How to book the cheapest plane tickets to Hawaii (2018)

How I booked 7 plane tickets to Hawaii’s Big Island for $11 each

Hawaii on miles and points

Family pics are tough these days. At least 3.5 out of 5 of us are looking. By the way, isn’t this property beautiful? This was the backyard of the house where we stayed!

Last year, we decided to book a family trip to the Big Island for January 2018.  We chose the Big Island because besides being beautiful, there are plenty of activities and things to do!  In this post I will explain how I successfully booked 7 award tickets to Hawaii.  The total cost of 7 plane tickets was only $78.40 ($11.20 each in taxes and fees).  That is a HUGE deal considering flights to Hawaii are usually anywhere between $500-$1000, depending on your departure airport.

We needed 7 tickets total: me, Ryan, Jack, mom, dad, brother, and his girlfriend.   Since the girls were going to be just under 2, they were booked as lap infants.

How many points or miles does a plane ticket to Hawaii cost?

I have written about some of the best ways to fly to Hawaii and you can read that post here.

Generally, the cheapest way to fly to Hawaii on miles/points is usually to use Korean Air miles to book Delta flights.

  • roundtrip economy ticket on Delta booked with Korean Air: 25,000 miles
  • roundtrip first class ticket on Delta booked with Korean Air: 45,000 miles (Delta charges 22,500 each way or 45,000 roundtrip in economy, so this is a great deal!)
So, how does one earn Korean Air miles?

Easy.  You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest points to Korean Air’s loyalty program (SkyPass) to get these miles after creating a free Korean Air Skypass account.

Sounds great right?! 2 potential problems:

  1. You have to book roundtrip tickets, so there must be award space available for both ways on Delta.
  2. The other problem is that you can only book for your spouse and immediate family.

The good news is, there are other programs that only charge slightly more, and you have the flexibility to book one way tickets.  For example, KLM/AirFrance FlyingBlue charges 15,000 miles each way (or 30,000 roundtrip) in economy for Delta flights between the US and Hawaii.

Also, AirFrance/KLM FlyingBlue and many of the other options allow you to book tickets for non-family members.

See Also: Share Airline Miles Without Paying Fees

Delta is a transfer Partner of American Express Membership rewards and Starwood.  Why not just book with Delta?
  • First of all, if you book with Delta, they charge 22,500 each way or 45,000 roundtrip in economy.  Why pay 45,000 miles when you can get the exact flights for 25,000 or 30,000 points/miles?
  • Second, Delta is not a partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards so if you were planning to use Ultimate Rewards, your options to get Delta flights are Korean Air or AirFrance/KLM FlyingBlue.
Hawaii on miles and points

About to walk through a lava tube at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Park entrance fee for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is $25 per car (but it’s valid for 7 days). It’s worth every penny, but I just wanted to point out that Ryan and I paid less than that for our plane tickets!

You can read more about all of the creative ways to get to Hawaii for less here.  We ended up using KLM/AirFrance FlyingBlue miles for our tickets.

Our Flights to Hawaii:

Ryan and my tickets from DFW to KOA-2 tickets on Alaska Airlines

Cost: 0 miles because we used a stopover loophole from Alaska Airlines when booking our return trip from Italy.  Yep, I’m talking about the Italy trip from 4 months ago.  Remember, we flew home from Italy on an American Airlines flight booked with Alaska Airlines miles.  Then, we had a 4 month stopover in Dallas before continuing on to Hawaii.

AA used to have the same loophole and it was closed after being discussed by a few bloggers.  For that reason, I’m hesitant to go into great detail about this on the blog.  With that said, it is perfectly legal and complies with the policy.  Alaska Airlines even has a blog post on their own website about it.  I am happy to email more info and details to anyone who is interested.  

My parents’ and Jack’s tickets from DFW to KOA -3 tickets on the same Alaska Airlines flight as ryan and me

These tickets were booked with AirFrance/KLM FlyingBlue miles

Cost: 15,000 FlyingBlue miles each so 45,000 total.  AirFrance/KLM and Alaska Airlines will be ending their partnership soon, but even after it ends you can still use FlyingBlue miles to book Delta flights for 15,000 miles each way.

To get the KLM miles, I transferred Amex Membership Rewards points to my FlyingBlue account.

tickets for my brother and his better half- 2 tickets from DFW to KOA on a Delta flight

These were booked with FlyingBlue miles also.

Cost: 15,000 FlyingBlue miles each, so 30,000 for both.

There were only 5 award seats available on the Alaska flight.  So I used KLM/Flying Blue miles to book my brother and his girlfriend on a Delta flight.  This worked out great because our flights left DFW and arrived in Kona around the same times. Anyway, I transferred 30,000 Amex MR to my FlyingBlue account to book these tickets.

Note: As I will discuss below, our return flights were on Delta.  So since my brother and his girlfriend were on Delta flights both ways, I could have saved 5,000 points on each roundtrip ticket.  Because remember, Korean Air’s program only charges 25,000 for a roundtrip ticket from the US to Hawaii as opposed to 30,000 with KLM.  This would have worked for my brother’s ticket.  But since his girlfriend is not considered my family under Korean Air’s policy, I would not have been able to book her ticket with my account.

