- A Leap of Faith: Booking Seven Award Tickets to Japan/Hawaii
- Tips and Tricks for Booking Awards via Avianca and Asia Miles, and why I’ve Fallen in Love with Amex Membership Rewards
- Why I Converted Chase Freedom to CSR, and Why Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal Is a Mess
- Choosing the Best Mileage Option to Hawaii: the Good, the Bad and the AAdvantage
When I first started planning this trip, I suspected that Florida-Hawaii leg would be the most challenging part. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. It didn’t help that we had zero flexibility on dates. You see, I booked Honolulu-Osaka flight first since JAL releases awards 360 days in advance, so I was stuck with a specific timeframe.
If you are new to this hobby, know that flying to Hawaii via miles is 100% doable. My husband and I did it twice, pre-kids.
If you are a couple with a flexible schedule, and don’t mind creative routing, you can git-r-done, easily (hat tip Larry the Cable Guy). However, things start to get tricky when you have to fly on a certain day (and on the weekend), have a family of four, and don’t want to make three connections.
That’s the situation I found myself in. One of my non-negotiable requirements was an overnight on the West coast. Since we live in Florida, flying to Hawaii is like going to Europe, distance-wise. It also takes two hours to get to Orlando airport from our house. So, breaking up the journey over a two-day frame makes a lot of sense. That way we wouldn’t be leaving Orlando early in the morning (which would require an overnight near the airport) and wouldn’t be arriving in Hawaii late in the evening, exhausted and cranky.
Of course, we would still have to overnight on the West coast and lose a day in Hawaii as a result. But to me, the tradeoff is worth it, especially since we have two young kids. Plus, Hawaii leg is just one piece of a complicated puzzle, so the easier I can make getting there, the less chance of a meltdown (from my husband) there will be.
Great deals I can’t take advantage of
Unfortunately, all of this has considerably limited my available mileage options. For example, while you can redeem Singapore KrisFlyer miles on United flights (17.5k miles one-way), the connection can’t be longer than 4 hours. The same logic seems to apply to an amazing sweet-spot redemption via Turkish program, recently discovered by Nick at Frequent Miler.
The short story: You can pay only 7.5k miles one-way to fly to Hawaii on United, but once again, you can’t overnight on the West coast. Oh, and there are some serious hoops to jump through, though some Flyertalk reports indicate you may be able to call European Turkish center and put awards on hold that way. All of it depends on “saver” availability on United, of course. And there was none for my dates.
Overall, it’s a tremendous deal for those with flexibility. Turkish frequent flyer miles program partners with Citi and Marriott Bonvoy. The former offers a much quicker transfer timeframe (1-2 days). If you are interested in pursuing this deal, consider applying for Citi Premier card. Also, see this post outlining strategies for covering flights to Hawaii via points.
Avios program charges 13k miles one-way to fly from West coast to Hawaii via Alaska Air or American, as long as low-level availability exists in respective programs. That’s great in theory, but finding it is another matter entirely. And then it’s an extra 13k miles to fly from Orlando to West coast, again, assuming “saver” availability. Besides, I wanted to save my 200k Avios for seven award tickets from Tokyo to LAX.
Southwest started flying to Hawaii from the West coast, but I’m not super impressed with current award rates. Weekend flights usually run at 15k points or more, and then we would still need to buy a separate leg from Florida. We don’t have a Companion Pass, otherwise I would be inclined to wait for summer schedule to load.
That left me depending on AAdvantage program. I had about 63k miles, acquired from sign-up bonus on Citi AA Platinum card. I had some Marriott points that I could transfer if needed. I also had 53k Merrill BoA points at my disposal that I never put to good use (that offer is no longer available). I could redeem them on two tickets valued at up to $500 each. On top of it, each of my kids had 14k Alaska miles, and I had an option of combining them with my in-laws’ balances. Here were my three possible choices:
Not surprisingly, there was no low-level availability to Oahu for my dates (22.5k miles one-way). Instead, AA program wanted me to pay 55k miles per person for a semi-acceptable routing. No thanks. Sure, if I wanted to stalk the website for the next six months, something would probably turn up eventually. It usually does. But I hate the idea of this hanging over my head and just wanted to git-r-done.
I did notice that there was an award flight from Sarasota to Maui that cost 25k miles per person. There was a 40-minute connection in Charlotte, with an overnight in LAX. I would have to purchase a separate flight from Maui to Oahu, but those are usually cheap. Southwest charges as low as 2.5k points for this route. Of course, their schedule isn’t yet open for my dates, so I would be taking a chance.
Still, 25k miles per person seemed downright reasonable compared to 55k miles. I decided to book three award tickets. Of course, I first put the itinerary on a free 5-day hold so I could transfer my Marriott points. It usually takes 2 days for transfer to go through. I would book three tickets with miles, and the fourth revenue ticket ($500) via 25k Merrill points. I would also have to pay to transfer 2k AA miles from my father-in-law’s AA account since my Marriott stash wasn’t quite enough.
