What it’s like to fly Southwest to Hawaii: Impressions & thoughts

A couple of months ago, Southwest Airlines began flying to Hawaii, starting with routes to Honolulu and connecting onward to Maui and Kona. I spent a week in Honolulu earlier this month, flying there and back on Southwest Airlines. Here are seven thoughts & impressions.

1) It’s just like flying Southwest anywhere else

The most obvious conclusion is of course that flying Southwest to Hawaii is just like flying Southwest anywhere else: either you like (or more likely tolerate) open boarding and all-economy class or you don’t. Southwest already flies some transcontinental routes, and if you’ve ever flown between the coasts, the flight time to Hawaii isn’t substantially different. The most obvious conclusion out of the way, it’s worth a reminder that…

2) It isn’t all that different than flying anyone else in economy

These days, economy class passengers don’t get many frills on the major US carriers. Southwest doesn’t get major frills either — though on the plus side, I do find their crews to be a bit friendlier than other US carriers (on average). In fact, during the announcements on the way to Hawaii, it was notable when a flight attendant said, “We’re here for your safety and service”. I don’t think I’ve heard that last part — and service — in quite a while. It was a nice touch. I think that they were training new crew members on our flights and I imagine the Hawaii routes are in high demand from an employee perspective, so perhaps it was just a product of the crew putting its best foot forward, but everyone was friendly and pleasant.

That goes a long way in keeping the passenger experience positive, especially when you’re cramming everyone into economy class seating and not offering meal service. However…

3) They offer better snacks on these routes

We flew from Oakland to Honolulu and a family member flew from San Jose to Honolulu and we found snacks served to be the same: a snack pack that included wheat thins, spreadable cheese, fruit snacks, pretzels, and tic tacs for the first service and then a package with 2 Milano cookies for a second snack service before landing. They also have pineapple-orange juice on the Hawaii routes. Hey, it’s no lobster thermidor and Krug, but you probably didn’t have those expectations when you booked Southwest. One thing you do expect when you fly Southwest is free checked bags, and that means that….

4) Inter-island flights are a terrific value

Advertising at Ala Moana shopping center to remind everyone that this is a pretty big deal for inter-island flights.

I’ve had the good fortune of visiting Hawaii twice this year. I wish I had taken screen shots of the inter-island flight prices on my first trip this year (before Southwest started service), but you’ll have to trust me: I looked for months and the price was about $103 each way every day of the week. Now Southwest fares start at just $29 or less than 2,000 Rapid Rewards points each way.

But what’s more is that *bags still fly free*. In January, on top of paying $103 each way, we also had to pay for bags: $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second for members of the Hawaiian Miles Frequent flyer program. If you travel with two checked bags, your cost on the routes Southwest serves just went from $143 each way to $29 each way. That’s an unbelievable change. And Hawaiian Airlines has noticed: you’ll now find fares on Hawaiian from around $59 each way.

5) This nearly obliterates the value of the Hawaiian Miles credit cards (in my opinion)

I used to say that the card was worth it for inter-island fights alone since each 7500 miles could save you the approximatey $100 cost of an inter-island flight. A 60K new cardmember bonus could get you 8 inter-island flights and that was not a bad savings.

Now, a 60K Southwest offer could get you around 30 inter-island flights (at about 2K each).

6) Scheduling could use some improvement

There was a schedule change that took me off of my originally-planned flights. We ended up on a flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Oakland to Honolulu on what was an 11 hour itinerary.

It didn’t make a lot of sense to me as Southwest had a Las Vegas-to-Oakland option without the stop in LA, but at the time they weren’t selling that one connected with the flight to Honolulu.

We ended up calling the day before our flight to change to a 5:15am departure, which wasn’t ideal either but cut a few hours off the travel time and didn’t involve a stop in LA. They’ve since eliminated the itinerary that required the extra stop at LAX, so they are improving.

It’s just worth keeping in mind that Southwest definitely has some kinks here that need to be worked out, and the grounding of the 737 Max isn’t doing them any favors. Keep an eye on the details when reserving and an eye peeled for any schedule change emails.

7) Don’t forget, you end up here.

While some will invariably look at flying Southwest with dread, it’s worth a reminder that even if you’re slightly uncomfortable, the juice is likely worth the squeeze. It had been about 10 years since I’d spent time in Oahu and I’d forgotten how beautiful it is.

If you go to Oahu, I can’t recommend Haleiwa Joe’s in Kaneohe highly enough. Your view during dinner is the stuff of tropical paradise dreams.

And the food was arguably better than the view.

It opens at 4:30pm and they don’t take reservations. Get there early. we arrived around 5:15 and the wait was about 45 minutes. It was well worth the wait.

