Hawaii Vacations on Miles: Intra-Hawaii Flights

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Most of us know that when we are talking about “Hawaii” we are actually talking about several different islands that make up the state of Hawaii.  To be specific, there are over one hundred islands in the Hawaiian Islands, but there are more or less eight main islands, of which seven are inhabited, and six are most relevant on the tourism front.  In case you aren’t yet up to snuff on your Hawaiian geography, the six main islands when it comes to tourism are:

Hawaii “The Big Island”

Maui

Oahu

Kauai

Molokai

Lanai

 

You can get some very basic info on the islands via the Go Hawaii website (which is also where the above image was taken from).  When you are using miles (or dollars) to get to Hawaii, that trip from the mainland will typically just get you to one of these islands.  Many of the flights from the mainland go to Oahu/Honolulu, but there are also mainland flights directly to Kauai, The Big Island, and Maui.

Once you have gone as far as Hawaii it is rational to want to experience more than one island, as they are all different.  Though keep this desire in-check if you are on a very short trip to Hawaii.  Unless you are a really good swimmer, that usually means you are going to want to take a short flight (or flights) between islands.  There is also ferry service between Maui/Lanai and between Maui/Molokai.  This post in my series on Hawaii is dedicated to exploring some of the most cost effective ways to island hop via airplane using either dollars or miles.  In case you want to catch up, here are some other posts in this series.

Plan a Hawaiian Vacation Using Miles and Points: Part 1 (Overview)

Strategic Airline Ticket Decisions

Airline Award Options

Intra-Hawaii Flights (this post)

The two real choices you have when flying to another Hawaiian Island are to purchase the flight(s) or to use miles, so I’ll look at each option individually.

Purchase Intra-Island Flights:

Depending on the exact route, you have a few different carriers to choose from when purchasing island hopping flights.  Some of the operating carriers are Hawaiian Airlines, Mesa, Pacific Wings, and Island Air.  The flights are short with many around 30 minutes and all under an hour even for the furthest two points (assuming you fly non-stop).  Flight times are offered throughout the day.  While prices can be higher or lower, it is common to see fares in the $70 – $80 range each way for economy on these short flights.  This is true when booking close-in and in advance, but I recommend booking in advance to be on the safe side.  For tickets like this I like to do searches on Hipmunk.com so I can compare flight times and prices.

In case you want first class, expect prices to be a little over double that amount.  There are also space-available $50 buy-ups to first class at check-in on Hawaiian Airlines.  Flying in First will exempt you from the $17 per bag checked bag fee for intra-Hawaii flights for the first and second checked bag.  If you were going to have to pay $34 in bag fees anyway, it may be worth the extra $16 for a slightly better experience, but do keep in mind that these are VERY short flights so decide for yourself if that is worth it.  Also be aware that intra-island tickets on Hawaiian can be changed for a $30 change fee + the fare difference.

Keep in mind that if you have an intra-Hawaii flight on the same day that you have another flight such as to/from the mainland, you need to allow extra time at your connection airport to retrieve and re-check your luggage.  Unless you are booked all on one ticket, you will not be able to check your bags all the way through to your final destination.  This is true with both revenue and award tickets.

Using Miles for Intra-Island Flights:

Now that you know paying $70 – $80 each way for flights between Hawaiian islands is a pretty common price, I will point out a few of the ways to avoid paying all together by using miles.  I’ll start with the bad news: I’m not aware of a way to build in free stopovers that would equate to you being able to island hop on miles for free.  The airlines seem to be on to that, so if you booked an award on United from say Houston to Honolulu to Maui and back hoping to use a free stopover to experience Honolulu for a few days “for free” before going on to Maui, it ain’t gonna work.  You will be charged 5,000 additional miles each way for the intra-Hawaii add-on.  Now that the bad news is out of the way, here are some options:

