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Is First Class Worth the Price on Flights to Hawaii?

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TPG reader Travis sent me a message on Facebook to ask about flying to Hawaii:

“I’m going Hawaii next year and debating whether I want to fly first class. Is it worth the extra cost, and if so, which airline would you choose?”

I’m not a big fan of domestic premium cabins, as they tend to be a bit lackluster compared to their international counterparts, and many flights are too short to justify the added expense. That said, you can find some quality transcontinental service on select routes, and there are other long flights where sitting up front will make a meaningful difference in your travel experience, especially if you’re on the tall side.

Hawaii is far enough away that it’s worth considering a move up to first class, especially if you’re coming from east of the Rockies — nonstop flights from New York run more than 11 hours. Still, I think the question of whether to upgrade is a matter of your means and your personal preference.

United has flat-bed seats on some flights to Hawaii.
United has flat-bed seats on some flights to Hawaii.

The premium for first class tends to be much higher if you’re paying cash as compared to booking an award. For example, an economy seat on United’s flight from Newark to Honolulu is currently going for $800-$1,000 round-trip, while first class is around $3,400. By comparison, an economy Saver award on that same flight is 45,000 miles round-trip, while a first-class award is just 80,000 miles, less than twice as much. On the other hand, Saver award space can be difficult to find on these flights, so I recommend planning far in advance if you’re hoping to use miles to get to Hawaii.

In short, I think it’s worth the extra miles to fly in first class if you’re on a longer flight to Hawaii, but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether you want to pay the premium on a revenue ticket. It’s more of a toss-up if you’re coming from the West Coast, where flights to the Islands take about six hours. Hawaiian Airlines flies the A330 out of Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities. If you and a traveling companion can snag two isolated seats together on either side of the aircraft, it makes for a pretty comfortable ride.

Hawaiian Airlines will be adding lie-flat seats to the first class cabin on its A330 aircraft in 2016.

As for which airline to fly, any service with a lie-flat seat is a good option. American offers angle lie-flat seats on some flights out of Dallas. United offers a flat-bed seat on the aforementioned flight from Newark, while Delta offers the same on flights from Atlanta and Minneapolis (seasonally), and you can get a lie-flat on part of your journey out of New York-JFK. Hawaiian Airlines also recently announced that it will begin installing lie-flat seats aboard its A330 fleet in 2016. Any of those options should serve you well.

If you can’t score a lie-flat seat, then you can expect a standard domestic first-class recliner. It’s nothing to write home about, but the extra legroom and free drinks will make the ride more comfortable. For a better sense of what to expect on flights to Hawaii, check out these recent reviews:

For more tips on getting to Hawaii, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at

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