Bottom line

Those who don’t mind flying Southwest domestically will be pleased that the experience flying to Hawaii isn’t much different. For those who haven’t flown Southwest lately, I’d say this: having flown American, Alaska, Delta, and United in economy class over the past few months, I don’t find flying Southwest to be substantially different (apart from the boarding process) in any negative way. In fact, two free bags, whether inter-island or from the mainland, enhances the deal with Southwest. And for those who would never set foot on a Southwest plane, take comfort in competition. While Southwest’s prices to Hawaii are pretty expensive right now, they are expected to extend the booking calendar to January 5, 2020 today. I don’t know for sure whether there will be Hawaii deals to be found since the future of the 737 Max is still up in the air, but if you’re looking to fly to Hawaii, Southwest is a decent way to get there.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

More articles by Nick Reyes »

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

26
Leave a Reply

avatar
10 Comment threads
16 Thread replies
19 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
17 Comment authors
CaveDwellerJosh BottNick ReyesRobert ChavezH. Martin McDonald III Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
Notify of
CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

The only one Better then SW in the Cheap seats is EasyJet not garbage just a Short flt.usually like VEN>Olbia I think $80 total .The port is nice and 4* Hotels as in CHEAP..

CHEERs

escot
Guest
escot

thanks for the reasoned post Nick; may help persuade the spouse to endure the long flight via luv for end of year. (she ordinarily avoids SWA flights over 3 hours — highly stressful) As for swa flights currently being expensive, another nice thing as you know about swa is the lack of cancellation fees…. (should cheaper fares come along)

Your tip re. inter-island flights reminds me that I’m clueless about the how/what/where of visiting Hawaii. Not been there before; may have one-two weeks to “spend.” Any favorite reviews/suggestions for learning/planning? (Haleiwa Joe’s sounds great — but so much more on basics to learn)

escot
Guest
escot

ps, on second thought…. about the 737 max’s future being “up in the air,” 😉 not sure I would ever set foot in a plane with so many fundamental flaws in basic software/ceo profit-first design. (e.g. they counted on “cheap” software to make the plane fly…. to compete with a new airbus design that had them for once in danger of being left in the dust….) Doubt anybody’s going to convince me that the “new software” fixes the problem in the old software…. fatal flaw. (moon of alabama’s analysis has had this right from day one — and last week let “fly” with an analysis of long hushed up serious vulnerabilities with the older 737 NG) Hmmmmm…. good thing swa has that ez cancellation policy.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

The 787 (FIRE) and the DC-10 (crashes) and the Concorde (OLD & French) had troubles too..
CHEERs

Nigel Brown
Guest
Nigel Brown

All completely wrong. Airbus is not a new design and the Max is just a737 with new engines.
There is no “fatal flaw” in the Boeing design. SWA flew 44,000 flights with the Max encompassing 88,000 flight hours.
Media hype surrounding the Max is mostly incorrect but what do I know, I’ve only been flying the 737 for 15 years.

stogieguy7
Guest
stogieguy7

For the 99% for whom economy is the only option, it’s hard to beat Southwest! 2 free bags, no charge for changes and MORE LEGROOM than any of the majors. Sure, if you have status with one of the big 3, you may scoff at WN. But I’ll take 5 hours in a WN economy seat over 1 hour in an AA “Oasis” knee-crusher. Seriously.

DCJoe
Guest
DCJoe

100% agreed. Southwest is better than the big 3 in pretty much every way in economy, other than IFE, and of course only Delta seemingly cares about that. Also, the boarding process at Southwest is so much more dignified. Line up by number, board the plane. The scrum I see at most gates with the various boarding groups is completely eliminated.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Don’t forget if u have the $149 SW cc u get 4 free A1 to A15 seats a year @ no charge .
Sounds like Me.

CHEERs

Robert Chavez
Guest
Robert Chavez

So if you have a SWA credit card you get A 1-15 4 times a year? Haven’t heard that before

Josh Bott
Guest
Josh Bott

When you buy them at the airport and if they’re still available.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Don’t forget the $75 credit too for SW flts every year .Just reuped and got the 7500 points which I used in 5 minutes !!!
CHEERs

knick1959
Guest
knick1959

IMO, the SW boarding process is terrible. Having used a companion pass quite aggressively for almost 2 years, we totally prefer assigned seats that you can pre-prick. Even when paying for early boarding (which be did often on return flights), one late flight can screw you by forcing you to pick any 2 of the last 3 terrible seats on the next plane. And these won’t be together. With our fairly limited number of flights in 2 years, we had one abrupt cancelation which chopped a weekend trip by a day, and a couple of schedule disruptions, including the one I just mentioned. Dignified? I don’t think so. So many people trying to “save” seats for the rest of their party boarding later; some even verbalizing they are “saving” them? So much for picking any seat on the plane. Flight crews were always courteous and helpful but they didn’t seem to want to get in the middle of seat issues.

