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Destination of the Week: Hawaii, The Big Island

by on February 24, 2012 · 16 comments

in Destination of the Week, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Hawaii, Hilton, Marriott, Starwood

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Lava flowing into the sea on Hawaii Island. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson.

Since The Points Guy had such an excellent time on Kauai last weekend, we decided to continue our Destination of the Week series with a look at: Hawaii, the Big Island.

Hawaii Island

The island the rest take their name from is also the largest in the chain, and one of the least developed, with rugged black-lava coastline, lush tropical forests, and massive volcanoes. Luckily, there are also a lot of ways to get there and several properties where you can use your points to stay.

Most visitors stick to the western Kona side of the island, where many of the resorts are. However, no visit to Hawaii would be complete without a trip to one of America’s most distinctive national parks, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can take helicopter rides over active craters and lava flows as you survey the dramatic 70 million-year-old landscape.

The waters of Cook's Bay are perfect for snorkeling. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Kirk Lee Aeder.

Sportsmen will enjoy the marlin fishing off of Kona, while those who prefer to look but not harm can snorkel in the calm currents near Captain Cook’s (Kealakekua) Bay.

As for beaches, the wide, sandy stretch of Hapuna, is one of the most popular beaches in the islands thanks to its gentle wave breaks. Honaunau Beach with its plentiful tropical fish and plants is the place to go, though, if you’re looking for scuba diving adventure.

YOUR EXPERIENCES

Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.

GETTING THERE

The main airport on Hawaii Island is Kona, KOA. Though many flights here pass through Honolulu, there are actually quite a few direct flights to the U.S. Mainland cities. Alaska Airlines flies non-stop from Oakland, San Jose, Seattle and seasonally from Portland; American and Delta both come in from Los Angeles; United to Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; and lastly U.S. Airways offers non-stop service to Phoenix. Again, similarly to Kauai and Maui, the vast majority of passengers connect through Honolulu on Oahu, which is serviced by the above domestic carriers and Hawaiian Airlines.

Awards

-The best redemption value on miles to get to Hawaii is to use 12,500 British Airways Avios miles each way on partner American Airlines.

-Award travel to Kona on Alaska Airlines starts at 20,000 miles each way for Super Saver Coach awards, while Choice Awards begin at 27,500 miles each way.

-American offers their MileSAAver Off-Peak award for 17,500 miles each way as well as their MileSAAver Peak Awards for 22,500 miles each way.

-United starts at 20,000 miles each way and US Airways offers Off-Peak roundtrip awards starting at 35,000 miles.

The three major alliances fly to Kona so you can really use anyone you want to get here. Check out our other post on ways to maximize off-peak award travel on American and US Airways to take advantage of lower redemption rates.

HOTELS

The pool area at the Hilton Waikoloa Village.

Hilton Waikoloa Village: This behemoth complex sits on 62 beachfront acres and has a whopping 1,240 guest rooms (including 58 suites) in three towers. There are three swimming pools, a protected lagoon and beach, as well as the 25,000-square-foot Kohala Spa. There are over a dozen bar and restaurant options on the property as well as their own on-site luau activity. The resort has two championship golf courses, the Waikoloa Beach Course and the Waikoloa Kings’ Course, plus an eight-court tennis center, plenty of water sports, a dolphin quest activities where guests can swim with the marine mammals, and the Club Keiki kid’s club to keep the little folk busy. There is also the Hilton Grand Vacations Club at Waikoloa Beach Resort that offers 2 bedroom suites.

Rates in March start at $249 a night. This is a Category 7 Hilton property, meaning one free night costs 50,000 Hilton HHonors points. Paying guests earn a bonus of 10,000 HHonors points and double miles on participating airlines when booking four or more consecutive nights with Plan Code H9 between now and December 20, 2012.

A guest room at the Waikoloa Marriott.

