If you’ve ever wondered how to fly to Hawaii on points, give your family the type of vacation that others only dream about, and save thousands of dollars in the process, then you’re in luck! It’s a goal that is completely possible, and this is our story about how my family and I were able to make it happen!
Traveling to Hawaii has been a dream of our’s for quite some time. Ever since I was a small child, I could remember my elderly relatives talking about what incredible memories they had of their vacation in Hawaii. Combine that with that fact that Hawaii serves as the backdrop to dozens of famous movies and iconic moments throughout history, and my curiosity has definitely been peaked!
While there are certainly many other exotic places in the world you could travel to, Hawaii is still a huge must-go-to spot for many travelers. In fact, it still ranks as one of the top destinations to visit within the U.S.
Plus, for U.S. citizens, traveling to Hawaii is less hassle than traveling outside the U.S. Unlike when you travel to the Caribbean or Europe, you can leave your passport at home and only need to take your drivers license with you. For anyone without passports, that saves a family of four over $400 (not to mention the luxury of not having to wait in those incredibly long Customs lines at the airport.)
What’s not to like about flying to Hawaii? Unfortunately the price! When I first started researching flights to Hawaii, I was typically seeing costs on average of $2,000 round-trip per person. $2,000??? For my family of four, that would be a retail cost of $8,000! And we haven’t even talked about also budgeting in the expenses for the hotel, vehicle rental, food, and just plain having fun!
In the beginning, it seemed like this goal was going to be impossible. I could see why so many people shut down when they initially consider vacationing in Hawaii. But then I got into the travel hacking / credit card rewards game and learned that with a little bit of creativity, anything is possible! All over the Internet, I was finding story after story of people who had traveled to wonderful and exotic locations using nothing more than just their credit card rewards points to get there. And Hawaii was certainly no exception!
I thought: Is there a way my family and I could use points to fly to Hawaii? What would be our strategy, and how long would it take to get all of the points we’d need to make this goal possible?
The answer: Absolutely! Now, after having traveled to Maui, Hawaii, I can definitely tell you that getting flights for nearly free is completely possible, and we are living proof! (In fact, please enjoy a few of the photos from our family vacation throughout this post.) With that said, here is our story and how you too can travel to Hawaii on credit card points!
How to Fly to Hawaii on Points – Developing Your Strategy
Step 1 – Do Your Research!
It’s often been said that nothing in this life is ever truly free. And even when it comes to topics like flying to Hawaii on credit card points, the same is true!
To make this dream a reality, you’re going to have to invest a little bit of time and energy into doing your homework. What do I mean by homework? Mainly this: Identifying which airlines travel to the Hawaiian island of your choice (and on which dates).
This can easily be done by simply going to a free resource like Google Flights or a travel service website of your choice (Expedia, Travelocity, etc.). Do a round-trip, flight-only search and just simply see what the basic options are. For example:
- What airlines do you notice? Do some seem to be more frequent than others?
- Which dates seem to have the best options?
- Are there some airlines that offer more options (free WiFi) or flight duration? For example, a direct flight instead of one with connecting stops or long layovers?
When we started planning our trip to Hawaii, I did a Google Flights search and compared each of the different islands. Right away I noticed that from my home airport of Detroit that almost every flight was through Delta. This was a good fit because we already had a modest amount of miles saved from previous vacations. Therefore, Delta airlines and their SkyMiles frequent flyer program became the focus of my credit card rewards strategy.
Step 2 – Understand the Cost
Another reason its critical to do your research: It’s important for you to understand just how much money the tickets cost normally. This will help you to form a “basis” for later. You’ll easily be able to compare different offers, see which points are providing you the better deal, and this will help you to make informed decisions about which sources to pursue (or if you need to do anything extra such as purchase additional points from the airline directly).
Again, Google Flights or a travel service website of your choice will help to give you a really good idea of the retail price. Personally I like to use Google Flights because it gives you the option to compare flights over several weeks at a time to see which particular dates would be the most optimum; not just for price but also by flight times and other factors of your liking.
In terms of cost, like I mentioned earlier, I was seeing a lot of plane tickets in the neighborhood of $2,000 or more per person. However, through keeping our flight options flexible, I quickly recognized that the island of Oahu (the one with the state capital of Honolulu) had some very affordable dates that were closer to $1,250 per person.
Step 3 – Identify the Right Points System
With a particular airline in my mind and a ballpark idea of the cost, now you can begin to start looking into whether it would be possible or not to use points on that airline.
