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13, 437 miles and 4 different airlines later…

…I’m back!  I successfully made it from Honolulu to Guayaquil, had my surgery, recovered really well, and traveled to my parents’ place in NJ for 2 nights before flying back to Honolulu.

This was a nice trip in that I got to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my mother, without husbands or kids!  Plus, since she was helping me after the surgery with everything from scheduling medical appointments to getting dressed, I felt like a little girl again ♥. She flew down to Ecuador a few days before I did, and then did the whole trip back with me, first to NJ, and then to Honolulu.  She stayed about a week to hang with my babies- her grandchildren, and is now, after a month away from NJ, comfortably back in her own home.

We had some airport adventures, and you know what that means…lessons learned.

  • my itinerary to Guayaquil was as follows: Honolulu (HNL) to Phoenix (PHX), Phoenix to Miami (MIA), Miami to Guayaquil (GYE).  Three flights in a row, which I was fine with because I was traveling solo and with only carry-on luggage.  I booked this trip using Alaska Airlines miles, though all 3 flights were on American Airlines.  Because I hold the Barclay Aviator AAdvantage card, I had Priority Boarding, which was AWESOME in Miami when I finally got on my flight.  The first 2 legs went like clockwork.  I was supposed to have a 2-hour layover in Miami before boarding the flight to Guayaquil.  Well, we boarded, left the gate, taxied to the runway, and the captain mentioned some “weather” nearby that was causing some takeoff delays.  We sat on the runway for a bit.  When we were next for takeoff, the captain announced that the weather radar on our plane was not working, and we had to return to the gate to have the mechanic look at it.  Back to the gate for about 30 minutes, then the captain announced that it was not fixable and we needed a different plane.  Off the plane.  They announced a new gate, so we all trooped over.  Waited another 45 minutes.  Gate agents announced that we had a new plane.  Waited some more.  They announced that our new plane was at yet another gate.  Trooped over.  Plane was not there yet.  They provided free sandwiches, chips, and drinks 🙂 Waited some more for the crew to arrive.  The captain finally showed up once the plane was there, and proceeded to grab the gate area microphone and say that this “plano es muy bueno.”  Listen, I don’t need him to speak fluent Spanish, but he should at least know the word for airplane!  It’s ‘avión,’ sir. Anyway, a bunch of people were upset and confused about the new boarding process and clogging up the gate entry, so I took advantage of the Priority Boarding benefit, sailed by all those folks, and calmly took my seat.  We finally took off after we should have landed- 5 hours late, landing at 3am Ecuador time.  As a cherry on top, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a harder landing.  Whatever, I was grateful to finally be there.  I had a moment when I thought the passport control lady would make a stink about the fact that my Ecuadorian National ID card and my passport have slightly different last names (because I got married in the US and the name change doesn’t transfer over to the Ecuadorian Government’s records), but nothing happened.
  • what did I learn from all this? Basically, patience.  I half-heartedly checked the AA app for other flights to Ecuador that night, and there were two: one to Quito (no thanks), and another to Guayaquil scheduled to depart 1.5 hours after my original flight, but was disrupted in much the same way ours was (I later found out they landed 3 hours after my flight did, so good thing I didn’t jump ship).  So I ate some yummy food from Lorena Garcia’s quick-service kiosk near the Bacardi Mojito bar and chilled, thankful that I alone was inconvenienced by the delay vs the whole family.
  • On our way from Guayaquil to Newark, we had a short layover in Panama City, for which I needed wheelchair assistance.  The wheelchair helped our case when we realized that our seats were not together anymore- we were 2 rows apart!  My mom spoke to the gate agent, who saw me sitting there looking positively green (the breakfast sandwich they gave us on the Guayaquil-Panama City leg on Copa Airlines did not sit well), and moved some stuff around so we could sit together on the United flight to Newark.  Lesson learned: none- I knew that since we had booked separately, our reservations weren’t linked, and could be subject to seat changes.  Luckily, my condition helped us to change it back.
  • Traveling back to Honolulu, we had a very long layover in Seattle- about 8.5 hours.  These flights (Newark [EWR] to Seattle [SEA], then SEA-HNL) were on Alaska Airlines, for which I had used my Alaska Airlines Visa companion fare.  I had the airport agent wheel me to the Board Room, Alaska’s lounge.  I was able to purchase 2 day passes ($45 each) for me and my mom to be comfortable during the layover.  It worked well, we had Ivar’s clam chowder and various other snacks and drinks.  Happily, that’s the last time we will ever have that superextended layover on the Newark to Honolulu journey- Alaska announced a 3rd daily flight from Newark to Seattle starting in the next 6 months, which should cut the layover down to 4.5 hours, enough time to pop out to Pike Place market and back before going home to Honolulu 🙂  Lesson learned: the day pass is a great option for very long layovers.  Keep in mind, if the club is full, they will only accept full members of the lounge.
  • Alaska Airlines finally did something wrong!  We used the Self-Tag Express program, where you print your own bag tag and slide it into a reusable plastic tag holder, then attach it to your luggage.  At the airport, you just drop your tagged luggage at the kiosk and head to the security area.  Well, with the Alaska Visa we were each entitled to one free checked bag, and additionally, the website gave me the option to check a carry-on for free as well.  So we had a total of 3 bags.  2 made it to Honolulu just fine, but the 3rd (my mom’s!) somehow went to Portland and Anchorage.  The Alaska agent here in Honolulu was quick to make a report and issue me a customer service voucher towards a future flight (he was so quick to do it in fact, that I didn’t get a chance to say that I would prefer to have Alaska miles instead of the credit, per their Baggage Guarantee.  Oh, well.)  Unfortunately, it took them 2 days to deliver the bag to my house.  So I am waiting on the reimbursement for clothing we bought for my mom on the meantime.  Lesson confirmed: always keep those baggage claim tickets safe, we needed the # on them to identify the bag and for them to deliver it to us.

