Plan Hawaii Vacations on Miles: Airline Award Options

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Using frequent flyer miles to get to Hawaii is not a new concept. It is an old school use of miles that hasn’t gone out of style so far, and I don’t forsee going out of style in the near future. In fact, fresh out of grad school almost ten years ago it was one of my first “big” mileage redemptions. I was young and broke, but I had the miles to take myself and a friend to Hawaii. I think I got the hotel pretty cheap via either Hotwire or Priceline and voila – even my pathetic 24 year-old post-grad school budget was able to enjoy several days in paradise.



At the time I just redeemed Continental (now United) miles for a standard round trip in economy from Houston to Honolulu. That would now cost 40,000 miles, and given that airfare to Hawaii can easily cost $600 – $700 per person from some US cities, it isn’t a bad use of miles at all. However, that is just one of many options. In this post I will break down some of the options via different mileage programs, and point out who may benefit the most from some different available programs. If you haven’t already, please read the first and second post in this series as they bring up some issues you need to make decisions on (including cabin, type of plane, whether you should buy with cash, and whether a “free” one-way will work for you) before this post will be very helpful.

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

Strategic Airline Ticket Decisions

Airline Award Options (this post)

Note that all of the mileage amounts listed below are at the lowest saver level, which is not always available. I will include some commentary about availability for each carrier. I also want to emphasize that with Hawaii awards, the sooner you start looking for award flights, the better. This is a case where stalking the websites beginning the day when the schedule opens for the following year is a good thing. Think roughly 11 months ahead, but check with your preferred program for the exact date.

Alaska Airlines Miles:

Economy: 40,000 RT (can book one-way for 20K)

First: 75,000 RT (can book one-way for 37.5K)

Hawaiian Destinations Served: Kauai, Maui, Honolulu, Oahu

Tips or Tricks:

  • Availability is pretty decent – I would say certainly better than Delta, but not quite as good as United. Some cities have better availability than others. For example, if you want to fly from Houston and require connections your availability will not be as good as starting from West Coast.
  • You can use Alaska miles to book on Delta or American using slightly different award charts.
  • If you have the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card you can use the annual $99 companion certificate to fly two people to Hawaii on one paid fare + $99. This must be used for economy, but both persons will earn miles on the trip.
  • It can be a better deal from the West Coast to use British Airways miles to fly on Alaska Airlines flights to Hawaii as their award chart is distance-based and requires as little as 25,000 Avios to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines flights.

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up Alaska Airlines miles:

American Airlines AAdvantage Miles:

Economy: 45,000 RT (can book one-way for 22.5K)

Business: 75,000 RT (can book one-way for 37.5K)

First: 95,000 RT (can book one-way for 47.5K)

Hawaiian Cities Served: Lihue, Honolulu, Kona, Hilo, and Kahului

Tips or Tricks:

  • Availability is okay, but can be tough for multiple saver tickets close-in. It is substantially better if you plan well in advance.
  • Adding Hawaii as a “free” one-way on an international award via a North American Gateway city (see previous post in series for more on this)
  • Low season economy pricing of 35,000 miles RT from January 12th March 8th and August 22nd – December 15th
  • Occasional lower pricing specials such as this one in early 2013 for just 30,000 round trip
  • Citi AAdvantage cardholders get 10% rebate annually in miles spent (up to 10,000 miles per year), so that can bring the actual mileage cost down
  • In addition to AA flights, you can use AA miles to fly on Alaska Airlines or Hawaiian Airlines flights as well.
  • Best chance for internationally configured planes is via Dallas (this matters this most if you are looking for a good premium cabin experience)
  • Can book as a one-way award for half the price in miles

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up AA miles:

British Airways Avios Points:

The British Airways award chart is distance-based (unlike any of the others mentioned in this post), so the number of miles required will vary based on the origin and destination. Connections will increase the price, so you want to look for non-stop availability. Below I will list some examples of good cities in which to consider using Avios based on distance.

Economy: 25,000 miles round-trip from cities such as San Jose, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and Oakland. 40,000 from DFW to HNL. 45,000 from ORD. 50,000 from JFK. In other words, Avios are best used for those in the Western half of the US that can get to Hawaii on nonstop flights.

