Alaska Airlines vs Hawaiian Airlines: A handy guide for choosing one over the other

Alaska Airlines vs Hawaiian Airlines: A handy guide for choosing one over the other

Despite their completely different sounding names, the similarities in this Alaska Airlines vs Hawaiian Airlines comparison will far outweigh the differences.

  • Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines compete on many of the same routes.
  • Both airlines cover the West Coast of the United States better than many others.
  • And just as odd as it may seem to go to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines, you can even go to Alaska on Hawaiian Airlines. These airlines are more competitive with each other than you might think.

Choosing either of these two airlines for your next trip to Hawaii will come down to personal preference:

  • If you want the full “Hawaii experience” upon stepping on the plane, choose Hawaiian Airlines.
  • If all you’re looking for is a good deal on a safe airline with great cabin crews, Alaska Airlines will be good enough.

For what it’s worth, given choice between the two, I’m choosing Hawaiian Airlines every time. Read on to find out why…

1. Alaska Airlines vs Hawaiian Airlines: a brief summary of all the similarities and differences

Perhaps I’m biased because I know a lot about the airline industry, but putting together this Hawaiian Airlines vs Alaska Airlines comparison seems like the right thing to do given how similar they are. This is gong to be totally different than my Hawaiian Airlines vs United comparison.

For all the people like my mother who might assume that these two airlines are from completely different planets (based on the names alone), here’s a brief rundown of all the similarities and differences:

Similarities

  • The route networks of both Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines are largely consolidated to the western half of the United States.
  • Both airlines serve Hawaii (all islands) from a large number of West Coast US cities.
  • Los Angeles (LAX) is the one airport that both airlines serve with more frequency than any other non-hub city.
  • This is purely based on my own experience, but I find the cabin service on both airlines (in all classes) to be the best in the United States.

Differences

  • Even though both airlines serve destinations outside of the continental US, only Hawaiian has destinations overseas (to places such as Australia and Japan). The farthest away that Alaska Airlines goes these days is Mexico.
  • Alaska Airlines is part of the Oneworld Alliance. Hawaiian Airlines is not part of any alliance (although they do codeshare with many other airlines).
  • The entire Alaska Airlines fleet consists of narrowbody aircraft. Hawaiian Airlines, on the other hand, is a predominantly widebody airline featuring aircraft such as the A330 (and soon to be 787)
  • Hawaiian Airlines serves complementary meals in economy class on flights between the mainland and Hawaii. Don’t get excited though – the free food kinda sucks.
  • Hawaiian Airlines offers a lie-flat first class seating option. Alaska Airlines does not.
Hawaiian airlines pualani logo
And probably the most glaring difference of them all: the woman on the tail of Hawaiian Airlines airplanes (Debbie Nakanelua-Richards) is a lot more attractive than the Eskimo on the tail of Alaska Airlines airplanes. Just sayin’.

2. Alaska Airlines seats vs Hawaiian Airlines seats

As you’re about to see, comparing the seats on Alaska Airlines vs Hawaiian Airlines will reveal a lot of similarities. However, Hawaiian Airlines has a massive advantage over Alaska Airlines when it comes to first class seating options.

Spoiler alert: if you’re looking for the most comfortable seat to Hawaii on either of these two airlines, Hawaiian Airlines is going to be your best bet.

Alaska Airlines seats

The best way to describe the seats in Alaska Airlines is to say that they’re pretty much like any other US airline. The main cabin seats are overwhelmingly average, and I wouldn’t say that they any better (or worse) than the main cabin seats on Hawaiian Airlines. But when it comes to first class, there’s a world of difference.

First class

First class seats on Alaska Airlines are nice looking, but fairly standard. Interestingly enough, they are (nearly) the exact same seats that Hawaiian Airlines uses in the first class cabin on their A321neo.

Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 first class seats
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 first class seats. And before all you Hawaiian Airlines fanboys (and fangirls) start laughing hysterically because of how lame these are, just know that these are pretty much the same first class seats found on the HA A321neo. So there.

Premium economy (“Premium Class”)

Premium economy seats on Alaska Airlines (officially known as “Premium Class”) are exactly the same as the economy seats but with a few extra inches of legroom. Essentially, this is just an extra-legroom seat since Alaska Airlines doesn’t officially refer to it as a “Premium Economy.”

Alaska airlines premium economy seats
Alaska Airlines Premium Class seats. Save your money, because it’s basically economy class with a fancy-sounding name.

Economy class

Economy class seats on Alaska Airlines are basically the same as the economy class seats on Hawaiian Airlines. Yes, there are a handful of minor visual differences, but seat comfort and seat pitch is nearly identical on both airlines.

