Traveling to Hawaii For Free – Part 1 Air Travel

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Note: This is part 1 of a multiple part series.  Click here for part 2!

Chances are with a title like that, you think I am about to sell you something that is, “Too good to be true”.  I assure you that I am not selling anything.  Over the course of several articles, I will explain exactly how I traveled this past summer to Hawaii for free!

Since one of the greatest costs of travel for anyone is airfare, this first part will explain not only how we traveled, but other options available as well.  Perhaps you have seen on the site that we visited Europe earlier this year.  While I will not go into great detail about the European airfare, it is significant to mention that our flight to Hawaii was tacked on to our return from Germany.

American Airlines allows a free stopover in a “North American Gateway City” on their international mileage redemptions.  In layman’s terms, “Gateway City” simply means the first or last U.S. city you touch on an international itinerary.  When we returned from DUS (Dusseldorf), my wife, son and I flew directly into LAX. (Our gateway city.)  I was then able to book a one-way flight from LAX to OGG (Maui) two months later on the same ticket.  Essentially, American Airlines views the flight as being from Germany to Hawaii with a two month stopover in Los Angeles.  While this approach was a little inconvenient (we live in Las Vegas and had to get ourselves to/from Los Angeles) the price of 20,000 miles one-way was a steal.

NOTE: The current best way to get Aadvantage miles is by opening the Citi Aadvantage Visa card.  It offers 50,000 miles after $3,000 in spending during the first three months.  The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.  Here is a link to the application. (I DO NOT receive any referral commission or any other compensation if you apply for this card.)  For more information on this card you can also see the relevant thread on Flyertalk.

aa hawaii free stopover
You can see that there is no additional charge for the flight from Los Angeles to Maui.

While we used American Airlines for our journey, most of the major airlines allow stopovers which can be used to achieve a similar result.  For a guide to stopovers, I would recommend visiting here.  (Additionally, I will have a later post detailing all of the ways to get to Hawaii with the different U.S. based frequent flyer programs.)

The second part of this trip was finding a return flight home from Maui.  Most of the major airlines either don’t allow one-way award bookings (US Airways and Delta) or require a lot of points to fly to/from Hawaii. (American and United)  For me, the obvious choice was British Airways.  Since British Airways Avios are distance based, they only require 12,500 miles to fly from Hawaii to the West Coast.  This is significantly less than the 17,500 miles American requires or the 20,000 miles that United, Hawaiian Air and Alaska Air charge.

At this point you are probably wondering how I was able to get British Airways Avios and are confused as to why they fly to Hawaii.  I will start off by addressing where BA flies.  British Airways has no flights to Hawaii.  Instead they are a member of the OneWorld Alliance and their Avios miles can be used on partner airlines including American Airlines.  Additionally, British Airways partners with Alaska Airlines who also has flights to Hawaii.

American Express currently offers a 20% bonus for transfers to British Airways.
American Express currently offers a 20% bonus for transfers to British Airways.

In regards to getting Avios, they are a transfer partner of several different programs including Chase’s Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.  Both of these programs transfer points at a 1:1 ratio and American Express has even had transfer bonuses from time to time including a 20% bonus going through the end of the year.  For us, the easiest transfer at the time was from Ultimate Rewards, so 12,500 UR points + $2.50 per person,  got us a one-way trip back to the mainland.

NOTE: The best cards for Ultimate Rewards are the Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Bold/Plus.  The Sapphire Preferred offers 45,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $3,000 in the first three months and adding an authorized user.  The Ink Bold/Plus cards offer 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 during the first three months. (I do not receive any referral commission or any other compensation if you apply for these cards.) 

The best cards for Membership Rewards vary.  I would recommend browsing the American Express site for current offers as the bonuses often change on their cards.  Any card that offers Membership Rewards will be eligible to transfer to British Airways and their other travel partners.  Additionally, the CardMatch tool on creditcards.com often has exclusive targeted offers for some American Express cards that carry higher bonuses than the public offers.  Using that tool is safe and does not result in a hit on your credit.  You don’t even need to input your social security number.

You can't beat this for free!
You can’t beat this for free!

To summarize, here are how our flights broke down:

Flight from Germany to Hawaii:

DUS-LAX (2 month layover)

LAX-OGG

COST: 20,000 Aadvantage miles per person

Flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles:

OGG-LAX

COST: 12,500 British Airways Avios (Transferred from Ultimate Rewards)+ $2.50 per person.

Similar airfares for the week that we traveled to Maui were running well over $600 per person roundtrip.  By utilizing our free stopover and British Airways distance based award chart, we were easily able to save over $1200 on flights alone.  In the next part I will explain where we stayed and how our net hotel cost was close to $0.  If you have any questions about this post or anything else travel related feel free to comment and I will be more than happy to respond!

 

 


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16 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. your blog is just what I need. We are a family of 3 as well and most blogs do not cater to the particular needs and absolutes that we must deal with. The IHG 5K ‘point break’ is great, but hard to pull kid out of school spur of the moment, etc. Generally, less flexibility.
    We want to get to Maui this June from Oakland (or SFO). I have 13k Avios, 50K AA, 30K Alaskan, 40K UR pts. How do I use Avios or what would you suggest?
    Thanks for the great family info.
    Gary

    • Thanks for the comment Gary. It takes 25,000 Avios roundtrip from the west coast to Hawaii. Alaska Airlines is a partner of British Airways and flies from Oakland to all of the Hawaiian islands. You can’t book these tickets online, but it is a fairly straightforward phone call. To search for space go to Alaskaair.com and search for the dates you want. Check the box “Use Miles” and it will price the flights out in miles. If there is availability for a flight under the “Lowest” tab, then you can book with Avios. That will get your family to Maui for 37,500 Avios one-way. You can top off your current Avios account with Ultimate Rewards points.

