When Southwest Airlines announced plans to fly to Hawaii in fall 2017, fans began hoarding Rapid Rewards points with palm trees and mai tais on the brain. As frequent Southwest flyer who travels often to the Aloha State from my home base in Northern California, I was pretty excited myself. Flights began in March 2019. My family and I were some of the first people to fly Southwest Airlines to Hawaii that month, and we have continued flying the airline to the islands on multiple occasions since.
There have, of course, been substantial developments in Southwest’s Hawaii flights over these several years. Flights ground to a halt in 2020, and when travel did return, Hawaii had very a very strict regime for visitors for quite some time. In 2023, travel has now resumed normally. Despite these serious bumps in the road, Southwest has emerged as a major contender in all Hawaii airport markets. In fact, it has continued to expand its service both on interisland routes as well as from even more mainland destinations.
If you are considering taking a flight to paradise aboard the country’s scrappiest and quirkiest airline, I’ve compiled all the details you need to know in this complete guide. Whether you are looking for the best deals and discounts, wondering what Hawaii routes Southwest flies, or are curious about the pros and cons of flying Southwest to the islands compared to other carriers, here is everything you need to know about flying Southwest Airlines to Hawaii.
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Routes & Destinations: Where Does Southwest Airlines Fly to in Hawaii?
Hawaii Airports Served by Southwest
In 2023, Southwest now has flight service into five Hawaii airports, four of which have non-stop service from mainland airports. They are:
- Honolulu (HNL)
- Kauai (LIH)
- Kona on the Big Island (KOA)
- Maui (OGG)
- Hilo on the Big Island (ITO) – interisland only
Related: Best Things to do in Maui with Kids
Mainland Airports with Hawaii Non-Stop Flights
On the mainland, Southwest now serves 8 gateway cities with non-stop flights – 6 airports in the state of California as well as 2 airports in other western states. They are:
- Las Vegas (LAS)
- Long Beach (LGB)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Oakland (OAK)
- Phoenix (PHX)
- Sacramento (SMF)
- San Diego (SAN)
- San Jose (SJC)
What Non-Stop Routes are Available?
Flight times between Hawaii destinations and California airports are between 5-6 hours depending on the exact routes and the tailwind and headwind situations. Flights to Phoenix and Las Vegas are a bit longer – usually about 6-7 hours.
Not every mainland destination has non-stop service to every Hawaii airport. All of Southwest’s 8 gateway cities have flights to HNL (Honolulu). But only 4 of 8 gateway cities currently have service to all 4 Hawaii destinations – LIH (Kauai), KOA (Kona), OGG (Maui) in addition to HNL. These airports are Oakland (OAK), San Jose (SJC), Los Angeles (LAX), and Las Vegas (LAS).
San Diego (SAN) currently has flights only to HNL, while Sacramento (SMF), Long Beach (LGB), and Phoenix (PHX) have both Honolulu (HNL) and Maui (OGG) flights. Note that Southwest’s interactive Hawaii route map shows more routes than are currently actually available, so routes could be added at any time. Each time a new block of time on Southwest’s calendar is released, the airline tends to make tweaks to its Hawaii service.
If you are curious about the competition on these routes, Hawaiian Airlines is the biggest competitor, followed closely by Alaska Airlines – both quality airlines my family has flown and enjoyed as well. A few other airlines fly some of these routes. For example, American Airlines flies some Phoenix to Hawaii routes, and a number of domestic carriers fly to Hawaii from LAX.
Interisland Southwest Service in Hawaii
Similarly, Southwest doesn’t fly between all of its Hawaii airports with interisland service. All of the airline’s Hawaii airports have interisland service to and from HNL (Honolulu), but some of the smaller airports don’t have service to the other smaller airports.
Interisland flights are a great way for mainlanders to island hop on a vacation as well as for locals to fly between the Hawaiian islands for work or pleasure. Southwest is competing directly with Hawaiian Airlines (and to a lesser extent Mokulele) for this business. It does not have the flight frequency or the same number of airports served as these two other airlines, but their arrival into this market has helped drive prices down across the board.
