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 visiting more than one island.
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 you 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 commonly used mode of transportation by visitors and residents. Most of this blog 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 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… 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 to make make sure you reserve the rental car at the right airport. 🙂 On the Big Island (Hawaii) Kona is almost always cheaper 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)
- Flights to Kauai from any other island always include a stop/layover in Honolulu (HNL). If possible, plan the islands in an order that allows you to take advantage of this rather than having an unnecessary layover. 🙂
There are several airlines that “hop” from island to island: Hawaiian Air, Island Air, Mokulele Airlines and Go! Airlines (Mesa). On our 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.
Go! Airlines (Operated by Mesa ) Go! was once the second largest inter-island carrier in Hawaii. They ran a fleet of smaller aircraft. They are no longer in business – something that seems to happen a lot with these small airlines in Hawaii.
We had a “story” about Go! Airlines back in 2013…It started out great, but ended with the cancelling of our connecting flight back to Honolulu that almost caused us to miss our flight home on United.
One More Note: If you find yourself with a ticket on one of these smaller airlines that falls through for whatever reason, it’s VERY easy to book a last minute flight with Hawaiian Air. How do I know this? That’s exactly what we did that night of our flight back to the mainland…bought 2 tickets on Hawaiian Air, the cost of which, Mesa Go! Airlines reimbursed us for when we got home and contacted them. Though our experience was a little ‘rattling’ at the time, it worked out fine. We got on flights we needed and were reimbursed for additional costs incurred.
R.I. P. Mesa Go! Airlines
Mokuele formed as an offshoot of the merger with iGo and is ALSO operated by Mesa. 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: They have a policy that doesn’t allow passengers over 350 lbs to fly – it’s a weight issue on the aircraft…) The pilot checked our boarding pass and told 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!!!
Island Air This is an airline that was not flying at our last trip to Hawaii (As I mentioned above, these small airlines come and go…) but it seems to be a ‘big name’ now. Obviously, I don’t have any personal experience with them, however, a quick online search for fares shows them to be cheaper with lower baggage fees.
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 ‘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 an inter-island flight to return for your connecting ocean flight, allow enough time for possible delays. This is NOT the time to try to squeeze every minute out of your vacation. CONTINUATION OF OUR STORY ABOVE: We were due to arrive in Honolulu at 6:30 and fly out at 10 pm. With our last minute change/purchase of Hawaiian Air tickets, we barely made our connection. Had we been more “squeezed” for time, we probably would not have made it. We met another family who was in the same predicament as we..only their connecting flight was at 8:15. I don’t know if they made their connection or not, but I’m assuming they didn’t as we didn’t make it back 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 airplanes fill up, 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 I found out AFTER we purchased our ‘extra’ tickets that Hawaiian Airlines has an “agreement” with United. We were able to check our bags with Hawaiian Airlines in Maui and THEY transferred them to United in Honolulu for us. That was such a relief with the changes and delays we dealt with. Before that change, we were going to have to pick up bags at baggage claim in Honolulu, check in/re-check bags with United then go BACK through security. With all the delays we dealt with, there just wouldn’t have been enough time to do that.
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