I’m now back at work, and still a bit sore, but doing just fine considering I had major surgery.  I missed my babies something fierce.  I had handwritten them each a note to read every morning that I was gone, so they could start the day with some words from Mama, and talk to her every night via FaceTime.  I was able to send regular pics and updates to my husband, and he did a great job doing all the things he already does, like keeping the house clean, the children alive, and his cool during situations like this:


Last, some highlights:

  • I got to see my grandfather again, daily for almost 3 weeks.  Bliss.
  • More time in Ecuador is always good for me.  The language, the culture, my relatives, etc.  Plus, they sell ceviche in the mall food court, you guys.
  • My doctor found something major that my Hawaii docs missed, and was able to repair it during the surgery.  Dodged a bullet there.
  • I got to see my niece during my very short stay in NJ.  Now she’ll for sure recognize me more easily when we’re at the Quince in November.
  • Laughed with my mom SO MUCH.
  • Played cards with my Aunts a bunch of times- competitive and hilarious.
  • My new carry-on backpack.  10/10, would recommend.  My sister said that if I were transformed into a bag, I would be that backpack.
  • My health was greatly improved by the procedure, and I can now publicly shout that MY HUSBAND WAS RIGHT, and we needed to spend the money on my surgery rather than on another vacation.

Still planning on that post re: Unaccompanied Minors, I promise I didn’t forget.  Talk soon!


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Bits & Pieces: Virgin America, American Airlines, Fantasmic!

  • Virgin America announced daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL) beginning in May, with an introductory rate of $169 (one way, plus taxes/fees).  Also on offer, LAX-Kahului (OGG), beginning in June, same introductory rate.  Details here, press release here.
  • American Airlines is bringing back free snacks in Economy on transcontinental flights in February, and will expand that to all domestic flights by April.  Of particular interest to us:

Starting in May, complimentary meal service will be available in the Main Cabin on all flights between Hawaii and Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

  • The Disney Parks Blog is live-streaming Fantasmic! from Disney’s Hollywood Studios in WDW today at 6:50p EST, that’s 1:50p HST.  Go the blog for the link, and enjoy!

Award travel success…completed!

Happy New Year!

So far, 2016 is looking great! We are now booked to return from NYC after my daughter’s party.  It took a bit of shuffling around, and separating my party of 4 into 2 reservations ( me + the kids on one reservation, husband on another), but we are all returning to Honolulu on the same day, and arriving within 30 minutes of each other, albeit on separate airlines.  And the kids will only miss 2 days of school 🙂

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Sigh: American AAdvantage program changes

Following in the ignominious footsteps of Delta and United, American Airlines has announced that they are changing their frequent flyer program to be revenue-based versus distance-based.  Plus they updated their Award mileage Chart, and it’s a mixed bag for travelers beginning their journeys in Hawaii.

aa logo

Here’s the full press release, and the page explaining the details.  Blahblahblahinnovationcakes.  They are simply following the other legacy carriers in this, and pretending they are doing something new.  This seems meant to reward only business travelers, who don’t pay for their own tickets and tend to book more last-minute travel, so those fares are usually the expensive, fully-refundable kind.

Here’s their example of how the earning would work (let’s ignore this example person’s crazy decision to choose a fare that includes $458 in fees on top of their fare):

AAdvantage member flying round-trip on an American marketed flight from Dallas (DFW) to London-Heathrow (LHR):

Elite status Base fare (USD) Carrier imposed fees (USD) Miles/USD Award miles earned
AAdvantage member $1,436 $458 5 9,470
Gold $1,436 $458 7 13,258
Platinum $1,436 $458 8 15,152
Executive Platinum $1,436 $458 11 20,834

Here’s mine:

AAdvantage member flying round-trip on an American marketed flight from Dallas (DFW) to London-Heathrow (LHR):

Elite status Base fare(USD) Carrier imposed fees (USD) Award miles earned today Award miles earned as of 3/22/16
AAdvantage member $1,436 $458 (why??? LHR airport, that’s why) 8,256 9,470

With their chart, they are hoping to show that you get more miles using the revenue-based program. But today, you would get the 8,256 miles whether you overpaid for this ticket like the sample person, or whether you were smart and bought your tickets during a sale.  Pay $1900 or $900, you still get 8,256 miles as a general member, more if you have some sort of status.

What does this have to do with the price of macadamia nuts? Let’s get down to the Hawaii-specific stuff. Currently, the MileSAAver Off-Peak price for one-way mileage to the mainland, including Canada and Alaska, is 17.5k.  Sure, it’s hard to find availability, and it’s capacity-controlled.  But it exists, so for a family of 4 to get to the mainland during an Off-Peak time, you only need 70k miles.  Reminder on the Off-Peak dates as they stand now…Hawaii: January 12 – March 13, August 22 – December 15

Here’s the updated award chart (edited to concentrate on travel to regions I talk about in this blog):

Main Cabin

To: MileSAAver
Off Peak
MileSAAver AAnytime
Level 1
Level 2
Contiguous 48 U.S. states 20,000 22,500 40,000 50,000
Canada & Alaska 25,000 40,000 50,000
Central America 25,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 1 30,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 2 40,000 55,000 75,000
Europe 40,000 47,500 65,000

So now the family of 4 needs 80k miles just to get to the mainland.  One-way.  This is easily achieved with the various credit card sign-up bonuses the adults can take advantage of, but it sets the goal line further back.  Interestingly, they are also now changing the Off-Peak dates to be different whether you are traveling FROM Hawaii or TO Hawaii. Check it out:

Hawaii Off-Peak Dates:
TO Hawaii: December 29 – March 12, August 11 – November 18, November 24 – December 10
FROM Hawaii: January 7 – March 19, August 18 – November 27, December 3 – December 25

Seems to me that they are recognizing that more people are coming here for the winter holidays than going out, and they can squeeze more miles out of them, but not us.  I’d call this a net win.

now what

So, overall, I think my strategy is going to be doing the math on every ticket purchase with AA.  If I’ll get the same mileage as the distance flown, I’ll credit the flight to AAdvantage.  If it’s lower, I’ll credit to Alaska Airlines, whose mileage program is still distance-based, and who allows redemptions on American Airlines flights.

