It’s almost T minus 11 months until my kids’ Spring Break 2018. We have our sights set on Hawaii. Since many airlines release flights around 11 months prior, it’s time to start award stalking!
Earning is Easier than Redeeming
When it comes to legacy U.S. carriers and some hotel brands, earning points is significantly easier than redeeming points. I had read this before, but didn’t really understand this until 2014 when I set out to book our first trip to Hawaii using American Airlines miles.
Up until that time, all of our award flights had been on Southwest. Easy peasy! Southwest has no blackout dates, and the cost of flights with points is usually reasonable. I never had trouble finding seats for all five of us.
So back to 2014…I had just earned the AA miles we needed for our trip in the days before flights would become available. I perused award availability in the weeks leading up to our trip dates, and availability was looking good. Of course, as soon as our dates for Spring Break became available, award seats dipped.
I got up early every morning to search for flights. The first few days, it was a really exciting process. It got old, though. My husband thought I was crazy for frantically searching first thing in the morning, every morning. Finally, after searching for a few weeks and putting several less desirable dates and flights on hold, I settled on our final flights.
I went through a similar process last year when I searched for award flights to Vancouver for our Alaska cruise.
Inventory of Points
I’m planning to use two currencies: British Airways Avios and Merrill + points.
My family of five has over 100,000 British Airways Avios in our family account. My husband and I each applied for the Chase British Airways Visa last year. At the time, it offered 50k bonus points after spending $2000 in the first three months, plus an additional 25k points after spending $15,000 in the first year. I am almost at the one year mark, and I just hit $15k spend on one card to get the extra bonus points.
As I mentioned last month, my husband and I both applied for and received the Merrill + card from Bank of America. Once we meet our minimum spending, we will have 100,000 combined points. Those points are worth $1000 in statement credits, or up to $2000 in flights (four flights up to $500 each).
We also have about 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards and about 40,000 American Airlines miles spread out over two accounts.
Our plan is to spend our first five to six days in Kauai. Then, we will hop over to Oahu to spend 3-4 days at Disney’s Aulani Resort before flying back to Dallas.
We plan to pull the kids out of school a maximum of three days surrounding the school district’s Spring Break. We do have a little bit of flexibility in our dates. Our trip could start three days before the break, or go three days longer than the break, or something in between.
Potential Award Combos
We could use BA Avios to fly on partner airlines (AA and Alaska) from the West Coast to Hawaii for 12,500 points one-way. (See this handy BA points calculator tool from Wandering Aramean). We would need to use Southwest points or BA Avios to fly from Dallas to our starting point. I wouldn’t mind that, though, because breaking up the long flight to Hawaii into smaller chunks is a good idea.
My top choices for cities using the 12,500-point tickets are Phoenix and Los Angeles. Those cities have the cheapest flights to/from Dallas, so getting to our starting point would be easy.
Alaska Airlines has a lot of steady award availability on flights from Seattle to Hawaii for 12,500 points. However, that would be my last choice. Seattle is a long distance from Dallas, and getting all of us to Seattle would be more time consuming and expensive.
If we find a direct flight on AA all the way from Dallas to Hawaii or vice versa, we would need 20,000 BA Avios per ticket.
If we can use BA Avios for one leg of our trip, we can use our Merrill + points for the other leg. We just need to find one-way flights for $500 or less per ticket. We would be one ticket short, which we could pay for with cash or use different miles.
Thinking Outside the Box
I don’t expect that the best routes and timing will fall into my lap. I’m jaded, and I’m a realist. So, I may need to think outside the box to get our award flights to Hawaii.
We could split up into a group of two and a group of three and fly on different flights or from different West Coast cities. I would prefer not to fly on different days like we are doing for our Alaska trip this summer. But, I would consider this if we have no better options. My daughter will only be in first grade, so she could afford to miss more than three days of school.
Or, we could find award seats to a different Hawaiian island and then use points or cash to take a short flight to our starting point of Kauai.
Tools for Searching for Award Flights
If you frequently search for award flights for multiple trips per year, you can pay to use Award Nexus or ExpertFlyer. These engines will search multiple airlines for award flights, and you can set up email alerts to notify you when a seat becomes available. I tried a free trial of ExpertFlyer in the past, but I don’t book awards on legacy carriers enough to justify a subscription.
I find it easiest to search for BA award availability by searching on the AA website. You can find both AA and Alaska flights on the AA website. Once you find your flight, you can book it directly on the BA site (or call BA if you want to book an Alaska Airlines flight).
If I’m going to use points from a travel rewards card like Barclaycard Arrival Plus or Capital One Venture, I prefer to look at flights on Google Flights. Be aware that prices for Southwest Airlines flights are not displayed here.
The Early Bird Catches the Worm
I know that Spring Break 2017 is barely over. But, I’ve found that searching for award flights early and often is the best way to secure five award seats. Sure, I might have to search every day for a few weeks and be creative with routing, but I’m resolved to book these flights. Hawaii or bust, baby!
If you are planning on booking a hotel for next year’s Spring Break and you already have the points, it’s not too early to book. Award rooms can disappear quickly during peak times, especially the Points + Cash rates.
Who is getting ready to book something for Spring Break 2018?
Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.