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How to upgrade to Hawaiian Airlines first class without paying full price

by on Thu June 8, 2017 • 3 Comments


Hawaiian Airlines has one of the better First Class cabins for flights to Hawaii, with lie flat seats rolling out across the fleet, so an upgrade is a nice treat to get your vacation started right.

Upgrades with miles aren’t an incredible bargain, but for a special occasion, they’re often better than paying full first class fares. We’ll also show how to upgrade with cash at a discount to regular first class fares using Hawaiian’s two cash upgrade programs.

What miles you’ll need

In order to upgrade your Hawaiian Airlines flight with miles, you will need to have Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles. You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards to HawaiianMiles at a 1:1 ratio. Transfers from American Express to HawaiianMiles are instant and there are sometimes transfer bonuses that make your points go further.

Starwood Preferred Guest points also transfer to HawaiianMiles at a 1:1 ratio, or better. If you transfer SPG points in 20,000 point increments, you will receive a 5,000 mile bonus making the effective transfer ratio 1:1.25. Transfers from SPG to HawaiianMiles take 7 to 14 days.

How much do upgrades cost?

Hawaiian Airlines only offers two classes of service – economy and “first class” for interisland and US domestic services and “business class” for international services. Upgrade pricing is split into saver and flex levels.

One Way Upgrade Awards Saver Flex
Neighbor Island
7,500 15,000
North America – Hawaii
25,000 50,000
Samoa/Tahiti – Hawaii
30,000 60,000
Australia – Hawaii
45,000 90,000
New Zealand – Hawaii
45,000 90,000
Japan – Hawaii
45,000 90,000
Korea – Hawaii
45,000 90,000
China – Hawaii
45,000 90,000

Upgrade pricing between regions is calculated per segment. For example, if you fly from the Mainland U.S. to Hawaii and then onward to Japan, you would pay 25,000 miles for the segment from the Mainland U.S. to Hawaii at the saver level and 45,000 miles for the segment from Hawaii to Japan at the saver level for a total of 70,000 HawaiianMiles.

Note that if you purchased an Extra Comfort seat upgrade and later decide to upgrade to business class with miles, you will not be able to get a refund for your seat fee.

Are fuel surcharges added into the upgrade?

Hawaiian Airlines does not charge fuel surcharges, so you will not have to pay an increased surcharge when you upgrade your flight.

What fares can you upgrade?

Any paid fare can be upgraded with miles, availability permitting, except fares booked with a companion voucher. Award tickets are not eligible for upgrades, either. Keep in mind that if you paid for an Extra Comfort seat prior to deciding to upgrade with miles, you will not receive a refund of the fee paid.

How to know upgrade space is available

The easiest way to find out if upgrade space is available for mileage upgrades is to call Hawaiian Airlines.

Upgrade space is the same as award space for First Class, so you can check upgrade space by searching for a First Class award flight on the site. You’ll need to set up an account and login, but once you do you’ll see what flights have First Class awards available.


For flights from the Mainland, if you see a First Class award for 40,000 miles, there’s space for a Saver upgrade for 25,000 miles. And if you see a First Class award for 80,000 miles, there’s space for a Flex upgrade for 50,000 miles.

Expert Flyer, a paid service, gives you the ability to check for some upgrade space with Hawaiian Airlines, but unfortunately only for the more expensive Flex Upgrades. Since Expert Flyer doesn’t provide access to the lower Saver Upgrade space and it costs money to use, you’re better off calling Hawaiian if you’re not already a subscriber.

If you would rather upgrade with cash instead of miles, Hawaiian offers options to upgrade with cash including an upgrade auction and a cash buy-up on the day of departure. You can view day of departure upgrade options online via web check-in and also at the airport via kiosk check-in.

Can you waitlist if no upgrades are available?

No, Hawaiian Airlines does not offer a waitlist for mileage or cash upgrades. Cash upgrades, on the day of departure are instant. If a mileage upgrade is not available at the Saver or Flex level, it is likely that there will be no seats available. If Hawaiian decides not to offer Saver Upgrades, usually a Flex Upgrade will be available unless the First Class cabin is already fully booked.

How to book the upgrade

If you would like to book an upgrade with miles, you need to contact Hawaiian Airlines at 1-800-367-5320 at least 26 hours before departure. Last minute upgrades with miles are not possible.

If you prefer to use cash to upgrade your booking, you can do so online or at the airport between 24 hours before your flight and until check-in closes for the flight.

Do upgrades get lounge access?

Yes, if you upgrade your fare you will have access to the Hawaiian Airlines operated lounge.

How much do cash upgrades cost?

We’ve mentioned cash upgrades a number of times in this post, and that’s because Hawaiian Airlines offers two ways to pay for an upgrade in cash, that’s often less than buying a first class ticket.

One, is a program that sells confirmed upgrades at check-in, 24 hours in advance of the flight and the other is an option to bid in an auction for an upgrade that’s confirmed between 26 and 48 hours before the flight.

For upgrades at the 24 hour mark the price to upgrade with cash is fixed depending on the route and sometimes your status level:

Travel wholly within Hawaii

  • No status: $50
  • Gold: $25
  • Platinum: Free

Mainland to Hawaii (except JFK -HNL)

  • No status: $379 and up
  • Gold: $299 and up
  • Platinum: $249 and up

New York JFK to Hawaii

  • No status: $699 and up
  • Gold: $625 and up
  • Platinum: $575 and up

International routes

  • Australia: $700 and up
  • China: $700 and up
  • Japan: $495 and up
  • Korea: $495 and up
  • New Zealand: $700 and up
  • Pago Pago / Papeete: $379 and up

You can request these upgrades during online checkin 24 hours before the flight.

Bidding for upgrades

Before 24 hours, you can bid for an upgrade on the Hawaiian site using this form.

You’ll be notified between 48 hours and 26 hours before departure whether your offer was accepted, and you can cancel or change your offer anytime up to 48 hours before the flight.


One strategy is to bid at or below the prices above for upgrades that become available at the 24 hour checkin window. Users on Flyertalk report successful bids for upgrades as low as $225 one way for mainland to Hawaii flights, compared to the minimum $379 for an upgrade at 24 hours.

Just keep in mind, if you plan ahead, you can sometimes find First Class fares from the West Coast that cost only about $200 – $250 more than a Coach fare each way, without having to go through the uncertainty of the bidding process.

At that price, you’re better off paying cash for a First Class ticket upfront and not trying to use 25,000 miles, or playing around with the upgrade lottery.

But if First Class tickets are running $300 or more each way, $600 or more roundtrip, it’s probably worth considering the upgrade options.

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3 thoughts on How to upgrade to Hawaiian Airlines first class without paying full price

  1. Andrew Chaffee

    Very inefficient websites, I have been trying to book a first class flight for an hour and still have been getting a run around.


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