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Quinceañera Trip Report Part 1: HNL to JFK

Me upon hearing/seeing the name “JFK airport”…


This is because, despite it being only 20 miles away from where I grew up in NJ, it can take over 2 hours and nearly $30 in tolls to get there.  Plus, the most direct driving route takes you through midtown Manhattan, so you need nerves of steel, a healthy rage-vocabulary, and catlike reflexes as well.

Here’s what I knew in advance: the party was going to be the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I would stay at a hotel because a bunch of relatives were coming from all over and I didn’t want to inconvenience anybody by taking up all the space at Hotel Mami/Papi with my people and a fluffy dress.  I would need a car to go back and forth to the hotel, to arrive early at the party, etc. Read the rest of this entry »


Strategies for Hawaii Residents- United Airlines

Anyone who lives in Hawaii and travels regularly to the East Coast knows that right now we have just a few nonstop options to the NYC metro area, which consists of EWR (Newark Liberty Int’l in NJ), JFK (John F Kennedy Int’l in Queens, NY), and LGA (LaGuardia Int’l in Queens, NY).

Pro-tip: when searching for airfare to the NY metro area, instead of searching separately for the 3 airports above, just type NYC as the airport code, and the site will search all 3 airports at once. Pay attention when booking if you need to arrive and depart from the same airport, as your search results will show all options, including itineraries that arrive and depart from different airports.

And now, I present our nonstop options!!!

  • United Airlines flight 14: Honolulu-EWR
  • Hawaiian Airlines flight 50: Honolulu- JFK
  • that’s it.

My parents are fans of the United flight, because Newark airport is much more convenient for them than the ones in NYC proper.  Also, they prefer to board, sleep, and get off the plane to see their grandbabies without dealing with pesky layovers and their potential for delays.  I’ve never been on this United nonstop myself.  I’ve already reached my absolute airplane time limit with a MAD-JFK voyage: 8 hrs, 50 min.  I don’t know that I could subject myself to a voyage of 10-12 hours.  Perhaps if I were traveling sans children and could take some sort of sleep aid….that might be a good idea actually, I need to catch up on my Zzzs.

Anyway, we’ll discuss Hawaiian Airlines in another, more in-depth post.  Let’s chat about United and their other mainland routes.

Nonstops from Hawaii to the US Mainland on UA metal:

  • Honolulu (HNL): to ORD (Chicago, IL), DEN (Denver, CO), IAH (Houston, TX), LAX (Los Angeles, CA), SFO (San Francisco, CA), EWR (Newark, NJ), and IAD (Washington, D.C.)
  • Kahului (OGG): to ORD (Chicago, IL), DEN (Denver, CO), LAX (Los Angeles, CA), and SFO (San Francisco, CA)
  • Kona (KOA): to DEN (Denver, CO), LAX (Los Angeles, CA), and SFO (San Francisco, CA)
  • Hilo (ITO): to LAX (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Lihue (LIH): to DEN (Denver, CO), LAX (Los Angeles, CA), and SFO (San Francisco, CA)


Does anyone else find it strange that there’s a nonstop from Lihue to Denver?  Is that a big market that I was unaware of?  Additionally, this flight only departs on Saturday evening, arriving in Denver at 6:43am.  Is there a crucial need for Kauaians to be in Denver on Sunday mornings?  So many questions.


United’s frequent flyer program is called MileagePlus, and their award chart is pretty straightforward for UA metal flights.  They also usually begin to release award space about 330 days out, but I start checking the full year out, as some of the partner airlines release space earlier than United releases its own space:

Between Hawaii and Mainland U.S., Alaska & Canada

Travel Awards

Cabin Award Miles Type Special Conditions
Economy Class 22,500 One-way Saver Award
45,000 Roundtrip Saver Award
45,000 One-way Standard Award
90,000 Roundtrip Standard Award
Hawaii Inter-island Add-on +6,000 each way Saver Award Add a Hawaiian Airlines or Island Air inter-island connection in Economy class

Here’s the detail direct from the site about the difference between the Saver and Standard awards, bolding mine:

Saver Awards

Saver Awards can be used for travel almost anywhere United, United Express and its MileagePlus® airline partners fly. Saver Awards are capacity-controlled and may not be available on certain flights where demand is high.

