Hawaii Vacations on Miles: Intra-Hawaii Flights
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Most of us know that when we are talking about "Hawaii" we are actually talking about several different islands that make up the state of Hawaii. To be specific, there are over one hundred islands in the Hawaiian Islands, but there are more or less eight main islands, of which seven are inhabited, and six are most relevant on the tourism front. In case you aren't yet up to snuff on your Hawaiian geography, the six main islands when it comes to tourism are:
Hawaii "The Big Island"
You can get some very basic info on the islands via the Go Hawaii website (which is also where the above image was taken from). When you are using miles (or dollars) to get to Hawaii, that trip from the mainland will typically just get you to one of these islands. Many of the flights from the mainland go to Oahu/Honolulu, but there are also mainland flights directly to Kauai, The Big Island, and Maui.
Once you have gone as far as Hawaii it is rational to want to experience more than one island, as they are all different. Though keep this desire in-check if you are on a very short trip to Hawaii. Unless you are a really good swimmer, that usually means you are going to want to take a short flight (or flights) between islands. There is also ferry service between Maui/Lanai and between Maui/Molokai. This post in my series on Hawaii is dedicated to exploring some of the most cost effective ways to island hop via airplane using either dollars or miles. In case you want to catch up, here are some other posts in this series.
Plan a Hawaiian Vacation Using Miles and Points: Part 1 (Overview)
Strategic Airline Ticket Decisions
Airline Award Options
Intra-Hawaii Flights (this post)
The two real choices you have when flying to another Hawaiian Island are to purchase the flight(s) or to use miles, so I'll look at each option individually.
Purchase Intra-Island Flights:
Depending on the exact route, you have a few different carriers to choose from when purchasing island hopping flights. Some of the operating carriers are Hawaiian Airlines, Mesa, Pacific Wings, and Island Air. The flights are short with many around 30 minutes and all under an hour even for the furthest two points (assuming you fly non-stop). Flight times are offered throughout the day. While prices can be higher or lower, it is common to see fares in the $70 - $80 range each way for economy on these short flights. This is true when booking close-in and in advance, but I recommend booking in advance to be on the safe side. For tickets like this I like to do searches on Hipmunk.com so I can compare flight times and prices.
In case you want first class, expect prices to be a little over double that amount. There are also space-available $50 buy-ups to first class at check-in on Hawaiian Airlines. Flying in First will exempt you from the $17 per bag checked bag fee for intra-Hawaii flights for the first and second checked bag. If you were going to have to pay $34 in bag fees anyway, it may be worth the extra $16 for a slightly better experience, but do keep in mind that these are VERY short flights so decide for yourself if that is worth it. Also be aware that intra-island tickets on Hawaiian can be changed for a $30 change fee + the fare difference.
Keep in mind that if you have an intra-Hawaii flight on the same day that you have another flight such as to/from the mainland, you need to allow extra time at your connection airport to retrieve and re-check your luggage. Unless you are booked all on one ticket, you will not be able to check your bags all the way through to your final destination. This is true with both revenue and award tickets.
Using Miles for Intra-Island Flights:
Now that you know paying $70 - $80 each way for flights between Hawaiian islands is a pretty common price, I will point out a few of the ways to avoid paying all together by using miles. I'll start with the bad news: I'm not aware of a way to build in free stopovers that would equate to you being able to island hop on miles for free. The airlines seem to be on to that, so if you booked an award on United from say Houston to Honolulu to Maui and back hoping to use a free stopover to experience Honolulu for a few days "for free" before going on to Maui, it ain't gonna work. You will be charged 5,000 additional miles each way for the intra-Hawaii add-on. Now that the bad news is out of the way, here are some options:
- Consider an open-jaw where you fly into one Hawaiian city on an award, but back out of another. Using my example above, you could book an award on United from Houston to Honolulu and then returning Maui to Houston without spending additional miles. That way you are just responsible for getting yourself one-way from Honolulu to Maui instead of having to use miles to go both ways. You could also book two one-ways instead of a round trip so you fly from the mainland into one island and back home from another if your carrier of choice offers that type of redemption.
- United charges 5,000 miles each way to fly on partners Hawaiian Airlines or Island Air between the islands. You can tack this onto a larger award from the mainland, or book the flights individually. You can transfer miles to United 1:1 via the Ultimate Rewards program thanks to cards like Ink Bold® Business Card, the Ink Plus® Business Card, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. The United MileagePlus Explorer Card (read this thread for tips on getting the best offer) is also a great way to get some additional United miles.
- American charges 5,000 miles each way to fly on partner Hawaiian Airlines between the islands. You can tack this onto a larger award from the mainland, or book the flights individually. Some good ways to get AA miles are via SPG or the Citibank AAdvantage Amex and Visa personal and business cards.
- Hawaiian Airlines charges 7,500 miles each way for their lowest level award between the islands. Some easy ways to get Hawaiian miles are via the Bank of America Hawaiian Air Visa, the Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Air Visa, via SPG, or Amex Membership Rewards.
- Delta charges 10,000 or 15,000 miles round trip on their partner Hawaiian Airlines between the islands. Assuming you could book at the 10k roundtrip level I actually really like this option since I value SkyMiles lower than American or United miles. However, Delta does not make this process user friendly as I could not get any availability to show up online for me on some test searches. I know they have been bookable online in the past, so perhaps this is just a glitch, or perhaps you now have to call in. Ugh, Delta. If you do want Delta miles, see if you are targeted for a decent Delta Amex offer via the Card Match Tool.
- Virgin America 3,000 one-way or 6,000 round trip on their partner Hawaiian Airlines between the islands. The can be a great deal if you have Virgin America points, which can be tough to get your hands on for some. You can see their mileage calculator here and according to their site you do need to call in to book. You can transfer in points 2:1 from Membership Rewards (as in 10,000 MR points becomes 5,000 Virgin points). Or you can get them via their credit card Virgin America Visa® Signature Card (possible better offer without the landing page available via this post)
- Options like Alaska and/or British Airways that can be great to get to Hawaii are not options for island hopping as they don't partner with an airline that offers intra-Hawaii flights, and they don't offer flights between the islands themselves.
Miles vs Cash:
If you have the option to book a 5,000 mile award flight between the islands or spending $70 - $80 each way on a purchased ticket, I would call it a dead toss-up. That would be around a 1.5 cent per mile redemption, which isn't great, but isn't terrible. If you are short on cash, but high on miles, then I would use miles. If you aren't running low on cash you might as well just book the flight using cash, assuming you can book a flight in that price range. If you have credit card points that are essentially used as cash toward travel such as US Bank FlexPerks points or Capital One "No Hassle Points" then that could be a good hybrid option for purchasing these intra-Hawaii tickets. I personally plan to island hop later this year, and assuming prices remain in that range, I will be booking on Hawaiian Airlines with dollars.
The best suggestion if you want to visit a couple islands is to take advantage of booking your award ticket to Hawaii using an open-jaw reservation or two one-ways as I mentioned a little earlier in the post. Then just add on an flight or two between other islands you want to visit by using cash or miles as outlined in this post. That way you are cutting down the number of intra-island flights by one thus saving time and money/miles.
Next up we will be looking at options for getting around the islands once you land - mainly via a rental car.
I know there are some Hawaii pros out there, so I'd love to hear your tips for intra-island travel as well!