Updated: May 21, 2015

Best Maui Helicopter Tours

The chain of Hawaiian Islands contain some of the most fantastic geography on the planet. Technically, though islands, these are the tallest mountains in the world, rising more than 30,000 feet from the ocean floor from whence they came -- they formed from active volcanic hotspots in the ocean floor, and the big island of Hawaii (the youngest of the islands) continues to grow in height and size with the active lava flows still taking place today. So while the tropical beaches and oceans are the main draw, consider taking in some of the other breath-taking scenery that can only be seen from the sky. That's right -- we're talking about a helicopter sightseeing adventure. Flying in a helicopter is unlike anything you've ever done before. Unlike airplanes that need to keep moving in fast, straight, steady lines to keep their wings providing lift, helicopters have almost unlimited freedom of movement -- speeding up, slowing down, hovering, climbing straight up, dropping straight down -- no other vehicles can let you pause and gaze at a waterfall, then take you racing along crystal blue waters along a white beach. In fact, with steep mountains and few roads, almost 90% of the islands are accessible only by helicopter. In this guide, we will take a look at what kind of helicopter tours you can choose on Maui -- where they go, how much they cost, what the best ones are, etc.

How much do Maui Helicopter Tours Cost?

OK, so helicopter tours aren't exactly cheap. But for many people a trip to Maui is a trip of a lifetime, and the things you see and do there will stay with you forever. So you have to plan and budget for the activities you want to do on your vacation. Helicopter tours charge by the person and by the length of the ride. Most flights range from 30 minutes to more than an hour. For a 30 minute trip, you can expect to pay approximately $175 to $200 per person. For an hour trip, you can expect to pay $250 to $300 per person. So yes, for a family of 4, we're talking about almost $1000 for a 30-60 minute experience, and we know that's not cheap. Most helicopters hold 6 people plus the pilot, so your group is limited to 6 -- its not like a bus ride with 60 other tourists. The experience is very personal and intimate -- you have to wear headphones to drown out the noise of the rotor, allowing you to clearly hear the voice of your tour guide pilot along with accompanying dramatic music to highlight your flight. These are tour helicopters, designed with big windows and viewing areas so you can soak in the view. In general, the front seats near the pilot have the best views and incur a ticket premium.

It's one thing to drive the Road to Hana - it's something else entirely to soar past the creeks and waterfalls and rainforests that line the road. Haleakala Crater is another popular spot to see some of the most dramatic scenery on Maui - flying along the delicate crater rim and looking 10,000 feet to the ocean below is something else. The northwest coast along Kaanapali, Napili, and Kapalua is also popular, with scenic beachs, resorts, and golf courses, and dramatic views looking back towards the mountains. The Iao Valley is impressive enough on foot looking up at the lush vegetation and towering cliff walls, but from a helicopter, flying along the cliff walls and rock formations, its out of this world. Molokai, just off the coast, has the highest sea cliffs in the world. Most helicopter tour companies offer 3 or 4 very similar options when it comes to tours (see Sunshine below for details). Be sure to ask about any fuel surcharges or other costs, as these can easily add 30% or more to the quoted ticket price.

Best Maui Helicopter Companies

There are quite a few helicopter companies that compete for tourist dollars on Maui. This is a list of the most reputable ones:
  • Blue Hawaiian
  • Alexair Helicopters
  • Sunshine Helicopters
  • Air Maui
Most of these companies fly 6 seater helicopters. Alexair has been operating for nearly 40 years -- it's a 2 generation business that is a Maui original and flys out of Kahului. They offer 15% online booking discounts (HeliTour.com). You may want to check out their "doors off" helicopter tours for something a little more radical, but other than that they offer mostly the same tours as listed in detail below for Sunshine. You can charter a bird for an hour for $1500-$1700, and go wherever you want. Overall, this is a highly recommended company. AirMaui.com claims to offer the lowest prices without hidden surcharges -- and they may be right. For example their 45 minute condensed West Maui and Molokai tour is $290 per person vs. the quoted rate of $300-$430 prices quoted by Sunshine below. They originally operated on Kauai but moved to Maui after Hurricane Iniki caused some serious damage to Kauai. They also fly out of the heliport in Kahului. BlueHawaiian.com is one of the most reputable helicopter companies in the islands, having won many recommendations from Frommer's, National Geographic, and other sources. . Their cheapest flight is a 30 minute West Maui Mountain tour for $165 per person (A-Star craft). They've been flying for more than 20 years and have flown more than 1 million customers around 3 islands. They use Bose noise-cancelling headsets that cost $1000 each and let you talk to your pilot and ask questions -- other companies don't offer that. Their Maui tours include the standard Maui West Mountains, West Maui and Molokai, Hana/Haleakala, Complete Island, and Maui Spectacular. Below, we outline the main flights offered by Sunshine Helicopters, which pretty closely duplicate what the operators above offer.