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa: Also on the Kohala Coast, this Marriott property has 533 guest rooms and 22 suites. All the rooms feature private lanais, Marriott’s Revive Bed, local Kona coffee, and refrigerators. The resort has an outdoor infinity pool, a children’s pool with waterslide, whirlpools, and access to Anaeho’omalu Bay, a half-mile-long swimming beach. Golfers have access to the Waikoloa Resort’s two courses. There is also the Mandara Spa, fitness facilities, Hawaii Calls, which is the hotel’s main restaurant serving American and Pacific Rim food. The property has its own Kona Coffee Shoppe on site as well as a Sunset Luau Wednesday and Saturday nights.

Rates in March begin at $199 a night. This is a Marriott Category 5 property, and requires 25,000 Marriott Rewards Points (20,000 with PointSavers) for a free-night redemption.

(Just to note, this island also has the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach which is a Marriott Category 4 property requiring 20,000 points (15,000 Point Savers) for a free night.)

A hole along the scenic Kona Country Club's Ocean Course.

Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa: Situated on 22 acres near Kailua-Kona, south of the airport, this resort has 519 rooms including 14 suites all featuring the Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed, 37-inch flatscreen TV’s, and small refrigerators. Rooms start at 420 square feet and go all the way up to 1,500 square feet. The resort has a Manta Ray Water Slide and Pool, a children’s beach area for safe swimming with the little ones, whirlpools, the Ho’ola Spa, and a 24 hour fitness center. The hotel’s main restaurant, Kai serves fresh seafood and there is also a pool bar, coffee shop, and another casual restaurant on site. Guests can arrange to golf on the surrounding Kona Country Club’s two 18-hole courses (the Ocean Course and the Ali’I Mountain Course), or up near Hualalai at the Makalei Golf Club.

Rates in March start at $199. This is a SPG Category 4 property requiring 10,000 Starpoints for a free night redemption, or 4,000 Starpoints + $60 in Cash & Points.

The Fairmont Orchid's beach.

Fairmont Orchid: Located on the Kohala Coast not far from Kona Airpot, this 32-acre property has 540 luxury guestrooms and suites, including 45 Fairmont Gold rooms, which have access to the Fairmont Gold Lounge serving complimentary breakfast, snacks, cocktail canapés as well as an honor bar. The hotel has a 24-hour fitness center, a 10,000-square-foot swimming pool, tennis facilities, children’s activities at the Keiki Aloha center, and access to the championship 36-hole Francis H. I’i Brown Golf Course. The resort’s Spa Without Walls has open-air treatment huts near waterfalls and the ocean (and indoor rooms for shier spa-goers). The beach activities club offers snorkel and kayaking rentals as well as traditional outrigger canoe paddling lessons. There are also several restaurants on-property including a sushi bar, the family Hale Kai restaurant, the Orchid Court breakfast buffet, and one of the island’s best-known fine-dining experiences, Brown’s Beach House.

Rates in March start at $329 a night. Since only Fairmont President’s Club Platinum members qualify for free nights (and only one per 10 paid nights) it’s a good idea to join the President’s Club, as all members receive complimentary in-room internet and local calls, use of Fairmont Fit workout gear and airline mile bonuses.

The central Beach Tree Pool at the Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai: Not too far from the Fairmont, and 10 minutes from the Kona Airport along the dramatic, lava-strewn Kona-Kohala coast, this resort has just 243 guest rooms including 41 suites, all of which are in in two-story bungalow-style buildings. The décor here was refreshed after last year’s tsunami damage, so rooms are looking new and feature outdoor lanais, granite bathrooms with soaking tubs and separate showers, as well as 42-inch flatscreen TV’s. The resort has several swimming pools such as the central Beach Tree one, the Sea Shell pool popular with family groups the adults-only Palm Grove pool, and a lagoon pool called King’s Pond where guests can snorkel with tropical fish. The resort also has a huge, modern fitness center called the Hualalai Sports Club with the usual cardio and weights, a lap pool and a rock-climbing wall, plus a full-service spa with indoor and outdoor treatment huts. There are three restaurants and two Oceanside lounges and guests have the option to have a private dinner on the beach. The resort also has its own Jack Nicklaus Signature Hualalai Golf Course.

