Of all the airlines that fly to Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines sends you to the islands before you even land. With local chefs behind the food and drink menus, happy Hawaiian hospitality from the flight crew, and folk music playing in the cabin, the airline does its best to put you in an island state of mind, no matter what seat you’re in.
Yet first class, which is found on Hawaiian’s A330 planes, elevates your trip to Hawaii even further with lie-flat beds and a gourmet food and beverage service. This combo is so relaxing you won’t even miss the lack of WiFi. But depending on the route, not all of Hawaiian’s first class seats are this luxurious and not all of the routes will be worth the upgrade.
Read on for the breakdown of what classes are in Hawaiian Airlines’ premium cabin and what are the differences between them.
Hawaiian Airlines Premium Cabin: First and Business Class
Hawaiian Airlines lists its first class and business class offerings in the broader Premium Cabin category, but there is an important difference between the two.
First class and its lie-flat seats are found on the A330 planes which fly the longer domestic and international routes.
Business class, which features large recliner seats, is reserved for the A321 Neo planes that fly in-between the islands and to a few spots on the mainland, such as the shorter flights to the West Coast. First class on Hawaiian’s Boeing B717 which only flies in between the islands, features a slightly smaller recliner seat compared to the A321 Neo.
Hawaiian Airlines also has Extra Comfort seating which is a step up from economy, and is found in the main cabin in select rows on their A330 and A321 Neo planes.
What to know about Hawaiian Airlines first class
Hawaiian Airlines’ first class delivers a soothing in-flight experience that almost instantly wipes away the hassles of the airport once you step onboard. The 180-degree lie-flat seats are the star attraction, especially on the A330’s longer haul flights, as are the in-flight meals which were developed by some of Hawaii’s best chefs. iPad Pros are handed out for in-flight entertainment but if you’re looking to do work, there’s no WiFi onboard (or onboard any Hawaiian Airlines flight.)
On the A321 Neo, the 16 business class recliner seats are in a 2-2 layout with a roomy pitch of 39” but these do not fully extend. There’s a paired down food and beverage service, consisting of a meal on longer flights from the mainland and snack and drink on the inter-island flights. There’s no seatback entertainment but rather you can stream movies and shows through the Hawaiian Airlines app.
For the B717s, the 8 business class recliner seats are in a 2-2 layout with a seat pitch of 37” and the bulkhead seats do not have a window.
Each Premium Cabin seat also comes with priority check-in and boarding, two checked bags, access to the Plumeria and Premier Club lounge at select airports, and complimentary food and beverage service in-flight.
Which routes are worth upgrading to first class on Hawaiian Airlines?
Hawaiian Airlines flies nonstop from its islands to nine cities in Asia and South Pacific including Seoul, Tokyo, Sydney, and Auckland (with Honolulu being the main departure hub.) It also flies nonstop to several mainland U.S. cities including Boston, New York, and Orlando. With these nonstop flights being upwards of eight hours, you’ll get the most out of your first class ticket on these routes. Just be sure you book a seat on an A330 airplane as the lie-flat seats are not available on the A321 Neos.
However, if you’re flying from the West Coast, it’s worth it to upgrade to the Premium Cabin on the outbound flight which is slightly longer than the inbound. But remember, you'll only get the lie-flat seat on an A330. That nearly 6-hour flight should be enough time to maximize the first class amenities, or at least take a solid nap.
With inter-island flights lasting well below an hour and the seats being recliners, upgrading to first class isn’t quite worth it, unless having a spacious seat for the short flight is very important to you.
The Hawaiian Airlines first class experience at the airport
The Hawaiian Airlines lounge experience
Booking a first class ticket on any North American or neighbor island route will get you access to the Premier Club lounge which is found in Honolulu, Lihue, Kahului, Kona, and Hilo airports. The Plumeria Lounge is found only in Honolulu and is available for first class guests on an international route and first class guests heading to New York, Boston, or Orlando.