SunshineHelicopters.com (808-270-3999) is run by a husband and wife team, the Scotts (Ross was a helicopter gunship pilot in Vietnam). In business since 1985, they currently fly 8 helicopters, and most of their pilots have 10,000+ hours of flight time (that's more than one continuous year of flying, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year!). They are located at the Kahului heliport. On Maui, they offer 4 different helicopter tours. The first is West Maui Deluxe (30 minutes), which covers the mountains, waterfalls, and resorts of northwest Maui -- see the Wall of Tears, Honokohau Falls, Kaanapali and Kapalua, and more. Cost is $180-$245 per person, depending on type of helicopter and seating. They also offer $50 DVD compilations of each flight to take your scenery and memories home with you. Next is the Hana Haleakala Tour (45 minutes), which climbs up over central Maui as you ascend Haleakala crater then down the back side to Hana Town and the Seven Pools area. Cost is $245-$340 per person. The Circle Island Deluxe helicopter tour (60 minutes) combines the West Maui and Hana tours, so you see the whole island -- price is $300-$430 per person. Last is the Molokai Deluxe (60 minutes), which starts in West Maui and then heads across the channel to see the sea cliffs, waterfalls, and valleys of Molokai - cost is $300-$430 per person.

Maui Helicopter Tours Discounts - Tips

OK, now for some insider tips on how to get the most out of your helicopter ride. First, as you tour around Maui, chances are you will see a ton of "tourist" booths with information on whale watching, scuba diving, and, you guessed it, helicopter flights. These people don't work for the helicopter companies, they are paid promoters and salespeople. You book a trip through their referral, and they get some money for it. So for a helicopter company, they would much rather you contact them directly and book a flight with them -- so do this, and request a discount for doing so. If they offer you a price of $200, tell them that unless they knock it down to $160 you will book it through a tour company, or ask for any specials or internet discounts they offer. You can also take advantage of any open spots they might have by calling late in that day regarding the next morning flights -- if they have a copter going up with just 3 people, they may be happy to make a deal to fill up a 4th and 5th seat. These are all small companies, and they can and will negotiate a bit on price. They do have to pay for their helicopters and pilots, so they can't afford to give it away, but they can afford to knock a little off some very high rates. Another site with significant discounts on Maui helicopter tours is LocalExpert.com in partnership with Expedia. They offer a full circle Maui tour for $180 per person and a West Maui and Molokai tour for $190 -- pretty good deals if you can get them.

When it comes to your actual ride, keep in mind that front seats have better views that back -- and they normally charge more for this. Maybe strike a bargain when you book a flight and request front seats at backseat prices. Next, to cut out the VERY loud sound of the rotors, you'll need to wear a headset (earphones) -- leave off or take off your earrings on your flight day, and you will get a much better fit against your head. With headphones you will be able to hear the pilot much better, but only a few companies let you talk to the pilot as well in flight -- consider Alexair Helicopters and Blue Hawaiian if you want this privilege. When it comes to photo tips, the biggest problem is glare from the windows. Obviously, turn your flash off. After that, darker clothes will not reflect in the windows like white clothing. When it comes to videos of your trip, yes you can spend $50 to record YOUR actual trip. But you can probably buy a DVD for $15 somewhere else with perfectly filmed flyovers of Maui -- ie, waterfalls in sunset, beaches at sunset, etc. You may not see this on your actual flight, so you have to decide if you want the best possible video or the video of your actual flight -- up to you. Motion sickness?? Most people do fine on helicopters, but if you are prone to motion sickness, treat yourself to some Dramamine before your tour, just in case.