Plan Hawaii Vacations on Miles: Airline Award Options

Apr 4, 2013

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Using frequent flyer miles to get to Hawaii is not a new concept. It is an old school use of miles that hasn’t gone out of style so far, and I don’t forsee going out of style in the near future. In fact, fresh out of grad school almost ten years ago it was one of my first “big” mileage redemptions. I was young and broke, but I had the miles to take myself and a friend to Hawaii. I think I got the hotel pretty cheap via either Hotwire or Priceline and voila – even my pathetic 24 year-old post-grad school budget was able to enjoy several days in paradise.

At the time I just redeemed Continental (now United) miles for a standard round trip in economy from Houston to Honolulu. That would now cost 40,000 miles, and given that airfare to Hawaii can easily cost $600 – $700 per person from some US cities, it isn’t a bad use of miles at all. However, that is just one of many options. In this post I will break down some of the options via different mileage programs, and point out who may benefit the most from some different available programs.

Note that all of the mileage amounts listed below are at the lowest saver level, which is not always available. I will include some commentary about availability for each carrier. I also want to emphasize that with Hawaii awards, the sooner you start looking for award flights, the better. This is a case where stalking the websites beginning the day when the schedule opens for the following year is a good thing. Think roughly 11 months ahead, but check with your preferred program for the exact date.

Alaska Airlines Miles:

Economy: 40,000 RT (can book one-way for 20K)

First: 75,000 RT (can book one-way for 37.5K)

Hawaiian Destinations Served: Kauai, Maui, Honolulu, Oahu

Tips or Tricks:

  • Availability is pretty decent – I would say certainly better than Delta, but not quite as good as United. Some cities have better availability than others. For example, if you want to fly from Houston and require connections your availability will not be as good as starting from West Coast.
  • You can use Alaska miles to book on Delta or American using slightly different award charts.
  • If you have the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card you can use the annual $99 companion certificate to fly two people to Hawaii on one paid fare + $99. This must be used for economy, but both persons will earn miles on the trip.
  • It can be a better deal from the West Coast to use British Airways miles to fly on Alaska Airlines flights to Hawaii as their award chart is distance-based and requires as little as 25,000 Avios to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines flights.

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up Alaska Airlines miles:

  • Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
  • Bank of America Alaska Airlines Business Card
  • SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex – points can be transferred to Hawaiian at a rate of 25,000 Hawaiian miles for 20,000 SPG points.

American Airlines AAdvantage Miles:

Economy: 45,000 RT (can book one-way for 22.5K)

Business: 75,000 RT (can book one-way for 37.5K)

First: 95,000 RT (can book one-way for 47.5K)

Hawaiian Cities Served: Lihue, Honolulu, Kona, Hilo, and Kahului

Tips or Tricks:

  • Availability is okay, but can be tough for multiple saver tickets close-in. It is substantially better if you plan well in advance.
  • Adding Hawaii as a “free” one-way on an international award via a North American Gateway city (see previous post in series for more on this)
  • Low season economy pricing of 35,000 miles RT from January 12th March 8th and August 22nd – December 15th
  • Occasional lower pricing specials such as this one in early 2013 for just 30,000 round trip
  • Citi AAdvantage cardholders get 10% rebate annually in miles spent (up to 10,000 miles per year), so that can bring the actual mileage cost down
  • In addition to AA flights, you can use AA miles to fly on Alaska Airlines or Hawaiian Airlines flights as well.
  • Best chance for internationally configured planes is via Dallas (this matters this most if you are looking for a good premium cabin experience)
  • Can book as a one-way award for half the price in miles

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up AA miles:

  • Citibank AAdvantage Amex and Visa personal and business cards
  • SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex – points can be transferred to AA at a rate of 25,000 AA miles for 20,000 SPG points.

British Airways Avios Points:

The British Airways award chart is distance-based (unlike any of the others mentioned in this post), so the number of miles required will vary based on the origin and destination. Connections will increase the price, so you want to look for non-stop availability. Below I will list some examples of good cities in which to consider using Avios based on distance.

