Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

2 Best Airline Credit Cards for the Humboldt-Based Traveler

Living in Humboldt has it’s benefits. The climate is mild, traffic isn’t an issue, and the redwoods are at your doorstep.

But there are definitely some downsides. One of the biggest of these is how hard it is to travel anywhere either quickly or cheaply.

We have one local commercial airport. It is the Arcata-Eureka Airport (IATA code of ‘ACV’), and actually located in McKinleyville, just to be confusing. It also bills itself as an international airport, which I find hysterical.

The Arcata-Eureka airport is our only air connection with the outside world. Currently, the airport is served by about 7 flights per day by two carriers.

Flights out of ACV are typically quite expensive. It may be more convenient to fly out of Arcata, but for a family heading across the country on vacation, driving to the Bay Area to catch a plane is usually the better call.

Luckily, you can have it both ways: convenient and cheap. You just need to amass some award miles.

Earning award miles for flights out of Humboldt

The two carriers that serve ACV airport are United and PenAir. United has been flying to the area for years, while PenAir is a relatively new addition. Both carriers offer flights using award miles.

Here are two great credit cards to help you get started toward your first free flights out of ACV:

  1. United Mileage Plus Explorer Card – This is the best card for the Humboldt-based traveler in my opinion. United offers the most fights in and out of ACV, and they are the best for connection options. All United flights out of Arcata head to San Francisco, one of United’s hubs, and United is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can use you United MileagePlus miles earned via the credit card to fly all over the world. The card typically comes with a 30,000 mile sign-up bonus, but an increased bonus offer of 50,000 miles is typically available at least once per year (currently ongoing). Best airline credit cards HumboldtThe card does carry a $95 annual fee (typically waived the first year…not on this 50k offer), but it does offer some perks, such as 1 free checked bag on United-operated flights, priority boarding, and a slight increase in award seats (some award seats are only available to United credit cardholders). If you fly in and out of Arcata even twice per year, it is worth having in your wallet.
  2. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card – While the flights out of Arcata are operated by PenAir [**UPDATE: PenAir left as of 8/7/17, so this option is off the table**], awards are available on these flights using Alaska miles. The easiest way to earn Alaska miles is by signing up for their credit card through Bank of America. The typical offer is 25,000 miles, and the card fee is $75 annually. However, you can often find an increased offer of 30,000 miles, sometimes even with a statement credit of $100 after a certain amount in purchases. This effectively nets you $25 and the 30k miles.

    Boarding a PenAir flight at ACV

    Alaska miles can be used on PenAir’s flights out of ACV to any destinations served by Alaska Airlines. The only direct PenAir destination from Arcata is Portland, but Portland is one of Alaska Airlines’ hubs, allowing you to connect to many other destinations. You certainly won’t have the extensive network offered by United, though. Additionally, Alaska flies out of Santa Rosa, which is a much easier airport to get to from Humboldt than either San Francisco or Oakland. Alaska is the actual carrier out of Santa Rosa (rather than PenAir like at ACV), so you can use miles to connect to flights on Alaska’s other partners, which is a huge benefit.

How much award space is available out of Humboldt?

Award space on United is generally very good, as long as you are not looking for last minute seats. Periods around holidays and in mid-summer fill up early as well. Here is a sample of the award availability between ACV and SFO for April and May:

Wide open award availability between ACV-SFO

There is still at least 1 economy award seat (denoted by solid blue line) all but one day over the two months. I can typically find at least 8 award seats available for at least half the dates over this period as well!

Remember that this is just for the leg between ACV and SFO. Availability may not be as good for other legs of an itinerary. This still gives you a taste of how easy it is to fly in and out of Arcata using United miles.

How about PenAir?

[**UPDATE: PenAir left as of 8/7/17, so this option is off the table**]

Award space out of ACV on PenAir using Alaska miles recently went from very good to fairly abysmal. After Alaska made some changes to their award pricing structure, award flights from ACV to basically anywhere in Alaska’s network now cost 30,000 miles one way! Which is a complete and utter ripoff. I’ve reached out to Alaska via Twitter twice regarding the issue.

PenAir award prices for ACV-PDX-SEA

My wife and I were looking at visiting friends in Montana this spring, but there are no reasonably-priced award all the way through May. The previous price was 7,500 miles, which is a great deal. But 30,000 miles one-way? Not so much.

We could have flown both of us round-trip for what a one-way flight now costs most dates!

Conclusion

If you are interested in accruing miles to travel from Humboldt, I highly recommend one or both of these cards. In addition to the personal cards, both offer a business version as well. If you make a lot of purchases as part of your business, consider getting a business credit card to help earn free travel!

As I will always reiterate, use credit cards responsibly! Any rewards you gain will be immediately offset if you get hit with interest and late fees. Annual fees can be worth paying, depending on your situation and the value of the rewards or points gained. Any other fees are not.

If you’re interested in accruing travel rewards using credit cards and don’t know where to start, consider coming to the first Humboldt Travel Hacker Seminar in a few weeks.

2 Comments

  1. Kevin Yokoyama

    March 2, 2017 at 11:01 AM

    One of the best perks of getting an Alaska Air Signature VISA is getting a $99 companion fare coupon every year. I use this coupon to fly from San Jose or Oakland to Kona. You can often get TWO tickets to Hawaii for $600 – $650 dollars, easily saving the cost of the annual fee.

    • pointsmileslife

      March 2, 2017 at 1:56 PM

      Hey, Kevin!

      I did think about including info on the companion fare certificate. I’ve eyed the Bay Are to Hawaii routes myself, as my wife and I are currently sitting on one of the certificates. Glad you get great use out of yours!

      One of the bummers of the certificate, though, is that you can’t use it on partners, so you can’t use it to fly out of Arcata on PenAir. This makes it a bit less ideal for people here, and I decided to drop it from a post focused more on flying out of Humboldt. It’s still a fantastic card perk!

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