Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Award Travel (page 1 of 4)

Best miles to Hawaii

Hawaii tops the list of vacation destinations for many people. It is an idyllic, tropical paradise that doesn’t require breaking out a passport. While a trip to the Aloha State may seem expensive, it really doesn’t have to be, especially if you have knowledge of the best miles to Hawaii in your travel hacker toolkit.

There are several great ways to hack travel to Hawaii. Whether you’re simply shooting for an economy round-trip from the west coast, or have your sights set on premium seats out of New York, there are options. Let’s take a look at the best miles to Hawaii.

Best miles to Hawaii from the West Coast

Topping my list of best miles to Hawaii are British Airways Avios. These are perfect for flights departing the West Coast on either American or Alaska Airlines. British Airways has a distance-based award chart, and flights from the West Coast to Hawaii fall in the 4th tier, costing only 12,500 Avios each way.

This is a phenomenal deal, considering other major carriers will nail you for up to 22,500 miles each way for the same flights. Here is a map of all the routes you can fly for 12,500 Avios:

best miles to hawaii

TONS of options for your Avios!

Alaska operates a great number of Hawaii flights, and their award space is typically decent. But don’t expect to score several seats during Spring Break, however.

You can quickly accrue a ton of Avios. British Airways’ loyalty program is a partner of all the major transferable currencies: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Transfer bonuses often come around a couple times per year as well, where you’ll get better than a 1:1 ratio.

To find award space to Hawaii on American or Alaska, search either aa.com or alaskaair.com. You’re looking for the lowest level saver space. You can also search ba.com for American Airlines flights, but it is a bit more painful. I’d check using another engine first, and then move to ba.com.

You should be able to book American Airlines flights with Avios online. To book Alaska flights using Avios, you always have to call (be prepared to wait forever). These flights don’t show up in the British Airways award search engine.

Another great feature of using Avios to book tickets is that they are easily cancelable. This means that if you find award space, just book and figure things out later. You’ll only lose the taxes and fees if you have to cancel, and for flights within the United States, this is only $5.60.

Best miles to Hawaii in economy

If you’re not based on the west coast, you may be wondering what your options are. Fortunately, you have a couple good ones. The best is arguably Korean Airlines SkyPass miles. This carrier’s award chart uniquely places Hawaii in the same zone as the rest of North America. Round-trip flights cost a reasonable 25,000 miles.

Since Korean is a SkyTeam member, you’ll need to find award space on Delta. This can be difficult to do, however, as Delta has killed their award chart. Here is an ad-hoc one put together by one of my favorite bloggers.

best miles to hawaii

The 22.5k options *should* be Delta’s saver space available to partners.

If you’re short on UR to transfer to SkyPass, consider FlyingBlue instead. You’ll still need to find Delta saver space, as they are another SkyTeam partner. Flights cost 15,000 FlyingBlue miles each way, which is more than with Korean, but FlyingBlue is a transfer partner of all the major transferable currencies. Rather than needing to collect primarily Ultimate Rewards for Korean, you can transfer your American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou points to quickly accrue a ton of FlyingBlue miles.

How about StarAlliance options?

If you’re looking to fly United, there are a couple options here as well, although they are not as good as the previous deals. United operates a good number of routes to Hawaii, and the best way to book these are using either Singapore KrisFlyer or Asiana Club for 17,500 miles each way.

United non-stops. Obviously, a connecting flight costs the same using Singapore/Asiana miles.

KrisFlyer miles are fairly easy to obtain, as Singapore is a transfer partner of all three major transferable bank points currencies, as well as a 1:1 transfer partner of SPG. Asiana is a bit tougher, as you can only obtain their miles through either a Starpoints transfer or by spending on the Bank of America Asiana Visa card.

An potential oddball is the Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles program. Supposedly, their “Limited Capacity” awards are only 10,000 miles each way within the U.S. What isn’t clear is their award region definitions. But…if the North America region includes Hawaii, these awards should (in theory) only cost 10,000 Miles & Smiles each way?

turkish airlines hawaii miles

Could it be true?

I tried to check this price with the Turkish call center a month ago, but I couldn’t understand the agent’s response when I asked about this route. Since this could be such a phenomenal deal, I’m not planning to give up until I get a more definitive answer.