Rates in March begin at $775 a night. While there are no point-earning options here, this hotel is part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts exclusive for American Express Platinum Card holders, where you can get a room upgrade, daily breakfast, 4pm late check out and a $100 F&B credit.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Chris

    Does anyone know how to go about obtaining tickets for 12,500 Avios miles? Looking at the website, it looks like you have to price it out at 17,500 AA miles which your Avios miles would be applicable for. Is there another way to do it at the reduced mileage amount?

  • Alison

    As a longtime traveller to Hawaii on OnePass miles, I occasionally stay in chain hotels on points, but overall, it diminishes the “authentic” experience of Hawaii to stay at a chain. Recommend spending at least a fraction of your time in a B&B, private rental, condo, etc. as it enhances the overall experience of aloha.

  • tassojunior

    12,500 Avios each way is from the west coast. From other spots it is much much more.

    AA has frequent off-peaks for 35K RT from entire USA.

    US is 35K from entire USA and if you have the US credit card it is 30K RT.

    The Sheraton is remote and easy to obtain bidding on Priceline for about $80-$85. It’s the only “resort” in it’s area.

  • http://twitter.com/ThinkJeffThink Jeff Reynolds

    The

  • http://twitter.com/ThinkJeffThink Jeff Reynolds

    The real treasures of the Big Island are hidden from the resorts. I agree with Alison, use air miles for your flight, not your accommodation. The condos and B&Bs are too good to miss.

    Flowing lava is a must see — but research where it’s at…it hasn’t been in the park too often lately.

    One of my favorite places on the island is the shoreline trail in Waikoloa. Park south of the Hilton and head towards the ocean. You’ll find turtles, tide pools, drift wood, amazing views and few other people.

    The BI isn’t known for its beaches, but IMHO it has some of Hawaii’s best, largely because they are less crowded.

    My family visited Hawaii twice last year (BI and Maui) and are planning an RTW trip next year (find our blog at kidsmeetworld.com) — and are trying to make the BI our last destination on that trip. We just love it!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GDLGW4LJGPQICR2MGPHTU4BSLM Dennis D

    Hilton Grand Vacations is offering me the Hilton Waikoloa Village for a 7 day stay for $899. The catch: I have to attend a sales pitch for Grand Vacations.

    Have you ever tried one of these offers? I wondering if it is worth the hassle.

  • MDAccount

    I just returned from Hawaii, having taken Hilton up on this exact offer. The sales pitch is very low key and when I said no, they didn’t give me any hassle at all. They’ll run through their script and show you the unit, but I was in and out in 90 minutes, and was given all the benefits promised, including a mid-size car, luau tickets and a $200 Hilton certificate.

    If you’re Gold, be sure to bring it up when you check in. They may not have you in the system that way, but when I identified myself and they verified my status, I received $120 in $10 food vouchers (there were two of traveling, though I’m the only Gold), free internet access and gym privileges, plus a partial ocean view room. They will tell you the vouchers can only be used one at a time, but we regularly used two or three of them at a time with no problem.

    As for the Hilton itself, well, I’m not the mega-resort type, so I spent my time off property every day. Some advice — DO NOT stay in the Ocean Tower, which is what they may offer you. We timed it, and it was a 10 minute walk, at a very fast clip, from our room to the lobby. It gets old fast, and the trams are glacially slow. The Lagoon tower is more centrally located and the better bet.

    Finally, the single thing I miss most now that I’m home is Hapuna Beach, which is about a 10 minute drive from the hotel. The boogie boarding there is outstanding!

  • MDAccount

    I agree with this — while I was happy with the Hilton deal, my favorite hotel on the island is a funky little place called the Kona Tiki (http://www.konatikihotel.com). They only take cash, money orders or checks, the cost is about $80 a night, and all the rooms are RIGHT on the water. In fact, the pool ends up with a lot of saltwater from the ocean spray coming over the wall. It’s nothing fancy at all, but it has everything you need, and the price is an incredible value. Get reservations early, though — they have a ton of repeat business, and reservations can be tough to get.

