Are Cheap Avios Awards to Hawaii a Bait and Switch?

You guys know I love to play up the Best Coast, and one benefit of living here is convenient access to Hawaii. It’s just a five-hour non-stop flight with a time change that works in our favor. It’s even tolerable in economy class. And because British Airways Avios partners with Alaska Airlines and is a distance-based award program, you can book one of these non-stop flights from almost any West Coast gateway for just 12,500 points one-way vs. 40,000 miles through some other programs.

Fly to Hawaii from any of these cities for only 25K Avios round-trip. (Image from GCMap.com)

Fly to Hawaii from any of these cities for only 25K Avios round-trip.

Rob recently emailed me with a concern that he had a bunch of Avios points but couldn’t find any award space from Seattle to Kauai. (He also writes the blog Jetset Seattle.) I’ve heard other readers go one step further and say that they can’t find anything except from LAX to Honolulu. All the award space seems to be gone!

Don’t Use British Airways to Search

One problem people face is that they search on British Airways’ website. Bad idea. BA is partners with Alaska Airlines, but it only displays award space for oneworld Alliance partners, which Alaska is not. You will never find Alaska Airlines award space to Hawaii on BA.com. The only routes that American serves to Hawaii from the West Coast depart its LAX hub, and they’re the only ones that might show up.

BA award search

BA’s incomplete results are the source of most people’s frustrations.

Instead, you should search on either AA.com or AlaskaAir.com. I prefer AA.com, because one virtue of using a partner to search is that the same award space should be available to other partners like BA. You can then call British Airways to book over the phone (and you should be successful getting them to waive the phone booking fee). Just beware that the call center has some insane hold times.

Alaska Calendar

Alaska has a pretty good award calendar with fast results.

AA award search

American can confirm the award is available to partners.

Sometimes you’ll want to search on Alaska Airlines anyway. AA.com sometimes gets buggy or has issues displaying award space for alternate routings. For example, American won’t always show that you could fly from Seattle to Portland, and then to Hawaii. Alaska is much better at this.

Recognize What You’re Looking For

When searching on Alaska Airlines you should look for flights that are only 20,000 miles one-way and remember that if it involves a connection it will require more Avios (more about connecting flights in a bit). Alaska Airlines has three levels of economy class award fares — two non-refundable award levels at 20,000 and 30,000 miles and one refundable award level at 40,000 miles. Only 20,000-mile awards can be booked through partners.

Alaska Awards

Only the 20K awards are available to partners even though 30K is listed under “Lowest”.

Feel free to search segment-by-segment if you think you’ll find some availability to get partway there on Friday and the rest of the way on Saturday. Because you’re using Avios you can book a stopover for as long as you want at any connecting city along the way. Every segment prices separately, so stopovers don’t really mean much. And you can book two one-ways instead of a round-trip if you don’t find all the award space you need at one time.

Avios Is Still Cheaper with Connections

Rob wasn’t really having trouble with searching. He knew where to look, but was frustrated when he found that nearly all the one-way flights he wanted involved connections. (All but one day that month had the cheapest award level when I looked at the calendar view, though according to Rob he met a wall when he reviewed those dates individually.)

I pointed out that even with the extra cost of connecting flights, which are included in other carriers’ more expensive Hawaii awards, Avios could still come out ahead. From Seattle, a round-trip flight to Portland is only 9,000 points (4,500 each way) and brings the total cost of a Hawaii award to 34,000 points. There’s usually more availability from Portland, but if he needed to go as far as the Bay Area, round-trip flights to anywhere in California are only 15,000 points (7,500 each way) and bring the total cost to 40,000 points.

Avios Award Chart

Calculate the distance of each segment separately with a tool like GCMap.com

In other words, Rob had a choice between 40,000 miles with a typical airline loyalty program and a range of 25,000 to 40,000 Avios points. Those other programs would probably still require him to connect since Alaska is among the most frequent carriers on these West Coast-Hawaii routes and it’s Alaska that is giving him trouble.

Even if Rob has to pay 40,000 Avios, it might be better than 40,000 miles. He can earn Avios faster with the British Airways credit card, which awards 1.25 points per dollar on everyday purchases instead of the usual 1 mile per dollar. He can transfer them from partners like Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, which have great cards of their own. And the alternative use of Avios — booking an international award — might not always make sense because of high taxes and fees. His other frequent flyer miles might be better used for these trips since United still does not collect fuel surcharges on awards and American does this only for a small number of partners.

There May Be Better Options

In the end, Rob decided he would rather transfer some Ultimate Rewards flights to Korean Air and use them to redeem for a non-stop on Hawaiian Airlines. There’s nothing wrong with that, except sometimes dealing with a foreign carrier can add a few complications (even Avios has its issues, though U.S. carriers have plenty, too). But Hawaiian Airlines has some excellent service and is what I usually consider Alaska Airlines’ biggest competitor for non-stop flights from the West Coast.

