Flying to Hawaii from the Pacific Northwest

It’s been almost a full year since Mrs. Points Honeymooner moved to Seattle and it’s become clear to me that to keep her as happy as possible, I have to whisk her away to a warmer, sunnier place at least a couple of times during the winter months.

One of the places we’ve been meaning to go ever since we first met has been Hawaii. Despite its relative proximity, its been a destination that’s been constantly put-off in favor of more distant locations like the Maldives and Bali, given the general paradigm that the best value of miles often comes from flying further.

The advent of Avios points by British Airways last November, however, turned that notion on its head. The new distance (rather than region) based mileage redemption chart meant that one could redeem a round trip from the West Coast to Hawaii for 25,000 Avios points + taxes and booking fees of under $50 per person. Compare that to most US based Airline loyalty programs which require around 40,000 miles for a round trip, regardless of whether you are flying from the East Coast or West Coast.

With the current 50% transfer bonus that American Express is running for Membership Rewards points to Avios transfers, a round trip from the West coast to Hawaii would cost only 17,000 Membership Rewards points per ticket – a phenomenal deal. That deal expires on May 31st, so if you are planning to take advantage of that, act quick.

One of the downsides of the way Avios calculates the points required for a redemption is that it breaks the journey into individual legs, which means getting a 25,000 Avios round-trip on American Airlines is not possible since they do not have any direct flights to the Hawaiian Islands from the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s where Alaska Airlines and their ‘crush on Hawaii’ comes in really useful since they are a redemption partner of British Airways and have direct flights to all the major Hawaiian islands from both Seattle and Portland. Availability isn’t always great though, and it may take some searching (and considerable flexibility in travel dates) to find available award seats.

Since the British Airways website does not show availability for Alaska Airlines, the best way to search availability is on AlaskaAir.com. It’s not possible to search only by non-stop flights, so to find availability, use the calendar view and visually look for dates where the cost is 20k miles and the taxes are $3. The second part ($3) is important because that helps filter out dates where there is award availability at the low mileage but only with connections.

There are a few dates in January where two people can fly from Seattle to Lihue (Kauai) and back for 25,000 Avios points

Once you have found availability, the next step is to book the tickets – the British Airways website will not allow you to redeem for Alaska Airlines flights online so calling the British Airways Executive Club is the only option. Unfortunately, this can be quite a painful experience since the wait times are long and the process of getting the tickets issued can be even longer. I’ve also had significant inconsistency between agents. The first time I called, I had a helpful, friendly agent who volunteered to waive the phone booking and processing fees since the website does not allow these tickets to be booked. As a result, after a 40 minute process of confirming details and waiting for the agent to process it through their system, I owed a grand total of 50,000 Avios points and $10.00 in taxes for two round trip tickets.

Unfortunately, when the e-mail receipt for the ticket came through, I realized the agent had misspelt Mrs. Points Honeymooner’s name and that meant another hour on the phone trying to get this resolved. The second time, I got an agent who insisted that the booking fees can never be waived and earlier agent would need to be reprimanded for having done so. After explaining to her that I had already spent a long time with the earlier agent I was speaking to trying to get the tickets issued, she agreed to waive the booking fees ‘as a one time exception’. The only way to get this fixed was to cancel the earlier tickets and have new ones booked, and despite the booking fee waiver, the taxes this time were $12.60 per person. While that amount didn’t seem right to me, I really didn’t have the patience to call back and walk through the 40 minute process with yet another agent. As a result, I paid the higher taxes and had the corrected tickets issued.

Summary:

  • Fly to Hawaii from the West coast for only 25,000 Avios points (or 17,000 Amex MR points if transferring before May 31st 2012)
  • If flying from the Pacific Northwest (Seattle or Portland), search for direct flights with availability at the lowest mileage level at AlaskaAir.com.
  • Call British Airways Executive Club to book your tickets. You may be asked to pay a $25 per ticket booking/processing fee in addition to taxes, but most informed agents will waive the fee after you point out that these tickets cannot be booked on ba.com. Be prepared to spend a long time on the phone!

Additional Tips & Tricks:

  • If flying from cities that American serves with direct flights to Hawaii, search for MileSAAver award availability on American as well. If available, this can be booked online on Ba.com
  • As of late 2013, you can book tickets by calling one of British Airways’ other regional call centers such as Singapore or Hong Kong (this may be free if you use Skype and have a world subscription). Hold times for these call centers tend to be much shorter, and in my experience, the agents are generally friendlier. Note that my experience described above occurred before the late 2013 policy change, and reflects the quality of the now closed US call center.
  • If you have elite status on Alaska, Delta or American, you are entitled to preferred seating (and for Alaska elites, upgrade benefits) on Alaska even on Avios tickets. However, since British Airways tries to force your Executive Club number in the frequent flyer number field on the Alaska reservation, its not as trivial as entering your frequent flyer number on AlaskaAir.com. To solve for that, indicate to the British Airways agent who helps book your Avios ticket that you are an elite member with Alaska/a partner airline and to leave the frequent flyer number blank so that you can enter it on your own and get preferred seating benefits.
  • Make sure to get your Alaska Airlines confirmation code from the BA agent. This will allow you to select seats, enter your Known Traveler Number for PreCheck etc.
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