The Marriott transfer was set-up and I had five days to book the tickets.
Booking revenue AA flights
By next morning I started to have second thoughts. I didn’t like the 40-minute connection in Charlotte, especially since American is prone to delays. This could really mess up our plans. I also didn’t care for the fact that we needed to book a separate flight form Oahu to Maui.
Once again, if our flight from LAX was delayed, we would miss that connection. It all seemed too much. If we had a week solely in Hawaii, maybe I would take a chance. But we were continuing on to Japan and I didn’t want to potentially spoil the rest of my trip. KISS (keep it simple, stupid), I kept telling myself.
I decided to look at paid options. The flight to Oahu from LAX was running at $230 per person, with no sAAver availability. Interestingly, the flight from Orlando to LAX on American was more expensive at $269 per person (or 20k AA miles). The whole itinerary with an overnight in LAX was $499, or a sum of two flights.
So, here is what I decided to do. I would use Merrill points for two tickets from Orlando to Oahu, via LAX. I would then redeem 40k AA miles on two tickets from Orlando to LAX. Lastly, I would pay cash for two tickets from LAX to Oahu, while utilizing my $200 credit that came with my Citi AAdvantage co-branded credit card. Is your head spinning yet? I know mine was at the time.
It wasn’t the most ideal or efficient way of doing things, but it was the most simple. Done.
Checking Alaska Mileage Plan at the eleventh hour
Airline tickets bought in USA (revenue or mileage) can be cancelled for 24 hours after booking without penalty. So, the following day I’ve decided to check my options one last time. Lo and behold, I saw tickets from Orlando to Oahu, with an overnight stop in San Diego for 25k Alaska miles per person.
This was my best-case scenario since it would allow me to avoid LAX, an airport I hate with a passion. We would land in San Diego in the evening and would leave for Oahu in the morning. It wouldn’t give us much time to explore San Diego, but hey, something is better than nothing. I’ve noticed that airport is very close to downtown area.
Since I had only 14k miles in each of my kids’ accounts, I needed my in-laws permission to transfer their miles. We would reserve the other two tickets ($495 each) with Merrill points. I went to in-laws’ house and we called Alaska since my kids have minors accounts, not accessible online. It cost me a total of $255 in transfer fees, and the two mileage tickets were booked. I was very happy to put my kids’ Alaska miles to good use.
I should mention that the agent also charged me $15 phone booking fee per ticket. When I pointed out that I can’t access my kids accounts online since they are minors, he said there was nothing he could do. Fine, I didn’t want to argue and waste time. But I called later and requested a refund of $30. No problem, this time the agent agreed that the fee shouldn’t have been charged in the first place.
I was able to cancel my AA booking via Merrill portal without penalty, and the points were refunded immediately. I pulled up Alaska Air flight to Oahu and redeemed the points for MCO-SAN-HNL itinerary for two people. This is when I discovered a slight problem. The fare was for basic economy, which means I can’t select seats. Merrill portal wouldn’t let me pick regular economy fare for an uncharge, and calling didn’t accomplish anything.
I called Alaska and the agent assured me that since my son is 8 and since we are on the same booking, the computer will most likely assign the seats together. We’ll see. If not, I will beg passengers to switch with me, I guess. Though after sitting with my son for few minutes, they will probably be begging me. Not happy, but this is still the best option IMO.
I was able to cancel all of my other paid bookings and get a full refund. So, it looks like we are flying on Alaska.
The value of Companion certificates for Hawaii travel
If you have little flexibility and plan to visit Hawaii during peak season, you should look into Companion certificates offered via certain products. There are currently two credit cards on the market that give this benefit as part of a sign-up bonus:
1) AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard (non-affiliate link)
As you can see, on top of 60k miles, you will get a $99 Companion Certificate on American Airlines, valid for flights to Hawaii. While not a super hot deal for West coast residents, it can be valuable for those who reside on the East coast. And remember, you can build in an overnight stopover both ways, and get the exact schedule you want.
2) Alaska Airlines Visa (Direct non-affiliate link with $100 credit)
You can use this benefit for one-way, open-jaw as well as roundtrip tickets. While burning miles on “free” flights is obviously the goal, paying cash can make sense in certain circumstances.
If you are exhausted after reading this post, imagine what it was like living it! At times I thought my head was going to explode. But I do feel like in the end I came up with the best possible option given my particular situation. No, I didn’t pay 7.5k miles per person, but I got an itinerary that will hopefully leave my kids and me less cranky.
I’ve had Merrill points for few years and never could find an ideal use for them until now. I would never pay $500 per person to fly from Florida to Hawaii one-way, but using 25k points was definitely acceptable. Also, while Alaska miles are more valuable in theory, AAdvantage miles are more useful for my geographic location. So it made sense to utilize the former when given the choice. Plus, I don’t have to deal with LAX madness. I do wish I didn’t initiate Marriott transfer to AAdvantage right away, but oh well. I’m certain that I’ll put my AA miles to good use eventually. I always do.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.