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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.

Hawaii is a very difficult award to ticket to book. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Hawaii can be a difficult award ticket to book. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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.

Hawaii is within 3,000 miles of the west coast.

Hawaii is within 3,000 miles of the West Coast.

Best Starwood transfer partners for flights to Hawaii

Economy class
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.

Hawaii is many people's dream vacation. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Hawaii is the dream vacation for many people. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

First class
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.

Inter-island flights
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.

Virgin America awards on Hawaiian are only 20,000 miles from the west coast, round trip.

Virgin America awards on Hawaiian are only 20,000 miles from the west coast, round trip.

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.

First class
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

Economy class
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.

First Class
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.

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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  • mpeterson78

    why is this entire post striked out?

  • Eric

    there are a lot of mile references but no mention to whether it’s one way or roundtrip. can you please clarify?

  • sri

    must be a typo… its all striked out…

  • Scott


  • jmecherul

    how can the virgin america be the best transfer partner from amex points, when you need 2 amex points per 1 elevate mile so they might be smoking something when they say 20000 elevate miles from west coast is cheaper than united or american when you need to transfer 40000 amex points for that, or 70000 amex points(35000 elevate) from the east coast. by the way, i have yet to find how to fly from east coast-ish (cleveland ohio) for 35000 elevate miles on virgin america by using partners. i cannot seem to find cleveland a city in their FROM places.

  • Santastico

    Maybe the entire post is striked out because in my opinion this post is unrealistic at least for most readers. I find interesting that bloggers post about redeeming miles for the lowest award level as it is very easy to do so. “It is JUST 30,000 miles round trip….” Well, you should add that it may be JUST 30,000 miles IF: 1) you are totally flexible on dates; 2) you are redeeming only 1 ticket; 3) you do not care for crazy and long connections with unrealistic layovers. If any of the above does not match your profile you better prepare yourself to use way more than 30,000 miles.

    If you are a family with kids trying to redeem miles to go to Hawaii it is almost impossible to redeem only 30,000 miles to get there. For example, we just returned from an amazing trip to Hawaii (Oahu and Kauai) and
    for a family of 4 traveling in June (when kids are out of school) there was no way to get any option for 30,000. I burned 72,500 Skypesos per person to get there. I can tell that we were kind of flexible on dates but had to be in either June, July or August since kids were out of school, we needed 4 tickets on the same flights and there was no way we would be spending sometimes 10 hours in an airport to get a connection to our destination.

    Thus, I think you should be more realistic when writing a post about redeeming miles to Hawaii since very few people would be able to
    redeem only 30,000 miles to fly to Hawaii.

    Just a comment regarding Inter-island flights. Our entire trip was ticketed by Delta and included one inter-island flight with Hawaiian (all on the same ticket and award). I was told by Delta that my Medallion status benefits would apply for all flights including the Hawaiian. Well, when I checked-in in Honolulu to go to Kauai I was charged for all our luggage and the Hawaiian lady was very rude and said they had nothing to do with Delta. I contacted Delta and was told I had to pay for luggage fees on Hawaiian. Also on
    the 25 minute flight from Honolulu to Kauai on an almost empty plane I asked the FA if I could move to the exit row seat so I could have a better view since I wanted to take some pictures. She said exit rows seats are only for elite members and I could not seat there. What a “great” customer service!!!! :(

  • thepointsguy

    Weird formatting issue- fixed!

  • thepointsguy

    Was a formatting issue- it has been fixed

  • scott

    I booked 2 flights using BA Avios from LA to Hawaii for next Feb. and had no problems. It was 25K Avios per ticket and there was plenty of availability. Maybe you just need to book early enough. I’m flying into Maui and out of the Big Island.

  • Marnie

    I’ve never had a problem booking tickets usinng miles to Hawaii – they always seem available if planning ahead. And booking directly into HNL, there always seems to be availability.

  • Andy Baez

    I sent a tweet to you but I had a question about a booking a flight to NRT and I wanted to know what would be the best method to get that question to you?

  • Ankur

    Hey you have a typo in here:

  • Jeremy

    AA Award availability on the 767 (which is probably the best business class to Hawaii) is almost impossible to find. I am talking about ORD and DFW tickets. UA does have 777-200 on the IAH/ORD-HNL route, but those are the recliners and not lay-flat or angled seats.

  • Eastbayfamily

    My husband and I got the Alaska airlines credit card and both used the free companion ticket for our kids. No blackout date as we booked over Xmas holiday. Not miles but saved us a lot of money to fly from Oakland to kona direct.

  • Joseph Cellieur

    Eh I don’t think he ever said he works for Delta.

  • Christopher Chang

    I’ve been trying to plan a trip for 2 using Singapore business class redemption for United. How frequently does United release star alliance redemption seats? I’d like to travel sometime around Feb or March of next year but haven’t been able to find any available seats. Was I too late to get those or am I jumping the gun? Obviously I’d like to avoid mixed cabin as well, but right now I’m just trying to get a sense for the booking timing. Anybody have any suggestions?

