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Q&A: How Can I Get to Hawaii Using Frequent Flyer Miles?

Dear Tim—

I am trying to find out the best way to use my Delta frequent flyer miles to fly to Hawaii first class in October 2011.

I read your site every week, but I cannot find where this question has been asked or any place that can help me.

I am not very good at the computer looking things up. I was hoping that you could point me in the right direction for information about this topic.


Dear Robin—

The simplest solution is to redeem 180,000 miles for award tickets that are unencumbered by capacity restrictions or blackout dates. But that’s a pricey way to go, with restricted Hawaii awards offered for just 75,000 miles.

Assuming you want to explore the lower-cost option first, try the following:

  • Book early – Award seats first become available for booking 330 days prior to the flight’s departure date.
  • Book late – If a flight still has empty seats within two weeks of departure, the airlines often make more award seats available.
  • Consider an upgrade – If award seats are not available at an affordable price, consider buying a coach ticket and using miles to upgrade to first class.
  • Look into alternative airports – You didn’t specify either the airport you’re flying from or which airport in Hawaii you’d like to fly to. There may be alternatives worth exploring. If you’re having trouble finding award seats from New York’s JFK Airport, for example, check to see if seats are available from Newark, La Guardia, or MacArthur Airport on Long Island.
  • Use contrarian timing – If your dates are flexible, look for seats on low-demand days. Since Hawaii is primarily a leisure destination, traffic tends to be heaviest around weekends, particularly Fridays and Sundays. By the same token, steer clear of the days immediately before and after holidays.
  • Call Delta – A reservations agent may be able to find award seats where none are available on Delta’s own website. You’ll pay a service charge if the agent is successful in making your booking, but it’s well worth $20 if it makes the difference between getting to your destination and staying home.

None of the above guarantees success, however. For that, you’ll have to redeem more miles for a less restricted award.

  • Dee

    I’ve called at 12:01 330 days ahead and had some luck. One time the agent said it wasn’t 12:00 yet and I asked where he was. He said Phoenix. I said, I’m in Boston and it certainly is. Oh, yes, he said, there’s a way to fix the computer. Please wait. And I did. And he did. And I got my seat!

  • Bonnie

    It IS doable – I’ve booked it in First Class 3 times!!! Twice on Delta, once on Continental ( AmEx points)!!! It is easier if you speak to an agent – they can do things we can’t on the computer.
    Also, I was able to improve my flights on Delta using ‘Same Day Confirmed’ – for $25.00, I was able to change to more desirable flights with empty seats.
    Good luck! It’s soooo worth it!

  • Ellen

    I did it on American Airlines about 6 weeks before I went.

  • Paul

    We have not tried Hawaii, but have booked two tickets from the west coast to Rome with success using miles by going through the Delta agent. She was extremely helpful and worked through several options to make it happen. We even got reasonable times. Tried to do the same thing through another airline using points and they wanted us to take four days to get there and three to get back.

  • hector

    i flew to hawaii in 2009 in march on 65000 miles on delta i didnt use first class or restricted and the flight segments and seats and experience wasnt bad at all just long

  • Chris Cooke

    My girlfriend and I flew from LAX to Kauai, coach outbound, first class on the return. We were able to get the “medium” tier award on the way out, and the “low” first class award on the return. Each award was 70,000 miles.

    If you’re eligible to use the Delta “Pay with Miles” feature, you may have greater flexibility, and use fewer miles, than claiming an award. I used 150,000 miles to “purchase” two LAX-SYD tickets for my sons in June 2010. An award ticket was over 100,000 miles/each.

  • cowboycork

    I flew my wife, my son, and myself from DEN to Maui last spring on miles. Direct there, changed planes in SFO on the return. Total cost: $27. Thanks United!

  • Alex v. Furstenberg

    I try to stick to only flying United but sometimes I do Singapore Airlines. I have only success using my miles for one international business class seat every year. Yes, I plan in advance and get the seat six to eight months before the flight. Even Armageddon would not me change the dates that I fly. I complaints that I read in this forum about not being able to use award miles are probably those trying to use miles within a month or two of flying. This is the way the game works – and it is a game – try to get award seats 10 to 11 months before you fly and you have the best chance. The early bird catches the jet.