Best miles to Hawaii in first class

Finding award seats in a premium cabin to Hawaii can be a bit tougher than the economy options. However, considering that Newark to Honolulu is an 11-hour flight(!), I can completely understand why some would rather not make that journey in coach.

The best miles to Hawaii in a premium cabin are hands-down Korean Air SkyPass. Like I mentioned previously, Korean defines all of the U.S. as one region, so flights to Hawaii cost you the same as anywhere in the U.S. This prices first-class round-trips at a lovely 45,000 miles. Again, you’ll be flying Delta metal.

Finding this award space, however, can be a chore. Definitely consider traveling off-season, and check often until space opens up. I *think* the lowest level Delta availability is 40,000 miles one-way currently, so you need to look for routes that cost this much if you search delta.com for space. You can try via the FlyingBlue search on either airfrance.com or klm.com, but I’ve found these to be glitchy for Delta flights.

Other options for first class flights to Hawaii include Asiana, which charges 75,000 miles round-trip or 37,500 miles one way. Not exactly a deal, but it’s better than the competition. You could also consider Singapore or Alaska miles for 40,000 miles each way on first. This is just painful given the stellar deal Korean miles offer.

I’m also not sure on the fare coding for Air Canada. If it’s considered business class instead of first, you should actually only have to pay 27,500/30,000 miles each way with Asiana Club/Singapore KrisFlyer, respectively. Flights would be via Vancouver. Definitely something to look into.

What about Southwest?

Southwest just officially announced that they will be flying to Hawaii. We still have to wait and see what prices will be, but I am sure they will be competitive. Assuming a sale price of ~$500 round-trip, I would assume prices to Hawaii will start at roughly 16,000 RapidRewards points each way. But this is all conjecture at the time of writing.

If you’re interested in the ins-and-outs of Southwest RapidRewards, give this a read.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the U.S. “Big 3” will hose you when it comes to spending your miles on flights to Hawaii. So avoid them. Use any of these great partner options to book award tickets on U.S. carriers.

I’ll always say that earning miles is half the battle. Or even less than half. Knowing how to stretch your miles is just as important, if not more so. You can literally save tens of thousands of miles on a family trip by knowing which currency to use. Hopefully you can put these tips to good use and enjoy some time in the Aloha State soon!

All map images courtesy of Karl Swartz and Great Circle Mapper! Featured image courtesy of dronepicr under CC 2.0 license

Leveraging the Southwest cancellation policy for adoption flights

My wife and I are now three weeks into an adoption trip of about 6 weeks in Costa Rica. We are thoroughly enjoying both our 3 kids and their beautiful country.

But it’s definitely a long trip. We can’t wait to head home and get things back to normal, albeit a new normal.

So I couldn’t keep myself from booking our tickets home. It may seem like it’s a bit early since we don’t know when we can come home yet. But with the stellar Southwest cancellation policy, there is no downside to booking now. I’ve actually leveraged their generous policy twice on this trip, so I figured I’d provide a rundown.

The fantastic Southwest cancellation policy

Southwest Airlines has one of the best cancellation policies I’ve ever encountered. Award tickets are completely refundable, up until just minutes before the flight. In a nutshell:

  • Tickets purchased with RapidRewards points are 100% refundable.
  • Tickets can be cancelled up to 10 minutes before the flight.
  • There is no cancellation fee!
  • Even if you “no show” your award ticket, your points are redeposited. Any taxes and fees will be added to your travel funds and usable toward future travel.

The Southwest cancellation policy for revenue tickets is good as well. Here everything depends on which fare type you purchased. For Wanna Get Away fares, the following applies:

  • Fares are non-refundable, but the funds will be saved and can be applied to purchase of future travel for the original ticketed passenger up to one year from the original flight date.
  • There is no cancellation fee!
  • In the event of a “no show”, the fare is forfeited. Note that if you can show up within 2 hours of your original flight time and still fly standby on the next flight as part of the unwritten “flat tire rule”.

Business Select and Anytime awards are completely refundable (or you can choose to keep the reusable travel funds). Even if you “no show” one of these tickets, your travel funds will be deposited in your account and will be usable for future travel.

