Hawaii is a pretty popular getaway. Probably for its white sand beaches, warm water, and tropical atmosphere. I’ve been to Hawaii once as a teenager. It was definitely fun and I plan on going back in the next year or so with my wife. However, I’ve recently had several friends and family ask about travel hacking their way to Hawaii. Since I live on the west coast, most of my knowledge and information shared in this post will relate specifically to getting to Hawaii from states that border the Pacific Ocean.
For the sake of this article, I am going to try and run the numbers for booking a 5 night Hawaiian vacation for the end of August later this year. I will be breaking this article up into two separate posts. This first post will talk about getting to Hawaii.
Cash vs. Award Flights
Possibly the most important and expensive part of getting to Hawaii are the flights. For my fake vacation dates of August 25-30th, I was able to find the following direct flights from Seattle (SEA) to Honolulu (HNL):
My next search was for Seattle (SEA) to Maui (OGG):
As you can see from these two searches, the average price of flights is around $500 RT from Seattle and this is flying on the cheapest days Thursday and Tuesday.
So what are my options when it comes to using airline miles?
Here are the RT per person costs in miles for an economy ticket the various airlines:
- United Airlines – 45k RT
- Delta Airlines – 45k RT
- Hawaiian Airlines – 40k RT
- Alaska Airlines – 40k RT
- American Airlines – 35k RT
- Korean Airlines – 25k RT
- British Airways – 25k RT
Now I’m sure many of you are thinking “British Airways and Korean Airlines offer flights to Hawaii?!” You are right. Well sort of. Both of these airlines don’t technically fly Seattle to Hawaii. However, they are both part of different alliances. Korean Airlines is part of the SkyTeam Alliance and British Airways is part of the OneWorld Alliance. Korean Airlines allows you to book flights via Delta. Whereas British Airways allows you to book flight via Alaska. Overall, I am a much bigger fan of Alaska’s economy product versus Delta’s, but I digress.
Korean Airlines and British Airways are both transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards. American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest can also transfer to British Airways. Chase also has a specific British Airways Visa credit card, which earn British Airways mileage currency, also known as Avios.
In this post, I am going to primarily focus on British Airways due to how much easier it is to earn British Airways Avios and to book award flights. Korean Airlines does not have full access to all of Delta’s award inventory. Therefore, it is difficult to search for flights and booking via the Korean call center can be a hassle (at least that’s what I’ve heard). If you’re looking for more details about booking through Korean airlines I suggest you go here: Travel Codex: Korean Air – Hawaii. However, since Chase Ultimate Rewards also transfer to British Airways and the awards cost the same. I would highly suggest booking through British Airways vs. Korean Air.
Given that flights typically cost ~$500 RT, with this method you’ll get a value of roughly ~2 cents per mile, which is pretty good redemption value.
Booking Alaska Flights via British Airways
Step 1: Search for Availability on AA.com
To find award availability, you’ll have to search AA.com. You’ll want to click the Redeem Miles box at the top right corner before you click search.
Next, you’ll want to find NONSTOP flights under the Economy MileSAAver tab. Non-direct flights are viewed as two separate flights in the British Airways system and will therefore cost more points. If you are redirected to the Economy AAnytime tab, this means there are no Economy MileSAAver awards available for that route/date. Economy AAnytime flights are not available to be booked via British Airways. Below you’ll see the first (selected) flight – AS 893 – is operated by Alaska and is nonstop from SEA > HNL. You’ll also notice it says 17.5k that would be the one way cost if you booked via American Airlines, but you’re booking through British Airways. The beauty of British Airways award chart is that it is distance based.
SEA > HNL Flight
SEA > OGG Flight
Step 2: Call British Airways
Unfortunately, you can’t book Alaska flights via British Airways online so you’ll have to call. There are sometimes long hold times depending on when you call. There are some tricks that I’ve heard of like using Skype to call an Asia call center instead of the US one. I’ve never done any of that. The first time I called to booked flights my wait time was only 20 minutes. The second time I called it only took 2 minutes for me to reach someone who could book my award flight.
Chat with the British Airways customer representative and let them know you’d like to book a flight using your Avios. They’ll ask you where you want to fly and what dates. They should find the same flights that you were able to find on AA.com. There is a $25 for phone bookings, but if you tell them that you were unable to book it online they usually waive the fee. Remember you need to have 25k Avios per person in your British Airways Executive Club account. You’ll also still have to pay the taxes/fees of ~$11 RT per person.
That’s it for the booking process.
The most difficult thing about this whole process is finding award availability for the days that you want. It is best to book your tickets pretty far in advance if there’s a certain day your wanting.
How To Earn 25k Avios miles
There are a several different credit cards that will help you easily earn 25k British Airways Avios:
Chase British Airways Visa – 50k Avios for $2k of spend
This card also has additional bonuses. If you spend another $8k, you’ll get 25k Avios. Then another $10k gets you 50k Avios. If you can put $20k of spend in the first year on the British Airways card, you’ll get a total of 120k Avios (100k bonus + 20k of spend). That’s almost enough for 5 RT flights to Hawaii.
Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50k Chase Ultimate Rewards + 5k AU Bonus
Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer at a 1 to 1 ratio. In other words, every 1 UR = 1 Avios. If you do decide to sign up for the Sapphire Preferred, I’d definitely appreciate you using my referral link (it’ll give me 10k UR if you’re approved).
American Express Premier Rewards Gold – 50k Membership Rewards
The annual fee on this may seem steep, but it is waived for the first year and comes with a $100 airline fee credit that can be used to pay for taxes/fees/etc incurred while flying. Membership Rewards (MR) are transferable at a 0.75 to 1 ratio. Therefore, it’ll take 31,250 MR to get 25k Avios.
One More Travel Hacking Option:
Okay. Say you don’t want to use points and would rather just pay cash… Another great option for those travelling together is getting the Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit card.
This card gives you 25k or 30k Alaska miles upon approval. You’ll also have to pay the annual fee of $75. However, this card comes with a very useful perk. It is called the Alaska Companion Pass. You get one of these each year. It allows you to add a companion to your flight for $99 plus taxes/fees. Looking at the flights that I looked at earlier. You would pay roughly $600 RT for two people. This method could save you roughly $400 and you’ll not be stuck with the hassle of booking award flights. This is pretty good savings for a $75 annual fee.
As you can see, there are a lot of options to travel hack your way to Hawaii. Stay tuned for part 2 on travel hacking your hotel stays in Hawaii.