Aloha to Big Savings: Finding the Miles to Hawaii

Aloha to Big Savings: Finding the Miles to Hawaii


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Image courtesy: Hyatt Hotels

Two Different Routes to Hawaii

Part 1: Newark to Honolulu
Part 2: Charlotte to Honolulu

Two destinations are among the most popular submitted by readers here at PointsAway: Australia and Hawaii. Starting today, we’re going to take a two-part look at Hawaii. The 50th state can be a challenging destination to reach given its universal popularity as a destination for award travelers. As we’ve learned, though, anything is possible!

Trip Information

Today, we’re going to be looking at a trip submitted by PointsAway reader Justin. He and his lovely wife to be are hoping to travel from Newark to Honolulu for their honeymoon! Their travel dates are March 24th through the 29th or 30th 2014, so we have a specific timeline we’re looking to fulfill. Their preferred method of travel would be United’s first or business class out of Newark.

Current Program Status

Justin currently has about 50,000 points with Ultimate Rewards and is on track for 75,000 by the end of the year. He also has 20,000 Starwood Preferred Group points. He’s willing to consider other cards with helpful sign-up bonuses but isn’t certain what would work best for him.

Getting There

Justin’s already on the right track, as United its award chart indicates the best option for this trip given their current point balances. Ultimate Rewards feature 1:1 transfers with United’s MileagePlus program, giving him plenty of versatility to enter heavily into United’s program if availability exists.

Looking at availability, it becomes apparent quickly that a true first class booking isn’t likely to be possible. This is despite United’s award chart showing availability in first on our departure date. Looking at the available First Class Saver options, we see that each is listed as a mixed class award. Hovering over, it becomes apparent that these flights offer First Class service only as far as San Francisco, and then transition to Economy for the flight to Honolulu. That’s not what we want!

To try to work around this, I searched flights from not only Newark, but also Dulles, Houston, Denver and other airports from which United offers nonstop flights to Honolulu. My thinking was that stitching together a multi-city itinerary in First Class – or even flying Economy to a close airport like Dulles in order to enjoy First Class for the long haul – may be possible. Unfortunately, we came up drawing a blank given the specific travel date requirement. For this flight, it doesn’t look like First Class is possible. We’ll try to make it up to Justin later, promise!

Thankfully, Saver Award availability in Economy does exist for Justin’s departure date. With less than an hour’s layover in San Francisco – something I personally welcome as a way of breaking up the trip without significantly adding to travel time – we can get Justin and his newlywed to Honolulu from Newark on March 24th for just 40,000 miles and $10 total.

Frustratingly, we run into another challenge for the return flight: simply put, it’s not available at any sane redemption level. Returning home directly on United on 03/29 or 03/30 would require 40,000 points a piece, or twice as many as it took to get there! The nonstop flight home is available on the 30th, but it doesn’t return until the 31st; the only flight available at the full redemption level on the 29th is to track our steps back through San Francisco, landing in Newark on the 30th.

We can’t in good conscience recommend blowing so many points on a non-saver redemption unless Justin’s travel plans absolutely require it. So, we set out to find another solution.

British Airways from Hawaii? Think Alaska.

It may strike many readers as common sense, but availability on United for our return date is constricted because the flight is outbound from Hawaii, a very popular route. As such, a route on United leaving from elsewhere is more likely to be available. This helps us out more than you might think, thanks to the versatility of Ultimate Rewards. Another 1:1 transfer partner is British Airways’ Avios program, and that may come in handy for this booking. Because Avios redemptions are distance-based, travel to and from Hawaii can require as few as 12,500 miles from several west coast locations. This includes LAX, PDX, SJC and SAN among others.

Avios may be redeemed for flights on partners American or Alaska Airlines. Avios may not be redeemed on Hawaiian Air flights, even though they are a partner of American. This is important because the easiest way to search for flights available for Avios redemptions is by using American’s website, which will include results from Hawaiian.

We searched flights leaving Honolulu on American or Alaska using American’s award booking engine and found “SAAver Award” – their low-tier category – availability into San Jose, CA on the 30th.

Remember, even though the screenshot says 22.5k miles are required per ticket, that’s using American AAdvantage miles. We’re interested in what American’s site has to say because it indicates what availability exists when using British Airways Avios. By calling British Airways – Alaska redemptions cannot be booked through – this flight should be available for just 12,500 Avios per person, plus a few dollars of taxes.