Day passes can be purchased for the Plumeria Lounge for anyone flying on a Hawaiian Airlines flight for $40. Pualani Platinum members can pay $25 if they are not flying first class and Pualani Gold members can buy a pass for $30.
Both lounges are very basic in layout and amenities, providing complimentary snacks and drinks, seating, WiFi and air-conditioning. If you expect to be pampered before your flight, you may have better luck outside the lounge in the airport terminal.
Hawaiian does have a few partnerships with international airlines at airports in Australia, Japan, and Korea, but for the most part, Hawaiian Airlines does not have lounges at other airports.
Hawaiian Airlines first class check-in
Hawaiian Airlines first class guests have priority check-in via dedicated lines at the airport, meaning you’ll have your bags taken care of by a desk agent versus doing the self check-in and bag drop at a kiosk.
However, when departing from Hawaii’s airports, all checked luggage must go through a mandatory agricultural screening where passengers place their bags on a conveyor belt similar to a TSA screening. This is done before heading over to the check-in desk. At certain airports, like Kahului in Maui, this screening is confusing for some since it’s located near the TSA checkpoint. Just know that it’s only for passengers who are checking luggage and not for those carrying on.
A first class ticket does not come with expedited security screening so having TSA Pre-check is handy, especially at Kahului where security lines are incredibly long.
Of note: Hawaiian Airlines recently moved to the west gates of Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, which are newer. However, the walk from the security checkpoint is about 20 minutes (there’s no train or shuttle) so you’ll need to budget that walk time into departure.
Baggage allowance for Hawaiian Airlines first class
If you’ve splurged for a first class ticket you may as well pack all you want as you’re allowed two free checked bags up to 50 pounds each. This is also great when returning home with goods you’ve picked up during your trip.
The Hawaiian Airlines first class experience in the air
On the A330, the 18 seats are laid out in a 2-2-2 pattern with the most desirable seats being either A and B or H and J. Built into a white curved shell and cushioned with a soft brown leather, the seats were designed by Poltrona-Frau, an Italian furniture brand known for their interiors on luxury automobiles.
This premium cabin is separated from the main cabin by a divider wall that features a lit-up constellation map of Pleiades, or as the Hawaiians call it, Makil’i, lending a dreamy vibe to the cabin and putting you right into the island mindset. (Supposedly, this constellation was high in the sky when Hawaiian launched their first flight in 1929 from Honolulu to Hilo.)
Each seat has a privacy screen that pulls up out of the armrest, providing a little bit of space from the next passenger. There’s a small storage compartment within the seat but the roomy overhead bits are best for storing carry-ons and other items you won’t use during the flight. The seat also has two USB ports and an AC power outlet. A small blanket and a pillow are placed on the seat as well. However, first class seats on longer flights receive premium bedding and a specialty amenity kit made in partnership with Molokai-based brand, Kealopiko.
One thing that’s amiss in Hawaiian Airlines’ first class is the in-flight entertainment system which is not built into the seat, but instead consists of an iPad Pro from which you can stream a robust selection of domestic and foreign movies and TV shows. On the A321 Neos and B717, there’s no iPad so you’ll have to download the Hawaiian Airlines app in order to start streaming.
There’s also no WiFi on any Hawaiian Airlines flight, which can either help you kick-start relaxation mode, or heighten your anxiety if you have work to finish.
Premium Cabin seats on Hawaiian Airlines
- A330 first class: The 18 180-degree lie-flat seats are laid out in a 2-2-2 pattern with the most desirable seats being either A and B or H and J. These can be found on flights between Honolulu and international destinations and nonstop flights to major mainland cities, as well as some flights from Maui to mainland cities.
- A321 Neo business class: The 6 recliner seats are in a 2-2 layout with a roomy pitch of 39”. Seats in A or J will offer superb window views. These are flown inter-island and to some cities on the mainland.
- B717 business class: The 8 recliner seats are in a 2-2 layout with a seat pitch of 37” and the bulkhead seats do not have a window. These are flown inter-island.