  • PR@TPG

    Thanks! Fixed now.

  • sunglassesadvil

    Unless the post was edited after you wrote this, he specifically says “Perhaps that’s why Hawaii is also one of the hardest award tickets to redeem.” Also, it sounds like your main problem is that you had a bunch of Skypesos, which are notoriously difficult to redeem at low levels. Did you have any other frequent flyer currency? Because the post also points out that it’s good to have flexibility from that standpoint. Finally, it’s pretty difficult to find saver award flights for a family with kids in any situation, not just Hawaii. That’s common knowledge.

    So, in conclusion, your entire tirade seems a little misplaced.

  • Joe S

    For Inter-island direct flights, I find AA best flying Hawaiian at 5K per person one-way plus 10% back if you have the credit card, for 4,500 total. My flight next Jan from LIH-OGG was $107 and the price didn’t change for the 3 months I watched it, so I felt it was a good value.

  • Juno

    I used United miles for Hawaiian Inter Island flights. One warning. You do not get your seat assignments until you check in at the airport. So with my wife and my 6 yr old, all 3 of us were in separate seats. A flight attend had to ask a large family traveling in multiple rows to switch a seat so my son and I can sit next to each other. I wish they would fix that issue.

  • Dick A

    I haven’t seen Hawaiian Air 1st Class for 60K in a long, long time; I can find 80K roundtrip saver awards off peak from west coast to HNL, quite often.

  • Patrick Folger

    Thanks for this info. I’ve always used HA because I thought that was only option. I look into this next Sept when I go from HNL to OGG

  • Karen

    Last Fall we went JFK -HNL non stop on Hawaiian. No problem with getting two Super Saver Awards when booked 11 months out.. We flew HNL to EWR back on united 4 of us lay flat seats.. again no problem. Looking to go back in 2015.. and I see a big difference with United. You used to be able to book 11 months out at midnight at not have a problem.. now it looks like if you can wait to last minute it might work out. I have save 600k Ultimate rewards points in hopes of taking my family of 6 to Hawaii first class on that same non stop flight with lay flat seats is probably now a fantasy. Any suggestion out of the NY area which route would give me the next best seating in First Class?

  • Jeff

    Have any advice on getting a one-way home from Hawaii to the Midwest?

    Thanks to you,we’re currently on our stopover at home following our trip to Europe in May, and will be using our free one-way to get to Hawaii. Also thanks to you, we’ll also have the Companion Pass so that is also an option once we can get to the mainland. Thanks.

  • J

    “The first class Hawaiian awards from the West Coast are a great deal at 50,000 miles.” Say whaat? Where are those? It’s 80k, no?

  • Taylor

    any suggestion for the best option to Lihue out of Houston with Amex points?

  • lettcco

    Hello TPG, thanks for the post. Thinking about opening up the british airway card for my trip to Hawaii coming up in Nov. since I live in west coast. Can you tell me if I have to wait till full 3 months before the bonus is post, even if I meet the spending requirement within the 1st month?

  • thepointsguy

    The bonus posts once your statment closes when you hit your spend

  • San

    Call hawaiian with the hawaiian ticket number and assign seats. I have done it for 5 inter-island flights (using united miles) successfully. BTW, it implicitly confirms united award went through successfully to Hawaiian ticketing.

  • heater

    I already have the hawaiin airlines credit card, can I open another one and get the bonus signup miles again?

  • Casey B

    I’m relatively new to learning about points/miles, etc. My fiance and I have a couple cards between us that we have used to earn points for cash travel redemption in the form of reimbursement for hotel stays. We have yet to take advantage of miles/points for flights. I am very interested in learning more as we are planning a trip to Hawaii in August 2015 for our honeymoon. We are hesitant to book a flight for this trip using points because I keep reading stuff like “subject to the flight not being overbooked” or “provided there are seats available” and such like. Is this normal? We would hate to show up for our trip and find that there are no seats! This has happened to us before on a trip to Costa Rica, which we paid for (not using points) through a travel website (expeida I think). We were put into a local hotel and given a flight the next morning, but that certainly was a terrible start to our already short vacation. REALLY don’t want this to happen again! Would be a terrible start to what should be a wonderful trip! Any suggestions/advice to avoid this? I think our best option (based on my research and reading sites like yours) is to use Oneworld and American. We would be flying out of Detroit. I looked into Singapore air, but without being able to see the award flight info through United’s website, that makes me nervous. I hate to call and ask. I prefer to search online! So yeah… i know this post is a couple months old, so don’t know if you are still checking it, but would appreciate any suggestions or advice or even direct me to another page (on your site or elsewhere) that could help us out?! Thanks so much!

  • Casey B

    Oh, we are planning to fly business/first class… no economy for us for this trip. Thus the STRONG desire to find a good deal!!!

  • confused

    I’ve called Atilia & Signapore and they claimed they don’t fly to Hawaii. WTF !

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