Hawaii’s on sale with cheap flights from United and Hawaiian Airlines

Winter may not have officially started yet, but it certainly feels like it has. With temps in the double, and even single, digits and snowstorms covering the country, there’s no denying that a tropical vacation sounds pretty darn good right about now. Luckily escaping to the warmth of Hawaii this winter will be surprisingly cheap thanks to two great airfare sales.

Book a ticket through the Hawaiian Airlines sale by December 16 for travel January 5 to March 11 and April 6 to June 10 and you could fly for as little as $288 round trip (plus taxes). Seattle or Portland to Honolulu, and Portland to Maui are the cheapest routes at $288 round trip. Los Angeles and San Francisco to Honolulu are $368 and Seattle to Maui is $318.

Rates are even lower through United’s sale, which ends a day earlier on Dec 15. The travel dates are more limited – just January 12 to March 4 – but there is a wider variety of cities to choose from. For example, Chicago to Maui is $302, LA to Honolulu is $261, San Francisco to Kona is $265, and Denver to Maui is $285.
And if you need a reason to go to Hawaii this winter (other than “it’s warm there!”) Hawaiian Airlines offers a few more. January to April is whale watching season, now is the perfect time for surfers to catch huge waves formed by storms, and in February there are several Chinese New Year celebrations and the Big Island’s Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival. Plus, did I mention, it’s warm there?

If you can’t afford the flight, check out Portland International Airport’s website by January 2 and enter to win a pair of tickets from Portland to Maui. Okay, actually you can choose Maui or Chicago, but let’s be real – you’ll choose Maui.

Hawaiian airlines offers free flights to the mainland

Hawaii seems like a beautiful place to live – great coffee, awesome surf conditions, nearly perfect weather at all times. But, hundreds of miles out in the Pacific, I imagine it starts to feel a bit isolated, especially with the high cost of flights from the islands back to the mainland US. But for those Hawaiian islanders looking to get away to the rest of the US for a while, Hawaiian airlines, has a pretty great deal.

For every inter-island round trip flight you book on Hawaiian Airlines, you’ll get a discount on your flight from Hawaii to other destinations in the US. The discount starts at 10% (for one round trip flight) and goes all the way up to 100% (yep, a free flight!) after you’ve taken 10 round trip flights around the islands.

Inter-island flights began racking up points towards the discounts on August 3 and will continue through December 31, 2009. The discount can be applied towards flights booked for now through June 15, 2010.

The discount applies to flights to select cities in California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada.

Airline fees continue, necessary evil

Yes, you’ve heard about this all year, and you’ll probably hear about it for a while to come. Airlines are still looking for ways to pull every dollar they can out of your wallets, but the reality is that they have no choice. Seven of the nine largest airlines in the United States had a rough time in August, making these measures more important than passengers might realize.

The second bag, according to an article in USA Today, remains the most popular fee target for airlines. Continental Airlines, US Airways and American Airlines recently announced that they are going to charge for this, and Hawaiian Airlines is going to charge passengers for the first checked bag on flights between islands beginning September 14, 2009.

I understand charging for checked luggage (the money has to come from somewhere), and I honestly don’t see charging for a second bag as a bad idea. Frankly, it can be pretty frustrating to stand in line behind someone who’s fumbling with more luggage than he or she can move along. The first bag? That’s a bit different. This fee could cause passengers to push the envelope with carry-ons, which is likely to trigger arguments with gate agents and flight attendants, tie up the boarding process and result in hefty doses of frustration for everyone else on the plane.

I’m more a fan of Southwest‘s new policy, which will put passengers at the front of the line – even ahead of frequent fliers and those paying premium fares – for a fee of $10 each way. Since the airline doesn’t assign seating, this small sum offers the chance to get the best seats on the plane. I’m not crazy about the notion that it comes at the expense of frequent flier comfort (alienating your best customers is rarely a good idea), but the price is low enough that these passengers would probably pay it anyway. For this perk, I’d definitely pay more than $10.

There’s money in extra fees, as we’ve discussed on Gadling in the past. Some analysts predict that these charges could be good for more than $2 billion a year for an industry that could definitely use it. The airlines need to be careful, though, as going to far could lead to disgruntled (and lost) customers.

Passengers, however, should be realistic. Fares are cheap. To make ends meet, airlines have been cutting flights and services, generally making the experience incredibly uncomfortable.

In fact, taking this approach to the extreme might be a good idea. Airlines could offer dirt-cheap prices for passengers who want nothing more than to get from one place to another. Then, if you want to enhance your experience – with a meal, cocktail or better seat – you can pay a little more. This à la carte approach would empower passengers to create their own experiences, ultimately improving customer service and airline responsiveness. To an extent, it’s already happening, but to make the strategy work, it would have to become part of a cohesive offer.

That said, airlines would have to be careful with their general cuts. Fewer flights, less legroom and degraded customer service affect everybody, and there’s no way to work improvements in based on price (with the exception of flying in business or first class, which involves a considerable price gap). Finding a middle ground could change both the airline industry and passenger perception of the flying experience.

Airlines post worst on-time performance of the year

June was the worst month of the year for airline on-time performance since December, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Together, U.S. airlines had an on-time arrival rate of 76.1 percent, down from 80.5 percent in May. But, they had fewer delayed flights than in June 2008.

Hawaiian Airlines put up the best on-time results in June, with Delta subsidiary Comair at the other end of the spectrum. Continental had the fewest delays among the legacy carriers (those that had a large footprint before airline deregulation in 1978), and American Airlines was at the bottom of the barrel for this category.

Unsurprisingly, weather, equipment problems and airport congestion were cited as the most frequent reasons for flight delays. To count as a delay, a flight must be more than 15 minutes late – canceled and diverted flights also count. Through most of the year, flight delays fell largely because airlines were cutting routes and servicing fewer passengers.

Mishandled baggage fell, as well, year-over-year, though it was up from May to June. Reports were down 20 percent from June 2008 to June 2009. AirTran had the fewest gripes from passenger. American Eagle (a unit of American Airlines) had the most.

Aloha Airlines to end passenger service Monday

Grant’s post about Aloha Airlines filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy wasn’t exactly the sound of a death knell, but since then, the airline has decided to call it quits on passenger service. After Monday, as in March 31, according to this AP article, there will be no more passenger reservations taken.

Those who have Aloha Airlines tickets already may be rerouted on United Airlines flights to the mainland or on Hawaiian Airlines if travel is between the islands. Those who don’t want those options, but who want their money back instead, can file in bankruptcy court. I don’t envy people who are left to sort out their travel plans on such short notice. Hopefully, they saw this coming. The Aloha Airlines Web site does have links to help passengers rebook.

The demise of the airline that has been around since 1946 is due to unfair competition and rising fuel costs the airline’s money folks say. I feel bad that Aloha Airlines hasn’t been able to continue. The first time I went to Hawaii, I flew Aloha Airlines from Oahu to The Big Island on a package deal. It was much cheaper than I had imagined it would be. The rental car and two nights in a hotel was included. The best thing about arranging for the trip was that we were able to set it up after we were already visiting my relatives on Oahu. For people who travel within Hawaii, I bet they are bummed.

The shipping function of Aloha Airlines is being taken over by a Seattle-based company. Maybe people could package themselves up as a way to get off the island with their unused tickets? In case you’re one of the one affected, here’s a link with questions and answers.