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Strategic Airline Ticket Decisions (this post)
In Part 1 of this mini-series, I outlined what I would be covering in subsequent posts on getting your family to Hawaii on miles and points. If you missed that post, I recommend going back and checking out some of the tips and parameters shared there to give a baseline for what is to come. The next couple posts are dedicated to using miles to fly to Hawaii, primarily from the US, but many of the tips will apply to those in nearby Canada, Caribbean, etc. Before I get into a list of what airlines can be used at which mileage prices, I want to cover some decisions that will impact which type of miles and tickets are the best for you.
Decide on Premium Cabins vs Coach:
For a domestic trip, Hawaii is pretty far away. From the East Coast it is over a ten hour flight. That is several hours longer than the East Coast to Western Europe. Even from the West Coast, the flight rings in at close to six hours. So, it is totally reasonable for people to strongly consider making the trip in a premium cabin given relatively long flight time. But in this case, not all premium cabins are created equally. Many carriers operate flights to Hawaii where the first/business class cabin is nothing better than what you would find on any other (shorter) domestic route. The seats don’t lie flat and the meals are just slightly better than edible. Granted, that is still better than what you will get in economy, but it may or may not be worth the increased number of miles for the only moderately improved trip.
Below is a shot from my recent United flight from San Francisco to Maui. The seats didn’t lie flat and the IFE was not exactly impressive. My seat was better than coach, but not something I would spend a crazy amount of miles on.
I recommend doing research on the carriers and routes that interest you to see what type of configuration they use to go to Hawaii. Be aware that it may also vary seasonally, so don’t base your info off of one search if this really matters to you. I’m by no means a premium cabin expert, but I will say that the key feature of a good premium cabin on this route is a seat that you can sleep in. I would strongly prefer a lie-flat seat, but even an angled lie-flat seat is better than the regular domestic first class seats. Many of the flights coming back are overnight flights, and being able to really sleep on that flights makes a huge difference over coming back home totally exhausted. Of course, being able to get some rest going doesn’t hurt either.
Some routes that do provide lie-flat seats on United are from hubs like Houston, Newark, Denver, and San Francisco to Honolulu (typically in first on a 777-200 three-cabin plane and in business on a 767-400ER two-cabin plane). On American, look for the 767-300 planes out of hubs like Dallas and Chicago (when this route is operating).
Of course a premium cabin will cost more miles (often double) than coach. If you want first class in a three-cabin plane it will cost a little more than twice the cost of coach. If you only have the miles to fly in business or first in one direction, I would absolutely recommend it be on the way home since that will be a night flight. I care about quantity of sleep more than the quantity of Mai Tais or in-flight movies, but if your priorities are different than perhaps you would enjoy first class on the outbound flight more.
Consider the “free” or cheap one-way reward flight:
A few different airlines offer a “free” or cheap one-way ticket to Hawaii if tacked on to a different award reservation. The two simplest I am aware of are via American Airlines and United. Here is an example…Say I want to go from Houston to Istanbul and back on an award ticket. If I wanted to just cut to the chase I could book Houston – Istanbul – Houston in business class for 100,000 United miles. However, on that award ticket I could instead go Houston – Istanbul – Houston – Honolulu for just 7,500 more miles due to the award chart. You can put a long gap in between returning to Houston and heading to Honolulu by using a long stopover. In this case, I would effectively be getting a 40,000 mile one-way award in business for just 7,500 by tacking it on to my award to Europe. In economy it is 2,500 extra miles. Of course, I still have to get back from Hawaii. I could just book a one-way award home via the standard route, or tack the return onto a different big award ticket in much the same way I did the first time to save a bunch of miles, just on the front-end instead of the back-end.
Alternatively, if I had no plans to head to a galaxy far-far away on an award ticket, I could still eek out extra value from a Hawaii award ticket on United by adding a “free” one-way. Again with Houston as the example, I could fly Houston – Honolulu – Houston (stop for however long…months even) – New York for the same price as if I only flew from Houston to Hawaii and back. This comes from maximizing stopovers, open jaws, and the generosity of the United Gods.
If you would rather fly on American miles then you can actually stack a free one-way to Hawaii on the front and back end of a “big” award ticket to a place like Europe. For example, I could fly Maui – Dallas (stop for a while) Dallas – Paris – Dallas (stop for a while) – Maui all for as low as 40,000 miles in economy during the European off-peak season of Oct. 15 – May 15. The trick with this is it really only works from a “Gateway City”, meaning the last city you are in before leaving the US on your international award ticket. Those cities can include American hubs like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and many others depending on where you are headed outside the US. Heck even though it is far from a OneWorld strong hold, my own Houston could be a Gateway city that would theoretically work for these purposes if I was flying on a British Airways flight using American miles directly to London out of Houston (though the BA flight would hit me with a ton of fees).
Booking using free or reduced cost one-ways to Hawaii is very rewarding, but it does require some research and planning far beyond what I offer here in this post. You need the capacity to essentially be booking two trips at the same time. You are also limited completing all travel on that award within one year from when you book the ticket. So, this doesn’t work if you want to put years between your trips. Even though this is just very introductory info on the topic, I wanted to mention this here as it is very relevant to planning trips to Hawaii. I will cover the best traditional options of using miles and points to get to Hawaii, but those deals will typically pale in comparison to being able to just tack the trip on “for free” to another award.
If you want to learn more about this, head to Milevalue as he has the most comprehensive info one the topic in his series on “free” one-way awards.
Once you have decided on which cabin is right for you and whether or not to make use of free or reduced price one-ways to Hawaii, it is time to learn about which type of miles and points are the best deal for getting to Hawaii, and that is what I will cover in the next post in this series.