The short answer is no, but with a few caveats. I flew Hawaiian Airlines with my boyfriend recently from Honolulu to Kahului on Maui. When we checked in online, we were offered an upgrade to first class for $50 per person.
We were both planning to check a bag, and neither of us have status on Hawaiian. The airline lists a checked bag fee of $25, but if you join HawaiianMiles, their frequent flyer program, a checked bag costs only $15.
The upgrade to first included a free checked bag. So essentially I was paying a $35 premium per person to upgrade, and it comes with a few other benefits, like lounge access and priority check-in and boarding.
Inter-island flights are super frequent, which made me think they’d be a lot like the Delta and American shuttles between DC, New York and Boston. So I kind of thought I’d show up at the airport and be at the gate a few minutes later.
Apparently Honolulu Airport in the early afternoon is not a place where anything happens quickly. When I got there I half expected to see a giraffe, because it was a total zoo. An airport employee told me big crowds were typical for this time of day.
There were self-serve kiosks for printing bag tags and boarding passes. There was also a dedicated (but still super long) line for first class check-in. Regardless of whether you checked in via kiosk or the agent at the first class desk, you had to bring your own tagged bag to a big holding area that did not look very organized. First class bags did get a special, brightly-colored tag marked “priority.” More on that later.
After dropping off our bags and saying a brief prayer that they would make it to Maui, we waited in the longest PreCheck line I’ve ever experienced, at about 25 minutes (I know, I’ve been pretty lucky).
Lesson learned: the next time I’m traveling from Honolulu to another island, either pick an off-peak time of day, or consider swimming.
After clearing security, we made our way to the Premier Club, which was a total bust.
At the gate, I was first to board. The seats in first were very nice. The color of the seats and the stitching were unique. It all appeared to be clean and relatively new. Leg room was good too, comparable to other domestic first class products.
Sadly, there were no pre-departure beverages. Once we were airborne we were offered a drink, but of course there’s no time for refills on a 25-minute flight. Flight attendants distributed the same trail mix to first and coach passengers. And that was the extent of the service.
At Kahului Airport, my bag came out fairly quickly. My boyfriend’s, on the other hand, did not. We waited until all the bags from the flight were unloaded, and still nothing. This is a bit odd since we dropped off our bags at the same time and in the same place.
We went to the Hawaiian baggage desk, and they told us there was another flight from Honolulu arriving in 45 minutes. If it wasn’t on that flight, we’d fill out a claim form (and perhaps get to see how Chase’s baggage delay protection works in practice, since the flight was purchased on my boyfriend’s Chase Sapphire Reserve card).
The agent at the desk said that Hawaiian does not track bags, so it was anybody’s guess where the bag was at this point. Super. (To her credit, she was very nice, which must be so hard when you’re dealing with frustrated people all day.)
Thankfully, to our great relief, the bag was on the next flight. Even though we checked in 75 minutes before departure, the bag somehow didn’t make it on our flight to Maui. And remember those priority tags? Pretty sure they’re meaningless.
On the return flight, I stuck with economy. I paid the $15 to check my bag (my boyfriend did not check his this time, choosing instead to never let it out of his sight). Since Hawaiian uses 717s on inter-island flights, which have 2×3 seating, you still have a great chance of either a window or aisle seat in economy. For the 45-minute flight, it was perfectly comfortable.
For such short flights, you can save a few bucks and just fly economy. The only circumstances under which I would actually recommend paying 50 bucks to upgrade yourself are if you:
- Need to check more than one bag, in which case the price premium almost evens itself out (first class comes with two free checked bags);
- Have a lot of time to kill at the airport and don’t have Priority Pass or other lounge access (as I mentioned previously, the Premier Club isn’t good, but at least it has free wifi);
- Highly value the marginal additional comfort; or
- Hate money but think setting it on fire is too messy