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I commonly hear about Hawaii in terms of an aspirational vacation destination for families. It’s still in the US so there are no cell phone, currency, or passport issues for US citizens. However, it is a paradise that is a world away from the type of life that most of us live on a day to day basis. But, getting to and staying in Hawaii can be quite pricey for a family, so it is no surprise that so many families want to get there using miles and points. I have written some about getting to and staying in Hawaii on miles and points, but I haven’t devoted a set of posts to Hawaii. Time to rectify that with a short series on getting to Hawaii from the US mainland, staying in Hawaii at hotels, and island hopping.
Consider Cash, Not Miles and Points:
I have been to Hawaii twice myself, with three more trips booked in 2013. Don’t judge – fares were amazing and I went a little overboard. 😉 So, I do have some experience in Hawaii, but I will be looking to those of you who are Aloha Experts to chime in as well. In fact, my first recommendation in terms of getting to Hawaii on miles and points is to consider not using miles and points. It is not all that uncommon that rates will be in the $300 – $450 range per person to Hawaii from cities all over the US.
The West Coast especially sees fares in the $300 range, but even places like Texas and New York get in on the $350 – $400 action from time to time. One of the best pieces of advice in the travel world is to “chase the fare, not the destination” and that is true with Hawaii. I booked several trips this year because the fare was so good, and who doesn’t love a trip to Hawaii. Of course, it is never guaranteed that a good fare will pop up for when you want to go, but it never hurts to keep an eye on fares for your favorite destinations like Hawaii. If a fare you like pops up then grab it quickly. I think I stumbled on my low Hawaii fares by keeping an eye on the Mileage Run forum of Flyertalk and following @theflightdeal and @airfarewatchdog.
Naturally even at $400 a pop, that adds up quickly when buying for a whole family, but you will cut out the problem of availability that comes from using miles and points. You also earn a fare number of elite qualifying miles when flying from the mainland to Hawaii, so that can be a factor if qualifying for elite status matters to you.
Decide if a Hotel is Really the Right Choice:
I deal primarily in the world of miles and points, so in this series I will focus on lodging options that can be booked with points. However, there are many options in Hawaii outside of the traditional hotel room. Especially if you have a larger family, staying in a two or three bedroom unit available via a site like vrbo.com or airbnb.com might be a much better deal than paying for a one-room resort hotel. I saw some beautiful ocean-view three bedroom condos available on Maui in the $450 – $600 range per night. I also saw some slightly more modest two-bedroom condos closer to $200 per night. I am sure there are even better deals than that, but even $450 – $600 per night isn’t that terrible of a deal for a condo that can comfortably sleep 8 as opposed to a hotel room that might be $300 – $400 and really only comfortably sleep 2. Of course you can save on meal costs by being in condo-type lodging as well.
All of my Hawaii trips this year are either by myself, just with my husband, or just with my daughter, so a hotel room will be the best option for us on all of those stays, but I very much hope to head to Hawaii with a larger group of family members in the future and when that happens we will be looking beyond hotel rooms for those type of stays.
There are some miles and points deals to Hawaii that are (much) better than others, but it is still going to take a relatively healthy stash of miles and points to get a whole family to Hawaii and back. Even more if you want to stay at hotels on points. It is absolutely doable, but it will take a little bit of time to amass enough miles and points. Also, multiple award seats on the more desirable flights can become scarce during the peak travel seasons. So, start early and be realistic. Unless you are very aggressive and pretty lucky, don’t expect to start now from 0 (March ’13) and get your family of four to the Aloha State entirely on miles and points by this summer. Expect to start now and shoot for maybe next summer. It’ll be here before you know it anyway.
There are several islands in Hawaii, and even once you pick an island you like there are very distinct parts of the individual islands, so start researching where you want to visit. The more you know about where you want to go, the easier it will be to know which miles and points programs to focus on. Of course you can island hop to more than one island while you are there, so I will cover the most cost effective way to move around between the islands. It will also help to know in advance how long you want to stay in Hawaii. I’m crazy and go there for much shorter trips than is really advisable. I think close to a full week is the minimum length that most families want when they head all the way to Hawaii, but of course the longer you are there the more dollars and points are required.
Consider the off-season:
When starting to think about your dream miles and points trip to Hawaii, think about what times of year you would be interested in visiting as this will impact the cost of the trip in terms of dollars or points. If you are tied to a school schedule you will likely be visiting during the peak demand periods, but if you are free from that schedule then consider if visiting during a lower demand period would work for your schedule. If flying in coach works for you, then traveling in the off-peak season can even save you airlines miles. For example, American Airlines charges just 35,000 miles round trip to Hawaii from the US mainland, Canada, or the Caribbean from Jan. 12 – Mar. 13 and Aug. 22 – Dec. 15, as opposed to the regular 45,000 miles required. As an added bonus, some of the off-season months (like September and October) actually offer some of the best weather.
Coming up very soon are posts on what I consider to be the good stuff… getting to Hawaii from the US mainland on miles, staying in Hawaii at hotels on points, and the best deals for island hopping.