The Southwest Hawaii interisland routes that are available include:
- Honolulu (HNL) to Maui (OGG)
- Honolulu (HNL) to Kona (KOA)
- Honolulu (HNL) to Lihue/Kauai (LIH)
- Honolulu (HNL) to Hilo (ITO)
- Kona (KOA) to Maui (OGG)
Planning to Island Hop in Hawaii?
If you are planning to visit several Hawaiian Islands in a single trip, this guide can help! Written by a fellow travel blogger who has visited the islands over 40 times, it can help you to make the most of your time on each island and navigate the logistics of island hopping with ease.
What Is a Hawaii Flight on Southwest Like?
Before booking a flight as long as one to Hawaii, a lot of travelers naturally want to know what the in-flight experience will be like. Believe it or not, a flight to Hawaii is pretty similar to all other Southwest Airlines domestic flights. The planes go out of the same gates at all the mainland airports Southwest serves, and all of Southwest’s usual policies, rules, and benefits apply. For a full review of a typical Hawaii flight, check out my Southwest OAK to HNL Flight Review article.
That said, there are a few minor differences you may note:
Unless you are an aviation geek, you might not know that Southwest has several different subtypes of planes in its all Boeing 737 fleet. But Southwest can only fly aircraft that have gotten a special certification (ETOPS) on long overwater routes. As a result, you’ll only find Boeing 737-800 and 737-MAX8 planes flying Hawaii routes, as they are the only planes certified to fly.
These planes are newer so cabins feel brighter and fresher. In my experience, they also have have much more comfortable interiors compared to the other plane type in Southwest’s fleet, the Boeing 737-700. The new design slimline seats are just a tad more spacious in both width and in legroom (32-33 inch seat pitch), as are the overhead bins.
Southwest usually has a pretty bare bones snack service on most flights – a drink and a bag of snack mix are all you get. Because Hawaii flights are some of the longest routes the airline flies, Southwest has bumped up the snack options a bit. The airline serves a complimentary snack box, usually containing the same snack mix plus crackers (sometimes Wheat Thins), spreadable cheese, fruit gummy snacks, and Tic Tacs. Later in the flight, a sweet snack is served like it is on other Southwest long haul flights (lately, the offering has been Brownie Brittle).
Southwest also has a few extra alcoholic drinks on the menu for Hawaii flights. The airlines also serves a Kula Toasted Coconut Rum and Kona Brewing Company’s Big Wave Golden Ale. Both are $7 or use Southwest drink coupons if you have them. Historically, the airline also had an extra non-alcoholic tropical juice as well, but I haven’t seen it return to the menu just yet.
Decor, Vibe & Service
This is a very minor difference and also hard to quantify, but one thing I always appreciate on the Hawaii flights I’ve flown on Southwest is that they feel a little extra special. Flight attendants often wear a flower or kukui nut lei around their necks or a flower in their hair. Some add a little extra touch of decor to the galley that helps gets everyone in the island spirit.
The service is usually very warm. After all, the flight attendants are often as happy as the passengers to be headed to Hawaii for an overnight! Hawaii flights are also sought-after routes among crew members, and I have always experienced the best of the best service as a result.
One last difference you may note – the view! You aren’t going to get views on many Southwest Airlines flights like the ones you get arriving and departing the islands. So get your cell phones out and ready for photos and videos.
One of the best views of all is taking off from Honolulu headed back to the mainland (taunting you with what you are leaving behind). You’ll fly over Waikiki and past Diamond Head. But you have to be on the left side of the aircraft (your right as you are boarding the plane) to see it. Choose your seats during open boarding carefully!
