The most cost-effective way to explore Hawaii in its entirety is to book just one flight to the Rainbow State, then explore via a technique known as Hawaii island hopping.
Average per-person flights to “the Rainbow State” range from $79 at the lowest end up to $500+ each way. Once you land, however, the cost of island hopping in Hawaii can be as affordable as $45 per trip!
In this guide, we have simplified the complexities of island hopping through Hawaii. This includes information on all of the following important topics:
- Restrictions and warnings for Hawaii travel in 2022.
- How to find the cheapest flights to Hawaii.
- Available options and average costs for island hopping in Hawaii.
- *Traveling via the Hawaii ferry
- Getting to the less-inhabited Hawaiian islands of Molokai, Lanai, and even the “Forbidden Island” of Ni’ihau.
- Hawaii island hopping itineraries.
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Traveling to Hawaii in 2022
Hawai‘i is welcoming most travelers again. However, there are some pre-travel requirements for international travelers visiting Hawai‘i.
Domestic Travel to Hawaii
As of March 26, 2022, there are no COVID-related requirements for domestic passengers arriving in Hawai‘i.
You can find current information, advice, and guidelines related to COVID and travel in Hawaii on the Hawaii Covid-19 website here.
International Travel to Hawaii
For those traveling from international destinations with direct flights to Hawaii, you will need to follow federal international requirements. There are no additional State of Hawai‘i requirements.
As of June 12, 2022, international visitors are no longer required to show a negative COVID-19 viral test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board their flight. However, the CDC is still requiring proof of vaccination for international visitors to travel to the United States. Requirements are constantly changing so ensure you check the CDC website or within your airline for current guidelines.
Hawaii Island Hopping Overview
There is a specific order of operations that you should go through when arranging your trip around the Hawaiian Islands. The planning steps in order are:
- Flights to/from Hawaii.
- Inter-island hopping to any of the 4 major Hawaiian islands you care to visit.
- Travel to the non-major Hawaiian Islands (Molokai, Lanai, and Ni’ihau).
- Planning your itinerary for each island.
This Hawaii travel guide will walk you through each step with specific instructions as well as tips, tools, and considerations to help you find the best deals.
Step 1: Mainland Flights to & from Hawaii
The most expensive flights on a Hawaiian island hopping vacation will be to and from the islands. Therefore, Step 1 is planning your dates, starting island, and ending island.
Travel Tip: Always book your flight TO Hawaii as a non-stop flight, if possible.
Too often, something unforeseen happens that can ruin an entire trip. Perhaps your first flight gets delayed and causes you to miss your connecting flight. Worse yet, what happens if you land on time but your connecting flight gets canceled altogether?!
Now you’re stuck away from home with bookings and reservations that may not be refundable and your entire trip begins to unravel!
Getting delayed on your way home is typically less catastrophic, potentially allowing you to save some money with a layover on your return flight.
The three considerations for expected flight prices to Hawaii are the city of departure, the island of arrival, and the date of travel. As most people don’t have multiple options for their departure city, we will primarily focus on the other factors.
Most departure cities service the 4 major Hawaiian islands at the same base price. Prices then go up based on availability.
*California is an exception, with the cheapest base fares to Oahu & Maui consistently.
As there are usually more flights to Oahu & Maui due to greater demand, you have a better chance of finding a discounted rate to these islands than Kauai or Big Island.
Real life example:
We checked flights departing from Portland (PDX) on Monday, September 14, 2022 to each of the four islands (KOA, HNL, OGG, LIH) and found identical prices and flight options for each!
The cheapest option was consistently $138 with 1-stop (through United Airlines), or $228 non-stop (through Alaska Airlines), regardless of which island we chose to fly to.
How to Find the Cheapest Flights to Hawaii
Having flexible travel dates is the single-most-important factor in finding affordable airfare. If you have an open schedule, there is one particular tool that is incredible for performing variable searches to find you the best possible deal: SkyScanner.
SkyScanner is an incredible tool to find the cheapest flights to Hawaii (or anywhere else), particularly for people with a flexible schedule. It allows you to search for variable dates in a variety of ways such as by day, cheapest month, or even cheapest by year, and searches ALL AIRLINES for you!
As the flights to and from Hawaii are going to be more expensive than the cost of island hopping once you’ve arrived, you need to arrange these first.
Begin by searching prices within your possible date range to each of the four major airports (don’t forget to prioritize non-stop flights, if possible). Those are:
- Oahu; Honolulu Airport (HNL)
- Maui: Kahului Airport (OGG)
- Big Island: Kona Airport (KOA)
- Kauai: Lihue Airport (LIH)
Once you have found the best flight to Hawaii, work your way backward by now finding the cheapest flight home from any other island.