Going back to my vacation story, when I looked up how many points it would take to go to Oahu, it cost approximately 50,000 to 65,000 depending on which dates we’d pick.
Oahu would be awesome! But honestly, Maui was our #1 choice. So I went back and did some more cost comparisons of Delta SkyMiles to see if I could find anything that would be reasonable. Much to my surprise, I found a few flight options to Maui that were also approximately 65,000 per person. Though 260,000 SkyMiles would be a lot of points to accumulate, it wasn’t a number that would be completely out of reach.
Of course, Delta SkyMiles is just what I preferred to use. You could do this with any airline of your choice: United, American Airlines, Southwest, etc. Again, this is why it’s important to do Step 1 and see exactly which airlines you’ll want to be working towards.
Advanced tip: Keep in mind that many airlines have alliances with one another, and sometimes you might get a better deal by going through one frequent flyer program over another. For example, lots of travel bloggers have often stated luck with using Korean Air to get cheap flights through the Sky Team Partner alliance. Though it requires a bit more research to uncover, it could end up saving you thousands of dollars in the end.
Step 4 – Find the Right Credit Card
Now that you’ve got some idea of how many frequent flyer miles you’ll need, now it’s time to find the right credit card offer for the job!
The best way to do this is to go to any of the top travel websites and look through all of the latest offers for cards that will support your goal. Some of my favorites:
In my case, I needed as many Delta SkyMiles as possible. So I signed up both myself and my wife each for a Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express card with a bonus offer of 60,000 miles apiece and no annual fee for the first year.
Pro Tip: When applying for credit cards, don’t add your spouse to your application. Sign yourself and your spouse up separately for two individual credit cards. That way you’ll each have an opportunity to get the bonus offer and effectively double the number of rewards!
Unfortunately, those two cards weren’t quite enough to give us all the miles that we needed. So I also ended up signing up for the Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express card that had a bonus offer of 70,000 miles. Though this one had a $195 up-front annual fee, I didn’t mind since it was helping us to save nearly $5,000 on our flights and the card allowed us to check bags for free (this would have cost us almost $200 anyways).
Step 5 – Spend Responsibly!
In almost every case with credit card bonus offers, there is some minimum spending that needs to met. Usually there is also some time period restriction on this spending such as $3,000 within the first 90 days (or something similar).
Be sure to meet this requirement making only purchases that you would normally have made! This aspect is so important that I’ll repeat it again: Only buy the stuff you were going to buy anyways! I really can’t stress this part enough!
Getting a new credit card and making purchases just for the sake of reaching some spending goal is just plain silly. This is not the time to go out of your way to buy a new flat-screen TV or put a down payment on a car (unless you had saved and were planning to make these purchases already). So again, please spend responsibly.
My suggestion would be to make purchases such as:
- Groceries / restaurants
- Utilities / cell phone / internet bills
- Any other regularly occurring expenses
For example, usually when I get a new credit card where I have to meet a minimum spending requirement, I’ll generally switch over my automatic payments for my electric / gas and cell phone bills. It’s an easy way to cover almost $1,000 of that spending requirement within a short amount of time and with almost no effort!
Step 6 – Claim Your Prize!
So now you’ve meet the minimum spending requirement and been awarded your points. Now what?
It’s time to claim your prize! Go redeem those points for the flights you’ve been planning.
I mention this step because often times some people get caught up in what I like to call “points paralysis” – meaning now that they’ve accumulated such a large balance of points, they are afraid to spend them.
For example, have you ever met anyone who brags to you that they have X-hundred-thousand frequent flyer miles with their favorite airline. To that, I say “Great! So what?” Those points are completely useless unless you plan to spend them on something you and your family will remember. And what’s worse: Those points could even expire if you let them sit for too long. Honestly, there is no reason not to get your full value out of your points and use them for what they are good for: Free travel!
Alternative Strategies for Using Points to Fly to Hawaii
Luckily, my strategy for flying to Hawaii on points was just one example out of many. There are dozens of alternative ways you could use your credit card rewards to get to where you want to go. For example:
Use Airline Arbitrage to Get More for Your Points
The word “arbitrage” is often used in investing to mean making a trade for something at a better price. And airline frequent flyers are no exception!
Earlier in Step 3, I mentioned how Delta is part of a larger Sky Team Alliance. Why is that important? Because lots of bloggers have often said that they were able to book cheaper Delta flights by converting their credit card points to miles through Korean Air first. Here’s a link to an example of how this works. Although I’ve never personally had any luck with it, given that it could end up saving you a few thousand dollars, it’s worth it to look into!
