Getting Around the Hawaiian Islands

Flying into Lihue Airport on Kauai

 Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

One of the most exciting aspects of a Hawaiian vacation is the state's potential to provide travelers with multiple different microclimates, terrains, and atmospheres through island hopping. Although the concept seems simple enough, visitors usually have a question or two when it comes to supplementing their Hawaiian vacation with an interisland excursion. Don’t let that scare you away from experiencing more of what Hawaii has to offer; The opportunity to immerse yourself in an entirely different side of the state (and trust us, they are all very different) is definitely worth it!

Traveling Between Islands by Air

Unsurprisingly, there are limited choices when it comes to airlines that offer interisland flights in Hawaii. The favorite among locals has historically been Hawaiian Airlines, as it offers the largest range of available flight times and high levels of service (plus, they’ve been around since 1929). Hawaiian Island has flights to all six major islands, with airports in Lihue, Honolulu, Hoolehua, Kapalua, Kahului, Lanai City, Kona, and Hilo. Hawaiian Airlines also has a subdivision called Ohana that includes a small fleet of smaller planes used for select interisland routes. The recent addition of Southwest to the Hawaii airline scene in 2019 brought even more interisland flights out of Oahu, Maui, Kona, Lihue, and Hilo. 

Your other choice is to take a smaller 9-seater plane with Mokulele Airlines (recently merged with Makani Kai Air), which is an experience more akin to a private plane charter than a typical commercial airplane. These airlines are more convenient in bustling Honolulu because they are located in the commercial terminal at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (Honolulu International Airport), meaning travelers are completely separated from the main section of the busy airport. Another perk of the smaller planes is access to the smaller airports throughout the islands, such as Hana Airport on Maui, Waimea-Kohala Airport on the Big Island, and Kalaupapa Airport in Molokai. Usually, Mokulele and Makani Kai Air require guests to check-in later than regular flights, and the prices tend to be cheaper as well.

On average, roundtrip interisland flights will cost about $150, depending on the islands. Flight times are typically so short that flight attendants barely have time to hand out beverages, so don’t worry too much about keeping yourself entertained. For example, flight time between Honolulu, Oahu and Kahului, Maui (probably the most popular route with tourists) is capped at 30 minutes on average. If you’re lucky enough to snag a window seat, there’s nothing quite like the view of taking off from one stunning tropical island and touching down on another.

Another way to get around is by helicopter, though most commercial companies won't drop you off. This can be especially exciting, as helicopters allow for better access to more remote areas from a safe distance. Blue Hawaiian offers a 50-minute West Maui and Molokai helicopter tour for $270 per person, and Paradise Helicopters has private excursions that launch from Lanai and includes the north side of Molokai, or a “Greater Maui” tour that explores the islands of Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Molokai from above.

Traveling Between Islands by Sea

Short of an organized cruise, there really isn’t a way for tourists to get from island to island via boat, with the exception of Maui and Lanai. The interisland Hawaii Superferry ceased operation in 2009 due to environmental concerns, though bringing the ferry back has remained a hot debate among the state in the years following its closure.

As of now, the only commercial ferry that travels between islands is with the Expeditions Ferry that runs between Maui and Lanai. The service offers the perfect opportunity for a day trip from popular Lahaina to quaint Lanai City or Hulopoe Beach Park. It only takes about an hour to travel between the two harbors, and there are five departures and returns each day. One-way tickets cost $30 for adults and $20 for children.

When Is the Best Time to Travel?

Flights between the interisland terminals on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii Island depart every hour or so from early in the morning to mid-evening. Because many locals commuted between islands, airlines tend to raise and lower prices based on popular commuting times. If you’re on vacation, take advantage of your flexible schedule by avoiding “rush hour” times such as mornings around 9 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Early morning and late evening flights are typically less expensive.

Along the same line, weekend plane tickets almost always cost more due to locals traveling to different islands for weekend staycations or family visits. If your schedule allows for it, booking an interisland trip on the weekdays will almost always save you money and keep you away from larger crowds.  

When Is the Best Time to Book?

Airlines in Hawaii love to offer flash sales and seasonal deals with interisland flights, so sign up for miles programs or keep an eye on the websites. When in doubt, you can bet on cheaper prices the further out you book like with any plane ticket. 

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when planning an interisland adventure is that the rules for flying don’t change just because the flights are so short. Unless you’re flying in a 9-seater plane with Mokulele, you’ll have to arrive at the airport with enough time to go through airport security. Throw in the travel time to and from the airport, and it will still take at least half a day to island-hop—cutting into your precious vacation time. Many visitors overdo it, so be sure to keep that balance of lost time in mind when sorting out your itinerary.

Travel Tips

  • You can absolutely shop around for deals on interisland plane tickets with websites like Expedia or Travelocity, but since the prices are usually quite low to begin with, there is often little to no price difference between booking directly with the airline and a comparison site. Plus, booking directly with the airline leaves less room for error should you run into issues with your flight.
  • If you are a frequent Hawaii traveler, look into the Hawaiian Airlines Neighbour Island Travel Plan, where you can buy a set number of direct interisland flights for a reduced price.
  • Keep hotel or rental check-in and check-out times in mind when booking interisland plane tickets. Saving $15 on a ticket might not seem worth it when you’re stuck in the lobby with your luggage for hours if your room isn’t ready.
  • When booking interisland flights, book non-stop whenever possible. The distance between airports is so short that a layover will undoubtedly add a ton of unnecessary extra travel time.
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