Mailbag: What’s the best way to use frequent flyer miles for a trip to Hawaii?

Posted By Trav

Real Readers, Real Questions, Real Answers!

If you’re like 99% of Americans, then you’ve dreamed of taking a vacation to Hawaii.

If you’re the other 1%, then it probably means you already live in Hawaii, like reader Naomi:

We are a family of five living on one of the outer islands of Hawaii.  We only have use two cc, reg Amex and a Hawaiian Miles (but the rewards aren’t that great)  This past January my husband said that the only thing he would change about our lives would be to travel more. 

Unfortunately due to the prohibitive costs for travel outside of the islands we are only able to take a vacation every few years.  This year we wanted to take our children to Disneyworld.  Airfare alone was over $5,000 add on room, park tickets, food, etc it’s over $11,000! 

So his request seems like a far off dream.  And that has made me very sad.  I started earnestly looking into ways to make my husband’s request possible and to make a long story short, here I am.  I think this would be perfect for us.

No matter which camp you fall in to, the goal is the same; to use miles and points to get to and from Hawaii, whether its to return home to the mainland or to return back to your own slice of paradise in Hawaii.

So what type of frequent flyer mile balances are needed to travel to the “most isolated inhabited area in the world?’

The regular US carriers

For many of the major carriers, the price is set at 40,000 miles for a roundrip economy ticket. This includes USAir, United, and Delta. To fly business, you are looking at between 70k-80k.  You can use milez.biz to see  all your pricing options for tons of carriers.

American Airlines is a little better or a little worse, depending on the time that you fly. If you fly off-peak, you can get a roundtrip economy ticket for 35,000 but if you travel during peak season, a roundtrip economy ticket is going to cost you 45,000 (learn more about traveling saving miles by traveling off-peak in this post).

British Airways

An extremely interesting option for those living on the West Coast is to use British Avios points. I’ve mentioned before how they have extremely good value in limited situation, and West Siders you’re in luck because this happens to be one of them!

The amount of Avios points need for a flight is based on the distance you travel, and so if you are flying from Los Angeles to Honolulu, you only need 25,000 Avios points for a roundtrip economy ticket!

This is a steal, especially when you consider that the Chase British Airways card is currently running a 100k point promotion! You could potentially net yourself 4 roundtrip tickets to Hawaii!

Of course, if you are planning on flying from somewhere farther away, you’ll be paying more Avios points. Dallas will cost you 40k, Chicago 45k, and most cities from the East Coast will be 50k or more.

Depending on where you are flying from, and your mileage balances in other programs, this may make sense to you.

To figure out how many Avios points you need is a bit confusing, since not only does their website suck (you can try to enter your cities in BA’s Avios Calculator, but it will only calculate it if there is a direct flight between the two) and they also charge you per leg.

If you want to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu, you’ll have to pay for the leg from San Fran to LA and then pay for the leg from LA to Honolulu, even though LA is just a layover.

Flying from San Fran is still only a total of 32,500 miles roundtrip in economy, so it’s still a great deal, just aggravating to figure out. As I mentioned above, BA’s website isn’t smart enough to calculate that for you.

Ok, so how do I suggest figuring out how many BA Avios points are needed?  I’ll show you two ways (one easy, one harder) using Philadelphia to Honolulu as an example.

The Easy Way 

1. Go to milez.biz and put in the two cities that you want to travel between

2. Select BA Executive Club from the dropdown menu.

3. Milez.biz will show you how many BA points you need, calculated via a layover in whatever city makes the most sense.  You’re done!

The Harder Way

1. Go the OneWorld Interactive Map and plug in the city you are leaving from and the city you are going to.

2.  Have “no preference” selected under the with airline tab and make sure to have “include connections” and “include codeshares” checked.

3.  This will show you all the routes possible between Philadelphia and Honolulu.  You see that we could connect through Chicago (which milez.biz showed us) or Dallas.

4.  Enter the information for the first leg in to BA’s Avios point calculator, either PHL to ORD (Chicago) or PHL to DFW (Dallas) depending on your preference.  Write down the mileage needed.

5.  Enter the next segment, either DFW or ORD to HNL (Honolulu).

6.  Add the two amounts together and you have your total number of Avios points needed.   If you have more than two legs on the trip, repeat step 5 until you’ve gotten all the way from your starting point to your end point. 

Ok, so why would you ever choose the harder option?  I’d recommend using it if you instead of just laying over in a city, you’d prefer to stop there and spend some time. Since you are booking each leg separately, you can stay for as long as you want in each place.  I’d also recommend it for huge nerds like me who love looking at maps all day!

If I just used milez.biz, I’d only have seen the option to stop over in Chicago.  But what if I hate deep dish pizza, the Bears, and wind but love cowboy hats, oil, and tacos?  By using the harder method, I saw that I had two options, and I could pick either of the two to stop in for a bit before heading on to Honolulu.

Now that we know what miles are needed to get there, it’s time to look at what are the best current credit card signup bonuses to score you that free trip.

Best Credit Card Deals to Earn You a Trip to Hawaii

1.  Citi/AAdvantage Visaand Amex-  Each card gives you 50k miles, so you can score 100k AA miles with this deal.  That’s enough for 2 roundtrip tickets right there!  Read more about my breakdown of the deal, and how to make sure you get both cards, at the Best Current Deals Page (#1 deal, right at the top).

2.  Chase British Airways Visa- (read my full review here) This card can potentially give you 100k BA Avios points.  You’ll get 50k points after your first spend, 25k more after spending $10,000, and 25k more after spending an additional $10,000.  If you are able to make this kind of spending, then this card is a great one for you to get.  Even if you aren’t going to make the $10k or $20k in spending, this card still has some potential because you’ll get 50k Avios points right off the bat!  Especially recommended for people on the West Coast who are trying to get to Hawaii!