<muttering> Change is good, change is good…

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Crud. AA changes redemption options on Hawaiian Airlines…

Via aa.com:

aa hi 9-1-15

So basically this means that you won’t be able to use your AA miles (AAdvantage) to book flights to/from the mainland on Hawaiian Airlines starting this September.  You can still use AA miles to book interisland flights, and US-Asia/South Pacific flights, just not to the US mainland.

This means that the HNL-JFK nonstop will not be an option unless:

  • you have 40k HawaiianMiles to book the Coach SuperSaver RT directly through Hawaiian (20k for one-way), assuming you find availability.
  • you use 30k Korean SkyPass miles to book the Hawaiian codeshare RT (it must be a round-trip redemption, since Korean only allows one-way awards for travel on Korean metal), for a total of 120k miles for a family of 4.  Boo.

It’s easy enough to get HawaiianMiles nowadays.  You can transfer Chase Ultimate rewards points to Korean SkyPass at a 1:1 ratio, too.

I was planning on booking that exact flight for our trip to the east coast next fall (and braving my 1st Hawaii-East Coast nonstop!).  Now I won’t be able to, since you can only book up to 330 days ahead.  We want to go in November 2016, and the farthest ahead I’d be able to book before this change goes into effect is July 2016.  I realize this is not a huge problem in my life.

Thanks for the reality check, Daria.

Thanks for the reality check, Daria.

You can still get to the East Coast from Hawaii on American or Alaska using AAdvantage miles, but you’d have to connect somewhere.  Sigh.  I’ll be updating the “Strategies…Hawaiian Airlines” post to reflect the upcoming change.

Hope everyone had a nice Father’s Day!

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Using the Alaska Airlines Low Price Guarantee

The eternal question: buy air tickets right away when you see an acceptable price, or wait to see if the price comes down?  Unless you have elite status with an airline, and can therefore eliminate the Change Fee, it’s generally not worth the financial hit to make a change to your non-refundable reservation to take advantage of a price drop.

Cancelling/rebooking a flight due to a price change usually falls into the “change” category.  Here is a handy chart outlining most major airline fees, as well as information on how/when to cancel or change your reservation.  Southwest doesn’t have any change fees, but they don’t fly to Hawaii so that benefit is of limited use to us.  I agree wholeheartedly with this blogger’s approach to leaving cancellations until pretty close to the departure date (tip #3).  If the carrier changes the flight schedule by ~5 hours or more (for American; other airlines use anything from 3-8 hours as the criteria), you can usually request a different route to your destination or cancel your ticket altogether without cancellation fees (even for a nonrefundable ticket) because the airline itself changed the schedule by an unacceptable amount.  You generally want to call them to see your options- be aware that they may charge a phone fee if you make changes, something nominal like $25.  Still better than $200!

On that topic, Alaska Airlines has a good benefit that I took advantage of last week.  They advertise a Low Price Guarantee.  This means that you can get a refund of the difference if you find a lower fare for your exact itinerary (including flight #s).  You can find a lower fare on a competitor’s site within 24 hrs of booking on alaskaair.com to claim a refund, or you can find a lower fare on alaskaair.com before your travel date to claim a credit into your “Wallet.”  Make sure your flights qualify, there are some restrictions (notably, it’s valid only for flights on Alaska metal and some little regional services they use).  But if your reservation fits the specifics, it’s pretty easy to go through the process using their online form.  To be clear, you can’t use this process to change your flights dates/times, only to take advantage of a price drop with your same itinerary. Here is my original receipt:



And here is my new receipt after submitting the claim:

and After!

and After!

As you can see, I was actually charged $0.45 for my Companion Traveler’s tax difference.  They used my credit card on file…I hope my credit score is OK after that 45-cent hit 🙂  More importantly, I got a credit of $84.99 into my online Wallet to use on any future Alaska flight.  I must use the funds to book travel by late January 2016; actual travel can take place whenever.

Finally, a note about change fees in general.  Many complain about having change fees at all, citing Southwest as an example.  This airline apparently can absorb the “extra administrative costs” (rolling my eyes, it’s an hourly worker clicking a few thing into a computer) incurred by having a passenger change their itinerary, flight dates, etc, while other major airlines pass the cost along to the customer.  Non-change-farers actually want the airline to track the price and refund them automatically as the ticket prices drop.  To them I say, well, you wouldn’t want to continually be charged more if the ticket price goes up, do you?  Slippery slope, that.

Others protest that having some change fee is fair, but the actual cost is outrageous (I agree, $200 is not insignificant to a travel budget).  I fall into this second camp.  Life happens, and plans sometimes need to change.  If the airlines want to foster some goodwill with a traveler and their family in order to keep them as a customer, they’d bring these costs down.  Charging a flat $200 to change a $180 fare or $1800 fare is madness.  I’d love to see a sliding scale change fee structure, based on a percentage of the base fare cost.  Anyone? Bueller?

BTW, totally thinking of using up my flight credit on a family trip to……

Never been, always wanted to.  Nonstop flights, woo!

Never been, always wanted to. Nonstop flights, woo!