Southwest cancellation policy - fare rules

Considering that many other airlines sell completely nonrefundable tickets or charge a hefty fee to refund a fare, Southwest’s policy is extremely generous.

Leveraging the policy on our way to Costa Rica

My wife and I flew to Costa Rica on one-way United award tickets. This allows us plenty of flexibility in deciding when to book tickets back. I *really* didn’t want to lock us into a date on United, since their change policy is so bad.

However, I failed to realize that Costa Rica requires proof of return flights. Oops. At the ticket kiosk in Houston we were given a final screen of “please see agent” rather than collecting our tickets. A United employee walked over and informed us that we had to have proof of return flights.

Southwest to the rescue. In only a few minutes I had award flights back to the U.S. booked on Southwest using my wife’s points. I didn’t really care that I’d only booked us back to Houston. We wouldn’t be using them anyway, and I cancelled them two days later. But it was enough to present to the agent and get us through check-in and onto our flight.

Do note that booking a ticket on another airline could have worked as well, but I would have had to cancel within the 24-hour refundable booking window.

Leveraging the Southwest cancellation policy for our return flights

Just a few weeks later I decided to lock in our return flights. By “lock in”, I simply mean locking in a good rate. The tickets are obviously 100% refundable under the Southwest cancellation policy.

Generally, our adoption agency doesn’t suggest that people book flights back until they have their final Visa appointment. This is obviously to save adoptive parents time and headache by avoiding tickets changes. But with the fantastic Southwest cancellation policy, there is no downside to booking now!

There was one more complication, however. Given that we aren’t 100% sure of what our children’s names will be on their passports, booking airfare is problematic. Name changes are typically not allowed.

I reached out to Southwest on Twitter and explained our adoption situation to them. An agent confirmed that we could change the names of the kids once we have their information. I sent our record locator over once I’d booked the tickets, and the agent added a note to our account. I was extremely happy Southwest was this gracious.

I also had to guesstimate our return date. I decided to play it safe and book a bit further out than we hoped to be here. Southwest also (sadly) doesn’t publish a SJO-HOU-OAK fare every day of the schedule, so I had to pick one of the few days this route is available.

If we do end up taking these flights, all five of us will fly home for 62,000 RapidRewards points and $290, which is a deal!

Be aware of the Southwest change policy!

Unlike the Southwest cancellation policy, the Southwest change policy is no longer as friendly as it once was. When changing a fare, you’ll be warned that the fare will become non-refundable! This kinda goes against the grain of the rest of Southwest’s policies, so make sure you keep this in mind.

If you still do want to change a ticket, you still won’t be charged a fee. Unlike most other airlines, change fees don’t fly with Southwest. You will still pay the difference in fare, if applicable.

Conclusion

The Southwest cancellation policy is definitely something to have in your back pocket. It has come in handy for us on multiple occasions, including twice on just this trip.

With Southwest, what’s not to LUV?

Featured image courtesy of BriYYZ under CC 2.0 license

Travel Hacking with Kids: A New Frontier

Confession time: I have *totally* been called out a couple times on the fact that I contribute to a blog called “Points with a Crew“, yet I have no crew. Yeah. Family travel blogger without a family. Kinda weird.

But that is finally changing. I knew when I took on the gig at PWaC that I *would* indeed have a family. At that time, I figured we’d have our kids home by now. But…per the typical timelines we’ve experienced with the adoption process, things *always* take longer. We should know that by now.

I’ve written a bit about travel hacking our adoption trip. There is not a lot of opportunity here. Maybe for some trips away from San Jose. The fact of the matter is that there is simply no cheap lodging that will meet our needs for an entire month that we can obtain for close to free.

But what about future trips?

Travel hacking for….5??

Things are never going to be the same. Travel hacking for 1 is a breeze. Travel hacking for 2 isn’t much different, especially if you both are into earning and burning miles and points via credit cards.

Travel hacking for 5, though? Yeah…this is gonna be a whole new level. Especially with kids who can’t get their own credit cards.

Consider flights to Europe. Last summer we spent 120,000 miles to fly to Europe. This was for 2 people round-trip. For 5 we would need 300,000 miles. Quite a bit more.

And that is just for economy. Business or first class for 5? Forget it. We’d be saving for a few years or more.

