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How to Book Flights to Hawaii Using Airline Miles and Credit Card Points

AFAR logo AFAR 10/27/2020 Eric Rosen

a flock of birds sitting on top of a sandy beach: How to Book Flights to Hawaii Using Airline Miles and Credit Card Points © Photo by tropicdreams / Shutterstock How to Book Flights to Hawaii Using Airline Miles and Credit Card Points

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There might be a few stumbling blocks as Hawaii reopens to tourists, including a scattershot approach to quarantine restrictions, evolving prearrival testing requirements, and offbeat policies like “resort bubbles.” Before you go all in on a Hawaiian vacation, stay up to date on the latest developments by checking Hawaii’s Department of Health website, make sure you can fulfill the prerequisites of Hawaii’s Pre-Travel Testing Program, and review the individual rules of the islands you intend to visit.

The good news is, if you are planning to travel to this Pacific paradise in the months ahead, your airline miles and credit card points could save you money on flights, as well as adding a layer of flexibility in case you need to cancel. Just note that the routes discussed below were current and available at time of publication but are subject to change. After you book your flights, check this article for how your hotel and credit card points can come in handy for stays. We discuss your hotel options in another article.

Even with skeleton flight schedules due to continuing COVID-related restrictions, travelers still have a surprising number of choices when it comes to airlines that fly from the continental United States to Hawaii. Rather than an exhaustive rundown of the options, here is a focused look at some of the best and how miles can help you out.

Use British Airways Avios to fly Alaska Airlines or American Airlines

American Airlines and Alaska Airlines both operate robust route networks to Hawaii from the mainland. Alaska flies from its bases in Seattle and Portland but also from other hubs such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose to Hawaii’s main airports, like those in Honolulu and Kahului on Maui. American flies from many of those cities plus hubs in Phoenix and Dallas, so the options are myriad.

But what does British Airways have to do with flights on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines? Everything, it turns out. Both U.S. carriers are partners with B.A., which means you can use Avios from British Airways’ Executive Club frequent-flier program to book flights with either of them. Once you sign up for an account with B.A., you just log in, select the option to book flights with Avios, enter your airports and dates, and review the results, including flights on American and Alaska.

The reason you might want to go this route is that British Airways uses a distance-based formula to calculate the number of Avios you need for specific flights. While that can get pretty confusing, just keep this number in mind: 13,000 Avios. That’s how many you need each way for a ticket in economy on partner flights that are between 2,000 to 3,000 miles long—which puts most of the entire West Coast and even Phoenix within reach of Hawaii. If you want to get fancy and fly first class, you’ll need 38,750 Avios each way.

For comparison’s sake, Alaska Airlines MileagePlan charges 15,000–17,500 miles each way in economy on its own flights and 22,500 miles each way on American flights, while first class starts at 40,000–50,000 miles each way. You can book American Airlines flights using its own AAdvantage miles starting at 20,000–22,500 miles each way in coach and first class for 55,000 miles.

So by using British Airways Avios instead, you could be saving over 10,000 miles per round trip in economy, and even more in first class. That said, these rates are only advantageous for West Coast travelers due to distance. If you’re flying from farther afield or eyeing itineraries with multiple segments, you’ll need a lot more Avios.   

Stocking up on British Airways Avios

Don’t have any B.A. Avios? That might not be a problem. The program is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, so if you have a credit card that earns points in either program, you can convert them into British Airways Avios and book your awards. Here are some of the top cards to consider for doing so.

Update: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offer mentioned below is no longer available. View the current offer here.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Right now, this card is offering its highest-ever sign-up bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. By the math we went through above, those points alone would convert into enough Avios for three round-trip economy tickets to Hawaii. The card also earns two points per dollar on travel and dining, and one point per dollar on everything else. Its annual fee is $95.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: This higher-end counterpart to the Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently offering 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Including the points you’d earn meeting that spending requirement, you’d have more than enough Ultimate Rewards points to transfer to B.A. and book two round-trip economy award flights from the West Coast to Hawaii. This card comes with a lot of value-added benefits, including:

  • Earning three points per dollar on travel and dining
  • Earning three points per dollar on up to $1,000 spent per month at grocery stores from November 1, 2020, through April 30, 2021  
  • $300 in annual credit as reimbursement for travel purchases each account year
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee statement credit, up to $100 once every four years
  • The annual fee is $550

American Express® Gold Card: New cardholders can earn up to 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases on their new card in the first six months of card membership. 

  • The card earns four points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases (then one point per dollar)
  • Earn four points per dollar on restaurants, including takeout and delivery
  • Earn three points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel
  • Everything else earns one point per dollar
  • The annual fee is $250

The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership. Here’s how else you can rack up the rewards.