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Travel Strategies for Hawaii residents- Hawaiian Airlines

Sorry for the break in posting- got pretty busy for a few weeks.  Now back to normal, ready to discuss Hawaiian Airlines 🙂

Hawaiian is the big name in travel to in the islands (duh).  They fly nice planes around the islands and to/from Asia, Australia, the South Pacific, and North America. Once again, in keeping with the focus of the blog, I’ll detail the nonstop routes to and from Canada and the US mainland on Hawaiian (HA) metal:

  • from Honolulu (HNL): Las Vegas, NV (LAS), Los Angeles, CA (LAX), New York, NY (JFK), Oakland, CA (OAK), Phoenix, AZ (PHX), Portland, OR (PDX), Sacramento, CA (SMF), San Diego, CA (SAN), San Francisco, CA (SFO), San Jose, CA (SJC), Seattle, WA (SEA).
  • from Kahului (OGG):  Los Angeles, CA (LAX), Oakland, CA (OAK), San Francisco, CA (SFO) beginning Nov 2014, San Jose, CA (SJC), Seattle, WA (SEA).
  • from Kailua-Kona (KOA): Los Angeles, CA (LAX), Oakland, CA (OAK).  Both of these are summer seasonal routes.
  • from Lihue (LIH): Los Angeles, CA (LAX), Oakland, CA (OAK).  Both of these are summer seasonal routes. 

OK- travel strategies for kama’aina on Hawaiian Airlines!  All residents know that HawaiianMiles are fairly easy to accumulate locally.  There is a co-branded credit card, miles given for shopping at Foodland, and miles-earning shopping events at malls around the state.  This one is coming up at Windward Mall, and they have events at Kahala Mall and Ward Centers, too.  The standard mileage-earning opportunities apply as well: there is a shopping portal, partnerships w/hotels and rental car companies, a dining program, and even a MilesFinder toolbar you can install.

Two HawaiianMiles features I haven’t seen too often in other frequent flyer programs:

  1. you can earn HawaiianMiles for processing a travel visa
  2. HawaiianMiles program members get 40% off checked baggage fees on Neighbor Island flights
  3. you can share your miles with anyone: the receiver must hold a personal Hawaiian Airlines credit or debit card card, but the giver just has to be someone with a valid HawaiianMiles account.

So you can earn miles a bunch of ways…now how to spend them?  Here’s what you need to fly to/from the mainland on HA metal, along with the guide to the different Award types:

One Way Flight Awards Coach SuperSaver Coach Saver* Coach Flex First Class Saver First Class Flex
North America To/From Hawaii
North America–Hawaii 20,000 30,000 40,000 40,000 80,000
North America–Hawaii Upgrade 25,000 50,000

All awards are one way flight awards
* Coach Class Saver level awards may be purchased online only

Hawaiian Airlines Awards

  • SuperSaver – the lowest mileage Coach flight award.
  • Coach Saver– available when SuperSaver awards are not. Coach Saver awards may be purchased online only.
  • Coach Flex– can be redeemed for travel on Hawaiian Airlines with twice the miles of a SuperSaver award when both SuperSaver and Saver award seats are not available.
  • First/Business Saver – the lowest mileage First/Business Class flight award. This award does not have to be purchased online.
  • First/Business Flex – can be redeemed for travel on Hawaiian Airlines with twice the miles of a First/Business Saver award when a First/Business Saver award is not available.

Partner airlines include ANA (All-Nippon Airways), American Airlines, China Airlines, JetBlue, Korean Air, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Virgin Australia.  Of these, only American and JetBlue (UPDATED 4/7/15: and Virgin America) offer routes to/from the mainland:

American Airlines

Roundtrip Award Award Mileage
Economy Business First
1 Roundtrip between North America and Hawaii 45,000 90,000 110,000
1 Roundtrip between North America and Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America; within the Caribbean; between the Caribbean and South America 35,000 70,000 85,000
1 Roundtrip between North America and South America 60,000 120,000 150,000
1 Roundtrip between North America and Europe 60,000 120,000 150,000
*Awards for the routes listed above must be on flights operated by American Airlines only. Awards may not be issued for flights operated by American Airline’s partners. Awards on American Airlines flights must be based on roundtrip travel only. All are subject to change with or without notice. Note: Bolding is mine: when using HawaiianMiles on AA, you must have a roundtrip itinerary.  To be able to book one-ways, you can use American AAdvantage miles on Hawaiian flights.  Definitely use AAdvantage miles if you can- the Coach Saver RT price will be only 35K miles as opposed to 45K HawaiianMiles as shown above. [IMPORTANT re my note: as of 9/1/15, AAdvantage miles cannot be redeemed for Hawaiian Airlines flight to/from the US mainland.]


Estimated JetBlue
Ticket Value
Award Mileage
From To From To
0 99 10,000
100 179 15,000 20,000
180 259 25,000 30,000
260 339 35,000 40,000
340 419 45,000 50,000
*Miles required for redemption will vary based on ticket value. Chart above shows an ESTIMATED mileage redemption amount.  Note: the only flight you can really use this benefit on is the nonstop from HNL to JFK.  The only way to calculate how many TrueBlue points you will need for the fare is to search for the dollar cost, call JetBlue directly to book the flight (no online booking on partner awards), and then expect to pony up 1 point for every 1.2 cents of value, which kind of contradicts the chart above, but seems to be the norm for Hawaiian flights on JetBlue.  Not a good value unless you are swimming in TrueBlue points.
One-way HNL-JFK on JetBlue, random date

One-way HNL-JFK on JetBlue, random date.  This would likely cost ~42,500 TrueBlue points (509 divided by .012)

So, using HawaiianMiles on HA metal and American is pretty straightforward.  It’s nice that one can fly Hawaiian flights and credit them to America/JetBlue, and vice versa. Decent flexibility there.  Unfortunately, they don’t fly any routes to Canada at this time.  We’ll have to settle for WestJet’s Vancouver nonstop.

Saving money on Hawaiian flights (mostly with the co-branded credit card issued by Bank of Hawaii/Barclays Bank):
  •  Primary Cardholders are eligible to earn a one-time 50% off discount toward one published roundtrip coach fare for a companion upon new account approval and is good for 13 months from the time the credit card account is open. Note: must be used on HA metal, no partner airlines.
  • Primary Cardholders are also eligible to earn a one hundred ($100) discount off one coach companion ticket on each credit card account anniversary upon payment of annual fee and is good for 12 months from account anniversary.