Hotels are gonna be rough

As a couple you can basically stay anywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a hotel room where the occupancy *isn’t* at least 2 people. Award rooms always work (as long as there is availability).

Five people is another story. Many hotels don’t even offer a room with 5 person occupancy, let alone offer those rooms at the base award level.

Some places in the world are also more accommodating than others. In the U.S., occupancy rates are generally better/higher. I’ve found a decent number of rooms for 5 or 6 in various cities. You could also just book a room for 4 and bring in 5 (yes, ethics issue here).

Five is one of the hardest numbers. Six is probably worse (which I’ve booked for friends). Once you get above that, though, booking two rooms seems more and more ideal.

Cash back is where it’s at

I’ve decided that my strategy is going to shift substantially going forward. Until now, I’ve focused on mostly earning miles and points, with a little cash back and cash “points” on the side.

Now I am going to focus the bulk of my spending on cash back and/or flexible points that can be used to book paid travel at reasonable levels. One option is the Business Platinum card from American Express that gets 50% back when you book using your MR points (soon to be only 35%). Another is the BarclayCard Arrival+ which is essentially like a cash back card for just travel. A third is the US Bank FlexPerks which will essentially be like a 1.5% card for airline ticket purchases. There is also my trusty Citi DoubleCash.

With all the fare sales, we’ll often get a better deal (and have more flexibility) accruing cash “points” and using these to book our travels. Example: $500 fare to London on British Airways from SFO. We could use 40,000 UR points through the portal, or 25,000 Merrill+ points, or 33,333 FlexPerks (under the coming 2018 program). Any of these are better than 60,000 miles round-trip.

Miles will have their place

I definitely won’t give up miles entirely. I’d like to take my kids on “long distance dates” like Dan does with his kids, and miles will allow us to have some really special experiences.

I already have trip ideas. Family trip to Victoria, BC (using my Delta miles at a screaming good rate). Or flying to Hawaii using my (nearly) 125,000 Avios on Alaska Airlines. And then some trip ideas with a kid at a time.

Not so fast

Hold on now. My wheels are turning prematurely. We’ll be in an intense period of bonding as a family for the new several months, and I don’t expect to travel much the first year after we bring our kids home.

So the brakes are on when it comes to gallivanting across the globe. Full speed ahead on becoming a family.

There will be time enough for figuring out the points and miles game for a family of 5. It’ll be different. Maybe harder. But we’ll make it work.

First Use of the Amex Business Platinum 50% Points Rebate

Back in February I decided to pull the trigger on applying for the Business Platinum card from American Express. This was the first premium card that I had ever applied for, and deciding to swallow the $450 annual fee took some careful consideration. But with a $200 offset (I was able to cash out the airline incidental credit as gift cards and sell them), it seemed worth it. Plus the card was offering a bonus of 100,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points.

One of the biggest perks of the Business Platinum card is that it gives a 50% rebate on flights when you use the “Pay with Points” option. This has recently been decreased to 35%, but I have a year to use the benefit due to when I got my card (SEE: Reminder – Last day to sign up and get the 50% points rebate on the Amex Business Platinum). By paying with points, you don’t have to worry about award space. You just use points to pay for a cash ticket.

Normally, you only get 1.0 cent per point out of your MR points using the “pay with points” option. But the 50% rebate perk of the Amex Business Platinum card essentially gets you 2.0 cents per point. This makes booking revenue flights with “pay with points” a much better deal.

Note that you do only get to pick one airline each year for which you can use this perk on economy flights, but the benefit works on all premium cabin flights.

Visit Montana? I think yes

With barely 48 hours of mulling the idea over, I pitched a Montana trip idea to my brother-in-law. We have a friend who is interning in Kalispell this summer, and more who live near Missoula. I figured we could fly to Kalispell for several days, visit them, and see Glacier National Park. Award space was basically nonexistent, so I used “pay with points” option. This allowed the plane tickets to be completely free, plus it gave me a solid redemption value for my MR points.

Less than a day after that, the entire trip was all booked. Flights are 100% covered, and the hotels are 90% covered (I booked one points & cash night).

