Southwest is Flying to Hawaii Now. Here's Why That's a (Really) Good Thing.

Mar 4, 2019

Southwest Airlines' announcement that they're now selling fares to Hawaii might not mean they're replacing their iconic peanut packs with macadamia nuts, but for travelers hoping to Aloha ASAP, there's plenty here to chew on.

Airfares have remained pretty low for the last several months, but massive systemwide sales worth flying home about are rare. More than 80% of domestic air travel is controlled by four airlines, which doesn't leave much incentive for the Big Four (United, Delta, American and Southwest) to drop prices. They'll often just selectively match each other's fares.

So ever since Southwest started rumbles about offering flights to Hawaii, we've been on the edge of our seats waiting to see what the low-cost airline would bring to the market.

Why?

Well, not only does Southwest's generous baggage allowance make it a great value, but the "Southwest Effect" typically drives down the average cost of one-way flights on routes where Southwest flies. The other carriers have to compete or they will lose market share. So even if you don't want to fly Southwest, it's a good bet that fares will drop across the board in the next few days as airlines start to match fares -- which are starting at $49 one way (!).

 

Which means -- Hula Pahu drumroll please -- flights and vacations to Hawaii are (most likely) about to become cheaper across the board -- especially to Honolulu, which has some of the highest average roundtrip fares in the nation. We've already seen Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines launch pre-emptive sales in the last few weeks.

West Coast cities already have several options for flights to Hawaii, and it wasn't uncommon to see a roundtrip fare from LA or San Francisco to Honolulu stay under $400. But two of the main carriers to the Islands (Alaska & Hawaiian) have a limited route tree outside of the Pacific time zone, so those of us not on the Left Coast (or Left Coast-adjacent) were often looking at fares double that cost.

Southwest's extensive footprint will make it more likely to that fares will come down on routes like Kansas City to Kahului or Louisville to Lihue or Houston to Honolulu (albeit with a few pit stops along the way).

So if you love to fly, but hate to pay retail -- this is when you should be shopping and buying flights to Hawaii. (And if you do, we know a place with great deals on hotels and activities.)

A metasearch site like Google Flights is a good way to see which airlines are offering up the best deals on the dates you need. Just remember to search Southwest's site independently -- their fares aren't available through other websites.

You'll find the best flight deals if you follow a few simple rules.

1. Be flexible on your dates. Maybe one week is $800 roundtrip for your dream trip, but the following week is $350. A little flexibility goes a long way toward keeping your travel on budget. When the site lets you, use the flexible date search or low fare calendar to highlight when you can save the most on your trip.

2. Try to fly at least one leg on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. These are the days of the week planes are least full, and so these are the days that most sales target with the lowest fares. By contrast, Friday and Sunday flights are rarely discounted.

3. Consider alternate airports. For example, JetBlue flies to Long Beach instead of LAX -- so if you can fly into the LBC, you might save as much as $50-$100 on the flight. Consider the same for Chicago (Midway or O'Hare), New York (JFK, La Guardia, Newark -- or for the adventurous Westchester County (HPN), Newburgh (SWF) or Trenton (TTN), the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose), Dallas (Love or DFW), Houston (Bush or Hobby), South Florida (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach), Washington, D.C. (BWI, Dulles or Reagan National).

4. Along the same lines, don't assume that the cheapest fare is always to Honolulu. Search for flights to Maui (OGG), Kauai (LIH), and the Big Island (KOA or ITO). 

5. Fly early. The early bird gets the best deal. The first flight out in the morning is often the cheapest of the day -- and it's the most likely one to be on time.

6. Don't forget about the fees. Are you a heavy packer? Check. Do you want extra legroom? Check. Are you going to want more nourishment than a cup of soda during the flight? Check. Those checks add up when you check-in.

7. Don't hunt and peck. A metasearch site, which searches several airlines and travel agencies at the same time for your itinerary, is a great way to find the best combination of price and date for your future trip.

8. Don't sleep on a good fare. You're allowed to cancel your flight at no penalty up to 24 hours after booking, so if you see a great fare, grab it and figure out the details (hotels, time off of work, etc.) later. All's fare during airfare wars, and the cheap flights won't last forever. When these sales end, expect prices to soar once again.

9. Pair a great fare with a hotel deal. If you're leaving town, you're going to need a place to stay. We've negotiated exclusive hotel deals at up to 50% off regular rates, as well as member perks at top hotels across the country. Grab your flight, then get a room.

Now if only they could do something about those security lines ...

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