Destination of the Week: Hawaii, The Big Island
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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.
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.
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.
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.
-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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.