3.  Chase United Explorer-  If you are able to get the targeted offer (see this post about how to do that), you’ll receive 50k after spending $1,000 in 3 months.  The regular offer is only 35k (30k after $1,000 in 3 months, 5k for an authorized user) so make sure to see if you can get targeted.

4.  Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold [The Ink Bold is no longer available, but the Ink Plus is still available] or both-  Both cards earn you Chase UR points, which transfer instantly to United miles.  The Chase Sapphire comes with 40k signup bonus, whereas the Ink Bold comes with a 50k signup bonus but a  higher minimum spend.

If you think you can meet the minimum spend requirements easily, than you can double dip and get both at the same time for a total of 90k United miles, good enough for 2 roundtrip economy tickets to Hawaii with room to spare!

The Sapphire and Ink Bold are both currently listed on the Best Current Deals page if you’d like to read more.

5.  Barclays USAirways Mastercard-  The sign up bonus is only 40k but that is enough to get you one roundtrip ticket to Hawaii from anywhere in the United States.  Check out the Best Current Deals page (#3) for my full review and how to “churn” this card.

Any other good ways to get to Hawaii using frequent flyer miles?  Did I miss something?  If you’ve been to Hawaii, do you have any advice on things to see/do/eat?  Comment below!

(Photo courtesy of Bogdan Suditu)



  1. Brady Hamilton says:

    I have another way to get to Hawaii for FREE! Apply for the BofA Hawaiian Air personal card and business card (each gives you 35,000 bonus miles) using the multiple browser system. Bank of Hawaii also offers the cards with 35,000 bonus miles. You could possibly get 140,000 miles just for signing up!

    1. Trav says:

      @Brady Hamilton- Great point! The $79 annual fee is NOT waived for each card, so you are looking at paying $316 for a total of 140,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles. For people living on the West Coast, this could make a lot of sense since Hawaiian Air flies out of 6 cities in California as well as Portland, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Phoenix and a roundtrip can be as low as 40k miles between the islands and the mainland! Hawaiian Air miles are also great for inter-Hawaii flights because they are only 7k miles one way, and these tickets can often be really expensive to purchase outright.

      Thanks for the heads up Brady, great find!

  2. Nguyen says:

    Hi Travis, I cannot seem to find any Cathay flight from SFO to SGN using Avios points for coach. I try Oct, Nov and Dec; thus, I have a hard time to decide if I want to transfer MR points to Avios points before the end of this month. Thanks in advance for your inputs.

    1. Trav says:

      Nguyen- Does it have to be Cathay Pacific that you fly? If not, I’ve been able to find availability on AA and JAL. The flight usually includes 2 layovers and takes 23-25 hours total in duration, but they are available. Since AA and JAL are OneWorld partners, you could use your Avios points with these airlines same as you would with Cathay Pacific. Let me know if this interests you and I’ll forward you the details.

      You can also search for yourself the same way I did by using http://www.awardtravelr.com. Just click that you want to search for OneWorld and enter your dates and SFO to SGN.

      1. Nguyen says:

        Travis — Thanks so much for the reply. Using your link, I find the award for first or business, but it does not list coach. When I was able to find coach, the tax/fuel charges along would cost about ~ $650. I am still undecided on whether I should transfer MR points to Avios points …

        1. Trav says:

          @Nguyen- I found coach availability when I put the dates between October 16 plus 7 days. I didn’t find coach availability for the first two weeks in October though.

          The reason the taxes/fuel is so high is because you are using BA Avios points. When using Avios points, you’ll get hit with a fuel surcharge anytime you use the points EXCEPT if you fly domestically in the United States with AA or if you fly to South America with LAN.

          Using BA Avios points to fly to Asia is not that good of an option if you are flying coach because the taxes end up being close to what the price of a ticket would cost anyway! Maybe this helps make your decision as to whether to transfer Amex points to BA.

          To learn more about fuel surcharges, you can check out the post entitled “The Secret to Never Paying Fuel Charges on Award Tickets.”

  3. Naomi P says:

    Hi Travis! Just wanted to say THANK YOU VERY MUCH for this great site and all your help getting started. Because of your clear and concise instructions, I was able to get both of the CitiAA Visa/Amex cards last month for 50,000 mi each after spend for a total of 100,000mi. Then my husband was able to get approved for the same two cards today! We can’t wait to make those vacation reservations for Disney World. Again, thank you Travis!

    1. Trav says:

      @Naomi P- Thanks a ton for compliments! I hope that you and the family enjoy the trip to Disneyworld! Should be even that much sweeter knowing that you didn’t pay for the tickets!

  4. Paul hanley says:

    Two people NYC to Honolulu first class R/t less than US$ 2,000 1get Alaska air card 25000 bonus. Plus $99 companion coupon earn 15000 each plus 5000 or so for Tx purchase. Spouse gets card and another coupon result: 2 R/ts in F plus 85000 miles to use on partner Cathay Pacific YMMV

    1. Trav says:

      @Paul hanley- Wow, nice and creative way to get to Honolulu and in style too! Any idea how much the ticket on Cathay Pacific will run if you’re not traveling first class?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Community of Over 8,000 Travelers

Enter your email address below and get my free 20 Travel Hacking Strategies guide, completely FREE! You'll also be kept in the loop every time a great travel pops up so you'll never miss a deal again (like the $300 tickets to South Africa I just scored)!

An App That Sends You the Cheapest FlightsDownload Jetto Now!
+ +