On the non-Hawaiian CC holder side:

  • they frequently have great deals on West Coast travel.  There is a special price on the San Francisco-Kahului flight for travel on selected dates in January- $398 roundtrip!  Read the wording on the specials carefully  though, most are non valid in both directions.  This special fare, for example, is only good when the travel originates from San Francisco.  You can sign up for Hawaiian fare alerts here.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest members can get special fares (usually a flat 5% off) most flights.
  • You can get $1 (yes, just $1) back when booking Hawaiian flights through ebates.
  • some local employers also offer discounts: HGEA, Air Force Association, and I’m sure many others.
  • there are also constant offers of contest to win HawaiianMiles, like the one HMSA currently has.
On a personal note, the logo and brand colors on Hawaiian appeal to me.  Just like the iconic Eskimo on the tail of an Alaska Airlines plane, the Hawaiian lady on the tail of an HA plane gives me the warm and fuzzies.  While I personally abhor the smell of flowers and hate receiving lei, there is nothing more whimsical than giant versions of common items:
You can barely make out the huge lei on the nose of the plane.  Photo from airlinereporter.com

You can barely make out the huge lei on the nose of the plane. Photo from airlinereporter.com

Any questions on Hawaiian Airlines?


Travel Guide- Hawaii Interisland Travel

So, you know I focus on traveling AWAY from Hawaii.  But I also want to help all of us Kama’aina get around the Islands as easily as possible.  When your next mainland trip is many months away, a short jaunt to see the sights and natural beauty of our Neighbor Islands can be a nice distraction.

As a bonus, sometimes when searching for award availability, it is easier to find seats on lesser known routes such as the aforementioned Lihue-Denver on United Airlines 🙂  It would be easy-peasy to hop over to Kauai for a low price or just a few thousand miles, and be able to connect to another award flight from there.

I sometimes get confused with all the interisland options, since there are so many per day.  I figured I’d get this all into 1 centralized location.  Here is a spreadsheet with information on travel time, travel distance, and which airlines service each Island airport, even the tiny ones.  There is also information on how many award miles you need to use for a one-way ticket.  A few details:

  • For simplicity, I only included nonstops between the given airports.  You can get to any island from any other with connections, of course.
  • Makani Kai Air operates from a small airfield outside of the airport due to their charter service, so there is no shuttle/parking at or to the HNL interisland terminal.  They don’t have a frequent flyer program, all commercial flights are a flat $50 each way.
  • Some of these flights have limited service, so check the schedules carefully using a range of dates.
  • I calculated the distances using the Great Circle Mapper.

The table was too big to post on here, so I made a handy Interisland Travel Google Sheet.  Anyone should be able to see it, and I can keep it updated, as surely things will change in the future.  Specifically, I know that Delta Airlines will have some system-wide award travel changes beginning January 1, 2015, so there might be changes in the way we can use Delta SkyMiles for Hawaiian Airlines flights.

Here are the web links for the various airlines offering interisland travel:

Happy island hopping!  Hope your plane isn’t made out of Legos!  Or has a pterodactyl leading the way!

Can this BE more Jurassic Park-y?

Can this BE more Jurassic Park-y?



Award travel success! Honolulu to Guayaquil

I’ve mentioned several times that I’m taking my family to Ecuador this holiday season.  It’s been a goal for a while to take my husband and tween daughter back for another visit, but more importantly, it was time to take my toddler son to South America for the first time.  I have a personal time limit for Ecuador visits- I don’t like to let more than 5 years pass between trips. Our last adventure down was in March 2009, so I’m 6 months late, but no one but me is counting, they’re just happy to see us.  We’ll be celebrating the holidays with the many, many, many members of my family that still live in Ecuador.  Adding to the excitement, my parents will be meeting us there from the mainland.  And, my baby niece will also be making her first visit to the motherland!  I hear her parents are coming along, too.  She needs someone to carry her bags 🙂

I first decided that this would be a holiday trip in 2011.  Ah, 2011.  A great year for mothering, a bad year for traveling.  We didn’t leave the island at all that year.  I was staying home with my son after moving back from Spain, and we were a bit “traveled out.”  I know, I never thought I would say that, but we had been away for 6 months and I just wanted to be in my own bed for a while.  So we didn’t go anywhere.  But that didn’t stop me from planning!

We have an awesome New Year’s Eve tradition in Guayaquil that I wanted to share with the family.  Beginning in the fall (or earlier!), artists and regular people alike create monigotes, also known as años viejos (old years), which are essentially papier-mâché figurines stuffed with newspaper, old clothes, sawdust, and explosives, like firecrackers and fireworks.  They are life-sized or bigger, and often reference pop culture in some way.  Popular movie characters, sports mascots, and political figures are all fair game.  You can stroll through the “Ruta de los Años Viejos” on calle 6 de marzo in Guayaquil in the weeks leading up to the New Year.  On New Year’s Eve, the monigotes are piled into the middle of the street or really wherever you feel like blowing stuff up.  Some sort of accelerant is poured on, like lighter fluid or, as in one particular memory from my childhood, straight-up gasoline from a car parked in front of a pool hall.  During the countdown to the stroke of midnight, matches are lit and tossed onto the figurines.  The idea is for the fire to reach the explosives precisely at midnight.