808wavewarrior
Guest
808wavewarrior

I got married in those gardens below Haleiwa Joe’s. Old timers know it as Haiku Gardens named after the valley it sits in. Great write up. I live in HI and have been thinking about flying Southwest across the Pacific. I have had one bad flight where I was literally squished from DET to STL. I big guy overflowed into my seat and I have wide shoulders as it is. It was horrible and I am worried that could happen again. I guess that could happen on any airline but Southwest seems a little different than Hawaiian. I am glad for the competition on prices though!

Doug Martin
Guest
Doug Martin

Just got back from a round trip. It was great. The seat spacing on the 737-800’s they use over the water is a couple inches more than the older 737’s that are used for the mainland connections. As a 6ft 1 inch guy, it makes a big difference. The 737-800’s also have larger overhead bin space. The thinner seat padding seems like a dumb change, but not a deal breaker.

Peter Gozinya
Guest
Peter Gozinya

Where do you think they got the extra leg room from….the airplane didn’t get any longer

David
Guest
David

Nice post Nick .. I will have to try that restaurant one of these days.

For us locals, the SW effect is forcing Hawaiian to at least attempt to compete on fares. What I’ve seen is that the price calendar matches SWs low fare calendar, and typically Hawaiian will match fares around the times of the current set of only 4 SW inter-island flights between Maui and Honolulu.

For example, SWs calendar is now open to Jan 5. So if you look at Hawaiian, you can find matching $59 fares on some flights, but if you look at HA for any date after Jan 5, the lowest fare at very inconvenient times is currently $69, but most flights are $79 – $99, with the higher fares at the peak midday times. Those HA fares will change a bit when SW extends their schedule. And that doesn’t take into account the bag fees, etc.

What’s interesting is that once SW sells out of their “Wanna Get Away” low fares, the next higher fares are super high for the inter-island market. I wonder if they are selling any of those higher fares?

I can only hope that SW decides to increase the number of flights. With only 4 flights a day vs Hawaiians > 24 flights a day between Maui and Honolulu, we still need more competition! On the other hand, my understanding is that the engines that SW uses on these flights are not well suited for short frequent hops, so its unclear what they will eventually do if they are serious about competing on inter-island routes with a lot more frequencies.

-David

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

David
Yes how do u fill up the planes on short hauls and make money ? I just hope Hawaiian air changes it award deals to reflect current Low costs .Forget about a 100k new card their points value isn’t very good with SW there now .

CHEERs

David
Guest
David

There’s a lot of demand and I think visitors will gravitate towards SW for i/i flights due to the bag fees.

Hawaiian miles have never been very valuable. I’ve been willing to use HA miles for i/i travel at a penny or more a point in value. It’s a terrible program that’s been devalued even further recently. I really should dump the credit card. It’s really not worth keeping. Not sure it ever was. Thanks for the reminder, I will cancel it when they bill the next AF.

Peter Gozinya
Guest
Peter Gozinya

Same engines on SWA’s ETOPS aircraft as are on all SWA’s 737-800 fleet

David
Guest
David

Right …

I read somewhere that the engines that they use on their 737-800s need longer cool down times, which affects their ability to do quick turns that are needed on inter-island flights in order to use the a/c effectively.

No idea how accurate that is, but that’s what I’ve heard.

Jesse
Guest
Jesse

Not quite accurate. 2 minute warmup, 1 minute minimum cool down required. Same as all other 737 NG aircraft. The 737 MAX is a 3 minute warm up, 3 minute cool down. Just a bit longer.

David Hanly
Guest
David Hanly

I still cant get the site to show correct flight info for east coast cities, there is no return flights and It looks to be 50k points each way. That seems pretty high to me. You can get direct flights from Newark for 600 ish.

Josh
Guest
Josh

They moved up our inter-flight flight 50 minutes. No repercussions?

H. Martin McDonald III
Guest
H. Martin McDonald III

Plus Southwest doesn’t charge a change fee if your plans change and you bought a cheap, non full fare. The others charge $100+ just to change the dates!!!!!!

trackback

[…] Another consideration: Southwest now flies to Hawaii, and Hawaii is very far away.  If I could find great flight deals originating in Hawaii, I could use Southwest to get there and then another currency to go beyond.  See also: What it’s like to fly Southwest to Hawaii: Impressions & thoughts. […]