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Today TPG Contributor Jason Steele looks at the best points and miles transfer options from Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest for travel to Hawaii.
When it comes to redeeming miles for vacation, for many people, Hawaii is the dream destination. Perhaps that’s why Hawaii is also one of the hardest award tickets to redeem. When booking an award to Hawaii, or any other popular vacation destination, it helps to have points in one or more of the three flexible point transfer programs – American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and the Starwood Preferred Guest program – because you can use those points for travel on a variety of airlines, or to top up your frequent flyer program of choice. To maximize your transfer options, it’s important to know which partners offer the best deals on award flights to Hawaii as well as inter-island service.
Special considerations for booking awards to Hawaii
It used to be that most flights to Hawaii from the mainland arrived in Honolulu, and travelers to other destinations were expected to change planes there and board a short island hopper flight. Today, most of the larger islands (Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and of course Oahu) can be reached by non-stop service from the mainland. Nevertheless, it’s sometimes easier to piece together a trip arriving on one island and transferring to another. You can do this by booking an award on an airline that has a code share with inter-island operators such as Hawaiian and Island Air, or by booking a separate award between islands. As hard as it is to find award space to Hawaii, it’s actually very easy to find award seats on flights within the islands. In fact, it’s rare that I find inter-island flights without the award seats I request, and even when that is the case, there’s usually another flight with availability within hours.
In most North American frequent flier program award charts, Hawaii is in its own zone, with a unique number of miles required to book tickets there. So the mileage needed to book an award on a particular flight can vary greatly depending on which program you use. In contrast, Hawaii tends to be lumped in with the rest of the United States for the purpose of booking tickets to award zones outside of North America. So if a program offers both a stopover and an open-jaw, you can often add a free, one-way flight to Hawaii before or after an international trip.
Another factor to consider is that travelers from the West Coast and Alaska are within 3,000 miles of the islands, or about half as far as travelers from the East Coast. Thus, those closer to Hawaii can take advantage of distance based frequent flyer programs like British Airways.
Best Starwood transfer partners for flights to Hawaii
There are three options among Starwood transfer partners that can get you a round-trip ticket to Hawaii for just 30,000 miles, or just 25,000 Starwood points with the 5,000 point bonus for redeeming 20,000 points: Alitalia, GOL, and Flying Blue (Air France/KLM). All three of these programs are partnered with Delta, and Flying Blue is also an Alaska Airlines partner. In the Star Alliance, Asiana has the lowest priced awards at 35,000 miles.
In OneWorld, American offers off-peak awards for 35,000 miles from January 12 to March 8, and from August 22 to December 15. Interestingly, a round-trip award need only begin during the off-peak time period, and can return outside of it and still be only 35,000 miles. Otherwise, most of the other OneWorld options (and ANA in the Star Alliance) are distance based, which can make sense for those traveling from the West Coast, such as the 25,000 mile round-trip award on British Airways using flights on American, US Airways, or Alaska.
In the Star Alliance, Singapore offers first class awards for 60,000 miles, while Alitalia’s award chart is still the best for Delta awards, also at 60,000 miles. American is the best OneWorld option at 75,000 miles for first class on two-class aircraft. Finally, you can book first class on an American three-class aircraft for 80,000 US Airways miles rather than 95,000 American miles, and you can use 75,000 Asiana miles for three-class United Airlines flights rather than 90,000 United miles.
7,500 Hawaiian miles is all you need for inter-island flights in coach, or 15,000 miles if you have to be in first class.
Best American Express Membership Rewards partners
Those redeeming Membership Rewards will also find great deals when they transfer their points to Virgin America, which offers round-trip awards on Hawaiian Airlines for a mere 20,000 miles from the West Coast, and only 35,000 miles from the East Coast. This is even better than the 25,000 mile round-trip award from British Airways for flights from the West Coast on American or Alaska.
Since Singapore and Alitalia are also Membership Rewards transfer partners, they still represent some the best deals to Hawaii at just 30,000 miles round trip, with Flying Blue close behind at 35,000 miles. With OneWorld carriers, Membership Rewards points can only be used for distance-based awards on BA, Iberia, and Asia miles. The only other option for awards using American flights is to redeem 45,000 Hawaiian miles.
The first class Hawaiian awards from the West Coast are a great deal at 50,000 miles. Next are the Singapore and Alitalia first class awards at 60,000 miles. Hawaiian awards on American or US Airways are expensive at 90,000 miles each, so most travelers will be better off with distance-based award using BA, Iberia, and Asia miles.
Again, Hawaiian is your only option for stand-alone, inter-island flights at 7,500 miles in coach and 15,000 in first.
Using Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners
Singapore still looks good for United Airlines flights at 40,000 miles in coach, as opposed to 45,000 when booked through United. However, United does have a partnership with inter-island carriers if you need to book one ticket with a connection. To book American, US Airways, and Alaska flights with Ultimate Rewards points, the British Airways distance-based chart is your only choice. Korean SkyPass transfers are the lowest price for SkyTeam awards at 35,000 miles, but Virgin Atlantic’s program will be much easier to deal with for only 40,000 miles. Virgin Atlantic is also an option for awards on Hawaiian at 40,000 miles.
The 60,000 mile award from Singapore will work on United two-class flights, or you can go to 80,000 miles for first class on three-class aircraft. These options are always better than transferring miles to United. First class Virgin Atlantic awards are 75,000 miles on Delta, and 80,000 miles on Hawaiian. British Airways’ distance-based chart is your only choice for flights on American, US Airways, and Alaska flights.
Here, United miles really shine, as you can use just 6,000 miles (12,000 in first class) for a one-way ticket on any inter-island flight, even with connections. Frankly, this is a great use of small balances of Ultimate Rewards points or leftover United miles. Just be aware that Hawaiian and other inter-island carriers charge their own additional baggage fees when your ticket is not attached to your flight from the mainland.
What’s your preferred way to get to or around Hawaii? Please share your ideas and questions in the comments below.