Monigotes in Guayaquil

Monigotes in Guayaquil, ready to be purchased and subsequently blown to smithereens

Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador, with a population of roughly 3 million people.  Pretty much every family has at least 1 monigote, if not a few.  Some of these things are 15 feet tall.  So you can imagine the almighty BOOMS heard from all over the city as thousands and thousands of explosives go off and keep exploding for almost 15 minutes.  A very thick layer of smoke forms over the city and doesn’t dissipate until the next morning.  The monigotes represent all the events of the previous year, good or bad.  We literally blow it away to start clean the next morning with a new year.  It’s a great time.  Here’s a short video, burning action at around the 2min mark, set to catchy little music.  I wanted my immediate family to see it, so I devised my plan to get us from Hawaii to Ecuador for the holidays…..

And was promptly smacked in the face by reality.  Average fares for holiday travel to South America from Hawaii were running about $1900.  Per person.  $1750 if we were lucky.  We had committed to other travel plans for while my son was lap-baby eligible, so I knew we would have to pony up the cash for a full ticket for him since he’d be well over 2 years old by the time we traveled.  I don’t know about you, but spending $7k on coach airfare is not very appealing to me.  So I set about making sure my miles would work for me.

The first thing I did was rid myself of the notion that we had to fly down and back on the same airline.  It’s often easier to gather points and miles if you concentrate on 1 airline or alliance, but with 4 people traveling at peak time, I knew I would have to get creative with one-ways and splitting into groups of 2 or 3.

2 other things held up my planning, but gave me time to earn more miles.  The school schedule wasn’t out yet, so I didn’t know when my daughter would be going back in January 2015, and my husband would have to return earlier than the rest of us because of his work schedule, so he’d need to travel back solo.  At this point, I was about 20 months out from my projected dates for the trip.  Based on convenient routings, I decided to concentrate my miles-earning to American and United.  I had about 26K American Airlines miles and 12K United Mileage Plus miles to begin with.  My husband had 19K American miles and 5K United miles.  I knew that we would be earning more miles from butt-in-seat travel to the mainland, adding at least 10K to our American balances using the Companion Fare on Alaska Airlines.  My husband had a research trip to Spain that would earn him almost 20K United miles.  This was good, but would not be enough.

I decided on a credit card sign up bonus strategy, combined with some shopping-portal savvy and well-timed transfer bonuses to earn more miles.

Remember, only use credit responsibly, never carry a balance, and

don’t buy stuff you don’t need for the sake of earning miles. 

Both my husband and I applied for the Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer card, which at that time was awarding a sign-up bonus of 50K miles after $3000 in spending within 3 months.  In addition, I signed up for the Citi AA Platinum Visa, which also had a 50K sign-up bonus and 3K spending requirement.  Meeting the minimum spend was pretty easy: we timed some necessary big purchases to occur during our 90-day time frame, and put every single household expense we could on the cards.  Daycare, the cable bill, groceries- everything went on the cards until the required spend was reached and the bonus earned.  Note: my CC spending was linked to my frequent flyer account, and my husband’s to his.  United and American don’t allow free transfers of miles between accounts.  You can, however, buy tickets for anybody from your mileage account. 

As far as the shopping portals, they work like a mileage multiplier and can get you a really great deal at the same time.  Each major airline has a shopping site you can use to make online purchases, and you are often able to get at least 2x the miles for your online purchase.  Example: during this Ecuador-miles blitz, I needed some printer ink.  I had previously used the 123inkjets.com website, so I searched for it on the AAdvantage shopping portal  and saw that 123inkjets.com purchases were being awarded 8 miles/dollar at that time (you can see that right now, they are awarding 12 miles/dollar).  So I spent about $22 for my ink, and got 176 miles from the shopping portal, plus 22 miles from the credit card directly, for a total of 198 miles for 1 small purchase.  This really helps your progress along, though the miles don’t post instantly.  You usually see them a few weeks after the credit card statement posts, and it can take up to 12 weeks in some cases. You need time on your side for this strategy, but it will really help your balance build up.  Check Evreward to see which portal is offering the best bonus, but also check manually just in case.

In January 2014, I was able to book our award travel for the Honolulu (HNL) to Guayaquil (GYE) leg.  As it is difficult to find 4 award seats on a given itinerary, we decided that the best strategy would be to use a Standard award on United.  Standard awards cost more than Savers, but usually have a better itinerary with fewer stops.  I had been stalking the United site for weeks, and never saw any Saver availability pop up on our route, even though I explored the possibility of making separate reservations to route through El Salvador on Avianca, and had called to speak to the agents about Saver availability.  Oh well, can’t win them all.

I hopped onto the United site to put my itinerary in my cart (I would be traveling with my daughter, at 40K miles each).  Once that was done, my husband used his laptop to find the same flight #s and schedule that I had put a hold on, and booked his award travel for himself and our son on those same flights.  Finally, I went back to the United site to complete my purchase, and saw this beauty of a receipt:

My husband had the same.  And so, we were traveling to Ecuador for $25 out of pocket.

Now, how to get back?  I had used a large majority of my United miles for these redemptions, so it was time to switch to American Airlines.  My husband still had a bunch of United miles, so he continued earning via CC spending to try to get another award ticket as soon as he could.

Meanwhile, I was looking at needing to get me and both the children back from Ecuador, requiring 105K miles (35K miles each).  Months had passed, and I finally had the school schedule available.  Good news- my daughter’s school dates meant that we could spend about 3 weeks in South America.  Now that I had a return date, I set about earning my miles.  I was able to use another miles-earning strategy in addition to the ones already mentioned.  Most airlines have a dining rewards program to complement their shopping portal.  You register, hopefully using a sign-up bonus offer, and then register any credit card.  When you dine at a participating restaurant, you earn 3-5 miles/dollar in addition to what you earn from the credit card itself.  Participating restaurants usually don’t include chains, so you are “eating local” for the most part.  The AAdvantage rewards network includes local Hawaii places like Grylt and Teddy’s Bigger Burgers, yummy.  I was able to earn a bunch of extra miles for eating out, again padding my balances.

