The Best Ways to Use Miles for Hawaiian Island-Hopping

Feb 1, 2019

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If you have picked Hawaii as your vacation destination — congratulations! You made a great decision and now almost can’t go wrong with whatever you choose next. Hawaii is (more than) worth the effort no matter what you do when you get there (but please don’t just stay on Waikiki the whole time).

Kauai's Waimea Canyon the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Photo via Getty Images.
Kauai’s Waimea Canyon: the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Photo via Getty Images.

Since the Islands of Hawaii are so diverse and unique in their own ways, it can be tempting to want to visit multiple islands on the same trip by island-hopping. As long as you have enough time during your trip to Hawaii to do the individual islands justice (at least several days per island), we give Hawaii inter-island travel a big thumbs-up. Here are some logistics to note about island-hopping in Hawaii that you’ll want familiarize yourself with first. With that out of the way, here are the best ways to use your miles for island-hopping in Hawaii.

Molokini Crater with West Maui in background. (Photo by M Swiet Productions/Gerry Images)
Molokini Crater with West Maui in background. (Photo by M Swiet Productions / Getty Images)

You’re Probably Flying Hawaiian Airlines — For Now

Until Southwest Airlines begins inter-island operations in Hawaii, likely in the later part of 2019, you’re most likely going to fly Hawaiian Airlines between the islands. Once Southwest ramps up its Hawaii operations to include inter-island travel (which won’t happen on Day One), there will be competition on these routes that will likely be a very good thing for travelers. This is especially true if you have a Southwest Companion Pass (so don’t miss the chance to snag a Companion Pass with one credit card sign up by Feb. 11).

Getty Images
(Photo by Getty Images)

Check the Cash Price

Naturally, airfare prices vary, but flights between the Hawaiian Islands can be found in economy starting at around $59 on many dates, though some flights can cost more than double that amount. Distances also vary — from Hilo on the Big Island to Lihue on Kauai is a little over 300 miles, though flights from Honolulu to Maui clock in at just 100 miles.

If the flight in Hawaii that you want costs about $100 or less, your best play is likely using cold hard cash, or fixed-value points to cover the cost of the relatively inexpensive ticket.

For example, you could purchase a $59 ticket and use 5,900 miles from your Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to cover the cost (and get 5% of the redeemed miles back). Or, you could book that ticket via the Chase Ultimate Rewards booking site using your Chase Sapphire Reserve and spend just 3,933 Ultimate Rewards points at a value of 1.5 cents each.

However — in my searches, I noticed a trend that the cheapest island-hopping flights on Hawaiian Airlines aren’t always available for booking via third-party sites (like the Chase Travel site or Expedia), so you may need to book directly with Hawaiian to get the cheapest flights. You would then use the best fixed-value card in your wallet to pay for the direct booking and use the points from that card to offset the cost.

Free Island-Hop Via the United Excursionist Perk

If you want to get a Hawaii island-hop in “for free,” book your trip to Hawaii using United miles. For example, you could fly Houston – Honolulu (stop) – Lihue (stop) – Houston for the same number of miles as just Houston to Honolulu and back (45,000 in saver economy). Since Hawaii is in a different award chart region than the Lower 48, it works for a free stopover using the United Excursionist Perk on a round-trip booked with United miles.

Here are the best credit cards for flying United, plus the United Explorer Business Card is offering a limited-time increased bonus of 75,000 miles with $3,000 in spending in the first three months. Once you spend enough on that card to trigger the 75k welcome bonus, you are just 2,000 miles shy of enough United miles for two round-trip saver awards to Hawaii, with an included island-hop.

Use Airline Miles for Inter-Hawaii Travel

You can use a variety of airline miles to island-hop Hawaii, but they are basically all going to bring you right back to the same Hawaiian Airlines flights. But, not every airline charges the same number of miles for flights on Hawaiian so it pays to shop around with the miles you have available. Here’s a rundown of some popular options, prices listed as one-way except where noted.

American: 7,500 miles in economy, 15,000 in first (but factor in getting 10% of the redeemed miles back if you have an eligible American Airlines cobranded credit card)

Delta: 7,500 miles in economy

Hawaiian: 7,500 miles in economy, 15,000 in first

If you have the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard, your first checked bag will be free if you book directly with Hawaiian using the card, access to discounted awards and more.

JetBlue: 6,000 miles in economy, 12,000 in first

You can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to JetBlue at a 1:1 ratio if you have cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Citi ThankYou now also has a 1:1 transfer ratio to JetBlue. Those with the JetBlue Plus Card get 10% of their redeemed points back.

Note that JetBlue awards on Hawaiian Airlines must be booked over the phone with JetBlue, but in our test call, availability lined up roughly with what United displayed as available.

Korean: 10,000 miles in economy, 20,000 in first (round trip required)

Sadly, you can no longer transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Korean but you can transfer Marriott Rewards points at a 3:1 ratio (with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer). Korean can be a good deal, but there will probably be some extra paperwork involved when booking for the family.

United: 7,000 miles in economy

Virgin Atlantic: 7,500 miles in economy, 15,000 in first (infants 2,000 miles in economy/10,000 in first)

A benefit of Virgin Atlantic miles is that they are easy to earn, as you can transfer from Amex Membership RewardsChase Ultimate RewardsCiti ThankYou Rewards and even Marriott Rewards. We’ve also seen periodic transfer bonuses from both Amex and Citi in the past, so your award rates could be discounted even further by transferring during these promotions.

Bottom Line

You may not need to use airline miles for an inter-island trip in Hawaii if cash prices are good enough. We recommend doing the math to make sure you are getting a decent value for your points. But when prices cross that $100 threshold, miles become a deal worth considering. This whole island-hopping equation may change dramatically once Southwest has its Hawaii game fully operational, but for now, start your Hawaiian island-hopping planning by checking cash prices and then turn to some of the mileage options listed if cash prices leave a sour guava juice taste in your mouth.

To help you on your Hawaii planning journey:

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