Book Your Travel Directly Through the Credit Card Reward Program
Nearly every major credit card provider with one of these big programs will also offer you the oppertunity to book flights, hotels, etc. directly through their own internal travel portal. And at a discount!
For example, when we were holders of the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, each point value was increased to 1.5 if you booked through Chase’s travel portal. Example: 100,000 points ($1,000) was actually worth $1,500 of travel. This is one of the ways we were able to book our all-inclusive trip to Los Cabos Mexico in 2017 for nearly no money out of pocket.
Skip Points and Get Travel Credit
Don’t feel like messing around with points and conversions? You’re not alone! Some credit card companies have already recognized this, and instead make life very simple by offering travel credit instead.
For example, the Capital One Venture card is one that often awards 60,000 points that can be redeemed directly for $600 worth of travel expense. Use this card wisely, and you could easily build up enough rewards to get $1,000 of travel credit.
Don’t Stop At Flights, Get Free Hotels and Vehicle Rentals Too!
Like the idea of flying to Hawaii on points for free?
The good news is that it doesn’t have to stop there! You could really take your vacation budget down to as close to zero as possible. How? By applying the same lessons above from flights to also cover your other big travel expenses such as your hotel and vehicle rental.
Free Hotel Nights
The islands of Hawaii are full of hundreds of hotels – most of which bear popular, big-name brands such as Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, etc.
Why does that matter? Because just like with the airlines, each of these hotel chains has their own unique point system where you can take advantage. Similar to the savings with flights, it pays to do some research ahead of time to see which hotels cost which amount of points, and then develop your strategy from there.
How can you get started? By far, my favorite free resource is a wonderful site called Award Mapper. Simply type in the location of anywhere in the world you’d like to go, and Award Mapper will show you which hotels chains are available and how many points you’ll need for each night of stay. It’s a HUGE time-saver over going to each hotel chain’s website and researching the point cost yourself.
Before we started looking at Maui for our family trip, using Award Mapper, I noticed there was a Hyatt Place in Waikiki Beach, Oahu that only cost 12,000 points per night. Using a credit card program like Chase Ultimate Rewards where each UR point transfers to Hyatt 1 for 1, this means we could have easily accumulated 60,000 points from opening one card and stayed at this location for 5 nights completely free!
Of course, we didn’t end up staying in Oahu, and I’m not going to lie … hotels in Maui were pretty darn expensive! Like $4,000 or more for the week expensive!!
But it was all good. Thankfully we had budgeted for this and were prepared to pay the cost. And this lead us to two more important things:
Instead of staying in the traditional 400 square foot hotel room, I noticed Maui was full of unused timeshares that you could rent like traditional hotel rooms. So instead we were able to stay at an 1,800 square foot, 2 room condo with full kitchen and living space … for less than what the big-boy hotel chains were charging! Let me tell you … that was REALLY nice! And the best part – no timeshare presentations or any nonsense like that!
Since we knew ahead of time that we were about to drop $4,000 on a single purchase, we thought: Hey, why not get some points for it? We signed up for the Capital One Venture Card because they offer a generous 10x points per dollar spent at Hotels.com. Combine that with the 50,000 introductory point offer, and with ONE purchase we were able to accumulate over 90,000 points on this credit card (+$900 in value).
Pro Tip: If you are planning to make any big purchases in the near future (vacation, home improvement, car down payment), try to find a credit card that will help you turn that purchase into as many points as possible!
Free Vehicle Rentals
If you’re going to stay in Hawaii, you’re going to want to go exploring! And so we knew we were going to need to rent a vehicle for the week.
This is another easy place to spend your points and save between $200 – $500. We ended up finding a pretty good deal on a Jeep and, using our credit card rewards, we ended up saving us approximately $343 more!
Miscellaneous Travel Expenses
Don’t forget that with some of the general purpose travel cards such as Capital One Venture you can use your points to pay for things you wouldn’t normally think about.
For example, we used our Capital One Venture points to pay for the airport parking. This was yet another savings of $113!
Planning to do any sort of activities or excursions? Check the travel portal to see if you can book any of these excursions ahead of time. Or you could always use one of the general purpose travel cards to cover this expense. There are a lot of possibilities!
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the credit cards or travel sites mentioned within the content of this article. This is simply me sharing the facts of how I was able to achieve this savings with the hope that it will help you to be able to treat your family to the same incredible experience. Good luck!
Readers – What tricks have you found for flying to Hawaii on points? Which credit cards or rewards programs do you prefer to use?
Photo credit(s): Myself