Regardless of Rob’s final decision, hopefully this example demonstrates that there are many aspects of a successful award redemption beyond the rock bottom “teaser” award level. Avios can be booked successfully by anyone once you know how to look for the award space, and it’s not always necessary to get the cheapest award to secure a good deal.

Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – Copyright © Karl L. Swartz

Scott created Hack My Trip after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • Anh

    When was the last time you booked Avios on Alaska? I booked a couple awards around December and was told that they would not waive the phone booking fees for redeeming Avios on AS. I was told this two separate times and they mentioned the policy change started in November

    • Scottrick

      I haven’t heard of a formal policy change, but despite some resistance I’ve never had a problem. The last Avios award I booked was in January.

    • jpgisbd

      I booked an avios award PDX-OGG in Jan. and the agent never even mentioned the phone booking fee, nor was I charged. I did have to hold for a half hour to be able to talk to an agent, however.

      • Scottrick

        Some agents are better than others, but I’ve had a few UK-based agents who seem completely oblivious to the fact AS award space doesn’t appear online.

        And yes, hold times are the worst. especially on the West Coast where the reservations desk closes at 5 PM and you need to call by 4 PM to ensure they at least add you to the queue.

  • Praveen

    Not exactly related to this, but what is the cheapest mile strategy to book ORD to Hawaii flights?

    • Scottrick

      When traveling from destinations further east, or if making multiple connections, then Avios starts to make less sense. However, you could make a single connection from Chicago at one of the West Coast gateways above and still get there for 50K Avios round-trip, which would not be a bad deal after considering that Avios are still easier to earn than some other miles.

      • Praveen

        Thanks for the info

  • rodeojones

    Great write up Scott. Living W. Washington and SEA as my airport, I have found the best availability to Hawaii via BLI. It is an often overlooked airport and while I prefer to fly SEA, the drive north is worth this tremendous value if the only one available.

  • shonuffharlem

    Does Korean charge YQ?

    • Scottrick

      I’m not sure, but the question is irrelevant in this case since there is no YQ charged on domestic flights.

  • Brad Sostack

    Great info, Scott. I always forget that Alaska award space is accessible via BA.

  • Marc Cardenas

    i have a question, i have 41k on my barclays, 5k on my alaska, 20k on my
    chase freedom, how can i combine them all to get a free to cheap flight
    from sac to maui for 2 at the end of aug?? Is it possible? i’m still
    piling up the points, but thought i’d ask to see if someone could help,
    i’m new to this game. Thanks in advance!

    • Scottrick

      If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Bold/Plus you could transfer the Freedom points to United Airlines or British Airways to redeem for a one-way ticket. You could then pay for the other direction and use your Barclaycard Arrival miles to get a statement credit.

      If you aren’t able to transfer your Freedom points, then you could purchase a one-way ticket through Chase’s travel portal to redeem them.

      Or you could use the Arrival miles to get a credit for the entire thing and save the Freedom points for something else.

      • MasterCard

        41k miles is enough for 2 people? I also have a 50% companion ticket from Barclay….i don’t have a Sapphire or Ink/Bold. so i’m new to this, should i start looking now? i’m going Aug 29-Sep3. Thanks for the quick reply…

        • Scottrick

          41K Barclaycard Arrival miles are worth $820 when you redeem them for a statement credit. (You’ll get 4100 points back to use again for a future credit.) As for whether they’re enough for two people, it depends on how good a deal you can find on airfare. I just booked tickets yesterday that were $1,100 per person from Seattle.

          It’s not clear what kind of companion fare you have. I’m not aware that the Barclaycard Arrival credit card comes with a companion fare. If you have a different card issued by Barclays and that’s where the 41K miles are, then my answer would be different.

          The 20K points on your Freedom card only need to be transferred if you can find award space. If there’s no award space, there’s no reason to transfer them, and no reason to apply for a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold/Plus card. It might make more sense to redeem the points for cash back to help pay for the tickets.

          • MasterCard

            ok thanks, I have both the arrival and ha card… hmmmmm……suggestions on how to drum up 30k in points in the next 3 mos? ;) i have a 50% companion ticket available, can i combine that with my points?

          • Cody

            Wrong…only worth $410 + the 10% miles back upon redemption. You’re confusing 2 miles per $1 spent on card with value of points.

          • Scottrick

            Thanks for correcting me, Cody. In any case the answer remains the same: look for the cheapest tickets available and use the Arrival and Freedom for a statement credit — whatever that credit happens to be.

  • jumponit

    What is the correct way to sign up for avios?
    Sign up at avios.com (do I need a UK address) or is there a better method?

  • http://vacationsecure.com/ Hamish Healy

    I know. It was quite a hassle looking for some
    information on Alaska
    airlines. You would have thought they’d
    have something there since they’re partners in this awards venture

  • cahdot

    BA closed their cusstomer service office in jax..it was nice to talk with someone here in us