Example: Someone living in Phoenix, AZ has roughy 2 weeks of paid vacation time for 2022 that they can use anytime and want to visit whenever flights are cheapest.
1: Check “Non-stop flights only”See Image Above
2: From “Phoenix, AZ” (Any means it will search nearby airports as well)
3: To Honolulu (HNL)
4: Depart: Cheapest Month
5: Write down best date and price, then repeat for flights to OGG, KOA, & LIH.
6: Repeat process in reverse, finding the cheapest flight options home.
Try to make sure they are from two different islands if you plan on island hopping!
Tips on Flights to/from Hawaii
- Get the largest carry-on suitcase allowed and only bring carry-on luggage! You will lose a lot of time and money dealing with checked bags while island hopping! It is actually cheaper to buy a suitcase than to pay luggage fees.
- Always book your flight TO Hawaii as a non-stop (if possible).
- Begin your planning by finding the best flights to and from Hawaii. Use SkyScanner to research options using its amazing variable search abilities.
- If pricing is the same to each island for your travel dates, begin at either Kauai or Big Island to avoid expensive inter-island flights between these two most distant Hawaiian islands.
- Try to book a window seat on your flights! It typically isn’t that important, but the views flying in and out of Hawaii are outstanding.
Step 1 FAQs: Mainland to Hawaii Flights
Which is the cheapest Hawaiian island to fly into?
Specific dates will determine the answer to this, but Oahu (HNL) and Maui (OGG) will usually be the cheapest Hawaiian islands to fly in and out of.
What is the best place to fly to Hawaii from?
California, specifically Southern California and San Francisco, is the best place to fly to Hawaii from with the cheapest and shortest flights available.
Which Hawaiian Island is best to start island hopping from?
If prices are the same, begin at the most distant islands of Kauai or Big Island and start island hopping down the chain. Otherwise, begin at whichever you can get to most affordably for your specific travel dates.
Inter-island flights are the same price with the only exception being Big Island to/from Kauai, so this is the only flight you need to avoid if possible.
Step 2: Hawaii Island Hopping
Once you have arranged your tickets to and from Hawaii, Step 2 is to figure out in which order you’ll visit the four major islands, as well as how to get from one to the next. It is time to become an island hopper!
The amount of island hopping you can do is entirely dependent on your available days and preferred pace of travel.
This section will provide critical information for island hopping between the four major Hawaiian Islands including travel times, pricing, and available options for getting around.
Island Hopping with Commercial Flights
The easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to travel between the islands will almost always be a commercial flight through Hawaiian Airlines.
However, another intriguing option is Mokulele Airlines (covered in the small-plane section next).
Hawaiian Airlines services the four major airports on each island, plus Hilo airport on the Big Island. Flights to and from Hilo are the most expensive, however.
Southwest is the only other commercial airline with inter-island Hawaii flights but they are more limited and do not service Kauai at all.
Hawaii Inter-Island Commercial Flight Pricing
The best way to travel between Hawaiian islands is by flying with Hawaiian Airlines. They offer a consistent base cost of $45 per passenger between any of the major islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Kona. Of course, this rate may not always be available, but it is a near certainty if you book a few months in advance.
This means that regardless of where you fly into and island hop to next, the costs will usually be the same.
The only exception is inter-island flights between the two most distant islands of Kauai and Big Island. These begin at $83 for a 1-stop flight or $108 for direct flights. For this reason, you should try to arrange your Hawaii island hopping itinerary to avoid direct travel between the two.
Hawaiian Airlines should always be your first option for cheap travel between the islands. In fact, it is only really worth checking for Southwest flights if you are not finding the $45 base rate from Hawaiian. At that point, you may as well check Southwest pricing (just remember that they do not service Kauai).
Hawaii Inter-Island Commercial Flight Times
Nearly all inter-island flights, regardless of destination, are 45 minutes or less. Also, Hawaii’s airports are much smaller than most (with the exception of Honolulu HNL).
If you are not checking bags as recommended, your total time spent commuting from one island to the next will be no more than 2-3 hours including, wait and boarding times.
The absolute longest flight between the main airports is between Kauai (LIH) and Kona (KOA) and is still only 52 minutes.
Mokulele Airlines: Small Plane Flights
If you prefer the experience of flying in a prop-plane (which uses a spinning propellor at the front) or have never had the opportunity, Mokulele Airlines is a fun and affordable option! Their airplanes are much smaller, holding no more than 14 passengers.