Here is the receipt for the tickets I booked for my Brother and his girlfriend for DFW > KOA.  $5.60 each!

Flights from Hawaii:

I booked 7 tickets from Hawaii to DFW for the return flight.  All 7 tickets were on a Delta flight and I booked them with AirFrance/KLM FlyingBlue miles.  The tickets are 15,000 miles per person each way, so for 7 tickets I transferred a total of 105,000 points to FlyingBlue.  I transferred a combination of Amex MR and Chase Ultimate Rewards to FlyingBlue to book these tickets.

  • 5 tickets from DFW to Hawaii: 75,000 points
  • 7 tickets from Hawaii to DFW: 105,000 points

For 180,000 points and taxes ($11.20 per ticket), we booked 7 tickets to Hawaii!

Side note: With FlyingBlue, an award ticket between Hawaii and any city in the continental US is 15,000 miles each way.  My brother and his girlfriend live in Baton Rouge so they actually could have flown from Hawaii to Baton Rouge or New Orleans on the Delta flight, but my brother travels for work and wasn’t sure where he would be at the time of this trip.  My parents live in Florida and we could have booked their tickets to and from Florida, but we wanted their help on the flight, so they agreed to leave with us out of DFW.  We decided that everyone would just fly out of DFW to keep it simple, but you can book these tickets at this price no matter what your home airport is (as long as it is served by Delta).

You can get 2 roundtrip tickets to Hawaii with as little as 1 credit card sign up bonus and 0$ in annual fees!

Hawaii Ultimate Rewards points

Don’t go chasing waterfalls without a Chase sign up bonus!

How to earn the 50,000 or 60,000 miles needed for 2 tickets to Hawaii:

If you open a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card and meet the minimum spend, you earn signup bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. That is enough for 1 roundtrip first class ticket to Hawaii or 2 roundtrip economy tickets to Hawaii if you transfer UR to Korean Air.  The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, so your only out of pocket cost for the plane tickets is the cost of taxes and fees ($11.20 per roundtrip ticket).

If you’re interested in premium travel cards, you can also earn 50,000-60,000 bonus points!  Both of these will have higher annual fees but if you travel often, it may be worth it. See also: High annual fees are often offset by benefits

  • If you open the Chase Sapphire Reserve and meet the minimum spend, you earn the sign up bonus which is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
  • If you open the Platinum Card from American Express and meet the minimum spend, the signup bonus is 60,000 American Express Rewards points.

Both of these award currencies transfer to AirFrance/KLM FlyingBlue.  Remember that Ultimate Rewards also transfers to Korean Air.

Hawaii on miles and points

Both Chase Sapphire cards come with primary car rental insurance coverage.

Award ticket availability

Delta actually surprised me with their award space availability to all islands in Hawaii.  As long as you’re booking early, you’re likely to find tickets, especially if you’re just trying to find 2-4 economy tickets.  Keep in mind that 7 award tickets to Hawaii is a pretty rare find unless you’re booking early.  And by early I mean as soon as the schedule opens.  These tickets were booked last February (330 days out).  You’re not going to find 7 award tickets to Hawaii if you’re searching in February and you’re trying to book for spring break next month.  My advice is to book as early as possible.

If you’re not familiar with how award space works, this post about American Airlines saver level award tickets gives a little more info (which applies to most airlines).

To summarize, it is very important to note that just because there are seats available for purchase on a flight, it does not mean that you can book an award ticket.  Airlines limit the amount of award space they release.  Some airlines may release more space as the travel dates get closer but there is no way to guarantee this.

We saw lots of whales! Go to Hawaii during whale season if you can!

How to search for award space to Hawaii on Delta with KLM/AirFrance FlyingBlue miles

Anytime you are looking to book award flights with a partner, it is usually helpful to first go to the airline that is operating your flight to search for award space.*

*In my case, KLM’s website is pretty user-friendly when searching for flexible dates on Delta/partner award tickets.  This is certainly not the case for many foreign loyalty programs, though.  For example, if you’re booking AA flights with British Airways, you will want to search for space on AA.  British Airways is not as easy to search for flexible dates for partner award availability.

First, you need to determine what the operating airline’s saver level is.  In other words, the lowest price available on their award chart for the class you’re trying to book.  In general, you’re looking for these numbers:

  • United: 22,500 each way in economy
  • Delta: 22,500-30,000 each way in economy (see below)
  • American Airlines: 20,000-22,500 miles each way in economy
  • Alaska Airlines: 17,500 miles each way in economy

Remember, no matter who operates the flight, you are subject to the award ticket prices of the program with which you’re booking.  So these are not the numbers you will be paying.  This is just a guideline for availability searches.

In this case, I was using FlyingBlue miles to book a Delta flight, so I went to Delta.com to search for availability.