  • Earn five points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel (only on up to $500,000 each calendar year starting in 2021), as well as on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel
  • Earn one point per dollar on everything else
  • Cardholders get up to $200 in airline fee credits each calendar year toward incidental charges such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments on a qualifying U.S. airline they designate
  • Cardholders can access Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta, and register for Priority Pass Select and access to over 1,300 airport lounges worldwide, not to mention visiting Amex’s own swanky Centurion Lounges 
  • The annual fee is $550
a large mountain in the background: Delta flies to Kauai from various airports in the continental U.S. © Photo by Fominayaphoto / Shutterstock Delta flies to Kauai from various airports in the continental U.S.

Use Delta SkyMiles on Delta

Delta flies to Honolulu, Kauai, Maui, and Kona from various airports in the continental United States, including its hubs in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Seattle, among others. Delta no longer publishes award charts with fixed mileage rates for flights, but rather uses a variable pricing model. The more expensive paid fares are, the more miles you can expect to redeem for tickets. While that’s bad news for trying to get to Hawaii using miles during peak periods like the holidays or spring break, there are other times of the year when award prices are quite reasonable.

Several searches over the coming months revealed flights from various U.S. cities to Delta’s Hawaiian destinations starting at 14,500–20,000 miles each way in economy and 50,000–67,000 miles in first class.

Stocking up on Delta SkyMiles

You might not be a hardcore Delta loyalist, but opening or carrying the right credit card could help you rack up SkyMiles quickly. American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to Delta SkyMiles on a one-to-one basis, so you could get either the Platinum Card or the Amex Gold Card. Another one to consider:

American Express® Green Card: Currently, the card is offering 45,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases with your card in the first six months of card membership. Its benefits were recently revamped, too. 

  • Earn three Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on dining, travel, and transit
  • Earn one point per dollar on everything else
  • Cardholders can take advantage of up to $100 per calendar year in statement credits for a CLEAR application to help them get through airport security fast
  • The annual fee is $150

But if you just want to earn Delta SkyMiles and enjoy some day-of-travel perks to boot, you might be better off with one of Delta’s cobranded Amex cards.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Earn 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your card in the first three months. Otherwise:

  • This card accrues two miles per dollar at U.S. supermarkets, at restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and on Delta purchases made directly with the airline
  • It accumulates one mile per dollar on everything else
  • Cardholders receive priority boarding privileges, plus a first checked bag free on Delta flights for themselves and up to eight companions on the same reservation, which can add up to a lot of savings 
  • It currently has a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: With a limited-time offer good through October 28, 2020, new applicants can earn up to 40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (toward elite status) after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership, plus a $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase with the card in the first three months.

  • This card earns three miles per dollar on Delta flights and Delta Vacations® purchases
  • It earns two miles per dollar at restaurants, including takeout and delivery, as well as at U.S. supermarkets
  • Earn one mile per dollar on everything else
  • Cardholders are eligible for a statement credit of up to $100 for Global Entry every 4 years, or up to $85 for TSA PreCheck every 4.5 years
  • They receive a domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal, a great way to save money on flights with a friend 
  • The annual fee is $250

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: The most premium Delta card in the lineup is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months.

Cardholders can also earn 15,000 more MQMs after spending $30,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year, up to $120,000 and 60,000 MQMs, which is enough for Gold Medallion status without even flying. Other than that:

  • The card earns three miles per dollar on Delta purchases
  • It earns one mile per dollar on everything else.
  • Cardholders enjoy complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs and to Amex’s swanky Centurion Lounges when traveling on a Delta flight booked using their card
  • They get the same Global Entry or TSA statement credits as the Delta SkyMiles Platinum 
  • Folks with this card receive an annual companion ticket, which is good for one round-trip domestic itinerary in economy, Delta Comfort+, or even first class when you purchase an eligible fare
  • The annual fee is $550

Use Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles or Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles to fly United

The third major U.S. legacy carrier, United, flies from several airports throughout the lower 48 to Hawaii, including Los Angeles and San Francisco on the West Coast, its hubs in Denver, Houston, and Chicago, and even all the way from Newark. Like Delta, United has stopped publishing award charts with fixed-value redemptions and instead prices award tickets variably based on the going airfare for a specific flight. However, flights this winter and spring are pricing out as low as 22,500–24,500 miles each way between the mainland and Hawaii in economy and 40,000–50,000 in first class.

If you want to use United MileagePlus miles for your ticket, remember that the program is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so if you have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can convert your points to miles easily. You might want to take another path instead, though.