Standard Awards

Standard Awards for travel on United, United Express and Copa Airlines are subject to capacity controls. While seats may not be available on certain flights, Standard Awards provide more inventory than Saver Awards. MileagePlus Premier® members and eligible United MileagePlus Cardmembers have unrestricted access to Standard Awards on United and United Express. If there’s a United seat for sale, these members can get it with award miles, guaranteed, even if it’s the last seat on the airplane. Eligible Cardmembers can learn more about their benefits in their Membership Guide or by contacting Chase at the phone number on the back of their Card.

MileagePlus members without Premier status or an eligible credit card will still be able to book seats with miles; however, there may be slightly fewer seats available. Standard Awards on some partner airlines may have capacity controls and/or date restrictions.

So, you see that Inter-Island awards are 6K miles each on United, as opposed to 5K miles each on American and Hawaiian.  So…don’t use United for these redemptions unless they’re the only kind of miles available.  Also: Hawaiian Air gives you POG on your flight.  I love that stuff.

I don't often drink my compound juices out of a wine glass, but when I do, I drink Pog.

I don’t often drink my compound juices out of a wine glass, but when I do, I drink POG.

United is part of the Star Alliance, which contains big alliance partners such as Air Canada and Lufthansa, among many others.  For my purposes, one of the best partners they have is Copa Airlines, which operates many routes in Central and South America.  Let’s take a look at the partner award chart (I modified it to only show my preferred destinations, the full chart can be found here and includes Africa, Asia, etc.).

united partner chart

In my post about the Ecuador trip redemption, I outlined how I chose to use the United Standard Award for our flights down.  I did search partner availability as well as United’s own availability.  In the end, the Standard Award worked out well for our needs.  So how did we accumulate these miles?  I touched on that in the Ecuador trip post, but here’s a brief review.

    1. We got the United Mileage Plus Explorer credit card when it was running an increased sign-up bonus of 50K miles after spending $3k in 3 months.  Not only do we get the bonus, we get United Club (lounge) day passes, free checked bags, and priority boarding.
    2. We always log in to the United site when searching for fares or award availability.  It recognizes that we are United cardholders and (supposedly) displays better prices and availability.
    3. Use the United shopping portal when they had the highest bonuses.
    4. Participate in the Opinion Miles Club, which is a survey site that you join at United’s invitation.  Each survey you complete awards you miles, free and clear.  There are also many other ways to earn United miles.

Exchange other gift cards: United has a program where you can exchange your unwanted retail gift cards for miles.  Check the math here to make sure you’re getting good value for the exchange.  I can’t personally vouch for this option since I’ve never used it.  Most people have some gift cards laying around that they won’t use, so see if you can add some mileage to your pot.

And now, some ways to save money on United Airlines cash tickets!

  1. promo codes: I’ve only seen promo codes given out for special events, like flights to high-profile sporting events.  Perhaps they are more common, but just in case, keep your email address updated in your United.com profile to be sure you occasionally get targeted for these offers.
  2. Gift cards: You can buy United gift cards them at Gift Card Granny, a reputable gift-card reseller/exchanger.  The discount is usually 5-10% off.  You then apply the gift card(s) to your cash booking.
  3. voluntary denied boarding vouchers: volunteering to get bumped has its perks.  If your UA 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. Travel vouchers have various restrictions including an expiration date- be sure to ask for all the details if they offer you one. 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.

Super-dorky confession time: I haven’t flown on United Airlines in a while, and I’m pretty excited about our upcoming trip.  Part of my excitement has to do with the fact that United started using Rhapsody in Blue as their theme music again.  I love Gershwin!