Business: Starting at 50,000 miles round trip (theoretically at least – not sure if there are any routes that would price out at the 50K level that actually have business class seats)

First: Starting at 75,000 round trip

Hawaiian Cities Served: None on BA metal, but you can use on partners AA and Alaska, so they essentially serve the same Hawaiian cities as those two airlines

Tips or Tricks:

  • If you live on the West Coast, this is a program you should strongly consider for getting to/from Hawaii as it is a tremendous deal in economy.
  • You can use Avios to fly in BA partners American Airlines and Alaska Airlines
  • Check availability using the website as the BA website can be a bit “buggy”. Look for SAAver availability on the American site and it should match up with what can be booked via British Airways with Avios as long as it is not via Hawaiian airlines.
  • Can book as a one-way award for half the price in miles
  • No close-in redemption fees and very reasonable cancellation or change fees

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up British Airways points:

  • British Airways Visa Signature® Card
  • Chase Cards via Ultimate Rewards such as the Ink Bold® Business Card, Ink Plus® Business Card, or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Amex cards via Membership Rewards such as American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card or the Mercedes Benz Platinum card
  • SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex – points can be transferred to BA at a rate of 25,000 Avios for 20,000 SPG points.

Delta Airlines Miles:

Economy: 40,000 RT (no discount for one-way)

First (domestic first): 75,000 RT (no discount for one-way)

Business (which is better than domestic first for them): 85,000 RT (no discount for one-way)

Hawaiian cities served: Kona, Honolulu, Lihue, Kahului

Tips or Tricks:

  • Have a shot of whiskey before trying to find low level availability for a family to go to Hawaii using Skymiles on Delta flights….it is very difficult. In fact, I truthfully don’t really recommend giving yourself the headache.
  • A better option if you have to use SkyMiles to get to Hawaii is to consider using them on Delta partners Alaska and Hawaiian. It can be easier to find low availability using Delta miles on those routes.
  • If you are willing to pay the “medium” price in miles instead of the lowest price, there is increased availability there. Again, this is not the program I would focus on for Hawaii redemptions.

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up Delta miles:

  • Amex cards via Membership Rewards such as American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card or the Mercedes Benz Platinum card
  • Delta Amex cards – check Card Match Tool for what may be the best offer
  • SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex – points can be transferred to Delta at a rate of 25,000 Delta miles for 20,000 SPG points

Hawaiian Airlines:

Economy: 40,000 RT (can book one-way for 20K miles) *Just 17.5K miles each way if you have the Hawaiian credit card

First: 80,000 RT (can book one-way for 40K miles)

Hawaiian Cities Served: Honolulu, Hilo, Kona, Lihue, Lanai City, Kahului, Kapalua, Molokai

Tips or Tricks:

  • Availability is overall mediocre but really varies by route. Some routes are pretty good – especially from the West Coast. Availability is especially tight on the direct flight from JFK-HNL – really be flexible and book early if you want that route.
  • Can share miles if the recipient has a Hawaiian Airlines credit card
  • Can apply for both the Bank of Hawaii issued card and the Bank of America issued card
  • Having the card gives you a 5K round trip discount on awards
  • Can also book on partners like Delta (using different award chart), but that is tough since Delta availability is not good

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up Hawaiian Airlines miles:

United Airlines Miles:

Economy: 45,000

Business: 90,000

First: 102,500

Hawaiian Cities Served: Lihue, Honolulu, Kona, Hilo, Kahului

Tips or Tricks:

  • Availability is quite good, but it still helps to plan ahead when the schedule opens – especially for some direct routes such as the ones from Newark
  • Consider using either the reduced price one-way to Hawaii tacked on to an international award, or adding a free one-way to a Hawaii round-trip. See the previous post in this series for more info on both of these options.
  • For the best premium cabins (lie flat seats) look carefully at the type of aircraft being used. 777-200s usually have lie flat first, but only recliner business seats. The 767-400ER planes have no first class, but do have lie-flat business seats. Many routes just use planes with traditional domestic first class seats.
  • Can book as a one-way award for half the price in miles
  • Can also book via partners like US Airways from the US and intra-island partner Hawaiian Airlines between the islands

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up United miles:

US Airways miles:

Economy: 40,000 (no discount for one-way)

First: 80,000 (no discount for one-way)

Hawaiian Cities Served: Kona, Hilo (via Hawaiian), Kahului, Honolulu, Lihue

Tips or Tricks:

  • Be aware they do charge a $50 Hawaii award processing fee unless you have certain elite status levels with US
  • Can also book flights on Star Alliance partner United, but availability doesn’t seem to match up 100% in practice, especially for premium cabins. If you can get it to book, it is cheaper to fly first class (in a three cabin United plane) using 80K US Airways miles rather than 90K United miles
  • If you are flying solely on US Airways operated flights then you get a 5,000 mile discount on the RT total if you have the US Airways credit card

Credit Cards to Help Rack-up US Airways miles:

Other Programs to Consider:

While the programs listed above are probably the most common ones for those in the US, there are a couple of others to consider that may sound crazy at first, but check out the details for some very good bargains.