Related: First Timer’s Guide to Waikiki
Should You Fly Southwest Airlines to Hawaii? Pros and Cons
If you are a regular reader, you know how much of a fan I am of Southwest Airlines for flying with kids. But I know it’s not for everyone. I especially know the airline is facing an uphill battle in regaining the trust of many Americans after its epic 2022 holiday travel meltdown (which my family was caught up in but we were lucky and dodged the worst of it). So I’ll give it to you straight.
Pros of Flying Southwest to Hawaii
Benefits that many travelers may appreciate when flying Southwest to Hawaii include:
- Free checked bags: Hawaii is a long trip from the mainland, so many visitors come and stay awhile. And that often means needing to check a bag. Southwest lets you check 2 per person for free. This policy can add up to a lot of savings for families and larger groups.
- Reward availability: Everyone loves a free flight, but a free flight to Hawaii is that much better. Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards programs is one of the most straightforward frequent flyer programs in the business with the most seat availability. So you can actually redeem your miles to Hawaii…and at reasonable value.
- Competitive fares: Southwest isn’t always the low cost leader anymore, but its fares are still usually quite competitive. There are definitely deals to be had if you know how to look and book (more on that below).
- Cheap WiFi that works decently + free in-flight entertainment: You probably aren’t going to choose a flight based on the WiFi, but being able to stay connected is a bonus. Southwest charges $8 per flight for WiFi and in my experience, it works mostly pretty well on Hawaii flights (note that Southwest is current doing a fleet-wide upgrade of its WiFi too). Plus, the in-flight entertainment options you can access via your own device (TV, movies, etc.) are pretty extensive too.
- Cancellation & change policies: Southwest Airlines also has the most generous cancellation and change policies in the US domestic market. You can change flights with absolutely no change fees (just pay the fare difference). Or you can cancel and receive a flight credit that doesn’t expire! No one wants to cancel a flight to Hawaii, but life and emergencies happen. I always appreciate knowing I’ll never be out money or points when I fly with Southwest and have to change my plans.
Cons of Flying Southwest to Hawaii
What should give you pause about booking a Southwest flight to Hawaii?
- Nothing but economy seats: All seats on Southwest are economy seats. There is no first class and not even any economy plus or premium economy. So if you are a traveler who needs or wants a little more space or extra service, there really isn’t an option for you. I know this can be a deal breaker for some flyers, especially on longer distance flights like ones to Hawaii (including my mother, who needs more legroom on planes to accommodate a knee injury).
- Open seating: A lot of travelers really dislike Southwest’s boarding process and open seating policy. Either you pay a fee for Early Bird Check-In or must remember to check in right at 24 hours before your flight or you can get a pretty bum boarding position and an equally bum seat. The uncertainty is not ideal, especially when you are facing an extra long flight where getting stuck with a middle seat is especially uncomfortable.
- No meals: As already mentioned above, Southwest only has a snack box with lots of carbs. Even if you are willing to pay, there are no meals for purchase. It’s a long flight to Hawaii to have to worry with bringing your own food or finding time to buy in the airport, especially when some of the competition – Hawaiian Airlines – serves complimentary hot meals on its flights.
- No outlets: Southwest may have solid WiFi and streaming entertainment, but you need a powered up device to take advantage. And there are no power or USB outlets on Southwest’s planes yet. My family always brings multiple portable chargers so this isn’t a deal breaker if you are prepared, but it can catch a lot of infrequent Southwest passengers unaware.
- No redeyes: This may not seem like a big deal, but it is to a lot of travelers in the eastern half of the US. Because Southwest doesn’t fly redeyes, a lot of its Hawaii flight schedules simply don’t line up to make returning flights from the islands possible in a single day. Even if you leave Hawaii on an early morning flight, the long flight distance and losing hours to time zone changes means you can’t get back to the East Coast until well after midnight. Southwest has timed some of its banks of flights to make more of these connections possible and is now flying some routes a little later into the night. But a lot of Southwest cities still simply aren’t reachable. (See more tips for this issue below.)
How Can I Save Money on Southwest Airlines Hawaii Flights?