There’s no clear winner here – unless you like having a personal video screen at every seat. Since Alaska Airlines does not offer this and Hawaiian Airlines does, that’ll tell you everything you need to know about choosing which airline is right for you.

Alaska airlines economy seats
Alaska airlines economy seats (as well as the Premium Class seats) are pretty basic. Hawaiian Airlines fanboys and fangirls: this is the point in the comparison where condescending laughter (and maybe some finger pointing) is totally acceptable.

Hawaiian Airlines seats

The nice thing about choosing Hawaiian Airlines over Alaska Airlines is that some aircraft in their fleet feature better seats than others. For example, for the best possible seating experience in all cabins, choose a flight on the Airbus A330. These are the aircraft that Hawaiian Airlines uses for long haul international flights, and therefore, they feature the best seats.

First class

Hawaiian Airlines is running two configurations of first class at the moment. All of their widebody aircraft feature lie flat seating in first class, which is a major advantage over Alaska Airlines first class.

Hawaiian airlines a330 first class
It may be the oddest-looking lie-flat first class seat I’ve ever experienced, but Hawaiian Airlines A330-200 first class is so much better than Alaska Airlines first class.

However, Hawaiian Airlines A321neo first class is nearly identical to Alaska Airlines first class. They are (nearly) the exact same seats, but with different seat materials.

Hawaiian airlines A321neo first class seats
From one extreme to the other: Hawaiian Airlines A321neo first class is pretty much the same as Alaska Airlines first class. Choose your aircraft type wisely!

Premium economy (“Extra Comfort”)

At the time of this writing, premium economy on Hawaiian Airlines (officially known as “Extra Comfort”) is very much like how it is on Alaska Airlines.

The seats are exactly the same as they are in economy class, but was just a few extra inches of legroom. That’s it. However, it’s worth noting that a true premium product (with a larger seat and better food) is coming to Hawaiian Airlines soon…

Hawaiian airlines extra comfort seats
Hawaiian Airlines Extra Comfort seats on the A330-200 are decent. You’ll get more legroom compared to an Alaska Airlines premium economy seat, along with a personal video screen – which comes in real handy when trying to forget about the fact that your Hawaiian vacation is over (as you barrel towards the mainland at 600mph).

Economy class

Economy class seating on all Hawaiian Airlines aircraft is nearly identical to as it is on Alaska Airlines. The only major difference is that you’ll get a personal video screen.

Hawaiian airlines economy class seats
Hawaiian Airlines economy class is perfect for anyone who has just gotta have a personal video screen at their seat. You won’t find this sort of thing on any Alaska Airlines aircraft.

3. Alaska Airlines food vs Hawaiian Airlines food

When it comes to comparing the food on both Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian airlines, it’s pretty much even. Both airlines serve hot meals in first class, and decent snacks in economy. However, Hawaiian Airlines takes it one step further by offering hot meals in economy as well.

It should be noted that Alaska Airlines serves complementary Mai Tai’s to everyone on flights to Hawaii. You just need to be 21 years old to partake in the fun.

Alaska Airlines food

Alaska airlines has always served really good food. They completely revamped their first class menu a few years ago, and they offer a decent food for purchase option for everyone else. You’re not going to starve on Alaska Airlines.

First class

As I just mentioned, first class food on Alaska Airlines is pretty good. I’d go as far as to say that it’s even better than the food that you’ll get on Hawaiian Airlines. It looks presentable, the portions are decent, and it tastes fine.

Alaska airlines first class food
Alaska Airlines first class food is pretty good, and I’d rate it to be just as decent as the food that you’d get at the cafeteria down at your local corporate office park. That’s a weird way to rate food quality, I know, but that was the first thing I thought of…

Premium economy (“Premium Class”)

Premium Class food on Alaska Airlines basically doesn’t even exist. Your only two options will be the complementary snacks that they serve, or to purchase something off the menu. I highly recommend the fruit and cheese plate from the menu. It’s fantastic.

Alaska airlines food for purchase menu
No, you’re not going to be served anything fancy in Alaska Airlines Premium Class (even if you purchase something off the menu).

Economy class

Just as it is in Premium Class, all you’re going to get in basic economy is a complementary snack and the option to purchase something off the menu.

Alaska airlines fruit and cheese platter
Do yourself a favor and skip the free snack in economy class. The fruit and cheese platter (from the food for purchase menu) is worth every freaking dollar they charge for it.
Alaska airlines complimentary mai tai economy class
I want so badly to make a urine joke here, but this is a family-friendly blog and I must refrain. This is actually a complimentary Mai Tai that was served just prior to landing on my Alaska Airlines economy class experience from San Diego to Kona.