To top things off, I got a fantastic deal on a rental car using Autoslash, plus I can use Arrival miles to cover the majority of that cost. My brother-in-law will cover the cost of driving to Medford and parking at the airport, so all said and done we’re down to maybe $70 each plus food. It’ll be a super cheap 5 day vacation.

What to do in Kalispell

We obviously want to visit our friend Sage while we’re there. We also hope to spend 2 days in Glacier National Park. He has the weekends off, so hopefully we can see the park for a couple days. I’ve heard only good things about Glacier National Park, and I cannot wait to visit!

On Sunday or Monday we’ll visit our friends near Missoula. For various reasons we need to play things by ear, but that is a-ok by me. Tuesday we’ll fly back to Medford, and then drive the 4 hours home.

Conclusion

I hadn’t planned on taking another vacation so soon, but hey, that is one of the beauties of using points and miles. Even last-minute travel in the height of summer can be made affordable. If I didn’t have a stash of points, we’d be paying about $2,500 out of pocket for the 5 night trip. Now we’re looking at $400 or so, split between two of us.

West Coast Magic with Alaska Miles: A Primer

One of my favorite things in this hobby is figuring out how to maximize my miles. Earning miles via credit cards is easy enough, but they are only as valuable as you make them.

Alaska MileagePlan is one of my favorite award programs. Back in late 2016, they rolled out new distance-based awards, both reducing the price on many awards and raising the “cap” on others in high demand. The new awards are called a hop, skip, jump, and leap, based on the distance traveled. Here’s the chart:

Overall, I think consumers came out slightly ahead. Especially if they know how to maximize Alaska’s award routing rules. Here are some great options to explore with your Alaska miles:

Scenario 1: The one-way “round-trip”

One of the most unique things about Alaska Airlines award tickets is that they offer a stopover on a one-way award. Granted, the stopover has to be in one of their hubs, or a hub of a partner. I’ve found a few awards that break this rule, but it generally holds true.

However, if you’re interested in traveling to one of their hubs (think Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and Anchorage), you can often use this to your advantage.

Consider for a second that you want to visit Seattle from the Silicon Valley. At a distance of 696 miles from San Jose, a one-way flight *barely* qualifies for the lowest level Alaska award of 5,000 miles. But you can actually book a “round-trip” on a one-way ticket, if you’re willing to get creative.

Instead of booking a round-trip award to and from San Jose for a total of 10,000 miles, use the multi-search tool to add a different, but (sorta) close return airport, say Reno, Nevada. Looks like you even get to fly through Boise, for a total flight distance of 1,696 flown miles.

You’d expect this ticket to price out at 10,000 miles, given the flight distance. But it turns out Alaska prices award tickets on their own metal simply by distance between origin and destination! Because Reno and SJC are much less than 700 miles apart, this award will price out a 5,000 miles at the lowest level!

Now you just have to get yourself home to San Jose from Reno.  You could easily catch a cheap flight back, or maybe take Amtrak.

Sure, this may not be a desirable trip for many people, but what if you wanted to see Tahoe for a bit before heading back to the Bay? It could be just the ticket for you. You’re only looking at 5,000 miles and $70 for a two-stop vacation!

I’m mainly using this example as an illustration, although my wife and I did fly a “one-way” award from Arcata to the Bay Area, with a convenient stop in Portland to meet up with our in-laws (SEE: The Pacific Northwest Stopover Trick).

Scenario 2: The two-stop hop (aka the “in-laws”)

I’ve definitely had my in-laws in mind when considering some of the potential in the Alaska program. My mother-in-law often visits family in San Diego, typically flying out of the tiny Sonoma County (STS) airport. Since the route is under 700 miles, it prices out at 5,000 Alaska MileagePlan miles one-way.

But what if she and my father-in-law want to visit, say, Seattle for a few days, before heading to sunny southern California?

Utilizing Alaska’s amazing stopover on one-way tickets, you can actually book STS-SEA-SAN as a one-way ticket for the same 5,000 miles!

This is especially crazy given that the SEA-SAN flight distance is 1,050 miles and rings in at 7,500 award miles when booked by itself. Again, Alaska actually prices it based on the STS-SAN distance.

Tack on a cheap one-way, or another 5,000 mile award flight back to STS from San Diego, and you have a two destination vacation for a mere 10,000 miles. Not sure you can beat that.

