Maximizing the United Island Hopper with the Excursionist Perk
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
For many travelers, the United Island Hopper is a bucket list trip. This unique route flies from Honolulu (HNL) to Guam (GUM), with stops on multiple islands along the way.
But it isn't cheap. United is the only carrier on most of these routes, and it's a lifeline for the people that live on these islands. In turn, paid tickets can cost well over $1,500 depending on when you fly.
Thankfully, you can experience it yourself from the continental U.S. for under $30 out of pocket using United MileagePlus miles. And with the United Excursionist Perk, you can stop at two or more islands along the way.
Let's take a closer look at maximizing United's famous Excursionist Perk on this unique route.
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Basics of the United Island Hopper
The aptly named Island Hopper flies four times a week between Honolulu and Guam with stops along the way in Majuro (MAJ) and Kwajalein (KWA, stop skipped once a week) in the Marshall Islands, and Kosrae (KSA), Pohnpei (PNI) and Chuuk (TKK) in Micronesia.
These Pacific islands are so small that they barely show up on a map. That said, the routing covers 4,365 miles, so it's undoubtedly the "long way" from Honolulu to Guam. But, you're rewarded with stops in some of the world's most remote inhabited islands.
Related: Guam is open and they might pay you $500 to visit
Basics of the Excursionist Perk
TPG has an entire article about how you can travel more for fewer miles using the Excursionist Perk. But let’s go over the basics here.
United designed this perk to allow MileagePlus members to see two cities in one region. To get this perk, your trip needs to start and end in the same region (i.e., North America) and the free leg has to remain inside the same region (i.e., Europe)
A classic example is flying from Newark (EWR) to London Heathrow (LHR). You can stop in London for as long as you like and fly from London to Brussels (BRU). Then, you can fly back from Brussels to Newark after visiting Brussels.
The mileage cost is the same as a round-trip from Newark to London or Newark to Brussels. The flight from London to Brussels doesn’t cost any additional miles.
While that’s the classic example, there are some incredible awards that you can piece together using this perk. With some creativity, you can book redemptions where the free Excursionist flight would cost more than the flights you’re actually paying for. Or, you can work out a four-destination, around-the-world award for the cost of a round-trip award to Asia.
I highly encourage you to explore the Excursionist Perk for other redemptions. But today, we’re going to focus on how you can use it to fly the Island Hopper.
Related: How to plan a free stopover on your next trip abroad
How to visit two destinations along the Island Hopper
The straightforward way to use United's Excursionist perk on the Island Hopper is to book an award to two different destinations along the Island Hopper. The free flight needs to be inside the same region, so you can’t stop in Honolulu along the way from the mainland.
Instead, your destination choices are:
- Majuro, Marshall Islands (MAJ).
- Kwajalein, Marshall Islands (KWA) — an active military base, so you can only stop there if you’re authorized.
- Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia (KSA).
- Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (PNI).
- Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia (TKK).
- Guam (GUM).
United has implemented dynamic pricing for all of its award tickets. Still, a round-trip ticket from the continental U.S. to any two of these destinations usually costs 70,000 United miles round-trip if saver space is available. Award space can be hard to come by, so start your searches early.
Here’s one example from Los Angeles (LAX) to Majuro via Honolulu. After staying a few nights in the Marshall Islands, you’ll take the Island Hopper a few stops down to the superb scuba destination of Chuuk. From there, the most straightforward route home is through Guam and Honolulu.
This is the cheapest option, too — taxes and fees on this award are under $30.
Alternatively, you can fly back to the mainland through Tokyo Narita (NRT) or Osaka, Japan (KIX). After all, both cities have nonstop service to both Guam and a mainland U.S. airport.
The taxes and fees are a bit higher if you fly home via Japan, but it may be worth it for the AvGeeks out there when Japan's borders reopen.
This same itinerary prices out at $1,816 when returning via Honolulu. While that’s not as bad as I thought it'd be, the award still provides a solid 2.6 cents per mile — well over TPG’s most recent valuation of United miles.
