Island hopping (visiting more than one Hawaiian island in a trip) will cost a little more money (unless you’re cruising). However, for most visitors, the airfare to get to Hawaii is the most expensive part of the trip. After that investment, you’ll probably want to see and do as much as you can on the islands – to get as much value from that airfare purchase as possible. That means “island hopping”.
Planning transportation for island hopping can be a little over-whelming at first. However, with just a little time and research, it will all come together and you’ll find it’s DEFINITELY worth the effort. THEN, en route, it requires patience –as there are bound to be bumps in the plan. Just do the research, make a plan, then stay flexible and you’ll have a WONDERFUL trip.
What Are The Options for Inter-Island Travel? :
- By Air: This is the most common mode of transportation for visitors and residents alike. Most of this post will be devoted to that…in a moment…..
- By Ferry: Ferry service was a wonderful option ‘once upon a time’, however, it has fallen victim to EPA regulations/restrictions – and was discontinued to all but 2 islands in 2009. WORD OF CAUTION TO TRAVEL PLANNERS: The Ferry Company’s website (Hawaii Superferry) is still up as a tribute and ‘eulogy’ to the company (There seems to be a lot of anger over it’s closing….) to remind people of what the EPA cost them. However, only in the ‘small print’ does the website say that their site is a ‘eulogy’; their last ‘run’ was in 2008. There are schedules, prices, etc…that could lead unsuspecting readers to conclude they can show up and get on a ferry… I understand their anger, but the website could really affect visitors’ travel plans…ugh!! Don’t get caught up in that!!!
The ONLY operational ferries leave from Lahaina Maui and go to the islands of Lana’i or Molokai. The Maui-Lana’i Expeditions ferry operates from Maui to Manele Bay Lana’i. They also offer tour packages – just fyi. 🙂 The Maui-Molokai Ferry operates from Maui to Kaunakakai Harbor, Molokai.
Please Note: The channels between these islands can be pretty rough in the afternoon as the winds across the water strengthen. Even those not typically prone to sea sickness may have problems – especially on the Maui-Molokai route. Be prepared with sea sickness remedies or travel in the morning.
- By Cruise Ship: This, of course, requires the booking of a Hawaiian cruise. 🙂 I’ve never seen the islands this way, but the advantages are having inter-island transportation, accommodations, and food all planned/arranged. That’s probably a nice way to see the islands though the disadvantage, as I see it, is the limited amount of time allowed on each island… typically only 1 day/island. Of course, it’s all a matter of preference. 🙂
NOTE AS YOU’RE PLANNING:
- Some islands have more than one airport. Be aware of this as you check fares to make sure you’re going where you want to go…and reserve the rental car at the right airport. 🙂 On the Big Island (Hawaii) Kona is almost always cheaper to fly in to than Hilo. On Maui, Kahului is typically cheaper than Kapalua and DEFINITELY more convenient than Hana. Recently, Maui’s OGG (Lahaina) airport has become a secondary hub within Hawaii for flights to and from the Mainland. (secondary to Honolulu)
There are several airlines that “hop” from island to island: Hawaiian Air, Island Air, Mokulele Airlines and Go! Airlines (Mesa). On our most recent trip over, we flew on 3 of these. It seems that these companies come and go as quickly as you can snap your fingers… However, here’s my “take” (and links) on the companies we used.
Hawaiian Airlines This airline is the flag carrier for Hawaii and has frequent flights to all the major islands. They are more expensive than the smaller companies, and their baggage fees are significantly higher ($25/bag compared to $15-17 for the smaller airlines as of this writing) however, their more frequent flights, larger planes and more reliable aircraft makes them the preferred airline of many. Depending on your situation, that MAY be worth the extra money.
So many of the smaller airlines come and go so quickly…but this next little airline must be doing SOMETHING right, because they’re still going strong….
Mokuele is operared by Mesa and is an off-shoot of smaller line merger. This very small airline flies to Oahu (2 airports), Maui (3 airports), Molokai (2 airports), Lana’i and The Big Island (2 airports) on Cessna aircraft. 🙂 Yes, they go to all the very small airports.
Do NOT let the size of these aircraft deter you. Flying with them was actually a pleasant experience. Their terminal is outdoors…It’s a pre-fab building covered by an awning. There’s a restroom, vending machines and 15 chairs for passengers as they wait for their flight. ha!! (When we arrived, I HAD to take this picture.:) ) We knocked on the door and someone came out of the office to check us in…. We not only weighed our checked bags, but we weighed ourselves while holding our carry ons to get a total weight on the aircraft. (NOTE: Their policy doesn’t allow passengers over 350 lbs to fly – it’s not a ‘discrimination’ thing…it’s a weight issue on the aircraft…) The pilot checked our boarding pass and gave us our seat number before we walked across the runway to board. He then boarded the plane with us and went over safety procedures. Everyone gets a window seat (wonderful when flying over the islands) because there are single seats on each side of the aircraft. When we got off the plane, we walked around to wait for our luggage, then I took a quick picture with the pilot before we rolled our luggage off the runway. I didn’t have a problem with any of that. It was an “experience”. I just took pictures. 🙂
Here are some of the wonderful views I got while flying over Maui…and into Kona:
I would fly with them again!!!
Go! Airlines (Operated by Mesa ) was once the second largest inter-island carrier in Hawaii with a fleet of smaller aircraft. We flew with them in 2013, but alas, they are now no longer in business. Recently, Island Air suffered the same fate. This seems to be all too common with these small airlines in Hawaii.
For this reason, I recommend not booking interisland flights too far in advance…but it’s not necessary to completely avoid them… Our “Small Airline Story” included a stressful morning, cancelled flight and the rebooking of a flight on Hawaiian Air to catch our flight home…but we DID make it just fine. Lesson in That? If you find yourself with a ticket on one of these smaller airlines that falls through for whatever reason, it’s fairly easy to get a last minute seat with Hawaiian Air – just don’t book things too close so you have time to make necessary arrangements. We were even reimbursed for the extra cost by the smaller company when we got home.
R.I. P. Mesa Go! Airlines
Finding the Cheapest and Shortest Flights: As I’ve said many times on this blog, explore all your options (airline websites AND travel brokers) before making a decision. We went from Oahu to Kona to Maui, then back to Oahu for our flight home– on 3 different inter-island airlines. I checked fares and flight times and made the decisions that were best for us on that day… There’s no one ‘right answer’… You just have to find what works best for you.
Just Consider these things before making that decision…..
- Don’t be afraid of these smaller airlines. They ARE a savings over Hawaiian Air. Do your research and be flexible and you can save some money. however…..
- Do NOT book with a smaller airline as your last flight if you need to make a connecting flight. (i.e. you’re flying back to the Mainland) In that case, book with Hawaiian Air. Their frequent flight schedule won’t leave you stranded on the islands when you’re supposed to be flying home – You can catch a later flight if yours happens to be delayed.
- When booking that inter-island flight to connect for your flight back to the Mainland, allow enough time for possible delays. This is NOT the time to try to squeeze every minute out of your vacation. OUR EXPERIENCE: We were due to arrive in Honolulu at 6:30 and fly out at 10 pm. With the delays and finally, our last minute purchase of Hawaiian Air tickets, we barely made our connection. Had we been more “squeezed” for time, we probably would not have made it. Another family in the same predicament that evening was trying to catch a connecting flight at 8:15. I’m assuming they didn’t make it in time as we didn’t get to Oahu until 8:30 and we took the first available flight on Hawaiian Airlines. They just didn’t have enough time to make other arrangements. Give yourself time to deal with unexpected situations.
- Though you don’t have to book these flights MONTHS in advance as advised for most other flights, don’t wait too long. As the airlines inventory shrinks, the rates go up (Law of Supply and Demand….) My experience is that booking 3-5 weeks in advance in the Spring should secure fairly good rates… Book At Least 6-8 wks in advance during the busier summer season.
- Find out which Inter-island airlines have “agreements” with your airline for the flight home. They each have their own agreements with different Major airlines When we rebooked with Hawaiian Airlines, we found out they had an “agreement” with United. We checked our bags with Hawaiian Airlines in Maui and THEY transferred them to United in Honolulu for us. What a relief after the tight layover we had with all the delays. Before that change, we were going to have to pick up bags in Honolulu, check in AND re-check bags with United then go BACK through security. I don’t think we would have had time to do that. (We and/or our bags most likely would have missed our United flight.
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