Here’s What It’s Like to Fly Inter-Island on Hawaiian Airlines

Jun 19, 2019

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard

Until recently, there weren’t many ways to use miles to island hop around Hawaii. You could fly Hawaiian Airlines, or you could … fly Hawaiian Airlines. Granted, there are lots of ways to redeem miles for Hawaiian-operated flights, but at the end it all, you were probably flying on the state’s namesake airline.

However, with Southwest Airlines slowly ramping up its Hawaiian service, you now have choices on some inter-island flights. We flew Southwest Airlines from Honolulu to Kona (Big Island), but when it came time to move on from from Kona to Lihue (Kauai), we went with Hawaiian.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Booking

The prices for inter-island flights on Hawaiian Airlines vary pretty dramatically, regardless of whether you want to pay with cash or miles. Even though the routes are all pretty short, the price still depends on when you want to fly and on which route. In this case, our Kona-Lihue nonstop was a little over $175 per person, but there just wasn’t a better alternative for our date as demand was pretty high. We were able to book one of the five tickets we needed using 7,000 United miles, but we paid for the rest on my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar charged.

However, on some dates you can find economy inter-island awards on Hawaiian Airlines starting at 7,500 Hawaiian miles plus $6 each way. When available, this is a good deal — especially if you pick up 60,000 miles from the current increased welcome bonus on the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard. Sitting up front in first class would set you back at least 15,000 Hawaiian miles each way. You can top up your Hawaiian Airlines frequent-flyer balance with transfers from Amex Membership Rewards. Or you can transfer Hawaiian miles for free to someone who has a Hawaiian Airlines credit card.

Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard: Earn a 60,000-mile bonus for a limited time.

Stuck in Paradise

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Our arrival at Kona International Airport for a 3pm departure on Hawaiian Airlines to Kauai started off badly and only went downhill. The main issue was that the airport was simply overwhelmed that Saturday afternoon.

TSA security was so busy for its small workspace that bins of electronics were falling to the ground as they stacked up on the post-security side of the screener before their owners could get to them.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Once that excitement was over (our portable DVD player fell from a bin and hit the ground, but survived), it was time to try to find somewhere to cool off and have a snack. Kona Airport is an open-air airport, and on this June afternoon it was pretty hot and sticky. The lone airport restaurant was as overwhelmed as the security line, and we felt lucky to snag three seats together to take turns having a snack and slightly cooler air.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

While we didn’t have access, there is a Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club Lounge at the Kona Airport, open to those with a membership, Hawaiian Airlines elite status or flying on a business- or first-class ticket.

Thankful for the (planned) brief time at the Kona Airport before hopping on the flight of less than an hour to Kauai, we went to Gate 10 ready to fly out of there. We were then told of a gate change a few feet away to Gate 9. No big deal. With the seats nearest that gate all full, we stood in the boarding area where Group 3, our group, would eventually board. There were just a few minutes to go … or so we thought.

After about 60 seconds in the boarding area, a man told us we might as well sit back down and get comfortable as it was going to be a while. That started six hours of delays — time largely spent sitting on the concrete at a hot, muggy, open-air airport with both kids and grandparents along for the fun.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

We were never told the reason for the delays nor where we given regular updates. Unlike delays at most airports on the mainland, you don’t really have other options at Kona. You have to fly Hawaiian Airlines to get to Kauai. Obviously, driving isn’t an option. The cause of the delay, we ultimately learned online, was a GPS issue affecting the type of aircraft Hawaiian operates between the islands, but Hawaiian never told us that. I didn’t even get any official online notice of the delayed flight from Hawaiian until we were four hours into it.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

This all went as well as could be expected until Hour Number Five. It was dinner time, so we again went to the one restaurant at the airport (when we should have been chilling on the North Shore of Kauai). I paid for our order and then noticed a few folks in line had meal vouchers. Apparently, the airline was handing out $15 meal vouchers to some passengers — but they never made an announcement about this. When I later asked an employee why they didn’t make an announcement, she said they had, five times.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Dinner a la concrete.

The three adults in our group listened attentively to every word said over the intercom that afternoon, so I can bet my rainbow shave ice that such an announcement was never made. Perhaps it was told to some passengers, but it certainly was never announced over the speaker. That summed up how Hawaiian handled the massive delays at Kona that day — with extremely poor communication. If you wanted to know anything, you had to wait in line and ask — not much was going to be told to the group as a whole.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Our misadventures are worth mentioning but the reality is that Hawaiian Airlines had an 87.8% on-time percentage last year, the best in the country (largely thanks to the lovely Hawaiian weather). The odds that your experience will be like ours are low.

Boarding

Hawaiian Airlines boards by zones. If you purchase preferred economy seating toward the front of economy, as we did for my dad so he could snag a window seat, you will be in Zone 2. They also board families with children up to age 2 early in the boarding process. We boarded in Zone 3, but since we were pretty far back in the plane, overhead bin space was not a problem.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

The island-hopping plane had a 2 – 3 seating arrangement, which is great for families since you can arrange kids and parents in all sorts of groupings.

A special touch when flying this carrier is that there is soothing Hawaiian music playing in the background as you board — a small detail but still pretty cool.

Inter-Island Flights on Hawaiian

We selected our seats together toward the back of the plane at no additional charge when we booked our tickets. Economy seats on the Boeing 717 aircraft used to island-hop on Hawaiian are 18 inches wide and have 30-31 inches of pitch, which is above average, especially in the pitch (legroom) department.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Flying from the Big Island to Kauai is about the longest of the Hawaiian inter-island flights but legroom was not a problem at all.

However, do note that the tray tables are teeny-tiny. If you plan on popping out your laptop for a few minutes of work, that may or may not be feasible.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

A few minutes into the flight, the flight attendants came by with a selection of passion-orange-guava juice or water — both in packaged plastic containers. I had good memories of the juice from a Hawaiian flight years ago, but this time it left a bad taste in my mouth. It was very, very sweet. The water, in turn, tasted a touch metallic.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Service on the flight was friendly but the flight attendants had experienced a long, bad travel day too, so they appeared (understandably) worn out.

When we landed in Lihue, our gate-checked car seat came out within a matter of minutes, which was greatly appreciated.

Bottom Line

You now have choices when it comes to using miles to island-hop in Hawaii. Southwest is a tough competitor on the routes they operate, but spending 7,500 Hawaiian Airlines miles to island-hop with a little aloha flair on the side is also a solid choice — just as long as you don’t have a six-hour delay.

Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard: Earn a 60,000-mile bonus for a limited time.

All photos by the author.

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