Travel Hacking Our Way to Hawaii for $11.20 per Person
Angela is the author of the personal finance site Tread Lightly, Retire Early.
Today she shares how she was able to use credit card travel hacking to book five round-trip tickets to Hawaii for herself and her family for just $11.20 per person.
We went to Hawaii for the very first time last November, and I have to admit, it wasn’t somewhere that was ever on my bucket list, but once we went, I was hooked.
The opportunities for outdoors adventure are endless, and once you figure out how to cover the plane tickets and lodging, a trip to Hawaii can cost very little because there are so many wonderful free things to do once you’re there.
That being said, once we had planned that first trip last year, my grandmother let it slip that Hawaii was a place she’d always wanted to go since she was a little girl. I’m not sure how no one in our entire family had ever known this, but once I found out, I was determined to take her there.
However, paying for a family to fly to Hawaii with cash is costly and not something that fits into our goal of a 50% savings rate for the year.
However, we had already used the bulk of our Alaska Airlines credit card miles on previous trips, so I had to get creative with other points to come up with the credit card miles for this trip, especially because we wanted to bring my mother-in-law as well.
We may be an immediate family of three, but vacations are eminently more enjoyable with extra adult hands along (and then we get a date night out just the two of us in awesome places). And so like our most recent plane trip to the East Coast, I was looking at covering five plane tickets instead of just three.
So after years of redeeming flights through our regular credit card spending (including some reimbursed work charges which upped the total points we’d earned in the past), I realized it was time to start down the rabbit hole of credit card travel hacking in order to continue our ability to pay just the cost of taxes and fees on plane flights.
I’d read up on the sweet spot with credit card rewards points for trips from the west coast to Hawaii, and I was ready to try it out. I had opened the Chase Sapphire Preferred for both myself and my husband over the last number of months (and made sure to refer him myself to get that additional 10k referral bonus – if you have a partner, make sure to do it this way!).
The card has a sign up bonus of 50,000 points after a $5,000 minimum spend in three months, so it has taken us a little while since we opened them one at a time and then put all of our regular spending on them until we hit the minimum. Eventually, we racked up a significant number of Chase Ultimate Rewards points and I was ready to plan a trip.
AS ALWAYS, I WILL ONLY RECOMMEND OPENING UP NEW CREDIT CARDS – AND USING THEM IN GENERAL – IF YOU ARE SURE TO PAY THEM OFF IN FULL EVERY SINGLE MONTH. AT THE POINT YOU START PAYING INTEREST, IT NEGATES THE COST SAVINGS OF THE CARD REWARDS AND YOU’RE BETTER OFF STICKING TO CASH AND SAVING UP FOR VACATIONS THAT WAY.
The Chase – Avios Hack To Fly To Hawaii
So, I had heard about this magical credit card redemption for flights to Hawaii from the West Coast, but I had actually never redeemed any sort of credit card rewards for flights beyond our standard Alaska Airlines card, which is extremely simple:
- Look up flights via miles on the Alaska Airlines portal
- Confirm number of points required for the flights you want
- Click “book flights”
Anything beyond that felt a bit overwhelming to begin with, but I’d heard enough to know that it was absolutely worth it once I could figure it out.
Perhaps you’re a seasoned credit card travel hacker, in that case, this might not be a super helpful post for you, but if you’re more like me and just dipping your toe into the travel hacking waters, hopefully I can help by breaking it down in a way that’s really easy and makes sense.
I tried to find this written out clearly already, but every post I found used the example of American Airlines – not Alaska Airlines, which is what I wanted to use – so I felt I was mostly guessing until I had actually booked the tickets.
Step 1: Accumulate 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per round trip ticket you want to book
For me, that meant 125,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points because I was looking to book five round trip tickets from Seattle to Hawaii.
To accumulate these points, as mentioned above, I opened the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, which has a sign up bonus of 50,000 points once you spend $5,000 in three months (which means you actually end up with a minimum of 55,000 points once you’ve hit that minimum spend because you get credit at one point per dollar as well, or two or three points for specific categories).
Once we hit the minimum spend on my card and earned those first 55,000 points, I sent a referral link to my husband to open up his own card, which netted me another 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my account, which was then at 65,000 points.
A key point here is that I did not just add my husband as an authorized user onto my account, because that doesn’t earn nearly the same number of sign up bonus points, though we did use the card for all purchases during that time period to make sure we got that minimum spend threshold.
