Tips for Flying to the Big Island

There are many options on the Internet for finding best priced flights when you know the destination airport.   We have been flying to the Big Island for years from the mainland and other Islands and wanted to pass along some use tips when searching for the best flight price and times.

First if you are staying on the Kohala Coast (Mauna Lani, Waikoloa, Mauna Kea) or in Kailua-Kona then you will want to fly into the Kona Airport (Code: KOA).   The Kona airport is an outdoor airport by the sea.   When you land you will walk off a ramp or stairs onto the tarmac like it was years ago. They have been able to maintain an outdoor airport without jetways and terminal due to the year round warm sunny weather.

There is a second airport on the island in Hilo (Code: ITO).   This airport has far fewer flights from the mainland and is a 90 minute drive the resort areas so Kona is generally preferred.

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Flying from the Mainland

There are a few routes to get to Kona from the mainland.

  1. Direct flights to Kona (Direct flights from Vancouver BC (YVR), Seattle (SEA), Portland (PDX) , San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN),   Salt Lake City (SLC), Phoenix (PHX), Anchorage (ANC) , and Denver (DEN).   The airlines flying these planes are typically 757 and 737 jets with economy seating 3+3.
  1. Connecting via Honolulu.  If you are flying from any other city than above its sometimes useful to consider flying to Honolulu and taking the 25 minute connecting Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines or  Island Air to Kona.   There are larger planes that fly direct to Honolulu (HNL) from New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), Washington DC (IAD), Houston (IAH), Chicago (ORD), Atlanta (ATL), Dallas (DFW), Toronto (YYZ), Calgary (YYC), and Vancouver (YVR) in addition to the cities above.   The airlines often use larger 767 or 777 wide-bodied planes for these routes which feel more spacious and sometimes have features like WiFi Internet (for a fee).

We have sometimes found that flights are dramatically less expensive when flying through Honolulu versus the direct flight to Kona.   Some of the tips we look at are:

  1. Price the round trip to Kona direct or connecting through one of the mainland cities above.
  2. Price the round trip to Kona specifying Honolulu as a stop. This can be done by selecting airport experience or pricing as a multiple destination flight.

We sometimes try combinations where we pick multiple destination on the airline site and price from mainland city to Kona but then Honolulu back to mainland city.     Of course you will need to book a Kona to Honolulu short flight leg on an inter-island airline if you use this approach.  If you do this check with the airline as to whether they will allow “inter-airline” baggage tagging so that you won’t have to pick up your bags in Honolulu.  If you do need to pick up your bags and re-check in, make sure to allow for sufficient time between flights!

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Flying from another Island

When flying between the Hawaiian islands you will need to take one of three airlines (Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele, and Island Air).   Hawaiian Airlines flies the bigger jets while the others fly smaller turbo props.     The airlines are smart and know that a large number of their customers are tourists that typically checkout of a home or hotel in the morning and then travel in the time before the check-in time at the home or hotel at their destination. This means flights between 10am and 4pm tend to be much more expensive (as much as double ) the costs of flights earlier or later.   If you can book well in advance or have flexible travel times you can save some money.   You can fly direct from Kona to Honolulu, Oahu (HNL) and Kahalui, Maui (OGG).

Flying from Japan

Currently flights from Japan all go to Honolulu but an exciting announcement was made earlier this year that Kona is going to get customs clearing facility allowing direct flights from Tokyo Haneda airport starting December 2016.   This will make it easier for guests from Japan to visit the Big Island.

Flying from the Rest of the World.

We see lots of guests from all over the world.   There are flights from China, Korea, New Zealand and Australia to Honolulu and then its an easy 25 minute connection to Kona.   Flying from Europe usually involves flying to Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago or New York.   Despite the long distance and 11 or 12 hour timezone change people from all over the world come to the Big Island for its amazing weather, beaches and of course the Lava!

Where ever you are traveling from we hope you find an amazing deal and have safe travels to Paradise.

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