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.
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.
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.
To summarize, here are how our flights broke down:
Flight from Germany to Hawaii:
DUS-LAX (2 month layover)
COST: 20,000 Aadvantage miles per person
Flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles:
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!