      • Consider an open-jaw where you fly into one Hawaiian city on an award, but back out of another.  Using my example above, you could book an award on United from Houston to Honolulu and then returning Maui to Houston without spending additional miles.  That way you are just responsible for getting yourself one-way from Honolulu to Maui instead of having to use miles to go both ways.  You could also book two one-ways instead of a round trip so you fly from the mainland into one island and back home from another if your carrier of choice offers that type of redemption.
      • United charges 5,000 miles each way to fly on partners Hawaiian Airlines or Island Air between the islands.  You can tack this onto a larger award from the mainland, or book the flights individually.   You can transfer miles to United 1:1 via the Ultimate Rewards program thanks to cards like Ink Bold® Business Card, the Ink Plus® Business Card, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.  The United MileagePlus Explorer Card (read this thread for tips on getting the best offer) is also a great way to get some additional United miles.
      • American charges 5,000 miles each way to fly on partner Hawaiian Airlines between the islands.  You can tack this onto a larger award from the mainland, or book the flights individually.  Some good ways to get AA miles are via SPG or the Citibank AAdvantage Amex and Visa personal and business cards.
      • Hawaiian Airlines charges 7,500 miles each way for their lowest level award between the islands.  Some easy ways to get Hawaiian miles are via the Bank of America Hawaiian Air Visa, the Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Air Visa, via SPG, or Amex Membership Rewards.
      • Delta charges 10,000 or 15,000 miles round trip on their partner Hawaiian Airlines between the islands.  Assuming you could book at the 10k roundtrip level I actually really like this option since I value SkyMiles lower than American or United miles.  However, Delta does not make this process user friendly as I could not get any availability to show up online for me on some test searches.  I know they have been bookable online in the past, so perhaps this is just a glitch, or perhaps you now have to call in.  Ugh, Delta.  If you do want Delta miles, see if you are targeted for a decent Delta Amex offer via the Card Match Tool.
      • Virgin America 3,000 one-way or 6,000 round trip on their partner Hawaiian Airlines between the islands.  The can be a great deal if you have Virgin America points, which can be tough to get your hands on for some.  You can see their mileage calculator here and according to their site you do need to call in to book.  You can transfer in points 2:1 from Membership Rewards (as in 10,000 MR points becomes 5,000 Virgin points). Or you can get them via their credit card Virgin America Visa® Signature Card (possible better offer without the landing page available via this post)
  • Options like Alaska and/or British Airways that can be great to get to Hawaii are not options for island hopping as they don’t partner with an airline that offers intra-Hawaii flights, and they don’t offer flights between the islands themselves.

Miles vs Cash:

If you have the option to book a 5,000 mile award flight between the islands or spending $70 – $80 each way on a purchased ticket, I would call it a dead toss-up.  That would be around a 1.5 cent per mile redemption, which isn’t great, but isn’t terrible.  If you are short on cash, but high on miles, then I would use miles.  If you aren’t running low on cash you might as well just book the flight using cash, assuming you can book a flight in that price range.  If you have credit card points that are essentially used as cash toward travel such as US Bank FlexPerks points or Capital One “No Hassle Points” then that could be a good hybrid option for purchasing these intra-Hawaii tickets.  I personally plan to island hop later this year, and assuming prices remain in that range, I will be booking on Hawaiian Airlines with dollars.

The best suggestion if you want to visit a couple islands is to take advantage of booking your award ticket to Hawaii using an open-jaw reservation or two one-ways as I mentioned a little earlier in the post.  Then just add on an flight or two between other islands you want to visit by using cash or miles as outlined in this post.  That way you are cutting down the number of intra-island flights by one thus saving time and money/miles.

Next up we will be looking at options for getting around the islands once you land – mainly via a rental car.

I know there are some Hawaii pros out there, so I’d love to hear your tips for intra-island travel as well!

 

Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links.  As always, thank you for your support. 

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Comments

  1. Don’t take Mesa or GO! Airlines. Always delayed and sometimes canceled! I got lucky with 1 hour delay but people got unlucky with 5 hour delays then cancellations!

  2. Good advice. On United it was 50k per ticket to do IAD-HON-KOA-HNL-IAD. The original trip used Island Air but United changed the HNL-IAD flight resulting in two days of calling to rebook from Island Air (which no longer offered the flights) to Hawaiian. It all worked but I didn’t receive an email about the change–I only saw it when I checked all my reservations as I do about every other week.

  3. I have never been to Hawaii before but planned a trip for 4 for this summer. I did a lot of careful research and now following your series. So far, it looks like I have’nt made any major mistakes. IAH-LAX-LIH and returning HNL-IAH on United business booked through Singapore Airlines for 60K. No lie-flat seats but availability on business was better than on economy. Booked inter-island flights on Island Air through United. Should have looked more closely at Hawaiian through AA.

  4. Have you checked into using AA or United miles for this summer? It’s next to impossible. I lucked out a few weeks ago, and found 3 tickets on AA for OGG to KOA, plus 1 on Hawaiian, and 3 on Hawaiian and 1 on AA for KOA to HNL.