I opted to use a standard award (called AAnytime Awards on American) again because:

  1. Mile SAAver wasn’t available
  2. I had a great choice of itineraries with fewer stops
  3. Main Cabin Extra was included for free
  4. Priority Access

But wait!  Oh, the perils of advance planning.  Before I was able to reach 105K miles, AAdvantage devalued their award chart for AAnytime awards.  The tickets I wanted would now require 120K miles (40K each) instead of 105K.  Gah.  Well, I needed to do something else to get these miles for free.  Enter the Starwood Preferred Guest Program.  SPG points are earned with the SPG Amex and with stays at SPG hotels like the Sheraton and Westin.  SPG points are valuable because you can transfer them 1:1 to many different airline partners, including American.  I was able to leverage this great transfer bonus to reach the additional 15K miles needed for my redemption.  By July 2014, I was all ready to book.  We got a great itinerary, great seats with the Main Cabin Extra, and the best part was this:



If you’re counting, our out-of-pocket cost was now $25 + $195.33 = $220.33.

The final piece of the puzzle was booking my husband’s flight back from Ecuador.  He’d successfully racked up many more United miles by this time (August 2014).  He’d be departing from the capital, Quito (UIO), instead of Guayaquil, and United had the best possible routing: Quito to Houston, Houston to Honolulu.  2 flights, with just one 2.5 hour layover!  They sold another Standard Award at 50K miles, and because Ecuador has an exit tax, the price was a little higher this time: $80.37.  I’ll take it.

Grand Total for 4 people traveling to South America from Hawaii and back….$300.70, or a 95% savings over the best cash booking price I could find. 

spock win

Final notes: I made some concessions with these bookings, since I much prefer redeeming for Saver awards.  However, the popularity of family holiday travel to South America means the airlines don’t really need to release much low-level award space during that time of year to fill the planes.  So they don’t, because people will pay cash for their tickets.  I still occasionally check for Saver space on our travel dates out of curiosity, and I haven’t seen any yet.  So I had to just spend the extra miles for the Standard awards.  I made sure to check for Saver First/Business awards though, because sometimes they are the same mileage price, or incredibly, lower than a Standard award! No such luck this time.

Being able to split up for travel reservations greatly increases your flexibility to book what you want.  It really worked out well with the AAnytime award- I got the better seats and expedited check-in, which will be great since I’ll be alone with both kids for that leg of our travel.

Diversification in miles and points balances helped as well, and we were able to really rack up both kinds of miles in a relatively short amount of time.

The best outcome of course, is that my little group of 4 will soon be welcomed by a huge group of relatives and get to experience my beautiful country.  Super bonus: when my parents booked their flights down from the East Coast, they chose an itinerary that put us all on the same final flight to Guayaquil from Panama City on Copa Airlines.  Family reunion in (PTY), then landing at GYE with my parents 🙂  That’s what travel is all about.


Strategies for Hawaii residents- American Airlines

For a while, I was completely loyal to American Airlines (AA) and wouldn’t really consider other legacy carriers.  I was comfortable with their policies, their flight schedules, and my daughter even knew the safety video music by heart.  Getting to the airport and seeing the red, white and blue livery meant another fun trip was on the horizon.

This still holds true to some extent- in fact, I just redeemed miles on AA to buy our tickets back from Ecuador in January.  But I’ve diversified a bit and find that other airlines have a lot to offer as well.  Still, American is an excellent airline with many options to South America, either on AA metal, via codeshare agreements, or with alliance partners like LAN and TAM.  For Europe, the ability to use AA miles on British Airways and Iberia can be very useful.

Ok, here’s the scoop on nonstop flights on AA metal departing the Hawaiian Islands: you have 6 daily nonstops heading to the mainland, sorted by airports below.

  • HNL: Los Angeles, California (LAX), Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas (DFW).  There was a nonstop to Chicago O’Hare, Illinois (ORD) that went from daily to seasonal through January 2014, and no announcement has yet been made regarding its return.  It’s possible it will be back in December.  I’ll keep this post updated.
  • OGG: Los Angeles, California (LAX), Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas (DFW)
  • LIH: Los Angeles, California (LAX)
  • KOA: Los Angeles, California (LAX)

So…that’s limited.  However, you can now book US Airways flights on AA.com with cash or miles.  So that adds nonstops to Phoenix, Arizona (PHX) from HNL, OGG, LIH, and KOA.  And, we know that you can book Alaska Airlines flight on AA.com as well due to their codeshare agreement.  Hawaiian Airlines (HA) provides a similar benefit, where you can earn AA miles on most interisland and transpacific flights [Note: due to their codeshare agreement, you can currently use your AAdvantage miles to book HA metal Hawaii-mainland flights.  This will change on 9/1/15- see this post for more details].    You can pretty much get anywhere in the world with AA.

American is part of the oneworld alliance (oneworld member airlines list), and their frequent flyer program is called American AAdvantage.  You can use your American Airlines miles to book flights on their oneworld partners as linked in the previous sentence.  Here is the full AAdvantage award chart (my pic below is modified to only show my focus destinations):

Clear as mud

Clear as mud content-wise, and also find of fuzzy focus-wise, sorry!

So, what’s the deal with there being 2 different mileage rates for travel between North America (which, according the Region definition below the chart, includes Hawaii) and Colombia/Ecuador/Peru/Venezuela, and travel between North America/Central America/Colombia/Ecuador/Peru/Venezuela and Hawaii? Well, I called and asked, and…the answer wasn’t too clear.  Here’s what I understand (and have seen when making speculative searches): the mileage will be based on the origin and FINAL destination.  But it can also depend on whether your route includes a North American gateway city, if doing a multi-city search.  Honestly, the best thing to do is to play around on the website to see what they’re offering as far as redemptions. If the result you get from the website doesn’t look right, call, because sometimes the agent can see availability you can’t, and some partner airline flights don’t even show up on AA.com.  If you book over the phone, you may have to pay a phone ticketing fee.  Fees vary from $25-45.

