How to Island Hop in Hawaii

Hawaii island hopping will require you fly one of three airlines: Southwest, Hawaiian or Mokulele.
June CasagrandeJul 27, 2021

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You can fly from the Big Island of Hawaii to Maui in just 33 minutes. From Maui, Oahu is just 37 minutes away. To get from Oahu to Kauai, it’s another short 37-minute flight.

With the major islands so close together, surely you can island hop to experience Volcanoes Park on the Big Island, Pearl Harbor on Oahu, Maui’s heavenly Road to Hana and Kauai’s breathtaking Napali Coast all on one trip, right?

Not so fast.

Hawaii island hopping isn’t as breezy as you’d guess. If you’re not careful, FOMI — fear of missing islands — can turn your tropical escape into a blur of airport security checkpoints, rental car agencies and hotel staff telling you your room won’t be ready for three more hours. But if you have the time and you use it wisely, you may be able to get in two or more islands on your Hawaiian vacation. And if you plan right, you can use or earn points or miles for your trip.

Here's how to travel between islands in Hawaii.

How many Hawaiian islands can you see on one trip?

You could easily spend two or three weeks on one of the major Hawaiian islands and never run out of things to see and do. Adding a second island means you have to sacrifice doing something on your first island. Plus, from the time you start packing up to check out of your first island hotel until you’re checked in and ready to explore your second, you lose almost half a day — a good chunk of it spent in traffic, airports and rental car company shuttle buses.

To make the most of your time, plan to visit no more than one island per week. If you have your heart set on a Maui vacation, but absolutely must see Pearl Harbor or Volcanoes Park, you could squeeze them both into an eight-day trip.

For anything less than eight or nine days, pick one island and just say no to future regret.

Which Hawaiian islands can you hop to?

The Hawaiian archipelago comprises 137 islands, but only six host the bulk of overnight visitors. Of these, four are major islands that are connected to the U.S. mainland by nonstop flights:

  • Oahu, home to Waikiki and Pearl Harbor.

  • Maui, home to Haleakala Crater and the Road to Hana.

  • The Big Island of Hawaii, home to Volcanoes National Park and Mauna Kea Observatory.

  • Kauai, home to the famous Napali Coast.

There are two other islands that you can get to via departure points within Hawaii:

  • Lanai, home to two secluded Four Seasons Resorts.

  • Molokai, home to Father Damien’s 19th-century colony for individuals with Hansen’s disease, which was called leprosy at the time.

A few uninhabited islands and islets are popular for snorkeling and kayaking on short day trips. For example, Maui visitors can book snorkel excursions to Molokini Crater.

How do you travel between Hawaiian islands?

You won’t find many ferries braving the choppy seas between the major islands in Hawaii, and only three airlines operate scheduled flights between them: Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Mokulele Airlines. The latter is owned by Southern Airways Express (if you do a Google flight search for interisland routes and see Southern Airways’ name, it’s a Mokulele flight).

So, for Hawaii island hopping flights, your choices are limited.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines operates interisland flights to:

  • Honolulu International Airport on Oahu.

  • Kahului Airport on Maui.

  • Lihue Airport on Kauai.

  • Kona and Hilo airports on the Big Island.

The pandemic caused Hawaiian to suspend flights to Lanai and Molokai in early 2021, and the airline does not plan to revive those routes anytime soon.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest flies interisland to:

  • Oahu.

  • Maui.

  • Kona and Hilo on the Big Island.

  • Kauai.

Mokulele Airlines

Mokulele, whose name means “island hopper” in Hawaiian, flies to:

  • Oahu.

  • Maui.

  • Kona on the Big Island.

  • Molokai.

  • Lanai.

Mokulele is the only option for air travelers to Molokai and Lanai. You can book a seat on one of its 11 Cessna 208EX Grand Caravan propeller planes or charter a flight for groups or private tours. Scheduled flights include some smaller airports where Hawaiian won’t take you, like Hana on Maui and Kamuela-Waimea on the Big Island.

Can you travel between Hawaiian islands by sea?

Though you can’t get to most islands by ferry, Lanai is the exception. You can make the short sea voyage to this unspoiled piece of paradise from Maui.

If you're determined to travel by boat, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines offer itineraries that start and end in Hawaii, stopping at different islands on seven-night itineraries.

Nerdy tip: Cruising isn’t the best option for Hawaii visitors who want to immerse themselves in the spirit of aloha. Your time on each island can be a little rushed and regimented, and your evenings will feel more like a Caribbean cruise than an authentic Hawaiian adventure.

