Hawaiian Airlines unveiled its spin on basic economy this week, a new fare it calls “Main Cabin Basic” that will be available on select flights between Honolulu (HNL) and mainland cities starting Oct. 21.
These new, no-frills fares are already available for sale between Los Angeles (LAX), San Jose (SJC), and Long Beach (LGB). Passengers with Main Cabin Basic fares can still bring a carry-on bag on board, but won't be able to select their seats, won't be eligible for upgrades, and cannot change or cancel their reservations.
Hawaiian is relatively late to the basic economy game, as almost every other major U.S. carrier has been selling these no-frills fares for years. It leaves JetBlue as one of the few remaining holdouts – though that's expected to change this year. Executives at Southwest Airlines have vowed they'll never sell basic economy fares.
Of course, these skimpy fares are only available on a handful of Hawaiian's flights. Unfortunately, it's likely only a matter of time before this expands across all of Hawaiian's network.
Basic economy fares are lucrative for airlines, as they convince travelers to pay more for what they once got for free – all while airlines pretend that they've lowered prices.
In this case, Hawaiian appears to be charging an additional $60 per round-trip fare to avoid the pains of basic economy.
That's in line with what Delta, American, and United charge to avoid basic economy on flights to Hawaii. Elsewhere, those major carriers typically ask for another $70 to upgrade to a main cabin economy fare.
Hawaiian's version of basic economy isn't the worst – that distinction goes to United, which doesn't even let travelers bring a carry-on bag. But basic economy fares are still a pain in the you-know-what, as it's an excuse for airlines to give you less while pretending they're cutting prices.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.