Benefits of flying in the Premium cabin on Hawaiian Airlines
A first class seat on Hawaiian Airlines comes with priority check-in and boarding, two free checked bags, lounge access, in-flight meal and drinks, and roomier seats. The cabin is light and airy and staffed by flight attendants with a warm and genuine demeanor, making it easy for you to relax back into your seat and feel pampered.
Premium cabin meals on Hawaiian Airlines
On the A330, Hawaiian Airlines goes all-out for its first class meals with a menu of island-inspired dishes such as a soy-braised chicken, pork stew made with daikon and rice, and a Maui onion breakfast potato cake, all developed by Hawaiian-born executive chefs Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka of Honolulu’s MW Restaurant. The selections vary depending on the time of your flight, but all meals include an appetizer, main entree, dessert and a snack. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are available but must be requested 48 hours before the flight.
Premium cabin alcohol on Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines adds an island spin to the beverage selections including three Hawaiian-inspired signature cocktails, a sommelier-curated wine list, and a few craft brews from the Maui Brewing Company.
Hawaiian Airlines first class vs extra comfort
Hawaiian Airlines offers Extra Comfort seats on its A330 and A321 Neo flights. These seats provide extra legroom with pitches of 36” and 35”, respectively, and earlier boarding than the main cabin seats. On the longer flights to the mainland and internationally, these extra comfort seats are a great way to get a little bit more space without paying the hefty fares for first class.
Extra comfort seats, just like the regular economy seats, come with complimentary meal and beverage service, although more snacks can be purchased from the Pau Hana cart which sells Hawaiian-style snack boxes and drinks. There is also seatback entertainment with complimentary movies, TV shows, and music.
How to book Hawaiian Airlines first class
How to upgrade to first class on Hawaiian Airlines for free
One way to be upgraded for free on Hawaiian Airlines is to be an elite Pualani member of the HawaiianMiles loyalty program. Platinum members can get free upgrades to First Class and Extra Comfort seats based on availability. First class can also be purchased using HawaiianMiles—typically about 25,000 miles for one way.
How much does it cost to upgrade to first class on Hawaiian Airlines?
Depending on how full the flight is, Hawaiian will allow passengers to upgrade to first class for a fee. Usually, Hawaiian does this through their Bid Up program (see below) but if there is availability before the flight, an upgrade can be done at the time of check-in. The fee will depend on the route, with shorter distances costing much less than nonstops to the mainland.
How many miles to upgrade to Hawaiian Airlines first class?
25,000 HawaiianMiles is needed for an upgrade between Hawaii and North America while only 7,500 Hawaiian Miles is needed in between islands. More miles are needed for longer routes to international destinations. These must all be done 26 hours before the flight takes off.
Bidding for an upgrade on Hawaiian Airlines
One unique thing about Hawaiian Airlines is that it allows passengers to bid for an upgrade to first class with their Bid Up program. The offer to upgrade typically comes in immediately after a passenger has booked a ticket, so long as this ticket is higher than a main cabin basic fare; does not include traveling with an infant or pet; and is on a flight between Hawaii and North America or Hawaii and an international destination.
Passengers can choose how much to bid for their upgrade to first class with the minimum bid usually set around $495 per leg. Passengers will find out if the bid was accepted 28 hours before their flight. But once it’s accepted, their credit card will be charged immediately and there’s no option to cancel the upgrade. So if you’re willing to place a bid, you must be willing to go through with it.
Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t have the same flash as some of the bigger airlines that fly into Hawaii and its lounge offerings, especially stateside, are practically non-existent. If you’re used to traveling a particular way with top-notch treatment in the airport from start to finish, you may want to opt for a different entry into Hawaii. However, the genuine Hawaiian hospitality that greets you onboard Hawaiian Airlines coupled with sumptuous food and drink and relaxing lie-flat seats will put you at ease before your vacation has even begun.