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A Few Things I’ve Learned Booking Award Tickets on United to Hawaii

The OTR Family Summer Hawaiian Vacation Bonanza 2013 (#OTRFSHVB2013) begins Thursday, and I thought I would share some of the things I’ve learned booking 4 business class award tickets on United for this trip.

– The cheapest way to get to Hawaii on miles with United is by transferring Amex or Starwood points (implied gratuitous link to credit card) to Singapore Airlines. While United charges 40k/80k for roundtrip coach/business class tickets, Singapore Airlines only charges 35k/60k – and you get the 5k bonus when transferring the Starwood points. You can book one-way awards as well.

– That said, you cannot include a stopover if you use Singapore miles on United (which was our problem), so you’ll have to use United miles, which allow both a stopover AND an openjaw.

– United, by far, has the best award availability to Hawaii from the East Coast. Hands down. It’s not even close. There are tons of flights with 4 business class tickets available from New York.

– Except on the nonstop from Newark. Good luck with that.

– That said, it’s not the end of the world. If you’re going to Maui, Kauai or the Big Island it’s actually the same amount of time (if not, perhaps, a bit quicker) to change planes in SF or LA and fly nonstop to one of those islands to avoid the transfer in Honolulu. They no longer fly to Maui from Houston (it’s been a while…)

– If you fly out of JFK on PS service, you’ll get a flat bed to SF or LAX. Unless you don’t. A rule of thumb is that 757-200 flight numbers with 3 digits DO NOT have flat beds; while flight numbers with 4 digits DO have flat beds. A handful of flights to the west coast from Newark DO have flat beds on the 757-200, but most do not.

– There are NO flat bed flights from LA to any of the Hawaiian islands and there is only 1 flat-bed flight (767-400ER) per day from SFO to Honolulu.

– United’s IAD-HNL nonstop used to have lots of availability in business class because it had the outdated barcolounger seats on the 777. Those days are gone. They’re switching to Saturday-only service on a 767-400 and business class award seats are hard to come by. Coach is almost always available, though.

– Check leg-by-leg. United is actually pretty good about showing you possible connections, but there were times when it would show no availability JFK-OGG. If I went leg by leg (JFK-LAX; LAX-OGG) there would be availability. Check the connections through IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO and LAX.

– Speaking of which, don’t forget about options on US Airways. doesn’t always show the connections through Phoenix, so you should search that leg-by-leg.

– United’s site also doesn’t seem to include 2-stop domestic flights (I’m not saying you’ll want 2-stops, but if you’re desperate). You’ll have to build that leg-by-leg.

– United DOES NOT include intra-Hawaiian legs on Hawaiian Airlines. They charge 5,000 miles for the privilege.

– Don’t forget: You can tack on a one-way trip to Hawaii to a roundtrip international award ticket for just 5,000 miles in coach or 7,500 in business. In other words, if you book a round trip business class ticket from New York to London. You can “stopover” in New York as long as you’d like (up to a year) and continue on to Hawaii for just 5,000 additional miles in coach (or 7500 in Biz). Or put it this way: you can book a one-way ticket to Hawaii. For the return, you can tack the Hawaii – New York piece on to a Europe roundtrip for just 5k/7,500 miles (coach/biz). So it would look like (for me): JFK-Hawaii (40k in business). Hawaii-New York (STOPOVER) – London – New York. The roundtrip New York – London PLUS the Hawaii flight would be 107,500 miles in business. Not bad. You’re basically getting a roundtrip business class ticket to Hawaii for 47,500 miles.

– United is a bit quirky about including JFK in searches from New York. In other words, if you search “NYC” it doesn’t always seem to include JFK flights. Search for JFK separately.

– You have to keep checking the find the flights you want. I’ve been working on this trip for 4 months and availability changes constantly. I know it’s annoying, but check twice a day. Flights open up, then they disappear.

– United does charge non-Elites $75 PER TICKET to make any change to an award ticket more than 21 days out — that includes changing your class of service — if you are not changing the origin or destination. All Elite members can do that for free 21 days out. Within 21 days it starts getting expensive for non-elites. The full fee chart is here.

Just follow those 37 pieces of advice, and you’ll be on your way to Hawaii!

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  1. Outstanding summary! This is the kind of stuff that can make or break a trip that is hard to find.

  2. A good number of PMUA 752’s on the p.s. routes have been upgraded to lie-flats, so it’s very possible to encounter them on flight numbers 200-999 on JFK-LAX/SFO these days.

  3. August 20, 2013: | TravelBloggerBuzz - pingback on August 21, 2013 at 1:28 am
  4. Singapore miles to get to Hawaii on UA – duh.

    Best way to manufacture UA points (via Singapore) is Amex PRG, not SPG. You get 2x at gas/grocery with PRG at 0.59 cpp (vs

  5. Wandering Aramean

    At least 6 of the ps planes on 3-digit flight numbers (sUA fleet) are converted to the new flat bed layout now; the rest will be completed by the end of the year. There are no flights currently scheduled on 4-digit flight numbers (sCO fleet).

  6. It’s now become very hard on both AA and DL to get to Hawaii from the East Coast on standard award seats because there just aren’t “transcon” award seats available. Even if you look really, really hard. Folks on the West Coast can search hard and find the odd flight when they want to travel, but good luck putting that together with a flight from the East Coast. Inventory is definitely better on UA (not great, but plausible).

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