Like the San Jose to Reno example, all you need to find is a cheap ticket back to Santa Rosa. Or you can burn another 5,000 miles, which will probably be worth it in this case. It’s still 10,000 miles for a two-destination vacation!

Scenario 3: The home “stopover”

Things get even more creative if you live in one of Alaska Airlines’ main hubs. Especially Seattle or Portland. The award routing rules are extremely advantageous.

Consider the scenario where you are taking two vacations in the western U.S. in the next several months. Say, one to San Francisco and the other to Las Vegas.

Instead of booking two round-trip awards, book a one-way for your first leg. Cash tickets for this route are competitive, so they may be the way to go instead.

Next, book your return, but combine it with your outbound to Las Vegas on the same one-way award (use the multi-city search tool). Bingo. Your “stopover” is now your several weeks at home between trips. And it is a crazy cheap 5,000 miles!

Now all you have to do is book your final leg and you’ve saved yourself up to 7,500 Alaska miles, the normal price of a SEA-LAS flight! Maybe later in the year you have a trip to Denver and another to Salt Lake City. You can pull this stunt again!

Scenario 4: Hawaii and a transcon on the same one-way

Let’s take the home stopover one step further. While useful before, this trick becomes even more lucrative if you combine a Hawaii trip with a transcontinental flight. For this example I still have to assume you live in an Alaska hub.

Imagine for a moment that you’re booking an award to Hawaii. If you’re located on the West Coast (I’m assuming you live in Seattle), hopefully you’re considering using British Airways Avios. They are generally the best currency for flying West Coast to Hawaii.

But what if you have a trip planned to the Big Apple a month after your Hawaii trip? Hold those Avios for a moment. Alaska miles will get you further, again with their amazing stopover.

If you plan this right, you can essentially get *both* one-way tickets on the same award, spanning two different trips.

Plan your outbound as a one-way with Avios (12,500 per ticket), and then plan your inbound as a one-way Alaska award for 17,500 MileagePlan miles. Add in a stopover in Seattle that spans your time at home.

Voila. You now have a one-way ticket back home from Hawaii, and then a one-way ticket to NYC, all for the less than a single flight to Hawaii would cost with many other mileage currencies.

Is it an awful red-eye? Yes. But for 17,500 miles, you can’t really complain (I’m sure you can find better flights if you book far in advance). Here’s another:

Honolulu back home to San Jose, before taking off for Alaska on another adventure.

Scenario 5: Rural Alaska

Flying to rural Alaska doesn’t really require any interesting “hacks” per se, but I find it is a fantastic use of Alaska miles. You can head to Barrow to experience 24-hour daylight, or maybe go hiking in Nome.

I mention rural Alaska since cash tickets are often super expensive. Consider this round trip between the Bay Area and Dutch Harbor. You’ll almost certainly spend over $1,000 on a cash ticket, if not closer to $1,500. You can fly the same trip for a mere 25,000 MileagePlan miles round-trip. Consider hanging out in Anchorage for a few days as well with your free stopover.

Frustratingly, there is far less award space available at the lowest level than there was last year. Because Alaska offers variable award pricing, you’ll probably end up paying more like 20,000 miles for the ticket. Still, this can make sense for destinations in rural Alaska that cost a ridiculous amount in cash.

A few issues

Annoyingly, Alaska Airlines still doesn’t recognize Bay Area airports as a “hub” for award routing stopover purposes under most circumstances. Given that the airline has bought Virgin America, I wish they would change this.

The system also knows some airports are co-located. You can’t book a “one-way” ticket from SFO to Oakland with a stop in Portland. Nor can you even return to Sacramento or Santa Rosa from the Bay. MileagePlan would be a gold mine if their system allowed these tickets.

Conclusion

I hope this has been useful in showing you how to unlock the potential of Alaska miles. Overall, the award price changes to the Alaska program have been good, but there are some quirks. Personally, I wish they would price awards on PenAir out of Arcata airport better.

If you’re not interested in domestic travel, there are a number of possibilities for using Alaska miles for some great premium products, like JAL and Cathay Pacific to Asia, and AirFrance and KLM to Europe. Business class awards to India on Emirates are also a decent deal.

Header image courtesy of Frank Kovalcheck under CC 2.0 license

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