Thanks to its affiliation in the Star Alliance, United partners with both Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Turkish Airlines’ Miles & Smiles frequent-flier program requires as few as 20,000 miles round-trip in economy and 30,000 for first class on United. Miles & Smiles is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou® Rewards, which you can earn with credit cards like the Citi Premier® Card or the Citi Prestige® Card. The one major downside is that you will have to call Turkish Airlines to book partner awards like this, so prepare to deal with customer service reps who might not be familiar with the process.

Another great option: Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. That program would charge 35,000 miles round trip in economy, or 69,000 miles for first class on United flights to and from Hawaii—either option saves you incrementally versus using United miles. You can transfer Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou® Rewards, and Capital One Venture® Miles to KrisFlyer. Singapore Airlines also partners with Alaska Airlines and requires just 12,000 miles each way between California, Oregon, or Washington and Hawaii for economy tickets, but 44,500 in first class.

Stocking up on United MileagePlus miles

If you prefer sticking with United MileagePlus miles, there are a couple of great credit card options.

The United Explorer Card: This card is currently offering up to 70,000 bonus miles - 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open, and an additional 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first six months. Among the card’s other attractions:

  • Earn two miles per dollar spent on United purchases as well as at restaurants, including on eligible delivery services, and on hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel and one mile per dollar on everything else
  • Cardholders and up to one companion on the same reservation get a free checked bag when flying United
  • Priority boarding on United flights
  • Receive statement credits of up to $100 for a Global Entry application or $85 for TSA PreCheck once every four years
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95

The United Club Infinite Card: This relative newcomer launched earlier this year with a 100,000-mile sign-up bonus. Now, there’s not a mileage bonus, but it does offer a $0 intro annual fee for the first year before it goes up to $525. The reason it’s so expensive is that it comes with United Club membership, so if you fly the airline frequently, lounge access could be worthwhile. The card’s benefits include:

  • Earn four miles per dollar spent on United purchases, two per dollar on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, two miles per dollar on travel, and one mile per dollar on everything else
  • A first and second checked bag free on United flights for the cardholder and a companion on the same reservation
  • Premier Access to priority check-in, security screening and boarding, and the same Global Entry or TSA benefit as the Explorer

Use Southwest Rapid Rewards on Southwest

Southwest often gets labeled a budget carrier because of its pared-down approach to boarding, and the fact that its planes don’t have a first-class section or meal service. However, fliers get free checked bags and don’t have to worry about change fees (though other airlines are now adopting this on some fares), which should make it an excellent choice for many travelers. The airline launched flights from Oakland, Sacramento, and San Jose to Hawaii last year. While most of those routes were put on hold during the pandemic, they are expected to resume in the coming months.

Rather than basing rewards on flight zones or distances, Southwest Rapid Rewards was among the first frequent-flier programs to peg each point to a particular value. So the cheaper the flight, the fewer the points you need, and vice versa. What that also does is open up the ability to use your points for more flights since, if there’s an open seat, you can pay either cash or points for it without relying on special award availability. The cheapest Wanna Get Away fares usually require 70–75 points per dollar in airfare. Higher-priced Anytime and Business Select fares usually cost 74–78 points per dollar.

Without getting too wrapped up in the numbers, flights most days this winter between Oakland and either Honolulu or Maui start at a mere 4,056 points each way and range up to 7,410 (though there are a few more expensive days). What makes that an even better bargain is that Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Southwest Rapid Rewards—another reason why they’re so versatile.

Stocking up on Southwest Rapid Rewards points

However, you might consider one of these credit cards if you want to accrue Southwest points directly—just hold off until their sign-up bonuses hit higher numbers.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. 

  • The card earns two points per dollar on Southwest purchase as well as with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners
  • It earns one point per dollar on everything else
  • Cardholders receive 6,000 bonus points on their anniversary each year
  • The annual fee is $99

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority: This card is also offering 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is opening. 

  • The card earns two points per dollar on purchases from Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners
  • Cardholders get up to $75 in annual credits toward Southwest purchases
  • Four upgraded boardings per year when available
  • Receive 7,500 bonus points on your account anniversary each year
  • The annual fee is $149

There are plenty of options beyond these for booking flights to Hawaii using points and miles. Look through your credit cards and your frequent-flier accounts to see where you have healthy rewards balances, and then strategize for how best to use them for any travel plans you might want to make.

While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available. This post was originally published October 27, 2020, and updated November 9, 2020.

>>Next: You Can Now Travel to Hawaii Without a Quarantine—Here’s What You Need to Know

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