Korean Air:

  • Redeem Korean Air miles (that are transferable 1:1 from the Chase Ultimate Rewards program) on Alaska for just 30,000 miles RT in economy or 60,000 miles RT in first. You can also have a free stopover.
  • Redeem Korean Air miles on Hawaiian for just 30,000 RT in economy or 60,000 miles RT in first. No one-way trips are permitted. Additional segments will require more miles.
  • You can view their award chart here. You will need to call in 1-800-438-5000 to book these awards.
  • I would search on the website for Hawaiian and Alaska partner availability and then use that availability to book via Korean.

Singapore Airlines:

  • Redeem Singapore Airlines miles (that are transferable 1:1 from the American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards program) for 35,000 miles RT in economy and 60,000 miles RT in business (but be careful that some airlines such as US Airways code their first class on a two cabin plane as first that will price out higher than business).
  • Use this to fly on Star Alliance partners such as United to Hawaii. You can book one-ways.
  • You do need to call in 1-213-404-0301 to book the awards.

Virgin America:

  • Redeem Virgin America points (that are transferable 2:1 from the Amex Membership Rewards program or via the Virgin America Visa® Signature Card) to fly on Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaii from select destinations.  The Virgin America chart is distance/segment based, but can be a great deal.
  • Some examples are 20,000 RT from Las Vegas to Honolulu, 35,000 RT from JFK to Honolulu, and 20,000 RT from San Jose to Maui.  One ways are available, but they seem to cost slightly more than 50% of a round trip.  Head here to check out their interactive award chart.
  • Check Hawaiian availability by using the website then book using Virgin America points.
  • There have been Membership Reward transfer bonuses in the past that made the transfer rate a bit less painful, but keep in mind that currently it is at a 2:1 ratio meaning that 20,000 Membership Reward points becomes 10,000 Virgin America points.

As you can see there are a plethora ways to use miles and points to get to Hawaii. Some deals are clearly better than others. Some programs offer better availability than others. Sometimes the best deal to fly on a specific airline is to book via one of their partners using a more favorable award chart. Finding the absolute best deal for your situation is going to require additional searching and research, but this post should start you off in the right direction.

What are your favorite tips and redemption methods to get to Hawaii?

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  1. If we want to visit two islands, is it possible to do a “stopover” and get the inter island flight included as part of the roundtrip fare on any of the carriers?

  2. Just a quick note on AA premium cabian availabilty (767)

    Typically (going to HNL), if you are going for a Milesaver First/Business class seat, AA will route you through LAX. If you decide to use an Anytime award, then your routing is through DFW, and you’ll get the “good stuff” but you’ll pay double miles for it.

    Sometimes you will get that DFW-HNL routing on the 767, but I would venture a guess that at least 90% of the time, the Milesaver premium class awards are going to NOT be the non stop to HNL. And it’s even tougher to do it RT.

  3. Might want to add Virgin America round trip for 20k from Western US, 35k from JFK — those would be at or tied for the lowest levels you mention here. Milevalue did a post on that chart that’s worth checking out.

  4. I’m a rookie with points! Can anyone tell me a good city to watch to find a 40,000 point flight to Hawaii? I’m currently looking out of Boston and it looks like 80,000 each way.

  5. Michelle sea, Lax, sfo, oak jfk, but these cities have deals for 300 to 500 rt. At that price I would just buy. Also fly during off season for better results. Like feb to may I think

  6. Lynn, some of the carriers do allow a stopover on Hawaii award, but I can’t think of one off-hand that allows a free intra-island stopover. Even UA tacks on 5K for that. Maybe someone else can think of one and chime in. For what it’s worth, the next post in this series is about intra-island hopping, so I will think about it harder before then.
    Patrick, thanks for sharing!
    Diamond, I knew I would forget something. Thanks for the reminder – added.
    Michelle, an easier way to help might be to ask where you live. Do you live in (or near) Boston? Also, are you interested in coach or a premium cabin?
    Patrick, some are credit card points and some require airline miles (though most options allow you to use either via transferring them in). If you have a question about a specific option I’ll be happy to clarify.
    Tim2, totally agree that sometimes the better value is to buy the ticket at those low prices…unless of course your budget just allows for you to “fly for free” via credit card sign-up bonuses. 😉

  7. Love this post! Hawaii is on our “wish list”. If the goal is business or first class from the east coast, which points/miles should I focus on accruing? Thanks

  8. I know you didn’t mention the HA business visa but I thought I’d mention that that card does not provide access to the discount award levels even though it comes with the same 35 K bonus as the personal cards. I just learned that one the hard way.

