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.
One site that we often use to check and track cheap fares is CheapAir.com. To set up an alert for low fares, from their homepage, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the FareTracker link to set up the routes to Hawaii for you. CheapAir also has a handy tool to check the trends of flight fares that you can find here: When to Buy Flights tool from CheapAir.com.
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 that we were able to use. 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 might be 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 each scenario. (See my guide to inter-island travel in Hawaii.)
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 detailed study by CheapAir.com (updated in 2018) indicates that the average prime booking time is 70 days before your departure. They have looked at the seasonality of booking to give you more detailed booking window recommendations. As we’ve already mentioned, CheapAir also has a tool to check the trends of flight fares that you can find here: When to Buy Flights tool from CheapAir.com.
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.
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 more desirable seating option. 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.
See our new article that explains in more detail why the cheapest flights to Hawaii may not be best. That article also describes what to look for in choosing a flight and how to make a good decision.
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!