

Hopper is a free app that monitors and predicts airfare for your particular route. It’s supposed to tell you when you should buy your tickets. You can learn more here.

If you are having a difficult time deciding on when to purchase your airline tickets, one trick we use is to go directly to the airline’s website and view available seats for the specific flights and dates we want. If the plane looks full, it’s unlikely that fares will be discounted. If there are lots of available seats, there’s a descent chance that fares may be coming down.

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. SeatGuru.com can be a useful resource when choosing planes and seats.

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!


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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+.

47 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! 😛

  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

    • Roger – our best advice is to follow the strategies in this article. When you sign up for the free alerts, you start to learn what’s the best price and when to purchase.

      Airfare really is unpredictable, but just from our observations, we typically see some of the best fares from PHX to HNL offered in the late fall for winter travel. That being said, sales, can pop up at any time.

      For a quick check to see what’s the best fare from PHX to HNL use the Cheap Air link in the article. I believe you can also sign up for free fare alerts from them as well.

  12. Hi, thank you for the good advice on booking tickets, my problem is deciding on which island to take my family to. Not sure what all I need to consider to make a decision. What would you suggest for a family with 3 teenagers? I want to make sure everyone gets something positive out of this vacation. Thanks for any suggestions!

  13. What would be the cheapest time to book a flight from Sacramento/SF to Honolulu/Oahu in May 20 something?
    Also is allegiant air a good company to fly from? I saw their planes were only like $300 but I know there’s a lot of hidden fees I’m not willing to pay

    • Itzel – under the “Best Time to Buy” section of this article, typically the cheapest time to purchase is 1 to 3.5 months before you want to go. My only caution is that flights immediately around Memorial Day may sell out quickly, so you should set up alerts and check fares for the dates you want to fly about once every week or two weeks from about January onwards.

      We really haven’t heard good things about Allegiant. Read this article and the comments for more comments on Allegiant: http://www.govisithawaii.com/2013/04/03/should-you-consider-flying-allegiant-air-to-hawaii/

  14. Going to Kona the middle of June. When would be the best time to book flights. I have points through American Airlines and was wanting to use those if possible.

    • If you are using frequent flier miles always look into using those ASAP. Airlines only allocate a small number of seats that can be purchased with miles.

  15. Getting married in Hawaii 2015 on New Year’s Eve I cannot wait..

  16. Heading to the big island in October 2016 for a wedding. When do you recommend I buy tickets…or at least really start my search for tickets? TIA! 🙂

    • Frances – as we say in this article, it’s important to educate yourself so that you recognize a low fare when you see one. So, it wouldn’t hurt to start your research now. All the other timing of when to purchase are covered in the article under the section “Best Time to Buy”.

  17. Hi,
    We are 2 people Flying from New Orleans (MSY) to Honolulu, Oahu (HNL) on Jan 15-23, 2016. Round Trip tickets range from $2,130.00-$2,350.00 for 2 people (American Airlines, Delta & United. Did not include Alaskan because shortest flight would be 23hrs). Are fares of this amount normal in High/Snow Bird Season? Or could it possibly be our location?

    We could book our airfare through Norweign Cruise Line which would cost $1,200.00 RT total for 2 people, however this is a “Mystery Airfare”, you do not know what airline you will be flying, how many layovers, what time the flight is, if it is a red-eye flight, or what seats you will have. You do not find anything out until 30 days before the trip at which point the air fare is non-refundable. So if you don’t like the flight you got thats just too bad you are stuck with it.Do you have any thoughts or advice on Cruise Line Air Fare Packages?

    Trying to figure out if we should roll the dice and take the NCL Cruise Line Airfare, we until Oct 17th to decide. Or book our own airfare and possibly wait and see if fares go down. We are unfortunately locked into those dates due to our work schedules. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Stacey – over $1000 per person seems pretty high, though to be fair, we don’t keep a close eye on the cost of flights on your specific route. One thing to consider is that you’re looking to fly at the start of the Martin Luther King Jr Holiday weekend. If you have the flexibility, check the cost of flights if you fly in a day or two earlier to see if you can get better fares that make it worth your time.

      • Hi Sheila,
        Thank you, unfortunately we can’t fly in any earlier as we have a babysitter coming from another state. My husband did talk to a friend that has been traveling from New Orleans to Hawaii for the last 20 years, January is their favorite time to go. He said that these last few years they have been paying the full maximum price. In years past they have gotten deals but not the last few years. I guess its a further/longer route during a high demand time. Not sure if that info might help someone else.

