Our “How To” series explains the best way to get to various destinations using credit card points, and tells you what card(s) you should sign up for in order to accrue the necessary points. This week’s destination: Hawaii.
A week in Hawaii can get real pricey sometimes if you aren’t using credit card points. With flights usually $750+, and a cheaper AirBnb or hotel costing ~$1000 minimum for 7 nights, you are looking at $2500 – $3000 for a couple just to get there. Add in food, a few snorkeling excursions, a rental car, and it’s almost impossible for young people to take a trip to Hawaii on their own…and that’s where points come in.
With just one credit card, you can get at least 2 round trip flights to Hawaii for free. Using points for a trip requires more planning ahead of time than a typical cash booking, but can save your future-home-fund and avoid vacation guilt! Last summer, I sent Mary, her mom, and her sister to Hawaii for a 5-night girls trip (flights and hotel free) using this exact process. We are also using points to go back to Maui and Oahu for two weeks this summer with two of our best friends – so we know it works! This guide will only encompass flights to Hawaii, more guides will come soon on how to get Hawaii hotels and Hawaii excursions for free with credit card points.
How-To: Hawaii Flights
Hawaii is an interesting destination – by that I mean that different airlines charge much different rates to get there. Some consider it part of continental U.S., others consider it its own zone, etc. If you use American Airlines miles, it’s 45k AA miles round trip. Delta? 45k Delta. Alaska? 40k. However, there are some awesome sweet spots in airline award charts that you can take advantage of to get a super cheap flight – as low as 25k points ROUND TRIP! So instead of paying 45k miles for one flight, you spend 50k and get two! Pretty cool, right? This is done by leveraging airline partnerships to use miles from ONE airline to book a flight on a DIFFERENT airline. I’ll try to keep this guide to a reasonable length, so if you feel like you need more instructions you can email us directly or find more in-depth guides on Google!
Here are the three cheapest ways to fly to Hawaii using points:
25k RT (round trip). If you are on the west coast (San Diego, San Francisco, LA, Phoenix, Seattle, Portland) or could drive to one of those cities for your flight, this is probably the easiest way to book Hawaii. British Airways (BA) is a distance-based program, so any one-way flight under a certain distance costs 12.5k miles. Hawaii is baaaarely under that limit, so it’s a “sweet spot.” Since BA’s program is distance based, you need to find a DIRECT flight to Hawaii so that the distance is in the 12.5k tier – any layovers will push the miles cost to 40k+. Start by making a frequent flyer account at British Airways here. While you are booking with British Airways, you aren’t going to be on a BA plane – you will be flying on an American or Alaska Airlines plane since they partner with BA.
How to book: British Airways partners with Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, so you need to look for those airline’s flights. Go to AA.com, and search your destination by direction (one way at a time). AA will automatically show both their own and Alaska’s flights, so that saves a step. You’re looking for flights that show up at the “Economy MileSAAver” level, so if you search San Diego – Maui and see a one-way flight for 20k AA miles, you’ve found the right one! If it’s 40k AA or more, it isn’t a “SAAver” award and British Airways won’t be able to book it. Play around with dates/destinations/departures to find award space. As soon as you find dates with available award flights, write down the flight number and call British Airways at one of these numbers to book it over the phone. That flight will be 12.5k British Airway points each way, or 25k RT.
How to get British Airway miles: Using cards with “transferable” point currencies like Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) or American Express Membership Rewards (MR) is the easiest way to get BA points. Until September 17, Amex MR has a 1:1.4 transfer ratio to British Airways, so a round-trip flight would only cost you ~18k Amex MR points. You can see our reviews of both cards and find the best available offers on our Best Credit Cards page.
25k Round Trip. Korean Air has the advantage over British Airways in that it can be from any U.S. city, not just the west coast. Additionally, you can “stopover” somewhere along the way for free and do an “open-jaw”, where you fly into one place but fly out of another. As an example, you could fly SLC – SEA (stop for 5 days to visit family) – Maui, then fly back from Honolulu – LAX – SLC. You don’t have to this type of open-jaw or stopover route, but it’s an option some might want to take advantage of! Korean Air partners with Delta, so you will be using Korean Air points, but flying on a Delta plane. The only downside of Korean Air is that when booking flights for people OTHER than yourself, Korean Air requires them to be immediate family. They require proof and sometimes you need to show passports or birth certificates. So, you could use your points to book flights for you and your spouse (or sibling or parent), but not for a friend. If you need a flight for a friend, you can pay 30k miles for the same Delta flight using the Air France guide below.
How to Book: You can search for space on Korean Air, call Korean Airlines directly, or search on Delta. I think Delta is the easiest to search (since they have an award calendar), so we will start there. Put in your dates and destination and pray for space! Any flight that you find that says “45,000 miles” is the one you want – those will be 25k Korean Air miles. As soon as you have the correct dates, sign in to your KoreanAir Skypass frequent flyer account and look for the same flight on their site. You’ll want to click “Book a Flight”, then “Award Booking”, and then select “SkyTeam Award” (SkyTeam is the name of the alliance that Delta and Korean Air are in). If you are going to do a stopover or open-jaw, use the “multi-city” button for this section. Enter in the dates/destinations you found on Delta, and then use your miles and book it! It should be 25k miles and $11.20 (the U.S. security tax).
How to get Korean Air miles: Korean Air is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1) and Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1.25), so you can transfer points from either of those programs. I would go the Chase route – check out the Best Credit Cards page to figure out what is the current best way to earn Chase UR points.
30k miles RT. Air France is probably the easiest to book of the three, but is slightly more expensive. Air France (or their frequent flyer program FlyingBlue) is part of the SkyTeam Alliance with Delta, so you will still be flying on a Delta plane. Air France can be booked from any U.S. city, and also allows one stopover and one open-jaw as well, so the same routing rules from Korean Air apply here, too.
How to Book: Sign up for a FlyingBlue frequent flyer account here. Go to the Air France website and select “Use Your Miles.” Log in using your new FlyingBlue account, and then search for the dates/destination you want. Make sure the flight is available at the 30k level (15k each way), and then transfer your miles and book it!
How to earn FlyingBlue / Air France miles: Air France is a transfer partner of every major “transferable point” currencies – Chase UR, American Express MR, Citi ThankYou Points (TYP), and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). Since Chase UR gives you so many options (including all 3 on this guide) and it’s best to start with Chase cards, I would recommend going to the Best Credit Cards page to see all the current top ways of earning UR points.
WOW! That’s a lot of instructions. We recognize that it’s a lot of info upfront and might seem a bit difficult. I tried to be as succinct (I’m bad at that when it’s about credit cards, I love talking about it!) but thorough as possible. If you feel like you need more help or that one of these guides wasn’t quite clear enough, there are plenty of other blogs that go into waaaay more detail about how to book these things. If you just google “How to get to xx with yy miles” you can probably find screenshots, etc. that might give more detail. Best of luck, and always remember to tell us where you go with your miles so that we can feature you on the blog/Instagram!