  • http://lappoollappool.com/ Hareluyacos

    What a wonderful pool area in Hilton Waikoloa Village!

  • http://www.facebook.com/onefasteuro Oliver Haroun

    forgot the Mauna Lani… was our best experience hotel wise there. We since then started staying in condo’s loving it much better.

  • Vzwkelly

    I would love to find out how to be offered this! My husband is Gold and has never been solicitated for time shares with Hilton! I get offers from SPG and Marriott but never Hilton! We stayed 2 years ago at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on points and enjoyed ourselves for 2 nights before heading to VNP and flying over to Kauai. This June we are back at the Hilton Waikoloa using the “points” back promo. I was able to get a room for 44K per night…and will get 30% back since that is a “premium room” and falls under the promotion. So 30,800 for a guaranteed partial ocean view is a good deal!

  • Laura Davis

    Where you stay depends a lot on what you want out of the experience. We live in L.A. and for that reason, Waikoloa turned us off immediately. You get airplane noise from the airport, and it looks like someone picked up a chunk of Orange County and moved it to the tropics. We wanted to get AWAY from southern california.

    The Sheraton Keahou is a more “Hawaiian” experience in a much more interesting location. Their luau is consistently voted one of the best on the island. We thought the food was excellent (I’m a poke junkie, now! Luckily, we can get it here in California!) and the entertainment was friendly and fun; it didn’t feel at all like they were bored of their jobs and just putting on another show for the dumb tourists. If you want pampering and all the amenities of a large hotel, this is an ideal choice.

    We had a great stay at Aston Kona By the Sea, where we got an ocean view, 1300 s.f., dual master-suite condo with daily maid service and in-room laundry for less than either of the above hotels. It’s a great choice when you plan to your time out seeing the island, rather than staying at the hotel and being pampered.

    If you want a more rustic experience, check out the Nay Station, in Ocean View Estates, not far from South Point. The place is totally off the grid, and the owners are so cool! On a clear day, you can see 80 miles out to sea from there! John Nay is a geologist, so he’s got all kinds of great insight into the islands, he’s also a rather accomplished amateur photographer, and he used to work at Smithsonian. If you like weird antiques and collectibles, this place with leave your mouth hanging open! If you’re interested in his knowledge, he will happily take you around the extensive property and show you flora, fauna, and geology you’d probably not notice any other way. His wife, Myrna, is an experienced restaurant cook. She’ll serve you home-cooked meals that will probably leave you wishing not to go home. She loves to bake; be sure to plan some extra hiking time so you can take full advantage of the offerings!

  • Laura Davis

    I agree with you about the beaches! If you are able to get to Green Sands, it’s absolutely breathtaking (and, yes, it’s really green)! At Punalu’u black sand beach, we saw sea turtles walking out of the surf to rest on the beach (talk about a Kodak moment!). Kua Beach has fine white sand, and plenty of room to spread out and enjoy. At Kahalu’u Beach, we swam with sea turtles! Best of all, even the most crowded of these had less than half the number of people per square yard than our beaches in southern California. Kealakekua Bay has kind of poor beaches, but paddling, snorkeling, and swimming in such insanely blue water more than make up for that!

  • lgr58

    We were just at the Hilton Hawaiian Village the end of February and the concierge in the Rainbow Tower offer the deal to us. I wasn’t interested in the luau, so I received 20K Hilton Honors Points instead just for taking the tour and listening to the pitch.

  • RyanKangail

    From the West Coast it is 12,500 avios. You have to call British Airways to book through a partner. I just booked a flight this way and am flying from Seattle to Maui on Alaskan.

  • Pingback: Cheap Flights from NYC To Hawaii: From $365 Total Roundtrip! | The Points Guy()

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