Hawaiian Airlines food

Hawaiian Airlines food is about the same quality as Alaska Airlines food, but it’s a lot more interesting. This is primarily because the food they serve has a very Hawaiian theme to it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s tastier, but I always appreciate the effort.

First class

First class food on Hawaiian Airlines is just as decent as the first class food and Alaska Airlines. However, the menu features Hawaiian-themed options, which makes the experience a lot more fun.

Hawaiian airlines first class breakfast
Forget what I just said about how nice it is to be able to eat Hawaiian-themed food in Hawaiian Airlines first class. If pancakes and sausage is on the menu, that’s what I’m eating.
Hawaiian airlines first class breakfast
And just so you know, I’m not totally culturally insensitive. The pineapple vanilla shortcake they served for dessert was to die for.

Premium economy (“Extra Comfort”)

Just as it is on Alaska Airlines, you won’t get any extra food in an Extra Comfort seat than you would would in basic economy. However, Hawaiian Airlines does serve hot meals in both Extra Comfort and economy, which is something that Alaska Airlines does not do. A word of warning though: those hot meals are terrible.

Hawaiian airlines complimentary snacks
When was the last time you were served macadamia nuts and Pau Hana snack mix on Alaska Airlines? Hawaiian Airlines snacks FTW.
Free hot meals Hawaiian airlines
One of the most interesting things about Hawaiian Airlines is that they still serve complimentary hot meals in Extra Comfort and economy class. It’s not substantial, but it’ll keep you alive for a bit (probably). 

Economy class

Basic economy food on Hawaiian Airlines consists of a complementary snack and a free hot meal – which is usually just reheated hot sandwich of some kind and a bag of chips. Given the choice, I’d rather eat the fruit and cheese platter off the food for purchase menu on Alaska Airlines.

Free hot sandwich Hawaiian airlines economy class
The complimentary “meal” that they served on my last Hawaiian Airlines flight was a bit gross…but I appreciated the gesture.

4. Comparing Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines in-flight entertainment

When it comes to in-flight entertainment, Hawaiian airlines and Alaska Airlines both offer a wide variety of movies, TV shows, and music to help pass the time. However, the way they go about delivering that content differs from one another.

Alaska Airlines in-flight entertainment

There are no video screens on any Alaska Airlines aircraft. Their in-flight entertainment product consists of a streaming service that you can access (for free) from your own personal device.

Alaska airlines streaming in-flight entertainment
Hold on a sec. Before you blast Alaska Airlines for opting for a streaming in-flight entertainment service over personal video screens at every seat, scroll down a bit and check out how they do it in Hawaiian Airlines first class…

Some of their newest aircraft feature phone and tablet holders in the headrests of the seat back in front of you (where a video screen would normally go), which makes consuming the continent much easier.

There are also power outlets available at every seat, and Wi-Fi (for web browsing) is available for an additional cost.

Hawaiian Airlines in-flight entertainment

All long-haul Hawaiian Airlines aircraft feature video screens at every economy and Extra Comfort seat. Their selection of TV shows, movies, and music is pretty good, and unless you’re really picky, you won’t have any difficulty finding something good to watch. Wi-Fi for browsing the web is available at an additional cost.

SANspotter selfie Hawaiian airlines a330 extra comfort seat
The moment when you realize that Hawaiian Airlines has video screens at every economy seat (when Alaska Airlines doesn’t). Are you starting to understand why I prefer Hawaiian Airlines these days?

However, there are several things to note about in-flight entertainment when it comes to Hawaiian Airlines:

  • There are no video screens in the first class seats on their A330’s and A321s. Instead, the flight attendants will hand out complementary iPads preloaded with a collection of TV shows, movies, and music.
  • The aircraft that Hawaiian airlines uses on intra-island flights do not feature video screens. Which is perfectly fine in my opinion, since the views out the window are likely to be far more interesting.
Hawaiian airlines a330 first class in flight entertainment
An iPad Pro (on a stick) is how you consume in-flight entertainment in Hawaiian Airlines A330 first class. Clumsy, but effective. And yeah, the noise canceling headphones they provide are pretty decent.

5. Comparing the Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines frequent flyer programs

The frequent flyer programs of both Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian airlines are (at a very high-level) pretty much the same. Neither of the two programs are revolutionary in any way, and you’ll earn points in status the old-fashioned way: spending money and flying.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

The main advantage that the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has over the Hawaiian Airlines frequent flyer program (HawaiianMiles) is its relationship with other airlines. Alaska Airlines as part of the Oneworld alliance, meaning that you can earn and redeem points for award tickets on a wide variety of other airlines.

Alaska airlines Disneyland livery
Not only will you be able to earn and redeem valuable Alaska Mileage Plan points on other Oneworld airlines, you’ll get to fly on some pretty neat looking airplanes as well. I still think the Hawaiian Airlines lady is more attractive than this though…

As an example of how useful Mileage Plan points can be, I used 55,000 of mine for a QANTAS 787-9 premium economy experience from San Francisco to Melbourne a few years ago. You’re simply not going to get those kinds of redemption opportunities with the Hawaiian Airlines program.

Read more about the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (including all of the rules and requirements).

Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles

Hawaiian Airlines has a very traditional frequent flyer program. They reward loyalty in the form of how much you fly with them, as well as how much you spend with them.

Hawaiian Airlines is not part of any major airline alliance (although they do codeshare with a variety of other airlines). There are far fewer opportunities to earn and redeem awards on any other airlines with the HawaiianMiles program.

Hawaiian airlines a330s at HNL airport
I have no caption for this other than letting you know that I’ve totally got a crush on the Hawaiian Airlines lady (if it wasn’t obvious by now).

In my opinion, unless you fly to and from Hawaii frequently, the Hawaiian airlines frequent flyer program is not worth joining. The only opportunity to redeem points is for trips to and from the islands, and if you don’t do it often enough, your points may expire before you get a chance to do it.

Read more about Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles (including all of the rules and requirements).

7. Comparing the route networks

One of the most interesting things about Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines is how similar their route networks are. Although the core of the Hawaiian Airlines network is based around the Hawaiian Islands, both airlines compete heavily on the same routes. Alaska Airlines has been focusing heavily on Hawaii for the past few years, almost to the point where they are become known as the “other” Hawaiian Airline.

Alaska Airlines route network

Despite a fantastically-specific (and geographically-limiting) name, Alaska Airlines is growing into a major airline that covers all of the US. Don’t let it’s name fool you – they do a lot more than fly to Alaska, and based on my experience, they do it well.

  • The main hub for Alaska Airlines is in Seattle (SEA)
  • Other hubs include Los Angeles (LAX), Anchorage (ANC), Portland (PDX) and San Francisco (SFO)
  • They have focus cities in San Diego (SAN) and San Jose (SJC)

Although the majority of Alaska Airlines flights are within the western portion of the United States (including Hawaii), they have been expanding to the east coast – and even Mexico.

Alaska airlines 737-900er Seattle airport gate B9
How cool is it that there’s an Alaskan airline based in Seattle who’s main corporate office is located in Chicago? What a time to be alive!

Hawaiian Airlines route network

As their name suggests, most Hawaiian Airlines flights begin and end in Hawaii. In addition to serving the US mainland (primarily west coast cities), they also fly to international destinations such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Hawaiian Airlines also has a vast intra-island network of flights, whereas Alaska Airlines does not.

  • The main hub for Hawaiian Airlines is Honolulu (HNL)
  • Although they don’t officially have any focus cities, Los Angeles (LAX) is their second largest operating base in terms of passengers carried to and from the islands on any given day.
  • Yes, they do fly to Alaska as well.
SANspotter selfie Hawaiian airlines a330 first class
Limited route network or not, Hawaiian Airlines is my kind of airline (and not just because of the girl).

8. Why would you choose Alaska Airlines over Hawaiian Airlines (or vice versa)?

Trying to choose between Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines will come down to your individual preferences.

Choose Alaska Airlines if:

  • You want to earn points and status on an airline that is part of a major airline alliance. In other words, the points you earn on Alaska Airlines are far more valuable than the points you’ll earn on Hawaiian Airlines.
  • Most of your flying is within the Continental US.
  • You want lounge access before your flight (except for flights leaving Hawaii). Although Hawaiian Airlines does have lounges available for their premium flyers in Honolulu, there are none on the mainland.

Choose Hawaiian Airlines if:

  • You want the “full” Hawaiian experience (native boarding music, native food, and cabin crews who wear floral shirts).
  • You want a lie flat seat in first class
  • You want a free (somewhat substantial) meal in economy class.
  • You fly to and from Hawaii a lot (their frequent flyer program will be more beneficial to you).
  • You prefer the option of flying more spacious widebody aircraft.

Personally, if given the choice between Alaska and Hawaiian, I’m usually (ok, always) going to choose Hawaiian. Why? Well, I like the feeling of being in Hawaii immediately after stepping onto the plane (thanks to the native music and liberal use of the words “aloha” and “mahalo” by the cabin crew). I prefer widebody aircraft. And I love their first class lie-flat seats.

Sure, Alaska Airlines will get you to and from Hawaii comfortably and safely. But if there’s any airline that knows Hawaiian culture better than all the others, it’s not the one with the portrait of an Eskimo painted on the side of their airplanes.

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