Related: Dreaming of the Pacific Islands: United’s Island Hopper and my bucket list trip post-corona
Maximizing your Island Hopper itinerary
If you have the extra time, you can tack on an additional stop in Oceania for as little as 8,000 extra miles.
United charges just 8,000 miles for a nonstop one-way flight under 800 miles within Oceania if you can find saver award space. Assuming you aren't authorized to visit Kwajalein, your options consist of Kosrae (KSA) to Pohnpei (PNI), Pohnpei to Chuuk (TKK) and Chuuk to Guam (GUM).
That means you can book the following trip for 78,000 miles:
- Continental U.S. to Majuro (MAJ) through Honolulu (HNL).
- Majuro to Kosrae (KSA).
- Kosrae to Pohnpei (PNI).
- Pohnpei to the continental U.S through (at least) Guam (GUM).
This itinerary used to require making two separate reservations, but United has updated its website to allow a single-itinerary booking. Note that the leg from Pohnpei to Los Angeles via Guam and Honolulu was cut off by United's website.
Going farther in Oceania
United also serves destinations in Oceania that aren’t along the Island Hopper route: Saipan (SPN), Yap (YAP) and Palau (ROR).
If you’re interested in visiting one or more of these destinations, you can do so while still flying the Island Hopper. Just substitute one of the destinations along the Hopper with one of these destinations.
For example, here’s a two-destination trip stopping in both Majuro and Palau:
This particular routing would take you from Los Angeles to Majuro via San Francisco and Honolulu. You would then fly from Majuro to Palau via the Island Hopper and return from Palau via Guam and Honolulu. That's a lot of flying for 70,000 miles and under $150 in taxes and fees.
Building off of a Hawaiian trip
If you want to build a proper Hawaii stop into your itinerary, the simplest way of doing so would be to book flights to/from Hawaii and then book a separate Island Hopper adventure.
The mileage cost for a trip from Hawaii to two Oceania stops is just 55,000 miles using the Excursionist Perk when saver space is available.
A simple example with all daytime flights would be from Honolulu to Kosrae for a stopover. Then, you can fly from Kosrae to Guam on the Island Hopper for another stop. You can return to Honolulu on United's nonstop flight from Guam.
Related: Your guide to the best seats on United’s Honolulu to Guam Island Hopper
Building off of an Asian trip
An Island Hopper trip is even cheaper if you start in Asia. This may be an obscure use case, but it is worth noting for readers in Asia or those planning a long post-pandemic trip to the region.
United operates a surprisingly large number of flights to Asia out of Guam, with flights to four Japanese cities and Manila (MNL). This means you can take advantage of a great flight deal or redeem a separate award to Asia. Better yet, Island Hopper flights from Asia cost just 30,000 miles round-trip.
Here's a quick example. You'll start by flying from Osaka (KIX) to Chuuk via Guam. After a few nights, you'd continue to Majuro with a quick Island Hopper stop in Pohnpei. On the return, you'd take the Island Hopper from Majuro to Guam and fly back to Japan on United's nonstop flight to Osaka.
Again, this trip costs a total of 30,000 United miles round-trip in economy. This is an incredible deal for this much flying — and you'd see two great destinations along the way.
Related: Review: United’s Island Hopper from Honolulu (HNL) to Guam (GUM)
How to earn United miles
If you need to earn more United miles to make your Island Hopper dreams come true, credit card sign-up bonuses are the easiest and cheapest way of racking them up. You can earn with the carrier’s cobranded cards. Or, you can earn with a Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning card since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio.
Here are some current sign-up bonuses to consider:
- United Explorer Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
- United Quest Card: Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.n.
- United Club Infinite Card: Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 1,000 Premier qualifying points (PQP) after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Just remember that all of these cards are issued by Chase and thus subject to the issuer’s 5/24 rule. Alternatively, you could consider buying United miles during a promotion.
United's Island Hopper is a bucket list trip for many in the points and miles world. When you leverage United's Excursionist Perk, you can see multiple destinations for very few miles. Plus, you'll stretch your miles even further if you build the Island Hopper into a trip to Hawaii or Asia.
Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh.