Edited Feb. 2018
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 ‘bumps in the plan’ are quite possible. But…just do the research, make a plan, then stay flexible and you should 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. This is pretty important when booking rental cars…and when checking fares. 🙂 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. While in the past, all flights into Hawaii from the Mainland went through Honolulu, recently, Maui’s OGG (Lahaina), Kona (KOA) on the Big Island and Lihui (LIH) on Kauai have become secondary hubs for major airlines flying from the Mainland. (secondary to Honolulu)
Over the years, there have been several airlines that “hop” from island to island. However, all but Hawaiian Air and Mokulele Airlines have struggled to maintain a long term presense there. (i.e. they’ve gone under…) Among those coming and going have been Allegiant Air (leaving Aug. 2016 after only 4 yrs) Mesa Air/Go! Airlines (operating for 7 yrs until 2014), Aloha Airlines who filed for bankruptcy in 2008 after 60 yrs flying over Hawaii and Island Air who most recently ceased operations Nov. 2017. On our trip to the islands, we flew on 3 of these….Hawaiian Air, Go! and Mokulele. Since Go! is no longer in business, I’ll forgo my evaluation of them (Our first flight with them went perfectly…but they cancelled our second flight with them requiring us to think and act fast in order to not miss our United flight home…). Since they’re no longer in business, it’s a waste of time to talk any more about them… I’ll just give my ‘take’ on the two still in business – Hawaiian Air and Mokulele.
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, (perhaps why they’re still in business??) and their baggage fees are higher than the smaller lines ($25/bag vs. $15-17/bag). However, their more frequent flights, larger planes and more reliable aircraft makes them the preferred airline of many.
Mokuele is operared by Mesa and is the one small airline that has managed to compete with Hawaiian Air and stay in business. Their smaller aircraft (Cessnas) allow them to fly into the smaller airports – Oahu (2 airports), Maui (3 airports), Molokai (2 airports), Lana’i and The Big Island (2 airports) which may be what has sustained them. ?? At this time, Mokulele does not service Kauai…
Do NOT let the size of these aircraft deter you. Flying with them was actually a pleasant experience for us. 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”. 🙂
Here are some of the wonderful pics I got while flying over Maui…and into Kona:
I would fly with them again!!!
Southwest Airlines….coming soon??? Possibly….
Southwest is considering joining the list of airlines flying inter-island flights…. We’ll see how they do…Perhaps they will have a better chance than some of the smaller companies that have attempted this. I KNOW their ‘no baggage fees’ will make them competitive… We’ll see…
Don’t immediately shy away from booking on Mokulele to save some money… As long as you’re not booking too far in advance you should be fine. We actually really ENJOYED our flight on that little Cessna. 🙂 But….if we HAD had a problem, it would have been fairly easy to book a last minute ticket on Hawaiian Air.
Finding the Cheapest and Shortest Flights: As I’ve said many times on this blog, explore all your options before making a decision. We flew from Oahu to Kona to Maui, then back to Oahu for our flight home– on 3 different inter-island airlines. (one of those on Mesa Go! 🙂 ) 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 Mokulele and their Cessna’s. They ARE a savings over Hawaiian Air. Do your research and be flexible and you can save some money.
- These inter-island flights don’t have to be booked MONTHS in advance…but as with anything, the price is affected by the Law of Supply and Demand – meaning, as their inventory shrinks, the rates go up. We found that booking 3-5 weeks in advance in the Spring secured fairly good rates… My assumption would be that 6-8 wks in advance would probably be best during the busier summer season.
Editor Note: On our last trip to Hawaii, ticket to and from the Islands were either round trip (from the same airport) OR one way tickets allowing you to fly into one island and home from another. That, of course, was VERY expensive. So…we made the choice to fly in and out of Oahu. That meant that after completing our island hopping, we had to get back to Honolulu for our return flight…involving an interisland flight from Kona to Honolulu that last day. The multi-city ticket now being offered negates most of the rest of what I ahve to say as it centers around do’s and don’t’s of purchasing that ticket to get ‘back’ before your return flight to Mainland. But just in case you find yourself in a situation like we were, I’ve put this information here. If this doesn’t interest you, scroll down to the bottom of the page for other articles in the Hawaii series.
- If booking an inter-island flight to catch a connecting flight back to the Mainland, either allow a LOT of time for delays/cancellations…or better yet, book with Hawaiian Air. Their frequent flight schedule will get you where you need to be…even if you encounter delays.
- If you’re booking an inter-island flight to connect for your flight back to the Mainland, allow enough time for possible delays. OUR EXPERIENCE: We were due to arrive in Honolulu at 6:30 on Mesa Go! Airlines then fly out at 10 pm (on United). With the delays/cancellations we encountered and having to race to purchase a ticket on Hawaiian Air, we barely made our connection. Had we been more “squeezed” for time, we probably would not have made it. Give yourself time to deal with unexpected situations.
- If booking your flights this way, be aware that certain Inter-island airlines have “agreements” with the LARGE airlines (American, United, Delta, etc…) to transfer your luggage from the smaller carrier to their aircraft FOR YOU. It’s So nice to not have to pick up bags at baggage claim, then recheck them for your flight to the Mainland…and go through security again.
Other articles in this series