The great thing about flying with Mokulele is that they fly lower in elevation and every seat is first class! That is, everyone gets their own window with incredible views of the islands as you fly in and out. This is an especially amazing option for photographers.
This small airline services more Hawaii destinations than even the commercial operators, including the sister islands of Molokai and Lanai, as well as non-major airports such as Hana.
Pros to Flying with Mokulele
- Unbeatable views
- More comfortable seating
- Faster boarding on/off
- Services the most airports
- Bucket list experience
Cons to Flying with Mokulele
- Not for people already anxious about flying and turbulence
- Less availability
- Typically higher pricing (but not always)
When to Consider Mokulele Airlines for Island Hopping
*HINT: Non-major airports and specifically between Kona <-> Maui*
Generally, you will want to stick to the major Hawaiian airports as this is where you will find necessary arrival services such as rental cars, cabs, and Ubers, etc. Your accommodation is equally more likely to be accessible from a major hub than a smaller airport.
Because of those considerations, a commercial airline will typically be the most cost-effective option if cheap flights between the islands is your priority.
Of course, this is not always the case! The small planes of Mokulele Airlines allow flights to small airports that may be nearer to your accommodation. The most likely examples are flights to Lahaina in West Maui, Hana in East Maui, or Waimea on the Big Island.
There are also certain flights that are competitively priced and some that commercial airlines don’t offer at all! In these instances, anyone who wants the adventure of a prop-plane commute should fly with Mokulele.
Specifically, the cheapest island hopping flight Mokulele Airlines offers is between Kona (KOA) and Maui (OGG) starting at $48.
This is only $3 more than Hawaiian Airlines and provides a far more unique experience.
The route map below shows the small plane options that exist for island hopping around Hawaii. Check the prices on the Mokulele Airlines website and try to include at least one flight through them, if possible.
The easiest and cheapest flight between major islands will be between Kona (KOA) and Maui (OGG).
The best option for those who want to see it all will be from Lanai to Molokai for $39.
More on that in the Step 3 section.
Hawaii Ferries for Island Hopping
As of now, there is no way to island hop in Hawaii by ferry with the exception of services to the small sister island of Lanai from Maui.
You may be wondering about island hopping Hawaii by boat, and perhaps have even heard about the Hawaii Superferry.
This was a transportation company that began in 2007 and attempted to create a ferry system that would service vehicles and passengers around the Hawaiian islands.
Fortunately for Mother Nature but unfortunately for tourists and residents, continued environmental concerns and legal issues forced the company bankrupt just two years later.
Additionally, ferry services to Molokai from Maui were also closed in October 2021. In short, there is no way to island hop by ferry in Hawaii, except from Maui to Lanai.
We will cover how to reach the small Hawaiian islands in the next section.
Step 2 FAQs: Hawaii Island Hopping
What is the cheapest way to travel between Hawaiian Islands?
Hawaiian Airlines offers the cheapest fares between the islands with a starting price of $45 between any of the 4 major airports in Hawaii. The one exception is between Kauai (LIH) and Kona (KOA), which begins at $83 for one-stop or $108 direct.
What is the best order for island hopping?
Flights are roughly the same price and time between all of the islands through Hawaiian Airlines, with the one exception of flights between Kauai and Big Island. In other words, it mostly doesn’t matter which order you go in once you’ve landed in Hawaii.
Which airline is best for Hawaii island hoppers?
Hawaiian Airlines is the best for traveling between the major Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Big Island. Mokulele Airlines is the best for non-major airports, such as Lahaina or Hana, as well as those on Molokai and Lanai. Mokulele also offers a more unique and scenic experience.
Are there ferries between the Hawaiian Islands for island hopping?
There have been no inter-island ferry services between the major Hawaiian Islands since Hawaii Superferry closed in 2009. The only passenger Hawaiian Islands with ferry service are Molokai and Lanai, both of which are serviced through Maui.
Why are there no ferry services in Hawaii for island hoppers?
In short, environmental concerns regarding marine animals and migration routes have prevented ethical ferry operations that would serve the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii Superferry attempted to change this in 2007, but went bankrupt by 2009 due to ongoing legal conflicts with environmental agencies.
Step 3: Island Hopping to Molokai, Lanai, & Ni’ihau
There are 7 total inhabited Hawaiian Islands. We’ve covered island hopping between the four major ones, but what about those other three?
In this section, we will discuss options for traveling to Molokai, Lanai, and the Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau for the truly adventurous Hawaii island hoppers.
*Note: There is an unpopulated island called Kahoolawe you may hear about, but only scientific and government entities have access to it.*
Getting to Molokai
Of the three non-major islands, Molokai is the most populated with almost 7,500 residents as of 2022.