How can you save money island hopping?

A few tips and tricks can help you keep a handle on your budget while island hopping in Hawaii.

Save on bag fees

If you fly Southwest, you won’t pay to check your first two standard bags.

When you fly Hawaiian Airlines between neighbor islands, your first checked bag costs $25 and your second costs $35 — a lot for such a short flight. But HawaiianMiles members pay $15 for their first checked bag and $20 for their second, saving 40% or more. Joining is free, so make sure everyone in your party signs up if you’re going to island hop on Hawaiian Airlines.

You can also get a free checked bag on Hawaiian Airlines if you use the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard® to pay for your tickets, but only the primary cardmember gets the waived bag fees.

Earn miles or points for your travel

If you’re flying Southwest, you can earn valuable Rapid Rewards points redeemable for travel anywhere Southwest flies just by signing up for the loyalty program.

If you island hop on Hawaiian, you should sign up for the HawaiianMiles loyalty program, even if you don’t plan to return to Hawaii. You can easily convert any leftover miles into Hilton Honors points: 10,000 HawaiianMiles will get you 15,000 points, which you can use for hotel stays almost anywhere in the world.

Further, members of the Points program can exchange HawaiianMiles for points in other loyalty programs in their Points Loyalty Wallet.

Get a Hawaiian Airlines or Southwest credit card

If you fly Hawaiian Airlines, use the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard® to pay for your flights and you’ll get 3 miles for every dollar. Plus, you can earn a welcome bonus. Limited Time Offer: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. The card also comes with a 50% companion fare discount, which could light a fire under you to come back to the islands soon.

Southwest Airlines offers a number of credit cards that pay bonus points on Southwest purchases. The $69-annual-fee Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card has the following welcome bonus for new cardmembers: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.

Use a hotel credit card

If you plan to stay in chain hotels, get a credit card that pays bonus points for your stay. Almost every major hotel program has properties in Hawaii, including Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, Wyndham Rewards and IHG Rewards.

Start picking out your preferred hotels early to know which credit card to get. For example, if the historic Moana Surfrider on Oahu is calling to you, be sure to pay with a Marriott Bonvoy credit card like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card. You’ll earn 6 bonus points for every qualifying dollar you charge with the hotel. If economy brands are more your style, Wyndham Rewards members can earn points at the conveniently located Ramada Plaza Waikiki.

Save on rental cars

At DiscountHawaiiCarRental.com you can find discounted rates for rental cars from Avis, Thrifty, Dollar, Enterprise and Alamo. If you plan to spend most of your time lounging at the resort and just a little time exploring, you can rent a car for just a day at many resort areas, saving money on the rental and parking too.

Reserve your rental car early. When the pandemic hit, Hawaii rental car locations started reducing their fleets, shipping cars overseas. Wait too long to reserve and you could be looking at rates starting at $1,400 per day.

Wait a little longer and you might find no rental cars available at all.

But if you book a few months in advance, you could find rates starting at $130 a day or lower. Most car rentals don’t require prepayment or a deposit. So if rental agencies replenish their inventories and prices go down from there, you can always cancel and rebook.

Use your Priority Pass membership to get into the Honolulu Airport lounge

If you have a credit card that comes with Priority Pass Select membership, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can enjoy a free snack, drink and a serene place to wait for your flight in the Plumeria Lounge at Honolulu airport.

Compare package deals from Hawaii specialists

Hawaiian Airlines Vacations packages can sometimes include negotiated hotel rates, negotiated rental car rates or the airline’s own flight deals. Another agency specializing in Hawaii, Pleasant Holidays sometimes offers good deals on Hawaii island hopping packages. Get a price for your whole trip by searching its websites, then compare the total with the deals you can get booking flights and hotels separately.

Budget for resort fees and parking fees

Hawaii is infamous for outrageous resort fees and, in Honolulu, equally high parking rates. Together, they can add $100 a night to your hotel costs. Budget accordingly.

Should you island hop in Hawaii?

If you don’t have at least eight or nine days to spend in Hawaii, don’t island hop. You’ll have a better time taking full advantage of your first-choice island. But if you have more time or you just can’t resist, you can get between the major islands by air.

Take advantage of savings opportunities, like Hawaiian Airlines’ HawaiianMiles neighbor island checked bag discount, and use co-branded credit cards to maximize your rewards at every hotel you hop to.


How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:

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