So just how much do Southwest’s Hawaii flights cost and how can you score a deal or a discount? Southwest’s Hawaii prices fluctuate quite a bit based on seasonality as well as how far in advance you book. I’ve been able to find roundtrips between $300-400 without working too hard (and quite a few trips under $300 roundtrip), but I also live by one of Southwest’s gateway airports. Travelers who need to make connections will pay a bit more. Flying during high season like the winter holidays and summer vacation, can be quite a bit pricier as well – sometimes $600 or $800 roundtrip or more.
While there are certain times of year when there are never any deals to be had, our family has been able to score some pretty cheap fares to Hawaii on Southwest even when traveling in summer or for spring break trips. Here’s how you can too.
Book When Southwest Flight Schedules are Released
Southwest releases its flight schedules in blocks, usually a few months at a time, on a single day. This date is widely publicized in advance on Southwest’s website. Go to Southwest’s Flight Booking page, look for the language on the bottom right that says “Now accepting reservations through…” and click on the information icon to see when the next set of flights is going to be released.
Although it has been less often the case more recently, sometimes the cheapest deals you will find on certain flight routes is on the morning of this schedule release. I highly recommend setting a calendar reminder to go in to check fares and potentially make a booking. If you are unsure whether the price might drop lower later, remember Southwest’s flexible change policies. You can always book right away and then rebook if you see the fare drop (keeping the difference as a credit that now never expires).
Use Southwest’s Low Fare Calendar
Another way to find good deals is to be flexible on travel days if at all possible. I recommend starting your search for Southwest Hawaii flights on the airline website Low Fare Calendar. Put in your city pairs and then look at a month-by-month view that displays the cheapest fare available each day. Traditionally, the cheapest days to fly are going to be mid-week. If you have flexibility to fly on a non-peak day, you’ll pay less.
Watch for Fare Sales
Southwest has a number of fare sales. Several sales a year are bigger ones, with deeper discounts, but some of the smaller ones can have some steals as well.
Often these sales launch on a Tuesday so that’s always a good day to check fares. But it’s even better to be in the know. Make sure you are a member of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program and opt into marketing emails so sales alerts are delivered to your inbox when they happen.
Get even more of my best tips for maximizing Southwest Airlines fare sales.
Get a Southwest Credit Card
If you don’t have a bank of Southwest Rapid Reward points to redeem for free Hawaii travel, start building one up! One of the easiest ways to earn Rapid Rewards points is through the co-branded personal and business Southwest credit cards from Chase. My family regularly has one or two of them in our wallets. Check out the current offers and strategies in my Southwest credit card comparison guide.
Transfer or Use Other Credit Card Points
Southwest co-branded credit cards aren’t the only option to get points for Hawaii. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Southwest Rapid Rewards points. So if you get one of the Chase cards that earns these rewards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve. Chase points transfer instantaneously to Southwest in my experience, so you can make your moves quickly when you spot a deal.
Check out my recommendations for the 5 best credit cards for family travel for more details on credit card options that will help you get to Hawaii on Southwest.
Snag a Southwest Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass is another way for couples and families to save on Southwest flights – to Hawaii or anywhere else. This pass allows a flyer to take a single companion with them on any and every Southwest flight totally free (plus taxes and fees) for a period of up to 2 years, depending on when it is earned. As you can probably imagine, it’s pretty valuable for saving money for anyone who flies Southwest often. It is even more valuable if you need to fly on a more expensive route – like Hawaii during a major holiday period!
You have to earn 135,000 Rapid Rewards points in a single year to get a Companion Pass, either from flying or from credit cards or from a few other methods. My word of warning – this method is not exactly for the beginner even though there are blogs that make it sound like a piece of cake. If you are ready to do some research and legwork, it can really pay off. My family has saved thousands and thousands of dollars over the past 5 or 6 years we’ve had a pass.
A lot of ink has been spilled on the Southwest Companion Pass (including some of my own on other sites) so I’ll spare you more. Here are a few of the more comprehensive guides out there if you think it might be for you and want to learn how to do it.