      If you transfer all of your UR points to Avios, then you will still come up short by about 22,000 for the roundtrip cost of 75,000 Avios. You could use your 30k Alaskan or AA for one of the tickets (It takes 27,500 Alaskan or 22,500 AA miles) and then you would only need a few thousand more UR points to get the other two. That may not be the best deal though. You may also consider getting another card to earn more Ultimate Rewards or even an American Express Membership Rewards card if a good offer comes available. Membership Rewards often has bonuses when transferring to Avios. (A 20% Bonus just ended yesterday.)

      As for hotels, I highly recommend you get the Citi Hilton Reserve. If you are going to Maui, you will love the Grand Wailea. In the summer it usually goes for over $500 a night, so getting the two free weekend nights is a great value. Also as a Gold guest they will give you a free drink coupon and a 2 for 1 coupon for the restaurant. Hyatt also recently opened up an Andaz property down the street that is really nice looking. It goes for 22,000 points a night or you could use the 2 free nights from the Chase Hyatt.

      If I was you I would look into getting another Ultimate Rewards card like the Ink that comes with a 50,000 point bonus. After meeting the minimum spend you would have enough points for your extra ticket and 1 night in the Andaz or the Hyatt Regency. Or if you use the Alaska Air or AA miles to purchase the one ticket, you would have enough points for two nights at those properties. (Or you could just use the Chase Hyatt Visa to get two free nights as well.) Combine those nights with your free nights at the Grand Wailea and you have a luxury Maui vacation. Right now you can ALMOST get the flights for free with what you have. The hotels you will have to work on.

      I know I presented a lot of options and there are even more I didn’t go into, but I want you to know that it is definitely possible. If you don’t understand any of this or have any further questions just let me know!

      • You are the man. I want to send you 50 bucks via BlueBird if you’d accept simply for sharing such needed info. I think time is running out for us. Alaskan has only 1 flight out and 1 back on our date. (Ps. Does their site say they are raising the miles to 40K roundtrip on Jan. 14?) You made me look closer at updated totals and I have 53K UR pts. 32.5 K for Alaskan. 4.8K Hawaiian. 13.8 K Avios and wife has 54K DELTA. I also have the ‘companion pass’ that came with the BofA Alaskan card. I have 2 nts. free at the Wailea on 4th July (My boy will be massively surprised) It is time and I do need an INK card. Alas, that will take some time and then spend and then posting of those pts. Anxious on losing any remaining flights from Oak non-stop.
        What do you think?
        Gary

        • Gary no need to pay me! All I ask is for you to keep visiting to learn more! As for the increase on January 14th, the 40,000 miles are for refundable coach tickets. The normal ticket is 20,000 or 27,500 miles. (In your case for the summer it would be 27,500). Since you have Delta Miles you could use 45,000 for one of your roundtrip tickets on Alaska from OAK-OGG if you want. It really comes down to how you want to utilize your points. The companion voucher is nice, but it would require that you purchase a coach ticket which is running around $750 or more in June on Alaska. That would put your cost at around $870 or more for two tickets. I guess you have some decisions to make, but it seems you have quite a few options to get your flights for free! I am excited for you.

          • Thanks Shawn,
            I had to build the trip around the free nights and had to lock those in early because the Wailea was booking up. I believe I now waited too long for award flights and there seems to be none available on AA, BA, United, Delta , Hawaii, or Alaskan for 3 travelers, non-stop, June 29. (At least none at regular award level or economy class.) I think I am forced to wait and watch the prices (~700 each now) and if they come down pay straight cash. Not happy.
            When should I have tried to get award travel to Hawaii?
            Thanks, Gary

          • Gary I just did a quick search on Alaska and there are 2 award seats available on the 7am flight June 29th from OAK-OGG. You may find if you book those seats that another one opens up at the lower price. (Sometimes they replace award inventory after tickets have been booked.) Even if that doesn’t happen, you will have two of your tickets taken care of. If you don’t see availability for all three of you, it can sometimes be helpful to search for 1 or 2 people to see what options you have.

            Another option may be to split up. You may be able to find a flight on another carrier with similar times. For example you could get the 2 tickets on Alaska and see if a flight that departs and arrives close to that one on a different airline has 1 ticket. While it isn’t ideal to split up, it would save you a lot of money. Hope this helps a little!

            As for the best time to book award tickets, that can vary by airline. In my experience it is best to book close to when the schedule is released. (That varies by airline but is usually around 330 days out.) The other best time is right before travel. A lot of times airlines release unsold seats within a couple of weeks of travel. I know this doesn’t help in your situation, but it can be good if you have the chance in the future for a last minute trip!

  2. Thanks again Shawn. I have loaded my Avios with UR pts. and now have 50K. I am awaiting seats at the “Lowest” level as these will be 25K Avios roundtrip. The keep appearing and disappearing. Since I have been ready only the departing leg is available at ‘lowest’. I assume I should wait and keep checking 3 times a day? My wife says she will be more than happy to fly alone with her 50k Delta pts. if a seat other than 1st class ever opens.
    Any thoughts dear sage?

    Gary

  3. Hi Shawn, I found roundtrip flight on Alaskan at “Lowest”. I called Brit. Air to use my 50K Avios. They said they only had some first class flights at 75K each. No lowest flights from Alaskan they said. Do you have any suggestions?

    Gary

    • Try searching for the flight on the AA website. If it shows up there then BA should have it. If it shows on AA then call back and speak to another agent.

      I have never seen low space that shows on Alaska not being available to partners.

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