Leveraging a single card bonus for free flights to Hawaii for a whole family
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Hawaii’s sun-kissed tropical islands are an idyllic vacation destination for Americans who don’t want to break out a passport. But unlike the beaches of Florida, Hawaii isn’t a quick hop away for most of us. From the West Coast you’re looking at five to six hours each way, and 10+ hours from the East Coast — further than Europe. It’s a long haul, but more than worth it for a piece of paradise.
Cash fares from most of the continental U.S. to Hawaii typically aren’t all that cheap (although we do periodically see cash deals, especially from the West Coast, like round-trip tickets to Hawaii for $277). Still, my strategy is to fly virtually for free using miles as often as I can.
In our family’s case, we managed to bank enough miles for a trip to Hawaii essentially from a single credit card bonus. Here’s how you can do the same thing.
Planning family flights to Hawaii
Living on the West Coast has some perks in the points and miles world. One of the best-known award sweet spots is flying nonstop from a West Coast gateway to any Hawaiian island for a mere 13,000 British Airways Avios one-way. Many other award programs charge 17,500 to 22,500 miles in each direction. British Airways is a partner of both Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, so you can use your Avios to book either of these carriers.
Related: Using miles to fly to Hawaii
British Airways Avios are easy to accrue, as they are a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards (and sometimes there are even transfer bonuses). But when you’re looking to fly five people there and back, you still need a lot of points. In our case, we were looking at 125,000 Avios (now 130,000 after an award chart change) for round-trip tickets for all of us. That’s a lot of transferable points to fork over. Luckily, there are other ways to earn lots of Avios.
Earning 100,000+ Avios from one card bonus
I earned nearly all of the Avios for our trip through a single credit card welcome offer. Over a year ago, I picked up the Chase British Airways Visa Signature Card, which offers a massive bonus of up to 100,000 Avios after you spend a cumulative $20,000 on the card over 12 months. The bonus is awarded in tiers, with 50,000 bonus Avios awarded after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months, and the other 50,000 Avios after you spend the remaining $17,000 by the end of your first 12 months. It’s a high spend requirement, but a huge payoff over the long haul.
Factoring in the Avios earned from the spend itself, you’ll be sitting on at least 120,000 Avios, enough for four round-trip award tickets to Hawaii, and nearly enough for five. In our case, I’d spent a couple of extra thousand dollars on the card, so we just had to transfer a few thousand Amex Membership Rewards points to get to the total we needed. (If you have fewer than five people in your family, this one bonus alone will be enough.)
Booking flights for five
We live in northern California, so booking nonstop tickets out of Sacramento or the San Francisco Bay Area is the most ideal scenario for us. Alaska Airlines offers nonstop flights to every Hawaiian island if you combine the options out of SFO, OAK, SMF and SJC. Finding award space for five people really wasn’t all that difficult, though of course finding award flights is never a guarantee.
To begin, search for availability at Alaska’s website. Look for one-way flights at the 15,000-mile level. (That’s 15,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles but you’ll be using British Airways Avios points to ultimately book your flights.) When I searched, we had a couple options to Maui, and I found seats out of both San Francisco and San Jose that worked.
Here’s an example of searching for award availability at Alaska Airline’s website:
You can’t book Alaska-operated award flights on British Airways’ website, so once I found award availability at Alaska’s site, I called British Airways. Yes, that’s an extra step, but well worth it. If you were booking an American Airlines operated flight, you could do that on the British Airways’ website. In the end, I booked five round-trip tickets from San Jose to Maui for 125,000 Avios plus $56 in taxes and fees.
With the recent Avios award chart changes, those same five tickets now would cost 130,000 Avios. British Airways charges $5.60 in taxes each way per person, for a total of $56 for all of us.
British Airways also normally charges a phone booking fee, but the agent was willing to waive this because Alaska flights aren’t bookable online.
Considering that the similar nonstop round-trip tickets were running $356.40 per person when I booked, this is a value of $1,726 for five people. You may be able to get better value from your Avios points, but I’ll take (nearly) free flights to Hawaii any day.
Another upside to using Avios
After all that, we ended up having to punt on the family trip to Hawaii, which was a major bummer. Several months after booking, I had to cancel the tickets, which would have been a major pain had I booked cash fares or used most types of airline miles.
With British Airways Avios, however, you can cancel your tickets and get your Avois points back in two ways. I decided to forfeit the $56 in taxes and BA refunded all my points. Alternatively, you can cancel a BA award for $55 USD per ticket. So, depending on the taxes levied on your award tickets, you could either forfeit the minimal taxes or pay the cancel fee — whichever is lowest.
The ability to cancel without a huge penalty is another reason I’m glad I settled on using Avios for the trip. Canceling an American, Alaska, or United award would have cost far more.
Another card offer that can fly a family to Hawaii
If you’re not based on the West Coast, you might be thinking this isn’t a deal for you. However, there is a second card offer that can get you free flights to Hawaii: the Citi Premier® Card (full product review). This card offers a welcome bonus of 60,000 Citi ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months, which can be transferred to Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles.
You can book round-trip tickets to Hawaii for just 15,000 Miles & Smiles per person, so this is enough for a family of four.
It takes a bit more legwork in terms of transferring and ticketing, but it is a potentially excellent option, as you can fly any domestic United operated itinerary to Hawaii. Turkish Airlines used to offer Star Alliance award ticketing over the phone, but reports during the last month or more indicate that this is no longer an option, at least temporarily. You can still ticket by email in many cases.
With the single card bonus from the Chase British Airways Visa, we’re still sitting on enough Avios for when we decide to head to Hawaii. It may be several months until we re-plan the trip, but it’s nice to have them in our back pocket ready to go.
If you’re looking for more tips on ways to save on family travel to Hawaii, check out these posts:
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