- 5 Things Families Need to Know About the Southwest Companion Pass from your truly at The Points Guy
- Southwest Companion Pass E-Book from Go To Travel Gal
- The Complete Guide to the Southwest Companion Pass from The Frequent Miler
- How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass the Old Fashioned Way from Deals We Like
Book Last Minute
Usually, last minute bookings on many airlines to many destinations are extremely overpriced. And on Southwest generally, you usually need to book 14 or 21 days beforehand for its cheapest Wanna Get Away fares even to be available.
But Southwest’s Hawaii flights can be one exception to these rules. There aren’t a lot of business travelers booking last minute to Hawaii that the airline can rely on to fill empty seats, so sometimes during lower seasons, there are still last minute deals to be had.
For example, if my life was flexible enough to hop on a flight to Honolulu from my home airport of Oakland tomorrow, I could get there and back for as low as $165 each way. Not too shabby. So if you have flexibility in your travel plans, be aggressive in watching for last minute opportunities.
Additional Tips for Booking & Flying Southwest to Hawaii
Here are a few additional tips for Southwest Hawaii flights that my family and I have picked up from our experience booking and flying these routes the last several years.
Always Check the Competition
I’m almost always inclined to fly Southwest to Hawaii because my family has a Companion Pass most of the time and my home airport in Oakland has service to all four Hawaii mainland destination airports. But that is not the case for everyone! There are other airlines that may have better prices (even when you factor in Southwest’s free checked bags) or better flight times for your travel plans.
Use family boarding if you are eligible
Southwest allows families with kids ages 6 and under to board between groups A and B. That pretty much ensures you can get seating together as a family with young kids. If you are eligible, be sure you arrive at the gate early enough to take advantage!
Strongly consider Early Bird
If you aren’t eligible for family boarding, you may want to consider purchasing Southwest’s Early Bird Check-In for Hawaii flights. For a flight as long as the ones to Hawaii, these are really not flights you want your family stuck in the C boarding group claiming scattered middle seats. But just be aware that Early Bird on Hawaii flights is usually the most expensive – often $25 per person. So if it isn’t in the budget, it’s that much more essential not to miss checking in right at 24 hours in advance.
Some of the Southwest credit cards also come with 4 upgraded boarding perks, so if you have those burning a hole in your pocket, Hawaii flights can be a good time to redeem them too.
East Coast flyers may want to consider a stopover
As I mentioned above, Southwest’s no redeye policy means a lot of East Coasters can’t get to and from Hawaii in a single day on the flight connections the airline has available. While I hope that Southwest will start redeye service eventually, you may need to get creative for now if you want to fly Southwest to the islands.
One option some travelers have used is booking itineraries as separate one-ways with an overnight in a gateway city (especially on the return flying eastward). Of course, this adds time and may also add cost. But I also know a lot of travelers use this opportunity to spend a few extra days in a West Coast city they’ve always wanted to visit.
To determine whether your home airport has a connecting option that makes a return possible, go to Southwest’s route map and first put in the Hawaii airport you wish to visit as your departure airport. Then look at the options in the arrival airport menu. Grayed out destinations don’t have a connecting flight options at all and will need to use this stopover method to fly Southwest to Hawaii. If your city is not greyed out, you can select it to search for options. The results are in month view which is helpful to spot if your airport of choice only has connections certain days of the week.
It probably goes without saying that the addition of Southwest to the Hawaii market has been a boon for many travelers – especially those based on the West Coast. We are looking forward to seeing what the airline does next in the islands. Bookmark and watch this space for updates in the coming months!
Have you flown one of the Southwest Airlines to Hawaii flights yet? Share your thoughts, travel plans, and experiences in the comments.
Disclosure: I was a paid #SouthwestStorytellers ambassador for the airline in 2018. This article was originally published in October 2017 before I was a brand ambassador and has been updated substnatially after the ambassadorship ended. As always, all opinions are my own.