Review: Hawaiian Airlines First Class, Austin – Honolulu

My wife, daughter and I flew to Honolulu in November to meet up with family. It’s a convenient halfway point between our home in the U.S. and Australia. And Hawaiian Airlines operates a three-times weekly non-stop Austin – Honolulu.

Before I was a father I never spent much time in Waikiki. However we went there last year, and again this year, because the available activities are great with a young child. We stayed at the Marriott around the corner from the zoo.

I was able to book $200 one-ways and upgrade using miles. Hawaiian Airlines has two different upgrade inventory buckets. The cheapest would have been 25,000 miles each way. The more expensive – at 50,000 miles – was wide open on the Austin flight when I booked travel. That’s a lot of miles for a one way upgrade, but American Express was running a 25% transfer bonus to Hawaiian. I ultimately paid $200 and 40,000 miles each for the one way premium cabin flight. Paid tickets were running around $2000 in each direction.

    Austin – Honolulu, 9:20 a.m. – 1:55 p.m., Hawaiian Airlines 81, Airbus A330

Premium check-in had a few people ahead of us in line but was completed quickly. My wife had weighed bags, and they were under the 50 lb maximum, but they were slightly overweight according to the scale at the Hawaiian counter. I noticed the sticker beside the scale showing it had been six months since calibration. With the number of bags thrown on the scale each day, over six months, I assume that the check-in desk scale was just wrong. They didn’t charge us for overweight bags.

There’s no lounge access for Hawaiian first class passengers in Austin. Hawaiian provides it for international and East Coast passengers in Hawaii. And the Austin airport currently has just United, Delta, and American lounges which restrict access. Nonetheless we didn’t have long to wait and walked down to the gate at the far end of the terminal by the Sky Club.

Boarding happened quickly, and the flight operated within a few minutes of on time. At each seat was a blanket and mattress pad wrapped in plastic, along with an amenity kit. There was also a metal bottle of water.

Here’s a look inside the amenity kit.

Menus were distributed, and predeparture beverages were offered.

The first class cabin has power outlets. Coach has only USB outlets. After takeoff tablets were provided for watching streaming entertainment content, along with non-noise cancelling headphones.

Shortly after that beverage and meal orders were taken, and macademia nuts were delivered along with drinks.

Meals were then served with appetizer and choice of entree, with dessert to follow. The food was very much a ‘domestic first class meal’ in terms of quality and quantity.

A dessert cart went down the aisle after trays were collected. Dessert was a chocolate cake, and I asked for a drink to go with it.

After takeoff I put the mattress pad on the seat, not because I wanted to lay down and sleep but just for extra seat padding. The seats are on the older side and a but worn, and this helped make it more comfortable.

Lie flat open seats are fine, I think, for an 8 hour flight. And they happen to be reasonably good for couples and families. But there’s no privacy. This is a better product than domestic first, but it’s not a competitive international seat. (Hawaiian’s new 787’s will get an Adient Ascent seat.)

Midflight snacks were set up in the galley. There were two choices – Maui (plain) potato chips and a shrink-wrapped cookie. I didn’t partake.

Without inflight internet (Hawaiian says they’re getting Starlink) I watched shows on my laptop, but the best entertainment was when one flight attendant helped another shovel mini liquor bottles from first class into a large zip loc bag, and then put the zip loc bag into her personal carry on.

About 90 minutes prior to arrival we were served a tray with soup and a vegetarian wrap. There was no choice, and I wasn’t much up for soup, but the wrap was tasty.

We landed on time, and taxied to the intra-island terminal. As a result there was no collection of Hawaii agriculture and tourism forms. Perhaps the biggest disappointment with the flight is that it took an entire hour before checked bags began arriving at the belt at baggage claim.

I love having a non-stop flight to Hawaii from Austin, however if I were heading straight to another airline it wouldn’t necessarily be an advantage. Still, I’d happily take it again if headed to Honolulu.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary: Were you sure that you would be able to upgrade the coach tickets when you bought them?

    If not, how did you mitigate the risk.


  2. Hawaiian has consistently has had iffy food and downright awful wine for several years now. I had to fly Hawaiian a half-dozen times in 2015 between Honolulu and some other Pacific islands outside Hawaii. The food was inedible on the return flight, an overnight flight, with no breakfast served before landing. The wine was Barefoot-quality wine. The Hawaiian lounges at Honolulu are basically water, coffee, soda/pop, and nuts. That’s about it. No wifi even back then. We were given a tablet with some entertainment. Flight attendants were pleasant. Hawaiian has to be one of the most overrated airlines.

