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Following up our post on why travel goals are crucial to award travel success, we're back this time with an example of the planning process.
We’ve selected flying two people round-trip to Hawaii in economy for this demo. Our example is not business class, and it’s not an exotic jaunt to ancient Southeast Asian ruins; we’ve chosen it as a beginners destination for several reasons.
- It’s still in the US, so you don’t have to worry about the added stress of visas and immigration, etc.
- It's a popular destination, with multiple carriers flying from most US hubs, and economy awards are comparatively easy to find and affordable
- Lots of accommodation options with chain hotels across a variety of rewards programs
- You can access lots of guides from reputable sources detailing how to get there and where to stay
- It ties into what we love about rewards travel. It’s a little exotic, beautiful, has great food, offers a wide array of experiences, and caters to a variety of demographics
Which Airline's Fly To Your Chosen Destination?
The initial step is discovering which airlines fly to Hawaii from the mainland US. The quickest way to tackle this is jumping on the Honolulu Airport (HNL) Wiki page. If you scroll down to ‘Airlines & Destinations,’ you'll find a list of the airlines that fly into HNL and the airports where those flights originate.
You can also use an online tool like AwardHacker.com to conduct this analysis, as they show which airlines/programs you can use, or, use Google Flights or OpenFlights.org if you prefer a visual representation of routes and carriers, but today we want to strip it right back to basics.
We can get to Honolulu on Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian Air, and United. Unfortunately, none of the US frequent flyer programs offer top value. Keep in mind, there are other islands with non-stop service from the mainland — don't forget them!
Which Frequent Flyer Program Is Best to Book Your Award?
Our go-to here is a simple Google search – ‘best points and miles for award flights to Hawaii.‘ If the destination is popular, Google will throw up a bunch of results. Look for articles that are current and up-to-date. You can filter your search using the ‘Tools’ button in Google's search console and select ‘Past Year‘ from the drop-down.
Here, we'll use our own post breaking down the best award programs for free flights to Hawaii. While US carriers offer flights, the legacy carrier frequent flyer programs don’t offer the best value. Here's where airline partnerships come in.
Instead, we can use:
- British Airways Avios to fly from the West Coast (BA has a distance based award chart) flying on partners Alaska or American for 25K miles.
- Korean SKYPASS miles allow you to fly from anywhere in the US on partner Delta for 25K miles.
- Or, for an extra 10K miles, you could use KrisFlyer miles to fly United for 35K miles or Alaska for 12,500 miles each way (must be direct flights).
This covers all three global alliances, so it doesn’t matter which alliance you’re loyal to.
Earning BA Avios is straightforward with the British Airways Visa Signature® Card. But you may wonder how on earth you earn Korean SKYPASS miles, or KrisFlyer miles when you live in the US? Which brings us to another piece of the rewards travel puzzle. Which points to collect.
What Points Will You Need to Book Your Flights?
You can transfer points to each of the above programs, including Avios, from Marriott Rewards, and to all except Korean from Ultimate Rewards. BA Avios also lets you transfer Membership Rewards points, and for Singapore Airlines, you can transfer all four flexible currencies to KrisFlyer, so you can also use Citi ThankYou Rewards.
Flying United using KrisFlyer miles may cost 10K more miles. But if you only had 10K points in each of your Chase, Amex, Citi, and Marriott accounts, you have round-trip flights to Hawaii.
This is the main reason we recommend focusing on transferable rewards currencies as the base of your rewards travel strategy. It provides flexible planning and tons of options to redeem your points for the greatest value. We’ve put together a table showing the difference in miles to get to Hawaii for the different programs. On the right of the table, it shows you which flexible currencies transfer into each program.
|Rewards Program||Partner Airline||Round-Trip Economy||Round-Trip Business/First||Transfer Points From|
|Korean Air SKYPASS||Delta||25,000||45,000||UR-MAR|
|British Airways Executive Club||American + Alaska (Price varies based on distance)||25,000||75,000||UR-MR-MAR|
|Korean Air SKYPASS||Alaska + Hawaiian Air||30,000||60,000||UR-MAR|
|Air France/KLM Flying Blue||Delta + Alaska||30,000||60,000||UR-MR-TYR-MAR|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||United||35,000||60,000||UR-MR-TYR-MAR|
|Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles||N/A||40,000||80,000||MR-MAR|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||N/A||45,000||80,000||MAR|
MAR - Marriott Rewards
MR - American Express Membership Rewards
TYR - Citi ThankYou Rewards
Ultimate Rewards gives us options across a range of carriers and programs to get to Hawaii as does Membership Rewards and SPG. Citi ThankYou Rewards only allows us to book through KrisFlyer and Flying Blue.
The least expensive choice is Korean or BA. Who you pick is typically determined by your location and the carrier you prefer to fly. Flights for two people round-trip will cost 50,000 Avios, UR points, or MR points. Or we can use 120,000 Marriott points as Marriott Rewards awards an additional 5,000 miles for every 60,000 points you transfer (60K Marriott points = 25K airline miles).
Which Rewards Credit Cards Earn the Points You Need?
For flights we need:
- 50,000 Avios, SKYPASS miles, or UR points, or 120K Marriott points
Chase offers multiple cards that earn Ultimate Rewards and provided you hold a card that will transfer to partners; you can combine points earned from each card into one pool to transfer and redeem as you please.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which we rate as the best beginners rewards card available, has a solid signup offer, or, if you own or operate a small business, you could apply for the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card which offers 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Business cards are more accessible than most people think, almost anyone qualifies for a business credit card if you run even a hobby business or part-time gig.
You could also throw The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express into the mix. It tops our list of best credit cards for everyday spend earning a solid Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases such as office supplies or client dinners..
Create a Spending Plan, Based Around the Points You Need to Earn
Developing a spending plan requires you to dig into the bonus categories of each card you hold to learn about category bonuses. You will also need to use shopping portals and apps like the Ultimate Rewards Shopping Portal to maximize points earned for all your purchases, and look at the opportunity cost of using services like Plastiq to get you over the line if you are close to reaching a travel goal.
If your goal is to hit an additional 30,000 UR points, plan a realistic spending roadmap with a little wiggle room so you can jump on promos and shopping portal offers as they come to light. Use category bonuses, or offer to pay accounts or expenses for family members and have them reimburse you to help you reach your goals.
An achievable travel goal and a plan to earn the points and miles required to pull it off are just as important as the physical credit cards that earn the rewards while you first come to grips with earning and redeeming rewards points for travel.
Without a roadmap to achieve your travel goals, you will struggle to reach them and waste unnecessary time, money, and effort in the pursuit of your goals.
We plan on expanding this series in more depth over the coming months. If there is any subject you want us to dig into in more detail, please let us know in the comments.
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