  9. Looking forward to the post about intra-island hopping. Not because I want to visit multiple islands, I prefer nonstops, but am finding award availability to Kauai to be limited and so maybe you can touch on using HNL as a gateway (both to other Hawaiian Islands and to Asia). Btw, am addicted to Hawaii Life on HGTV!

  10. This couldn’t have come at a better time! My wife and I are trying to plan a 5nt trip to Maui from east TN between 7/19-7/25 and trying to do it in busines/1st class. Would 5nts in Maui seem too long? We’ve been to Oahu already, so I think we would consider hopping over to Kauai possibly for 2nts, but is that enough time to appreciate Kauai? We’ve got 206K AA miles & 136K BA miles and I’m trying to use as many BA miles to use what AA miles I have to while having enough left for a night stay at the Hyatt Regency. Any ideas how I could make my miles work for me while flying out of either Nashville or Atlanta?

  11. Hi, are you sure about the 5k discount on roundtrip award redemptions for Hawaiian Airlines credit card holders? I’ve never heard of that, and I just called Hawaiian Airlines to inquire about this benefit, and they said there is no such perk. All they mentioned was the usual companion discount for paid tickets when using the Hawaiian Airlines credit card.

  12. We both really want the Hyatt card, however we’re going to be applying for a mortgage as soon as our current home sells and we’re trying to keep any credit inquires off our report for the time being. We did break down in December and got (1) Ink card so we’ve got a few nights already.

  13. I would absolutely love to go to Hawaii but don’t even know where to start planning. I have alot of miles stored up but just don’t know where to start. I live in South Carolina. If anyone knows the best airlines, plan for a Hawaii trip, would love to hear it. This has always been a dream. It would have to be a first class seat. I don’t think I could sit in coach that long. Dang that is a long flight!

  14. @Issac, I see what you mean when I go to the link, but does “access to discounted awards” always mean a 5k mile discount? For example, when I go to book a dummy RT award ticket for the dates I searched, it was 30k one way so 60k total. At the checkout screen for a one-way ticket, I see it says 30k and on the checkout screen for a roundtrip ticket, I see it says 60k when I was expecting it to say 60k minus 5k promotion or something like that for a final charge of 55k. That was not the case.

  15. This is a great resource! As I mentioned in your other Hawaii post, I’m really happy about tacking on the free oneway JFK-HNL as part of an AA itinerary in order to get there. As far as getting back, I ended up using 4x30k HA miles, and was able to get the direct flight for HNL-JFK, and on Labor Day for that matter, so that’s pretty good. I don’t know if it was the best use of miles, and I didn’t get any discount for having the HA Visa cards (maybe that benefit is only for round trip?) but overall, I’m excited to go to Hawaii for the first time!

  16. @Wedding Spend, The discounted rate shows up from the beginning and is not dependent on booking RT. Assuming you’re logged in with an account that has the HA Visa, the 30k rate you’re seeing is a discount off the Coach Flex award that would be 40k for non-cardholders. If you’re logged into the account of a non-cardholder, the 30k would be the regular “Saver” rate (25k for cardholders) If super saver is available, it will show up as 17.5k for a one-way ticket (for cardholders).

  17. @Issac, ah ok that makes more sense. So in MommyPoint’s example, it just happened to be 5k since she was basing it on the lowest level awards but it could be say 10k savings roundtrip or other variable amounts. Got it, thanks.

  18. I just returned yesterday from Kona via US Airways RT 1st class award (from Dallas). Thrilled to see this because there are a couple of things I would have loved to know beforehand. First, as mentioned above, the cabin and seats were no better than a standard domestic flight and were a great disappointment. Better than coach but not much. I slept one hour on my return flight to Dallas and had a bowl of cereal and a Dole fruit cup. No coffee even…I was told the coffee maker didn’t work. Also, and this is huge if you don’t know this ahead of time, you can’t check your bags in before 7 pm in Kona – ever – on US Airways or AA, and there are no lockers or holding areas at the airport. I had to return my rental car at 1:00 but my flight wasn’t till 10 pm and I planned to check my bags and taxi to Kona. Forewarned is forearmed – this would have been much easier to deal with if I had known ahead of time!!!

  19. Margo, if you want lie-flat seats out of Newark you can do that on United either via United miles or via Membership Rewards on Singapore. If you don’t care about lie-flat and just want a premium cabin you can go for the JFK-HNL flight on Hawaiian using a variety of different mile options shown above as they have many partners. Some of the best for you might be Hawaiian miles or AA miles. You could also choose to start in BOS and connect in a city that has a better premium class product like EWR, IAH, etc on United or Dallas for AA (just pay attention to which type of plane). That may all be overwhelming, so you could also choose to just start with whichever one of those programs you already have miles in.
    DBest, I need to check that show out and I look forward to sharing the intra-island post!
    Tommy, I like to hop around so I might do it, but I know most people want more days on each island than I do, so it really just depends on your travel style. In terms of miles, it honestly sounds like using BA miles to fly in a premium cabin may be more trouble than it’s worth from your airports.
    Wedding Spend, I’m sure it is supposed to work that way…but I will tell you that mine is having problems. If I actually wanted to use that benefit I would have to probably do some work to get my account to recognize that I have that card as it doesn’t seem to currently. I have screen shots of it working for others and it is still a listed benefit on the website.
    Patrick, exactly!
    Tommy, understandable for sure.
    Kathy, if by best you mean lie-flat seats then look mostly to United and a little to American. Check out the previous post in this series for a little more on that topic as you have to pay attention to aircraft and routes since all airlines fly some domestically configured first class planes to Hawaii.
    Isaac, thanks for sharing the link. 😉
    Carrie, sorry you were disappointed on your trip. It is true that premium cabins vary tremendously to Hawaii. Now you know and can plan next time differently! Thanks for the Kona tip. 😉

  20. United is 100k in three cabin first. US is 70k in two-cabin or three-cabin first (on the same flights that United wants 100k!)

    Your Delta prices are backwards. BusinessElite costs 85k roundtrip. First costs 75k. First is less because it is domestic first, while BusinessElite is on the longer routes and nicer.

    As you guessed, none of the 12.5k Avios routes have a business class for 50k Avios r/t.

  21. We’re in Denver and would like premium cabin to HI since I’m tall and don’t fit well in coach. Are there any direct flights from DEN with good premium cabins or only the domestic, crappy premium cabins? Would we need to connect in another city for a better product up front? Is it possible to have a stopover at one of the west coast cities for a few days before the flight to HI?

  22. Hi:
    Just returning to the forum, we live closest to Boston but I’d consider flying out of anywhere along the East Coast from Maine to New Jersey. I wouldn’t want to drive more than 6 hours to the airport. We don’t need premium seats. At least, not until we’re traveling without three kids in tow! LOL.

    Thanks for all the advice!


  23. Hi,

    I want to apply for both Hawaiian Air cards to get the 70k points to fly to Hawaii but once I do that how do I get flights out of Boston since Hawaiian Air doesn’t leave from there? I am loving your series on travelling to Hawaii as that is next on our wish list for miles and points trips!

  24. Hi MP, your Hawaii series is well timed, as I am planning a trip there now! I am hoping to see a new post about hotel tips soon 🙂

  25. Hi, a noob here, trying to plan a vacation to Hawaii one step at a time. I recently got the 75k amex card from your link and looking to book through AA, but when trying to book the trip using SAAver, the cheapest I see off peak is 17.5 one way, I don’t see anything close to 25k round trip, am I missing something here?

  26. AA doesn’t have any Hawaii awards RT for 25k 25k is only good for a domestic/mainland RT award. The cheapest RT HI award will run you 35k or 17.5k each way.

  27. Hi,

    Am trying get my family of four to Hawaii next summer. AA Seems to have some limited availabilty if we split up for the last leg. We are traveling from Boston area and would like to fly first class. First question, if the itinerary is BOS, DFW, LAX, HNL – would we end up in first class or business on a saver award? Is it better to fly HA for premium cabin or AA? We have a combined 290k AA miles (will buy what we need) is there a better way to do this? ie free oneway or something? We would love a stopover but doesn’t seem likely.

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