        For those who are close to San Franciso, Virgin America has a Sale right now from $279.00-$301.00 Round Trip from San FranciscoTo Honolulu, Ohau. I thought we might be able to do that one but every major airline carrier would not be able to get us there in time to make that flight.

        Thanks,
        Stacey

  18. Hello Sheila,
    We are looking to fly to Honolulu on the last week of July 28 2016. Any idea when would be the best time to buy Airfare tickets. also what would be the best price if you have any idea that way I can tell and jump right at it. thanks for any tips

    • Uchenna – we don’t really have any extra advice beyond what’s covered in the above article. So, do read the article and follow the advice. You’ll be up to speed in no time.

  19. If I would like to go to Hawaii in December 2016, when would be the best time to buy the tickets?

  20. Hi Sheila,

    We’re planning to travel at the Big Island around Mid July of 2016 from California, the cheapest price is around 675 to 1000 per person. Is that feasible to buy right now? It seems like flight tickets are getting sold fast at around 600s, are the other airlines will go down from the time frame you gave to look for tickets? Should we wait or go ahead in purchasing those $700-800s tickets between now till Feb?

    • Hi Leilani – it’s always a tough call deciding when to book tickets. July is a busy time, so that may be why the fares are so much higher than what I would have guessed.

      It’s impossible for us to know if you should purchase tickets now or wait. No one can predict that. All we have to go on are the strategies and insights discussed in the article.

      One thing you could consider, is can you purchase the tickets and get a credit or refund if the price goes down. We’ve done that with Cheap Air (linked in the article) in the past. We decided to purchase flights not knowing if the fare was going to go up or down. The fares did go down and we requested the credit. They did give us credit towards a future purchase with them. If I remember correctly, it was up to us keep an eye on the fares to know when they went down. Check with them directly to see what their process is. I think they refer to it as their “price drop payback”. Other flight search engines may offer a similar service.

  21. Appreciate your insights greatly as I am so confused about whether to purchase our tickets for Hawaiian Airlines late May trip now or to wait….Being it will be just prior to Memorial Day, would your suggestion be to wait until the 54 day out “sweet spot” or to purchase sooner?

    Thank you for any help you can offer in this crazy “game.”

    • Diane – I wish we knew the answer to that. Here’s what I’d do, I’d check airfares daily for the next week or so to educate yourself on fares so that you know a good fare when you see one. Make sure you check on Tuesdays as that’s when the airlines tend to make fare adjustments. Don’t hesitate if you see good fare.

  22. Thank you for your help! You must get so tired of having to tell us (the public) the same thing over and over again.

    • You’re welcome.

      One more aspect that you might want to consider as you are trying to decide when to purchase — go to the airline’s website and view, if you can, the seat availability. If the flight is pretty full, I would guess that fare reductions are unlikely and vice versa.

  23. Excellent, practical advice Sheila 🤗👍
    Thanks so much 😊. Your website and articles round up the info of several sites into one go-to site for all you need to know, with real time and updated stats. You don’t know how much we readers appreciate your dedication to provide a great service.
    I’m researching to find the best deals and pre-planning a holiday for my teen son and myself to finally go on our dream holiday to Hawaii and Kauai. As Australia is offering cheap flights at the moment we will not be “paralyzed” but proactive on taking up these deals 👏🏼, yay!! So I will look forward to more articles about accomodation deals and updates on facebook & your site.

    Hawaii here we come. 🌴☀️🍸🏄🏼✈️🌈⛱

  24. Hi Sheila
    I would like to know your opinion and some tips to travel to Hawaii with baby 6 months.
    Thanks

  25. Hi Sheila
    We want to fly from Newark to Oahu, then go from Oahu to Maui, then fly home from Maui to Newark. I usually like to go through a site like CheapTickets and bundle my flight and hotel, but I can’t do that with the multiple sites. Doing individual one way flights is more expensive. Any advice?

    • Look for a flight booking engine that has multi-city or multi-stop search capability. Cheap Air (linked in this article) has the capability.

      • Thanks, you can do multiple destinations on CheapTickets also. What I was trying to do was bundle in the hotel for part of the trip since that is where you usually get the savings but that doesn’t seem to be an option on either site.

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