Delta no longer publishes an award chart, so it is impossible to know what amount you’re looking for to determine what is saver level.  In general, tickets on Delta listed as 22,500 miles one way in economy or 45,000 roundtrip between the US and Hawaii are thought to be the saver level tickets.*

 *That info was correct at the time that I booked these tickets.  But apparently Delta has increased the price (by price I mean miles needed) for tickets to Hawaii with their own program.  Currently, the lowest prices I can find are 30,000 miles one way or 60,000 roundtrip.  The good news is that doesn’t matter because those tickets are still 15,000 each way when you book with AirFrance/KLM miles!

Here are the results on Delta.com for DFW>KOA

Delta.com results for an award ticket search

Here are the results for DFW>KOA on AirFrance/KLM’s website.  For the most part, the 15,000 miles dates match up with the 30,000 miles dates above on Delta.  So it’s possible that Delta has raised prices. But again, they do not publish an award chart so I wouldn’t know! Keep in mind that when you’re searching foreign carriers the dates are often in DD/MM format rather than MM/DD.

AirFrance/KLM FlyingBlue award ticket search

Anyway, I went to Delta.com and started searching for dates that worked for us in January.  Once I found a date with 7 tickets at the 22,500 price, I went to AirFrance/KLM.com to search for availability on that date.  It worked.  I confirmed availability and I could have transferred my Ultimate Rewards and Amex points to KLM/AirFrance FlyingBlue and booked the tickets online immediately, but I always like to call to try to get the tickets placed on hold.

It is always wise to at least ask if you can place tickets on hold while you transfer points to your airline account.

When you transfer Ultimate Rewards and/or Amex points to airlines, they tend to post immediately to the airline account.  But since I was after 7 tickets, I wanted to make sure those tickets didn’t get booked while I was waiting for points to transfer.

AirFrance/KLM’s official policy is that they will not hold award tickets.  But I have been successful 4 out of 4 times when calling and asking an agent to place award tickets on hold.  Each time the tickets were held for 48 hours.  Once the tickets are on hold I initiate the transfers.  Once the points are in my account, I can call back and officially book.  One time I transferred the points while still on the phone and they posted immediately so I had the agent go ahead and book the tickets rather than place them on hold.

Our accommodations on the Big Island:

The house we rented was situated on 1 acre, came with a private pool/spa, lots of outdoor living and dining space, and stunning views!

Although many people focus on flights when using miles and points, it’s also worth looking into hotels.  Sometimes hotels can be a better value for your points than flights!  There are many great hotel options that you can book with several different hotel chains and award currencies in Hawaii.  Last time Ryan and I went to Hawaii, we used Hyatt points to book our hotels in Maui and Kauai and it was a great use of points.

For this trip, since we were going with family, we decided to rent a big house instead of everyone getting separate hotel rooms.  We checked VRBO, AirBNB, and some rental companies on the Big Island but we ultimately found a great house on VRBO.  We stayed in a private residence in a gated neighborhood which is associated with the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.  This gave us the option to purchase the resort access package which allowed us access to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s pools, beach, and other facilities.  It also gave us resort access to the Hapuna Beach Prince hotel.

Hawaii on miles and points

Jack is just living his best life!

I highly recommend rentals that give resort access options if you’re looking to go this route rather than a traditional hotel room. This way you still have access to resort facilities and amenities as well as a concierge.  If you’ve read about any of our trips you know I always like to contact the hotel concierge ahead of time to help with plans and recommendations!

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is such a beautiful property!

Anyway, we did not use any miles and points for our accommodations, but you definitely have several hotel options if you’re planning a Hawaii trip!  Click here for a list of every Marriott and Starwood property on each of the 4 islands in Hawaii.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is a Marriott property 

Just trying to blend into our surroundings for a nice sunset dinner at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Manta restaurant.

Hawaii on Marriott points

In the evening, you can snorkel with the manta rays right off of the shore at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

The Mauna Kea Resort is a Marriott category 9 property.  Category 9 properties cost either 40,000 or 45,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.  Since you can transfer SPG points to Marriott at a ratio of 1:3, you can also use ~13,300 or 15,000 Starpoints to book this property.   Considering these rooms often go for $500-$700 per night, 15,000 Starpoints per night is excellent!  Remember that the 5th night is free, so if you stay for 5 nights it’s an even better value!

Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel is currently being converted to a Westin, which is part of the SPG portfolio

Hapuna Beach

This beach was voted one of the best beaches of 2017!  We swam to a nearby cove and saw several sea turtles!

In March 2018, this hotel will become a Westin.  It is available to book on points now though through SPG.  As a category 5 SPG hotel, it will cost 12,000-16,0000 Starpoints per night.

Conclusion

You can’t really beat $11 plane tickets.  We had a great time on the Big Island and I will share more pics and some of the activities and things we did in a future post!  If you have any questions, send me an email.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $4,000 in 3 Months
  • Annual Fee: $95, but waived the first year
  • Bonus Categories: 2 points per dollar on travel and dining

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