We then earned the sign up bonus on my husband’s card, which earned us another 55,000 Ultimate Rewards points (50,000 sign up + 5,000 in regular spending).
Total points combined at this point was slightly more than 120,000, which was just shy of the 125,000 needed to book the five round trip tickets to Hawaii for us.
A friend ended up signing up for her own card through my referral link (and a few blog readers have as well, so thank you very much!), but even if she didn’t, we could have simply continued to use our cards for just a bit longer to come up with the difference.
Now the easiest part was done, coming up with the 125,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Step 2: Create a British Airways Avios Account
Learn from me and create a British Airways Executive Club account first before you start looking for flights as it doesn’t require any points transfer to sign up and then you are ready to start once you find your preferred flight itineraries.
Set up takes about five minutes and is just creating an account for their awards program, but they cannot help you book flights over the phone until you have an account number to give them.
Step 3: Go on to Alaska Airlines and search for the flights you want
The flights must be for “saver” level tickets, which means either 15,000 and 17,500 miles each way and be direct flights. Beyond that, you can take your pick of which island to fly to and which west coast city you fly out of. For us, that meant flying out of Seattle, but I was open to which island we would visit and what week specifically.
Flexibility was key especially since I was looking for five tickets. If you have fewer people in your party, you’ll probably have even more options than we did. Also, the sooner you pick your flights the better, as they do tend to fill up.
Our last trip was during their off season (November), but this trip is in January/February, so right during the busy time of year, which meant we needed to plan farther in advance.
If you are a bit flexible on which island you want to visit, or if you can leave and return mid week, you should have a number of options to choose from. My suggestion would be to find at least two different itineraries you’re willing to book in case one is no longer available by the time you call to reserve them.
I’m so glad I did this because one itinerary only had four seats left when I called, so it no longer worked for us.
Step 4: Transfer Your Ultimate Rewards Points To Avios
Once you know there is an itinerary that works for you, hop onto the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and transfer the points you need to British Airways. If you haven’t done this before, log into your account at Chase.com, click on Ultimate Rewards, and then “Transfer to Partners.”
Click British Airways, fill in your British Airways Executive Club name and number, and transfer points. (Make sure you are ABSOLUTELY ready to use the points, because they can’t be be transferred back to Chase once you’ve moved them).
Step 5: Call British Airways and book the flights over the phone
Once you have your flights picked out and points transferred to British Airways Avios points, call British Airways at 800-452-1201 and let them know that you want to book a flight on Alaska Airlines. You will need to have the names and birth dates of all people flying, so have those ready.
They will ask you for the dates you want to fly, and then they will confirm the number of points it will take to make the trip (just 25,000!) and then they will book your flights and send a confirmation to your email just like any other plane ticket purchase.
I read online while initially doing this research that they charge a fee to book flights over the phone, but I wasn’t charged one. If they do for whatever reason quote you a ticket booking fee, let them know that you don’t have a choice to book Alaska Airlines flights any other way, and they *should* waive it.
I have to say that I was quite impressed with the level of service I received through their online booking agents, which is always very much appreciated.
Step 6: Find Your Tickets In Your Email Inbox And Start Planning Your Trip!
You’re done! At this point, I was feeling like a total travel hacking rockstar for pulling off the steps required to book the flights. While maybe not the most complicated thing ever, it was definitely more involved than what other sites made it out to be.
That said, the miles needed for this trip was only 25,000 points per person – AND direct flights – which is well less than the points that it took to fly us to Hawaii the last time.
Better yet, we get to fly on Alaska Airlines, which is hands down my favorite airline to travel on, but they don’t have any ways to rack up a ton of miles beyond their one sign up bonus for their card and then regular spending.
By being able to use Chase points created from new credit card sign ups, suddenly more Alaska Airlines trips are open to us in the future, which is amazing.
And there you have it. The full run down, beginner’s guide to how to use Chase sign up bonuses to cover flights to Hawaii. And if you happen to head to the Big Island like us, here are my top ten free things to do there and general budget Hawaii tips to keep the total cost of the trip to a minimum.
Once you arrive in Hawaii, the vacation doesn’t have to cost a ton, and now you know of a way to take away the big price tag of getting there in the future.
Republished with the permission of Tread Lightly, Retire Early.