Known as “The Friendly Island”, Molokai offers a unique experience that most people will never have. The dark history of the island begins as a leper colony but has transformed over centuries into a remarkable place worthy of any Hawaiian itinerary.
Molokai By Plane
*Mokulele Airlines is now the only way to get to Molokai!*
They offer daily flights from Oahu Honolulu Airport (HNL) which begin at $69, and from Maui Kahului Airport (OGG) starting from $74.
You can also fly between Lanai and Molokai with Mokulele Airlines for only $39. This is the best way to see the two islands that 99% of Hawaii visitors never get to, if you plan on seeing both.
Molokai By Ferry
There used to be a ferry between Maui and Molokai which served as the only non-flying option for decades. Unfortunately, operations were shut down on October 28, 2021, when the company running the ferry reported a $500,000 loss for the previous year.
Now, the only way for Hawaii island hoppers to get to Molokai is to fly with Mokulele Airlines.
Getting to Lanai
The least populated Hawaiian Island that travelers are allowed to visit is the small island of Lanai just off the west coast of Maui.
This quaint island is home to a Martian landscape at Garden of the Gods, an incredible coral reef at Shipwreck Beach, and one of the best beaches in Hawaii at Hulopoʻe Beach Park in Sharks Bay.
Lanai by Tour
If you do not want to stay overnight, an arranged tour to the island is likely be the best option. Our recommendation is this small group Lanai snorkel and landing adventure. The tour is a 6.5 hour adventure that takes you to Hulopo’e Bay and gives you three hours on the island. Either before or after, you will also be provided time and equipment at a choice off-shore snorkel location nearby.
If you do not care about actually stepping onto the island and are content with simply seeing Lanai from a boat or from the sky, there are plenty of other snorkeling trips that take you just off the shore. In addition, scenic flights allow you to see it from above. Browse Lanai tours here.
Lanai by Plane
As with all of the small-island flights in Hawaii, Mokulele is the only game in town. They offer flights to Lanai City (LNY) from the two major airports of Honolulu (HNL) on Oahu and Kahului (OGG) on Maui, as well as from Molokai (MKK).
Starting prices for flights to and from Lanai are as follows:
- Maui (OGG) <-> Lanai City (LNY): $48
- Oahu (HNL) <-> Lanai City (LNY): $68
- Molokai (MKK) <-> Lanai City (LNY): $39
Lanai by Ferry
Lanai is the only Hawaiian Island you can hop to via ferry. The great thing about the ferry ride is that you also are likely to see some spinner dolphins and migrating whales (at the right time of year)!
The voyage is offered by a company called Expeditions which operates four-times daily ferry services between Lanai and Lahaina in West Maui. Tickets cost $30 per person each way.
The ferry schedule to and from Lanai should be confirmed on the Go Lanai website in case of changes, but is currently as follows:
Departs Lahaina Harbor to Lanai at:
6:45 AM 9:45 AM
1:00 PM 4:00 PM
Departs Lanai to Lahaina at:
8:15 AM 11:15 AM
2:30 PM 5:30 PM
It is possible to stay overnight on Lanai but the options are very limited. There are only two hotels on Lanai; the 5-star Four Seasons Resort Lanai and the 3-star Hotel Lanai. You may also find a few options available on VRBO.
Otherwise, the best bet is to catch one of the morning ferries out at 6:45am or 9:45am and to catch one of the afternoon ferries back at 2:30pm or 5:30pm.
*Do not miss your ride or you will be forced to find accommodation for the night, which can get very expensive!*
Getting to Ni’ihau
Located off the shores of Kauai, most people don’t even know Ni’ihau exists! Known as “The Forbidden Island of Hawaii”, Ni’ihau is the least populated of the 7 inhabited Hawaiian Islands with only 70 permanent residents.
It is known as The Forbidden Island because it is a private island owned by the Robinson family. No one was allowed to go there except members of the family and those who have received an official invitation.
Recently, however, some opportunities have opened up for those hellbent on seeing Ni’ihau…
The island is most renowned for its unique shells and glass balls that wash ashore. These precious gemstones are a rare and expensive commodity.
The island is mostly untouched by technology, offering one of the most unusual experiences in the world. The 70 or so residents still primarily use horses and bicycles as means of conveyance. They do not have running water, central power, or even stores!
Necessary services, such as some foods and medicine, are delivered by boat. More fascinating still, the entire island of Ni’ihau is powered exclusively by solar! This means you will not see a single power line on the island.
Ni’ihau by Helicopter
The small company of Niihau Helicopters Inc offers scenic flights and half-day tours to the Ni’ihau from Kauai.