Of course, this all depends on whether MilesAAver availability, the lowest mileage level, is even open.  I highlighted the Off-Peak dates on the award chart above.  You’ll save a lot of miles if you can travel at off-peak times (duh).  I recall there being a Hawaii mileage “sale” only once, and it was last year.  Flights to/from the mainland were 15k each way, around October, representing a savings of 5k miles.

The AAnytime award inventory listed above is not nearly as limited as the MilesAAver availability.  Basically, if there is a seat on the plane you can purchase with cash (meaning it is not sold out), you can use an AAnytime award for it.  You pay a premium in terms of miles spent, but you also get to choose from the Main Cabin Extra seats at no charge for a bit of extra legroom.  However, see the AAnytime level 3?  There is no set mileage, just an asterisk. American says that those awards will be subject to a variety of pricing factors and determined at the time of the booking.  But you know what they say…if you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can’t afford it.

There is another way to save on mileage redemptions on American: with a co-branded American AAdvantage card from Citibank.  Cardholders are eligible for Reduced Mileage Awards announced quarterly; these almost never include Hawaii, but I check them out anyway.  In addition, some cards offer a 10% rebate on any redeemed miles in a calendar year.

You should take a break from reading, because we’ll soon talk about the partner award chart, how to find a fare code, and some ways to save money on a cash ticket.

Ok, we’re back!  Here’s the partner award chart:

AA partner chart

These are the amounts of miles you would need to use your AA miles on partner airlines (as opposed to directly on American Airlines like the chart in the beginning of the post).  In some cases, the milage required is lower than on AA directly- use this to your advantage!  But if the oneworld carrier you want to fly doesn’t go to your destination, you may have to use multiple awards.

  •  example: if I want to fly from Spain to Hawaii, I can use my AA miles on airberlin to get from Barcelona (BCN) to Miami (MIA), but then I need additional miles (on AA directly or other partners) to get from MIA to HNL, since airberlin doesn’t fly here.

I always enter my preferred itinerary as a straight-up search on AA.com before trying to figure out ways to use fewer miles with the partner award chart.  Sometimes, the stopover rules allow you to make a desirable connection with no further miles out of pocket.  And a warning about using AA miles British Airways (BA): they add BIG fuel surcharges to award tickets when routing through England.  By all means, use your miles on BA, but avoid going through Great Britain (London -Heathrow especially) if at all possible.  More on BA and using their FF program Avios in another post.

In many cases, you can credit your flight (when paying in cash, not miles) on these partner airlines to your American AAdvantage frequent flyer account.  You can select the correct fare code when buying your tickets to be sure you choose one that gives you 100% of miles flown.  Here are LAN‘s guidelines as an example.  It tells us that fare code letters G, N, Q and S award fewer than 100% of miles flown.  This information will be available in the Fare Details section, usually a link labeled as such, or in the case of AA, click the “plus.”  Here is an example of a search from HNL to SJC (San Jose, California).  The initial result just shows the basic info like price and schedule:

Where, oh where, can the fare code be?

Where, oh where, can the fare code be?

After clicking the “plus,” you can see the fare codes for both economy (which AA is calling “Choice”) and First Class.

Thar she blows!

Thar she blows!

You can also see whether any meals are included on board, whether there are any advance purchase rules associated with the fare, and even check for available seats, all before purchasing.

Notice you can’t check for available seats on the LAX-SJC connection.  This is because that flight is operated by Mesa Airlines, which is the regional jet service arm of US Airways.  Of course, AA and US Airways are in the process of merging, which is why these flights are available on the AA site.  Anyhoo, for me, regional jets = fewer than 100 seats on board = irrational fear.  I avoid these after flying to Molokai on a machine powered by an actual propeller.  It went as smoothly as it could possibly go, but this city gal was not expecting to fly to the country (Kaunakakai), on a toy plane (held aloft only by spinning blades!  How in the world does it stay up?! And why doesn’t my ceiling fan take off periodically?), to a shack (the MKK “airport”).  Your mileage may vary.

I would have felt better if this little guy were transporting me

This little guy is smiling! Why can’t all airplanes smile?

And now, some ways to save money on American Airlines cash tickets!  Spoiler: there aren’t too many.

  1. promo codes: these are usually sent out via email, and targeted to a certain segment of AA’s “audience,” as it were.  They are available for a limited time, to a limited set of origin/destination airports.  I’m not sure what methods they use for targeting, but I fill out my profile on AA.com, including my “Favorite Cities” list, to increase my chances.  I’ve received some codes, but have never been able to use one due to scheduling.
  2. Gift cards: occasionally, a multi-pack of American Airlines gift cards shows up at Costco or Sam’s Club.  They are rarely available.  If you see them, get them- you may be able to buy $$$ worth of gift cards at a small discount (usually 10-15%), and apply the whole value of those gift cards to your total ticket purchase.
  3. voluntary denied boarding vouchers: volunteering to get bumped has its perks.  If your AA flight is oversold and they are asking for volunteers to give up their seat, pay attention to the offers if you have the flexibility to take a later flight or even the first flight out the next day.  The airline can offer meal vouchers, a hotel voucher, and a travel voucher to use on your next flight, all to make up for the inconvenience.  Some people make a practice of booking flights that are historically oversold in order to take advantage of this.  Others are just lucky- the last time we came back from Disney World, we EACH received $800 vouchers to be bumped from our HNL-bound flight.  Travel vouchers have various restrictions including an expiration date- be sure to ask for all the details if they offer you one.  I’ve even heard of people negotiating for cash (in the form of a check )!  Note: not to be confused with Involuntary Denied Boarding- see the Conditions of Carriage for compensation rules there. There is a condensed version of the CoC on the back of any paper ticket, too.  Yes, I am that person who reads all the rules and fine print.

I think  that covers most things AA-related.  Any questions?

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