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Booking a $500 flight with Southwest or Hawaiian: Here's how to double stack and save at least $75

June 17, 2022
6 min read
Hawaiian plane
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Despite the occasional deal, airfare as a whole is quite expensive right now. At TPG, our goal is to get you on your next trip sooner by sharing the ins and outs of making travel less expensive.

Whether you're planning a trip to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines or to Costa Rica on Southwest Airlines, here's a lesser-known way that you can save almost 20% on your next trip.

Let's assume your ticket is $500 on either airline. Just how much can you save?

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Airline gift cards: $50

(Screenshot from samsclub.com)

For $449.99, you can buy a $500 Southwest gift card from Costco or Sam's Club. And for the same price, you can buy a Hawaiian Airlines gift card through Sam's Club.

Both Sam's Club and Costco require subscriptions. A basic annual membership to Sam's Club is $45, while it's $60 at Costco.

These gift cards are easy to buy, and they have instant delivery to your email inbox for immediate use. But they also never expire.

With Southwest, you can use a maximum of three gift cards per ticket. So that would be $1,500 of gift cards for $1,349.97. Using gift cards can easily be done on the checkout page on southwest.com.

(Screenshot from southwest.com)

With Hawaiian Airlines, you can use up to four gift cards per reservation, and as with Southwest, you can easily pay by gift card during the checkout process.

(Screenshot from hawaiianairlines.com)

Costco Executive membership: $9

A Costco Executive membership costs $120 per year, which is an additional $60 to shell out beyond the base membership. With an Executive membership, you receive 2% back on qualifying purchases at Costco, Costco.com and Costco Travel. For frequent Costco shoppers, it can make sense to spend the extra $60 for an Executive membership. Specifically, if you spend $3,000 (or more) in a year at Costco, the additional 2% back will cover the higher membership fee.

With a $449.99 gift card, you would receive $9 back as a Costco Executive member.

The right credit card: Up to $16.65

Since you're buying a gift card directly from Sam's Club or Costco, you could consider either using the Sam’s Club Mastercard or the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi. Both cards have no annual fee, though you have to be a member of either Sam's Club or Costco to sign up. If you're a Plus member with Sam's Club ($100 per year), you earn 3% back on Sam's Club purchases using the Sam's Club Mastercard. That's $13.50 back on your $450 airline gift card.

The information for the Sam’s Club Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Meanwhile, the Costco Anywhere Visa earns an underwhelming 2% on Costco purchases. That translates to $9 back on your $450 gift card.

Earning 2% or 3% back on a credit card is decent, especially with the purchase price of the gift cards already discounted, but you may want to consider using a card with a generous earning structure for everyday purchases.

For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card both earn 2 Capital One miles on every $1 spent. At TPG's valuations, that’s a terrific 3.7% return on all purchases, including those made with Costco and Sam's Club. So by charging $450 to one of these cards, you'd earn 900 Capital One miles, worth $16.65 at our valuations.

Alternatively, you could go with the no-annual-fee Citi® Double Cash Card. If you also have the Citi Premier® Card, you'll earn 2 Citi ThankYou points per dollar spent (which TPG values at 1.8 cents apiece). This means you'd take home rewards equivalent to $16.20, or an additional return of 3.6%.

Bonus: Shopping portal or card discount

While the two options above are surefire ways to save on these purchases, you may find other options that work — even if their terms indicate otherwise.

For example, TPG director of content Nick Ewen has the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, and he happened to notice the chance to earn 5% back on Sam's Club purchases via Citi Merchant Offers.

(Screenshot from Citi)

The terms specifically exclude gift card purchases, but if you're planning on using a Citi card anyway, there's no harm in trying to snag an extra discount.

In addition, you should always try to go through an online shopping portal, even if you're buying items that are explicitly excluded from earning bonus cash back or additional miles. It's entirely possible that you could wind up with even more savings on these purchases — though you should be prepared to earn nothing.

Bottom line

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

Many travelers are trying to book an escape this summer, but inflated airfare prices may prevent some from getting away. Before you book your next Southwest or Hawaiian flight, consider purchasing a gift card through Sam's Club or Costco first.

Just keep in mind that by doing so, you may be forfeiting the travel protections on your credit card, especially those that require you to pay the full amount of your airfare on the card for the coverage to apply.

Still, with instant delivery to your email inbox and the possibility of significant savings, airline gift cards are worth knowing about.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases