A reader recently asked me for ideas on getting to Hawaii from DC for her honeymoon. This is one of those questions that can be endlessly repeated, so I am trying to address it instead as how to get to X from Y and use Hawaii as an example. This may be a bit tricky for me since I haven’t made it to Hawaii myself yet, but since I plan to maybe I can look back in a while and follow my own advice.
Whenever booking a new trip I start out by checking the primary and alternative airports at both origin and destination. Hawaii… complicates that. The thing to remember about Hawaii is that it is a series of islands, not just a single destination, so probably the first thing you need to do is plan some sort of itinerary within the islands. It is not unusual to find that when you have island chains like this the most accessible airport is often the least attractive in terms of dream destination, and that you might opt to fly into the busiest for sake of convenience, but quickly get out of the bustling city and onto the smaller islands.
- Honolulu (HNL) is the busiest airport in the island chain, with Kahului (OGG) in second place. We can set these as Primary/Secondary airports in order to create the greatest number of flight options.
- Washington has two main airports, DCA and IAD. It’s rather hard to find, but there exists one non-stop service from Washington to Hawaii, departing only on Saturday’s on United. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say finding two award seats on this plane is going to be nigh on impossible, especially when this is a honeymoon trip (dates are less flexible) and as such, it is looking like a change of planes will be needed. Most likely going through Los Angeles (LAX).
Price in miles is a funny quirk of the game. Due to the partnerships that are out there between airlines, it is often possible to find two people sitting on the same plane that have paid different amounts for the ticket. There really are quite a few options to pursue for Hawaii, i’ll start with United:
United (UA) Metal – Star Alliance Partner DC-HNL RT Fare (coach/business)
- UA Miles: 45K/80K
- Lufthansa Miles: 40K/70K
- ANA 55K/85K (would be better if it was non-stop)
- Singapore 35K/60K
American Airlines (AA) Metal – OneWorld Partner DC-HNL RT Fare (coach/business)
- AA miles: 35K or 45K (off-peak or peak) / 75K
- British Airways miles 25K/75K (via LAX) or 30K/90K (Via DFW)
- US Airways 40K/80K
Delta Airlines (DL) Metal – SkyTeam Partner DC-HNL RT Fare (coach/business)
- DL Miles 40K/80K
- Aeroflot, Ethiopian, Alitalia, Air France, Czech Air 30K/60K
Other noteworthy routes
- UA – LAX-ITO (Los Angeles to Hito)
- UA – ORD-OGG (Chicago to Kahului)
- Hawaiian Air (NY-HNL)
Hawaiian Airlines has saver awards from 40K RT in Coach and 80K RT in First and a non-stop service from NYC, perhaps an option from DC, but if you are going to double back on yourself and make it one long flight, that better be in First. It should be noted that while First sounds like a great idea, finding seats at 80K can be a challenge.
What to do?
If I were a beginner to redeeming miles, I’d be inclined to keep it simple and book using United or American Miles. It’s worth noting that you can get a free stopover with United, but not any longer with American. The stopover is pretty neat, what you do is add on a free one way ticket somewhere else after returning ‘home’ and use IAD as a stopover airport. This could be in the US, or it could be in a different award zone (you pay a different rate here).
As an example, you could fly IAD-HNL rt for 45K in Coach (per above) or, you could fly IAD-HNL rt plus add on a one way ticket to St Thomas for some winter sun – total price would be 47.5K, you are paying 2,500 UA miles for one way, non stop to the Caribbean. Note that the leg to St Thomas needs to be taken within 1 year of the initial reservation. Also in the booking below there is an extra $75 for close in booking – else this entire itinerary would only have $16.80 in fees!
Also note – booking these free one-ways online can be troublesome, as the search engine on United.com craps out a lot, so the best way to search is in one way legs:
- Search IAD-HNL
- Search HNL-IAD
- Search IAD- Wherever you like
Then write down the flight numbers/dates and try to book it online, if it errors out,call it in. When you call in do not say “I want a free one way” because if they hear that enough it will cease to be… just say IAD is a stop0ver on the return go St Thomas (or wherever).
Open Jaws are cool!
An Open Jaw means you fly into one airport and out of another. This is very powerful for Hawaii, as you could fly into HNL and out of OGG, this is a valid routing and you can still bolt on that free one way.
Island Hopping flights
If you book United you can bolt on another island hopper flight, it will cost 6K United miles in Coach. Alternatively, American Airlines would charge you 5K AA miles to hop islands on Hawaiian Airlines.
Skipping HNL and going straight to a smaller island
There’s a little ‘award gimmick’ in that if you traverse HNL on route to a smaller island, UA would charge you that extra 6K Island Hop fare, so you would pay 28.5K from IAD-ITO if you route through HNL. However, if you were to fly in a different route, and not touch down in HNL you would pay 22.5K:
As you can see, one of the most effective uses of points with this in mind could be:
- IAD-ITO (via LAX)
- ITO-OGG (hop for 6K UA or 5K AA)
- OGG-IAD (stopover)
Total cost in miles would be 53.5K UA per person (coach) or 47.5K UA+5K AA for which you get two islands in Hawaii for the honeymoon, and some winter sun a few months later. This is a good use of the Open Jaw and Stopover rules. The problem as always is finding award space.
Although they technically aren’t the cheapest miles to use, I do like United for trips like this because they are easy to earn via Ultimate Rewards. When compared to American Airlines they have more liberal award rules, allowing for open jaws and stopovers. By using these factors effectively you can turn a boring A>B trip into a real adventure, and even bolt on a free ticket on the end of it. I would recommend United for a beginner, and perhaps once people have become more experienced with award travel they should start exploring the interesting options that can come from the less obvious partners, such as Lufthansa, Singapore, and even Ethiopian miles. These programs can offer great value, but sometimes their customer support can be a bit more of a PITA do deal with should things go awry.
One day I hope to bring the family to Hawaii, if you have any tips for which islands to see and what to do let me have them!