This new service provides the first-and-only way for tourists to step foot onto The Forbidden Island!
Ni’ihau by Snorkel Tour
A snorkel tour from Kauai used to be the closest a tourist could come to the forbidden island. This option, however, comes with a caveat.
That is, you will be able to see Ni’ihau from the boat and snorkel in the waters just off-shore, but you are still not allowed to step foot on the land!
Do not discount this option, however, as it is a pretty amazing tour. The first snorkel location will be off the epic Na Pali coast of Kauai, which is something you cannot leave the island without seeing. Then, the boat will cross the channel giving passengers a rare chance to see Ni’ihau up close.
Step 3 FAQs on Getting to Molokai, Lanai, & Ni’ihau
Is there a ferry to Molokai?
For decades there was a ferry from Maui to Molokai, but it ceased operations on October 28, 2021. The only way to get to Molokai as of 2022 is to fly using Mokulele Airlines.
Is there a ferry to Lanai?
Lanai is the only Hawaiian Island you can get to by ferry. It is operated by Expeditions ferry services and provides a 4x daily passenger shuttle between Lanai and Lahaina in West Maui.
What is the best way to get to Molokai and Lanai?
The cheapest and most fun way to see these two smaller islands is to take the ferry from Lahaina in West Maui to Lanai for $30, then catch a small-plane flight with Mokulele Airlines from Lanai to Molokai for $39. In this way, you get both a boat tour and scenic flight for less than $70, plus you get to explore two of the Hawaiian islands most people never see.
Who can visit Ni’ihau?
Traditionally, only the Robinson family and those who receive a personal invitation from one of the 70 residents of Ni’ihau are allowed to visit the island.
However, there is now an option to visit The Forbidden Island via a helicopter tour which includes 3 hours on one of its beaches, allowing anyone in the know to visit.
How can you visit Ni’ihau?
The once forbidden Hawaiian island of Ni’ihau, famous for its shells and sea glass, can now be visited via a half day helicopter tour that allows guests 3 hours on one of its beaches.
Prior to this, the only way for non-Robinson family members to visit Ni’ihau was with a hunting safari, or with a snorkel tour off its shores (though you still were not allowed to step foot on its shore.)
Step 4: Hawaii Itineraries
Now that you know the best options for reaching all of the 7 inhabited Hawaiian Islands, it’s time to plan the most important thing of all; your Hawaii island hopping itineraries!
Each island provides a truly unique experience. The amount of things you are able to do on each is largely dependent on your time and financial budget.
Below are complete itineraries which include where to stay, what to do, and everything else you need to know for each island, as well as several island hopping itineraries for longer visits.
Short Visits: 5-7 Day Hawaii Itineraries
We do not recommend an itinerary that includes island hopping unless you have at least 10 days in Hawaii.
For short visits of one week or less, it is really best to choose the island that calls to you and to get to know just that one.
Below are complete guides with carefully considered 5-7 day itineraries for each of the major Hawaiian islands:
- 5-7 Day Maui Itinerary
- 5-7 Day Kauai Itinerary
- 5-7 Day Big Island Itinerary
- 5-7 Day Oahu Itinerary
- 7 Day Hawaii Itinerary Guide: A guide to choosing 1-2 islands
- Hawaii Itineraries Guide: All itineraries for all islands and trip durations
Long Visits: 10+ Day Hawaii Island Hopping Itineraries
If you have more than one week in Hawaii, you can consider island hopping between 2 or 3 islands. This means less down time, but gives you a chance to get to experience multiple places.
Any vacation with more than 14 days available allows enough time to see all of the islands. If you prefer adventure and exploration over relaxation, consider these Hawaii island hopping itineraries.
- 10 Day Hawaii Itinerary: How to see 3-4 main islands in 10 days of island hopping.
- 14 Day Hawaii Itinerary: How to see up to ALL 7 inhabited Hawaiian islands, or just a select few of your choice at a slower pace.
- Planning a Trip to Hawaii: Everything you need to know from start to finish.
More Hawaii Travel Guides
- GENERAL HAWAII Travel Guides
- OAHU Travel Guides
- MAUI Travel Guides
- BIG ISLAND Travel Guides
- KAUAI Travel Guides
- Where to Stay on Kauai Complete Guide
- Best Things to Do in Kauai: The Kauai Bucket List
- The Best 5-7 Day Kauai Itinerary
- Planning a Trip to Kauai: The Complete Guide
- Kauai Photography Guide
- The Best Spots for Sunsets in Kauai
- Kauai Waterfall Guide: All 19 Falls
- Kalepa Ridge Trail Guide: Kauai’s Best Secret Hike