It’s easy to understand why Hawaii has come to be known as a Pacific Ocean paradise. The islands’ spectacular scenery—from sunny beaches and colorful coral reefs, to lush river valleys and steep volcanoes—would impress nearly anyone. Visitors can enjoy a range of adventures, from surfing some of the world’s best "surf spots" (such as Jaws and Pipeline) to milder pursuits, including stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking, and hiking.
Of course, tourism dropped drastically in 2020. But up to then, Hawaii was on a roll. According to statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, visitors to the Hawaiian Islands spent $1.71 billion in January 2020—before the onset of the pandemic—an increase of 5% compared to January 2019.
And 2019 had been a banner year: A record 10,424,995 million people visited the islands. That means that on any given day, the state hosted an average of 249,021 visitors.
This represents the ninth consecutive year in which tourism numbers grew, following the three years of decline that coincided with the recession. The amount of money tourists spent during 2019 also increased: total visitor expenditures (which do not include what business travelers spent) grew to $17.75 billion, a 1.4% increase over the previous year. Visitors spent an average of $198 per person.
There’s no doubt about it, a Hawaiian vacation is not cheap. Just getting there—without adding accommodations, car rentals, dining and activities—can be expensive. The good news is that you can find lower airfares if you have the flexibility to fly during certain times of the year. Here, we show you how you can fly to Hawaii for less.
- Visiting Hawaii can be expensive, but there are ways to score cheaper airfares.
- In general, Midwest and West Coast departures cost several hundred dollars less than those from the East Coast or the South.
- April thru June and mid-August thru mid-September are Hawaii's "low seasons," and airfares are lower then.
- No matter what time of year you travel, you may be able to score better deals if you travel midweek
Cheapest Seasons to Visit Hawaii
A large number of Hawaii’s visitors hail from the continental United States (other significant markets included Japan and Canada). In general, Midwest and West Coast departures cost several hundred dollars less than those from the East Coast or the South. We searched Google Flights for the best roundtrip fares to Honolulu (HNL) booked two weeks in advance (flying on May 24), and found it would cost about $929 out of Atlanta (ATL), $720 out of New York (either JFK or LGA), and $437 out of Oakland (OAK). Note that airfares changes constantly, so you may not be able to replicate these results.
So when can you save money on airfares? According to travel website Beat of Hawaii, the best times to travel for Hawaii deals are:
- Mid-April until early June
- Aug. 17 until Dec. 10
Airfare out of Atlanta for most of May, for example (again, looking at Google Flights), hovered around $750 and higher. As soon as June hit, fares climbed to between $820 and $1,100, depending on the exact departure date. The same thing happened out of Oakland: Fares stayed in the mid-to-high $300s for May and jumped to between $500 and almost $700 during the summer months.
If you’re trying to save money, avoid traveling during peak holidays. Fares from Atlanta during most of October and November, for example, stood at about $800 when we checked. If you depart on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, though, plan on paying closer to $1,300. The same thing happens during the winter holiday season: Fares during the first three weeks of December were listed at about $850, but they jumped to almost $1,500 for the peak days during the holiday week. Some say that traveling on an actual holiday, such as Christmas Day, can be cheaper, but we didn't find that in our research. It could be worth checking, though, if you must travel during the holidays.
No matter what time of year you travel, you may be able to score better deals if you travel midweek—and avoid Saturday departures in particular. If you were to book a flight out of Atlanta to travel during the middle of May, you might pay about $900 to travel on a Wednesday, but about $1,200 if you fly on Saturday. It’s the same story out of Oakland, where the cheapest Wednesday flight in May was $406 and the cheapest Saturday flight was $545.
The Bottom Line
Airfare to Hawaii fluctuates throughout the year, largely as a function of supply and demand. If you visit during peak periods, airfare costs more. During the low seasons, you can often find better deals. And, if you can travel midweek during any time of the year, you’ll likely be able to save money. Fuel prices also affect airfares, and it’s possible to see changes—either up or down—depending on current and anticipated fuel costs.
If you have the flexibility to travel during certain times of the year, you may be able to at least save a little money on airfare and possibly on some of your other expenses, as well, making your trip to Hawaii a bit more affordable.