How to find and buy a fare deal to Hawaii

Southwest now flies to Hawaii, and that's putting downward pressure on airfares to Honolulu and other places in the islands.
Southwest now flies to Hawaii, and that’s putting downward pressure on airfares to Honolulu and other places in the islands.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Once upon a time, American Airlines offered round-trip fare deals to Maui for as little at $300, which was catnip for me, a scuba diver who liked exploring those waters.

I thought those low-fare days were gone for good. But that was before the Federal Aviation Administration cleared Southwest to start serving Hawaii from the West Coast.

Fares immediately dropped to unnaturally low levels as they often do. By St. Patrick’s Day, fares had dipped to $49 one way.

Airfare experts think those Hawaii fares are going to stay low for Southern Californians, although maybe not quite that low.

“We are in the golden age of cheap fares,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a free and premium flight deal subscription service.


The introduction of Southwest service is driving down fares to Hawaii (although it’s not yet flying direct from LAX), despite fuel prices that spike and drop, he said. (The $4.2 billion in bag fees that airlines collected in 2017 and continue to collect help balance the ledger too.)

Even before Southwest launched service from Oakland to Honolulu on March 17, Keyes and John DiScala, founder of the travel site, saw round-trip fares from LAX to Honolulu or Maui as low as $200.

How do you get snag a fare like that? Keyes, DiScala and Chris McGinnis, editor of the blog TravelSkills, outlined strategies

►Fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, except holidays, to get the cheapest fare.

You can leave L.A. on a Saturday morning and be on the beach by afternoon, and that means a week’s vacation can stretch to eight days. Who doesn’t wish for more vacation time?

But demand is high for those Saturday departures, which means they probably cost more. For savings, give up that extra day on the beach.

For families, McGinnis recommends flying to or from Hawaii midweek when fares are not only lower but flights also are less crowded. You’re less likely, he said, to be on sold-out plane that is “packed to the gills,” which is important for families that want or need to sit together.

►The day you fly is important, but so is the date. The cheapest seasons for flights to Hawaii are late spring (May) and fall (October and early November). If late spring or summer is your only option, McGinnis recommends going June 1 to 15 (although best fares this year may already be gone) or Aug. 15-30 “when fares are not usually at peak levels,” he said.

A recent check showed $278 round-trip fares from LAX to Honolulu for Aug. 21-28 on Southwest, all with stops. These fares may no longer be available by the time you read this. Remember, Southwest flights do not show up on most search sites so you’ll need to go to its website.

►If you can stand the restrictions, several airlines that serve Hawaii offer “basic economy” — that is, the lowest fare but with the most restrictions, including seat selection. Make sure you read the fine print before you say yes.

►Set flight alerts with Google Flights, Yapta, Hipmunk or whichever search site you prefer, DiScala said. Note that the time to buy a good fare is when you see it because it may not be there when you go back. Plus you can hold a fare for 24 hours and cancel it, usually without penalty.

►If you want to spend time on more than one island, this is the time to do so because the price of interisland flights also is dropping. On April 28, Southwest is to launch four daily interisland flights (each way) between Honolulu and Maui. Similar daily service between Honolulu and Hawaii Island will begin May 12. I found fares as low as $49 each way on Southwest and Hawaiian. The difference that matters may be because of bags: Southwest does not charge for the first two bags. Hawaiian charges $25 for the first bag.

►Lock in a cheap fare by taking advantage of Southwest’s free cancellation and free change policy “If there’s a trip I might want to take but I’m not sure or certain of my dates, I go in and book a Southwest flight,” Keyes said. “If things get cheaper, you can get a partial refund.”

Here’s his caveat: “You need to have some plans to fly Southwest during the next 12 months so your flight credit doesn’t expire.” If you book with points, those can be redeposited to your Rapid Rewards account without any penalty fees.

►Make sure you sign up for alerts from your airlines and follow them on Twitter.