    Availability is very bad when trying to use UA or AA miles this summer for intra island. On Hawaiian, its pretty decent, but not many 7500 mile redemptions. Mostly they are 8500 or 12500.

  5. @Romsdeals, I was just going to say that! Quickest way to ruin your vacation in Paradise is to use Go! (Mesa) airlines. Stick to Hawaiian to keep the aloha spirit going. I actually have a subscription to Hana Hou!, the inflight mag of HA, because it’s a great read.

    We just booked our 6th trip to Kauai for late September using UA miles – 45K each for DEN-LAX-LIH/LIH-HNL-DEN in coach (will purchase E+). The LIH-HNL leg is on Hawaiian, thus the add’l 5K.

    I’ve found the 1 hr layover in LAX perfect for the small ones – run around, each lunch, use a “real” potty; then get back on the plane for the long leg.

    In 2011 there was a screamin’ deal on one-way flight from HNL, so I booked with miles DEN-LAX-LIH and purchased LIH-HNL-DEN (we didn’t have enough miles for RT).

  6. Gene, interesting. Delta is certainly the one that I have played with the least since their availability is pretty blah other than via Hawaiian. Good to know though!
    romsdeals, Hawaiian would be my own personal choice as well.
    Steve, thanks for sharing – always good to double check your itineraries!
    TravelSplash, sounds like you are doing well!
    Blake, I did many dummy searches for this summer when researching this post and saw a decent amount of availability, but I was not looking at specific dates or specific destinations, so I imagine it is tight when you are trying to plan around specifics. I’m always a big fan of booking far in advance – and this is especially true for Hawaii.
    Susan, I like the West Coast stop with little ones as well (at least on the outbound). I bet you are full of good Kauai trips with your 6th trip coming up!

  7. Remember there is 6 or 7 days worth of stuff to do on all of the islands, unless you are going for a 2 week vacation I would not hop around.While it sounds easy don’t forget you have to have the time to check out of one hotel, return a car rental,check in at the airport,get another car and check into another hotel. That may take 3/4 of a day.I would say get some more miles and go back to another island, unless you are there for an extended stay.

    • Chris, I totally agree that those with shorter vacations (5/6 days or less) should not island hop in most situations. It is for those with more time in Hawaii.

  8. I totally agree with Chris. I take my 3 kids every other summer to Hawaii for two weeks and we visit two islands each time. We do not feel rushed and able to explore each island leisurely. We would fly into one island and fly back from the other. We are fortunate to live in the SF bay area, flights to hawaii are plenty and prices are decent. Sometimes we use miles, sometimes we just buy the ticket. One thing I have learned is that if you can be flexible even slightly on the travel dates, you could save a lot of $! When use mile, be sure to plan ahead. I booked my summer trip end of last September and used 30000 flexperk points (US Bank) for SJC-LIH, LIH-OGG, OGG-SJC on Hawaiian Airline over the busy 4th July week! I was able to book 3 tickets!

  9. @Robert, the Hawaiian airline flights I have been on are 2-2 seatings and 20 some rows. I say they were MD 80 or MD 90?

  10. Don’t Fly GO! Long story short- their extremely shady business practices are why we no longer have Aloha. The locals are still a little upset over it. Only tourists who don’t know better will actually fly GO!

  11. Virgin America offers the best redemption value for inter-island travel at just 3,000 points each way. I’m guessing that wasn’t mentioned because you don’t a referral link for their credit card (or you just didn’t do your research). I am disappointed to see that you are really selling your readers short by not including ALL of the options.

  12. @Susan and Mommypoints: I am interested in this, but am new to the points world, can you explain how to go about buying the E+? I’m assuming use points for economy then pay to upgrade to E+? Would love to know more……

    We just booked our 6th trip to Kauai for late September using UA miles – 45K each for DEN-LAX-LIH/LIH-HNL-DEN in coach (will purchase E+).

    • heath, are you talking via cash or points? With cash I would say that 3-6 months is typically fine. With miles I would say it is often fine, but if you have set dates/locations it can get tough during peak travel times. My best advice is lock it in as soon as your plans are firm.

  13. Michelle, good to hear that experience with Go!. I know my personal pref is Hawaiian. As far Virgin America goes (Virgin Atlantic used to be a good deal for intra-Hawaii but isn’t anymore), that is absolutely worth including. I’ll never pretend to be able to think of everything by myself before I hit publish. I think of posts more as a living and changing thing that hopefully improve over time (which is one reason I don’t have email subscriptions). I think Virgin America points can be hard to come by for some, but it is a very good value for those that have the points. Many of the cards in this post are not affiliate links, but that one actually is…my brain just didn’t work well enough to get it in o the first go around. Feel free to blame a malfunctioning brain, but blaming affiliate motivations is off base. Regardless, it is there now, so thanks!
    Carrie, yes you would pay to upgrade to E+ (unless you had status with United that would get you into the seat for free). You can pay for that upgrade starting when you book the flight. I’m personally a huge fan of E+!

  14. Easy Michelle

    There is so many airlines out there MP could of very easily missed mentioning one. I will bet it had nothing to do with referral CREDIT CARDS. She is not perfect,but does a GREAT JOB, give here a break.

  15. @Robert Hanson, my new wife and I flew between islands on Hawaiian a few times on our honeymoon in August 2011. All of the flights were on Boeing 717 planes that had a 2-2 layout.

  16. While Michelle was being too harsh, a simple Google search would show that the 20k offer is still out there for the Virgin America Barclay card, rather than the 10k affiliate offer. That’s 6 tickets on Hawaiian for a $49 annual fee. Needs to be booked over the phone but I confirmed with Virgin that they don’t charge the phone fee for Hawaiian redemptions.
    https://www.barclaycardus.com/app/japply/WebAppGate.jsp?campaignId=1658&prodidreq=CCVVS52924
    I used it in March.

    • Wayne, thanks. I’ll never pretend to know everything or remember everything at any given moment, but do as good as I can at the time.
      Tim, did do some searching, but couldn’t find an obvious working 20K link. Maybe it is just me, but the one above isn’t fully loading and I can’t find mention of the 20K bonus on there. Fully possible there is a link that lived on after the 20K offer was supposed to die (and perhaps this is it), but I didn’t have one.

  17. @Carrie – for our flights in late September, to upgrade to E+ is $63 LAX-LIH and $71 HNL-DEN. I’d love to upgrade all the legs (I think it’s $33 DEN-LAX), multiply that by 4 and it’s a hefty price tag – though totally worth it.

    @MP – I linked my Kauai trip report blog to my name here – our last trip was in 2011 with a 2.5 yo, a 7.5 mo old and the ILs. This year will be our first diaper-free trip with kidlets and I am SO EXCITED. You can also find me posting frequently on the TripAdvisor Kauai forum.

    Re: inter-island flights – the inventory will only decrease as you get closer your travel date, so I would book them as soon as possible. Even looking at late September there are many times listed as sold out at the cheapest rate (HNL-LIH runs NINETEEN minutes – no reason to upgrade to 1st IMO).

  18. Thanks so much for info on E+. Not sure we will have enough points for Business on UA and AA for next year’s trip to Korea and Hawaii….knowing I can book UA economy and then buy up to at least E+ is good info for met at this point. I’ve sliced it and diced it for weeks now! 🙂 Thanks for ALL of your info on Hawaii! We’ve been to Kauai twice for two weeks each time, love love love it! Can’t wait to return next summer!

  19. I’m sorry if you think my comment was harsh, but you missed a redemption that is 40% cheaper than most of the competitors! While Elevate is a revenue-based program (which sucks), their credit card earns the same 1 point per dollar that a lot of others’ do. If you really want to claim that your post is not affiliate motivated (and I’d really like to give you the benefit of the doubt), then why continue to push an inferior offer?

  20. @Susan – Thanks a million for this info! We would be buying E+ from West Coast to Seoul. Thinking how we will have enough points to book award travel in Business x4 is keeping me up nights. Happy to know the full scoop on paying up to E+, it’s a long haul in E or E+ but I think we could do it. Enjoy your trip! I am envious, Kauai is our most favorite place. LOVE IT! I agree with you, the sooner the better on booking inter-island. We flew HA last summer HNL-LIH. We really like HA.

  21. Nice post mommypoints – I sure could have used all of this information last year when I when to Oahu with my family and made it a two island vacation (to Big Island).

    @romsdeals – we went Mesa GO! airlines and had no delays. They even waived a heavy bag fee for us. But do make sure you allow enough of a layover so that you don’t miss your flight back to mainland USA or wherever home is for you!

    We were unable to book AA (even though we had miles, because the flight times did not line up – so be wary of this! Another tip, you can book one way tickets for the same cost for inter-island flights, so feel free to mix/match if the flight times or cost is better. For example, use MESA Go! to get to the other Island, but stick with AA or Hawaiian Air to get back to your originating island (and use points) – less risk of missing your flight home.