  3. Sounds like Hawaiian Airlines hasn’t tried very hard to improve the product. Too bad for Hawaii’s Flagship Airline. There is so much opportunity lost. The current product is rather dull.

  4. @L3 yes I checked award space before buying the ticket. I immediately called to redeem the upgrade award and transferred points to do so while on the phone.

  5. Gary,
    I’ve never even heard about using miles to upgrade on Hawaiian. Is there a link on the Hawaiian airlines website about upgrades or did you just use your special travel powers? In your reply to the previous comment you said you checked award space before buying the ticket. Was that on the Hawaiian website or somewhere else like Expertflyer? I really want to repeat what you accomplished. Any more info you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Gary, I took that same flight last year. Instead of a business upgrade we selected Hawaiian as our preferred airline on a business platinum and aspire, booked with points for the 35% refund, and then selected the extra legroom seats near the front that are in a three or for row semi private section between business and economy. I split the seat selection charges up between the two cards which triggered the fee credit from Amex.

  7. I love Hawaiian, always feels like I’ve already arrived in Hawaii when I board, vibe on board always seems a little better than on the other carriers to Hawaii.

  8. @BuddyM – all spelled out on the Hawaiian Airlines website. In searching for upgrade inventory it’s frequently available, and as an Amex transfer partner some pretty good deals can be redeemed. Hawaiian is not covered by most of the blogosphere, but it’s nice to see this write up by Gary.

  9. I had a date set to travel to Hawaii, but Hawaiian rather quickly pulled out if MCO, after bumping up the weekly flight numbers. Said the aircraft was put on an Asian route out of Hawaii that just reopened post Covid. So, I’ll be sticking with DL. I am a SkyTeam member, but was hoping to try Hawaiian at least once. (I have used them on inter island flights once I get to Hawaii.). Kinda sad they dumped Orlando.

  10. Good review – Hawaiian’s product has slipped. That FA had a nice party paid for by the airline.

  11. Not my experience in first at all. Always been great with great food.

    Reads kinda snarky for an ‘expert’ travel writer.

  12. We’ve flown HA in F a number of times. Great crew but awful meals. I don’t see where Gary’s meal was any different (beef & pork meatloaf- how cheap can you get?). And for what are long flights , even from the west coast and especially east to west bound) the quantity of the meal is pathetic. Their fares for F are generally much higher than AS’s and for the price difference we’ll live with AS’s equivalent meal and a B-737.

  13. I’ve flown HA on the A330 internationally (or long haul) only in economy and only experienced F on interisland flights. HA is probably my favorite airline but it has nothing to do with their product, which honestly isn’t great as many have noted. My experience has always been the way HA does such an amazing job with the confluence of local culture with service provided by the FAs. Flight Attendants are usually quite the mixed bag with any airline, but my personal experience on HA has always been a positive one with the way they treat their guests and their absolute kindness even when they don’t have the drink you want after 6 inter island trips.

    Unrelated, but I’m very excited to try Fiji Airways very soon in J on the A350.

  14. I continue to be amazed hearing people taking a flight, arriving safely and complaining about the food. To each their own but it’s not a restaurant it’s an airline.

  15. Then hopefully Greyhound will offer service to Hawaii. If I’m going to pay for First Class I expect the very best. A very comfortable seat and a dining menu that includes both Hawaiian and western food as options. The difference between the economy and first class fares is SO large that I expect nothing less. @TDF if you’re happy flying in what amounts to a bus, than stay in economy- it will meet your needs. But for a price, I expect a whole hell of a lot more in first class and not something that 50% seaweed or some other “culinary delight”.

  16. I don’t have many 1st class travels to compare but the food on Hawaiian was comparable to that of American. However the layover is so much longer on the destination I travel. Yes Hawaiians lounge needs improvement, not even close to Americans.

  17. I fly Hawaiian Airlines First Class exclusively about every six weeks between LAX and Honolulu. First Class comfort and entertainment is consistent. The meals served are satisfactory, but understandably, Hawaiian is an airline, not a restaurant. My experiences on Hawaiian have always been positive. Using the Hawaiian Airlines Barclay Bank credit card, has always afforded me two free checked bags and automatic upgrades.

  18. I can’t release to the negative comments. I flew Hawaiian airline from and back to NYC just last mont and it was one of the greasy experiences I had with any airlines so far. And I’ve been traveling for a very long time.

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