Economy: 25,000 miles round-trip from cities such as San Jose, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and Oakland. 40,000 from DFW to HNL. 45,000 from ORD. 50,000 from JFK. In other words, Avios are best used for those in the Western half of the US that can get to Hawaii on nonstop flights.

Business: Starting at 50,000 miles round trip (theoretically at least – not sure if there are any routes that would price out at the 50K level that actually have business class seats)

First: Starting at 75,000 round trip

Hawaiian Cities Served: None on BA metal, but you can use on partners AA and Alaska, so they essentially serve the same Hawaiian cities as those two airlines

Tips or Tricks:

  • If you live on the West Coast, this is a program you should strongly consider for getting to/from Hawaii as it is a tremendous deal in economy.
  • You can use Avios to fly in BA partners American Airlines and Alaska Airlines
  • Check availability using the AA.com website as the BA website can be a bit “buggy”. Look for SAAver availability on the American site and it should match up with what can be booked via British Airways with Avios as long as it is not via Hawaiian airlines.
  • Can book as a one-way award for half the price in miles
  • No close-in redemption fees and very reasonable cancellation or change fees

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up British Airways points:

  • British Airways Visa Signature® Card
  • Chase Cards via Ultimate Rewards such as the Ink Bold® Business Card, Ink Plus® Business Card, or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Amex cards via Membership Rewards such as American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
  • SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex – points can be transferred to BA at a rate of 25,000 Avios for 20,000 SPG points.

Delta Airlines Miles:

Economy: 40,000 RT (no discount for one-way)

First (domestic first): 75,000 RT (no discount for one-way)

Business (which is better than domestic first for them): 85,000 RT (no discount for one-way)

Hawaiian cities served: Kona, Honolulu, Lihue, Kahului

Tips or Tricks:

  • Have a shot of whiskey before trying to find low level availability for a family to go to Hawaii using Skymiles on Delta flights….it is very difficult. In fact, I truthfully don’t really recommend giving yourself the headache.
  • A better option if you have to use SkyMiles to get to Hawaii is to consider using them on Delta partners Alaska and Hawaiian. It can be easier to find low availability using Delta miles on those routes.
  • If you are willing to pay the “medium” price in miles instead of the lowest price, there is increased availability there. Again, this is not the program I would focus on for Hawaii redemptions.

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up Delta miles:

  • Amex cards via Membership Rewards such as American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
  • Delta Amex cards – check Card Match Tool for what may be the best offer
  • SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex – points can be transferred to Delta at a rate of 25,000 Delta miles for 20,000 SPG points

Hawaiian Airlines:

Economy: 40,000 RT (can book one-way for 20K miles) *Just 17.5K miles each way if you have the Hawaiian credit card

First: 80,000 RT (can book one-way for 40K miles)

Hawaiian Cities Served: Honolulu, Hilo, Kona, Lihue, Lanai City, Kahului, Kapalua, Molokai

Tips or Tricks:

  • Availability is overall mediocre but really varies by route. Some routes are pretty good – especially from the West Coast. Availability is especially tight on the direct flight from JFK-HNL – really be flexible and book early if you want that route.
  • Can share miles if the recipient has a Hawaiian Airlines credit card
  • Can apply for both the Bank of Hawaii issued card and the Bank of America issued card
  • Having the card gives you a 5K round trip discount on awards
  • Can also book on partners like Delta (using different award chart), but that is tough since Delta availability is not good

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up Hawaiian Airlines miles:

  • Bank of America Hawaiian Air Visa
  • Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Air Visa
  • SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex – points can be transferred to Hawaiian at a rate of 25,000 Hawaiian miles for 20,000 SPG points.
  • Amex cards via Membership Rewards such as American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card

United Airlines Miles:

Economy: 45,000

Business: 90,000

First: 102,500

Hawaiian Cities Served: Lihue, Honolulu, Kona, Hilo, Kahului

Tips or Tricks:

  • Availability is quite good, but it still helps to plan ahead when the schedule opens – especially for some direct routes such as the ones from Newark
  • Consider using either the reduced price one-way to Hawaii tacked on to an international award, or adding a free one-way to a Hawaii round-trip. See the previous post in this series for more info on both of these options.
  • For the best premium cabins (lie flat seats) look carefully at the type of aircraft being used. 777-200s usually have lie flat first, but only recliner business seats. The 767-400ER planes have no first class, but do have lie-flat business seats. Many routes just use planes with traditional domestic first class seats.
  • Can book as a one-way award for half the price in miles
  • Can also book via partners like US Airways from the US and intra-island partner Hawaiian Airlines between the islands

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up United miles:

US Airways miles:

Economy: 40,000 (no discount for one-way)

First: 80,000 (no discount for one-way)

Hawaiian Cities Served: Kona, Hilo (via Hawaiian), Kahului, Honolulu, Lihue

Tips or Tricks:

  • Be aware they do charge a $50 Hawaii award processing fee unless you have certain elite status levels with US
  • Can also book flights on Star Alliance partner United, but availability doesn’t seem to match up 100% in practice, especially for premium cabins. If you can get it to book, it is cheaper to fly first class (in a three cabin United plane) using 80K US Airways miles rather than 90K United miles
  • If you are flying solely on US Airways operated flights then you get a 5,000 mile discount on the RT total if you have the US Airways credit card

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up US Airways miles:

  • US Airways MasterCard
  • US Airways Business MasterCard
  • SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex – points can be transferred to US Airways at a rate of 25,000 US Airways miles for 20,000 SPG points.

Other Programs to Consider:

While the programs listed above are probably the most common ones for those in the US, there are a couple of others to consider that may sound crazy at first, but check out the details for some very good bargains.

Korean Air:

  • Redeem Korean Air miles (that are transferable 1:1 from the Chase Ultimate Rewards program) on Alaska for just 30,000 miles RT in economy or 60,000 miles RT in first. You can also have a free stopover.
  • Redeem Korean Air miles on Hawaiian for just 30,000 RT in economy or 60,000 miles RT in first. No one-way trips are permitted. Additional segments will require more miles.
  • You can view their award chart here. You will need to call in 1-800-438-5000 to book these awards.
  • I would search on the aa.com website for Hawaiian and Alaska partner availability and then use that availability to book via Korean.

Singapore Airlines:

  • Redeem Singapore Airlines miles (that are transferable 1:1 from the American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards program) for 35,000 miles RT in economy and 60,000 miles RT in business (but be careful that some airlines such as US Airways code their first class on a two cabin plane as first that will price out higher than business).
  • Use this to fly on Star Alliance partners such as United to Hawaii. You can book one-ways.
  • You do need to call in 1-213-404-0301 to book the awards.

Virgin America:

  • Redeem Virgin America points (that are transferable 2:1 from the Amex Membership Rewards program or via the Virgin America Visa® Signature Card) to fly on Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaii from select destinations.  The Virgin America chart is distance/segment based, but can be a great deal.
  • Some examples are 20,000 RT from Las Vegas to Honolulu, 35,000 RT from JFK to Honolulu, and 20,000 RT from San Jose to Maui.  One ways are available, but they seem to cost slightly more than 50% of a round trip.  Head here to check out their interactive award chart.
  • Check Hawaiian availability by using the AA.com website then book using Virgin America points.
  • There have been Membership Reward transfer bonuses in the past that made the transfer rate a bit less painful, but keep in mind that currently it is at a 2:1 ratio meaning that 20,000 Membership Reward points becomes 10,000 Virgin America points.

As you can see there are a plethora ways to use miles and points to get to Hawaii. Some deals are clearly better than others. Some programs offer better availability than others. Sometimes the best deal to fly on a specific airline is to book via one of their partners using a more favorable award chart. Finding the absolute best deal for your situation is going to require additional searching and research, but this post should start you off in the right direction.

What are your favorite tips and redemption methods to get to Hawaii?

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