The Best Transfer Partners for Booking Flights to Hawaii
When it comes to redeeming miles for vacation, for many people, Hawaii is a dream destination. Perhaps that’s why flights to Hawaii are also some 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 main flexible point transfer programs — American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest — 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 for 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 any other island 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 nonstop 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 codeshare with the only remaining inter-island operator, Hawaiian, or by booking a separate award between islands.
As hard as it often is to find award space to Hawaii, it can actually be very easy to find award seats on flights within the islands once you're there. 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 frequent flyer 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. However, there's one notable exception: the Korean Air SkyPass program.
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, travelers closer to Hawaii can take advantage of distance-based frequent flyer programs like British Airways Executive Club.
Here's a look at the best transfer partners for flights to Hawaii in all the major transferable programs:
The 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 30,000 miles or less, or just 25,000 Starwood points with the 5,000-mile bonus for redeeming 20,000 points.
First, there's the Korean Air SkyPass program, which offers SkyTeam partner flights on Delta for a mere 25,000 miles, round-trip! That's because the program doesn't separate Hawaii from the rest of North America. It can also get you to Hawaii for just 30,000 miles on either Alaska or Hawaiian airlines. However, these awards do take quite a bit more time and effort to book than nearly any other frequent flyer program. For more information, read my post on How To Book Award Flights with Korean Air SkyPass.
Next, there's British Airways Executive Club, which requires a mere 25,000 Avios for a round-trip ticket to Hawaii from West Coast cities within 3,000 miles of the islands. BA is partnered with both American and Alaska (which inherited routes from Virgin America). Eligible cities include not just LA and San Francisco, but also Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas and even Anchorage.
Finally, Flying Blue, the frequent flyer program for Air France, KLM and others, still offers awards to Hawaii for 30,000 miles, round-trip. However, that may change in June 2018 when the program moves to a more revenue based award chart that varies based on the cities you're traveling to and from.
Here, Korean SkyPass is the best deal at 45,000 miles round-trip for Delta flights, but it jumps to 60,000 if you fly on Alaska or Hawaiian airlines.
In the Star Alliance, Asiana offers business-class awards for 55,000 miles, and Singapore offers business awards for 60,000 miles, which are both exceptional deals when you can find available seats on its Star Alliance partners United or Air Canada.
And in the Oneworld alliance, you can get a British Airways award on American or Alaska from the West Coast for just 50,000 Avios.
Best American Express Membership Rewards Partners
Here, you have many of the same options that you have with Starwood, minus the great Korean SkyPass deals.
First, there's the British Airways Executive Club's 25,000 Avios deal for round-trip tickets to Hawaii from the West Coast on either American or Alaska. You also have Flying Blue awards to Hawaii for 30,000 miles, round-trip, at least through June.
Finally, you can check awards on Hawaiian and Delta. Hawaiian has three different levels on its award chart for economy flights, starting at 40,000 miles round-trip. Delta has no published award chart, so you never know what you'll find, but it does offer occasional "sales" on awards.
Of the Membership Rewards transfer partners, Singapore Airlines has a great deal on business-class Star Alliance awards for just 60,000 miles, which is great when there are available seats on its Star Alliance partners United or Air Canada.
In Oneworld, once again, you can get a British Airways award on American or Alaska from the West Coast for just 50,000 Avios.
Best Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners
Korean Air SkyPass is a transfer partner, so you have the 25,000-mile option on Delta and the 30,000-mile option on Alaska or Hawaiian. Flying Blue is another good option for 30,000 mile round-trip flights, at least for now.
Singapore still looks good for United Airlines flights at 40,000 miles in coach, as opposed to 45,000 when booked through United, which is also a transfer partner. However, United does have a partnership with inter-island carriers if you need to book one ticket with a connection. To book American and Alaska flights with Ultimate Rewards points, the British Airways distance-based chart is your only choice.
Finally, I would strongly recommend that Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders look at the option to book travel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center, as the combination of sale prices on tickets and receiving 1.5 cents per point can make this option less expensive. For example, a $600 flight would be only 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which is less than the 45,000 miles charged by the United MileagePlus program. Furthermore, your points will cover all taxes and fees; you'll earn miles and credit toward elite status from the flight; and you'll be eligible for upgrades. For more information on this feature, see my post on The Sapphire Reserve Math: When to Book Travel Through Chase and When to Transfer Points?
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, and Alaska flights.
Best Citi ThankYou Transfer Partners
The best options here are Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) and Singapore, with options at 30,000 and 35,000 miles, respectively.
Another option is Etihad Guest, which offers economy off-peak (January 12-March 8 and August 22-December 15) flights for 35,000 miles each way on its partner American. The price jumps to 45,000 miles during peak periods.
Virgin Atlantic offers economy-class award flights on Hawaiian Airlines from the West Coast for 40,000 miles round-trip, and from the East Coast for a whopping 80,000. Virgin Atlantic award flights on Delta are 40,000 miles round-trip.
Singapore is the clear winner here, with 60,000 miles for premium-cabin flights on United.
The Etihad Guest program charges 75,000 miles round-trip for flights on American, while Virgin Atlantic offers award flights on Hawaiian Airlines from the West Coast for 80,000 miles round-trip, and from the East Coast for a whopping 130,000, which isn't much of a value. However, Virgin Atlantic award flights on Delta are just 75,000 miles round-trip.