  22. Susan/Carrie, love that you are helping each other out!
    Michelle, many offers in this post aren’t my links. Happy to add another that isn’t mine, just don’t have a better one that is loading and/or lists a better bonus. I’ve tried Tim’s link on multiple computers and browsers without success. Again, apologies for forgetting to list one of the options for intra-Hawaii flights (bonehead miss), but I would hope that anyone who has regularly read this site for a while would know that while I do receive income from some affiliate links, I always link to the best offer I am aware of regardless if that is mine or not. I’ll claim responsibility for being an occasional bonehead, but not for pulling tricks or being sneaky with affiliate links.
    Tom, thanks for sharing your tips/experience and glad it was helpful for you.

  23. Michelle, while Virgin America redemption may only cost 3K points, those 3K points are much harder to earn because of the smaller bonuses. Most people would not get their card even for a 20K bonus. Also, it is such a small program that most cannot benefit from and do not consider. If MP forgot about it, that is very understandable.

  24. MileValue has a write up that includes the link to the VX 20k. My link was messed up, I tried to remove the referral and I guess it needs that. Landing page is gone, but when has that stopped us? 😉
    http://milevalue.com/which-virgin-america-credit-card-sign-up-bonus-is-right-for-you/
    I would recommend burning VX miles as soon as you get them though. It’s doubtful they’ll exist much longer unless they start making money. They just announced they’re planning on flying to Hawaii in 2015, but that’s being extremely hopeful.

  25. Tim, thanks for the link to that post. Glad to know the problem loading the other link wasn’t just me. No landing pages doesn’t necessarily scare me off, but as a blogger recommending a link I like to have a landing page and/or just point to a FT thread with the link so others can see all the success stories and decide for themselves. However in this case I am happy to just link to the MV post and folks can decide there. 😉 Totally agree about not hoarding Virgin America points as well.

  26. @ Sharon and Jivepicnic Thanks for telling me that. I somehow had the idea the flights were all tiny commuter planes. I’d rather rent an outrigger canoe and paddle than take one of those in unsettled weather. But a 100 + pax plane is fine. This greatly increases my flexibility in book a trip. Thanks again…

  27. I have done a multi city itinerary in Hawaii using Delta skymiles for years. There has always been tons of availibility, and it did not cost me a thing. I just went in September, but now I am trying to plan a trip this Novemeber and there are seriously NO INTERISLAND FLIGHTS AVAILABLE. Personally I think they have a major glitch in their system but no one there gives a hoot. The reason I think this is because I looked for several days and there was nothing available at all, then the next day there were tons of flights at all hours of the day and almost everyday, but 2 hours later there was nothing again. I also had a representative tell me there were no flights for the first two weeks of November, she double checked and then all of the sudden there were some, then they were gone again.
    Point is if they ever fix this I think it is wonderful using my skymiles for the whole trip and not having to pay a dime.

  28. FYI, I tried to do HNL-KOA 8 months out using 3K Virgin America miles on their partner, Hawaiian. Downside was lack of availability–Hawaiian only made a few of their many flights available to Virgin and none was convenient time of day. Upside is Hawaiian flights were only $73.

  29. If anyone is planning on using Pacific Wings for inter-island flights – they are shutting down their Hawaii operations starting on June 16. I had an inter-island flight planned in July, and it has been cancelled. Pacific Wings is contacting their customers to issue refunds, although I was notified via Travelocity, who emailed me that my flight was no longer confirmed. Keep their employees in your thoughts as well, they will need to find other work.

  30. While the info in this article is great, finding award availability is the problem. I tried United, AA and Virgin America and they all can’t see much if any availability on Hawaiian inter-island. You can’t search online so it involves getting an agent on the phone.

    I called Hawaiian too and while they have award availability it seems that they don’t make much available to partners. My trip is in August and I couldn’t find award seats for 3 months on AA, UA or VX. The first seat I found was at the end of Oct. Very stingy since HA flies the route 12 times a day. HA had seats for my specific day through their own FF program but only the 2 earliest flight of the day at the regular redemption price. Other flights were double the points.

  31. Summer,
    Sorry to comment on such an old post, but do you know if an award flight booked on Hawaiian Air with AAdvantage points would still get charged bag fees if I am a current holder of a CitiExec and a CitiPlatinum credit card?

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