The next morning, a flight on United from San Jose to Newark is available at their Saver award level. Because this is an award trip within the Continental US, it requires just 12,500 miles per person instead of the 20,000 miles that would have been required if a direct-from-Honolulu option were available.

Adding up these miles, we’re looking at 50,000 total miles since points can be transferred from Ultimate Rewards to both British Airways and United. This is just 10,000 more than would have been required if United Saver availability were open, which makes for a much more palatable points redemption. The sore spots of this option are the overnight stay in San Jose and the fact that the flight to Newark doesn’t return until Monday evening.

A category 2 Hyatt is located just 4.5 miles from the San Jose airport, so a free night’s stay for just 8,000 points is possible. Including this, Justin would still save about 22,000 miles as opposed to ponying up 40,000 per person for a full Economy redemption home on United alone. Whether this savings is worth the hoop jumping is a personal decision. However, we have a pretty good reason why in mind:

Intra-Hawaiian Redemptions Using United Miles

United doesn’t allow its miles to be used on Hawaiian Airlines to get to and from Hawaii, but it does allow miles to be used on Hawaiian for travel between the islands. Better yet, these flights come to a measly 5,000 points per person each way!

This means Justin could spend a few days in Honolulu and then continue on to, say, Kauai or Maui. This would allow them to spend some time at the beautiful Grand Hyatt Kauai.

As a category six location, this property is among Hyatt’s finest, but redemptions are possible for just 22,000 points per night, an exceptional value when compared with the top end of most hotel programs. Better yet, the Grand Hyatt Kauai is also a redemption option for the two free nights offered by the Chase Hyatt Visa.

Finding the Miles

We have a number of options here depending on what direction Justin may wish to go regarding his flight redemptions. If he were to book an award flight to Hawaii and a cash flight home, the Barclaycard Arrival might make some sense. However, cash flights are not a terribly attractive option, as they were running for $655 per passenger at lowest in our checks.

If he wants to book the Saver flight to Honolulu and pay the full 40,000 per person for the return flight on United, Justin will need a total of 120,000 United miles. Taking the 75,000 he expects to have in Ultimate Rewards by year’s end, we’re left in need of 45,000 more miles.

His best bet would be to either apply for a Chase Ink card or have his fiancé apply for a Chase Sapphire Preferred. The Ink card offers a 50,000 point bonus after $5,000 in purchases, while Sapphire Preferred offers 40,000 points after $3,000 in purchases.

One of the best things about Ultimate Rewards is that points can be combined across cards and between different cardholders. The terms and conditions state that points may only be combined with those of a spouse or other close relative, but we think Justin would be just fine here given the circumstances.

Justin could transfer his Starwood points to United, but Starwood only offers a 2:1 ratio for these transfers. Thankfully, they also offer a 5,000 point bonus on transfers of 20,000 points, so if Justin were to transfer his 20,000 points, they’d be worth 12,500 United miles.

If Justin would prefer to combine an Avios and United redemption for the trip home, the total amount of points required would be just 90,000 for both passengers, plus an additional 8,000 if they stayed at the Hyatt nearby the San Jose airport on the way home for the night. Sapphire Preferred or Ink still make a lot of sense in this case, but the amount of points saved could easily cover an intra-Hawaiian roundtrip and/or an extra night at the Grand Hyatt Maui plus the night in San Jose.

Wrapping Up

We have to recommend the Avios + United return option, as it just makes the most sense miles-wise. However, it’s important to remember that value is in the eye of the redeemer when it comes to miles: unwilling to deal with the admitted hassle it introduces, Justin may prefer to simply pony up the full mileage amount on the way home.

Even though Hawaii is a challenging destination, especially on a set schedule, the potential for very high value redemptions on intra-Hawaiian flights using United miles and the chance to stay at one of the best Hyatt resorts in the world still make this a compelling choice for many award travelers!

Trip Component Cash Price Points + Cash Savings
United : EWR -> SFO -> HNL, 2 Adults: 03/24/2014 $485.00 per passenger on Alaska 40,000 United Miles (from Ultimate Rewards) + $10.00 taxes/fees $960.00
Alaska : HNL -> SJC & United : SJC -> LAX -> EWR, 2 Adults: 03/30-31/2014 $655.00 per passenger on United 25,000 BA Avios (from Ultimate Rewards) + $10.00 taxes/fees + 25,000 United Miles (from Ultimate Rewards) + $10.00 taxes/fees $1,290.00
Total: $2,280.00 65,000 United Miles + 25,000 BA Avios (All from Ultimate Rewards Transfer) $3,210

Happy travels!

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Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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