Members of Virgin America‘s Elevate program can redeem their frequent flyer points for travel to Hawaii and beyond under a partnership with Hawaiian Airlines announced last week. Similarly, members of the HawaiianMiles program can redeem their points on the Virgin America route network. The two carriers will also implement code-sharing on some routes and an interline agreement so passengers can check in once for travel across both carriers.
For HawaiianMiles members the redemption chart is based on the distance traveled and the cabin redeemed for. There will be three cabins available for redemption: Main Cabin, Main Cabin Select and First Class. Here’s the award chart:
The rates aren’t particularly attractive though it also isn’t clear if the seats are inventory-controlled or not. If not then the rates wouldn’t be quite as bad, but it seems unlikely that is actually the way it will be run.
For Elevate members looking to redeem on Hawaiian Airlines flights the award rates aren’t quite as easy. Awards range from 3,000 points for a one-way inter-island trip in economy up to 150,000 points between Manila and some mainland US destinations round-trip in first class. In most cases the one way rates are half price of a round trip, plus 10-20%. Similarly, first class awards are generally double the coach award, plus 10-20%. You can look up the rates using their tool here.
There are more than 450 city pairs in the partner chart for Elevate members redeeming on Hawaiian metal and I’m not entirely convinced that there aren’t a few bugs in the chart. It probably shouldn’t be fewer points to get from the mainland to parts of Japan via Honolulu than just the Honolulu-Japan segment, for example. That said, I’m pretty sure that is actually a case where the one-way rate is loaded as a round-trip into HNL, not that the mainland destinations are especially discounted. And there are a couple other places where the round trip price is loaded at the same price as the one way rate, too. Oh, and the destinations in the South Pacific look particularly attractive to me in terms of points required.
Not all city pairs can be mixed on awards, so you cannot fly from JFK anywhere beyond Hawaii, for example. And if you want to fly in First Class from JFK to Maui you have to book JFK-Honolulu plus Honolulu-Maui. Likely the same number of points because of the way they are calculating connecting trips versus non-stops but still strange. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of quirks in this award chart.
I’ve become something of a slacker when it comes to hotel bookings. It is not at all uncommon for me to pick my hotel after arriving in a city, walking around for a while and getting a feel for the town. This is especially true when I am visiting a new (to me) city but even with some places I’ve been many times before I’ll take my chances on a walk-up rate or try to find something new. It has always worked pretty well in the past and never really could come up with a reason not to go that route. Until this past Saturday night when I arrived in Honolulu around 6:30pm and was unable to make a booking for a hotel.
I tried the websites of a couple different hotel booking engines – Hotels.com and Starwood – and both failed. Neither would let me choose to check in that night. In their world it was already tomorrow, even though it was just getting to be dinner time in Honolulu. So I did what anyone would naturally do: I tweeted my frustration, knowing that it actually wouldn’t change anything.
I also called Hotels.com to see if they could book the hotel for me over the phone instead. They could not. It turns out that their systems decide it to be "tomorrow" at midnight eastern time. The rest of the time zones apparently don’t count. The agent was willing to make some phone calls for me and check availability at a few local hotels but their computer systems could not do anything. And even if they could find a room for me I would still have to be a walk-in customer so no Welcome Rewards points. Better than nothing, but not what I was hoping for.
SPG was impressively responsive to my concern. It took a couple days to make direct contact with someone but they actually reached out to me over the phone and we talked through the issues I encountered. I’m not betting on it actually changing – I can understand why they do it the way they do – but it was good to see them reach out and try to address the issue I had booking a room. Then again, as the rep I talked to noted, it is in their best interest to get as many rooms as possible booked every night and cutting things off a couple hours early limits that.
This little snafu wasn’t the first time I had issues with time zones and bookings and it probably won’t be the last. And I doubt that it will change the approach I take too much. Though I’ll try to make sure I get in a couple hours earlier when heading to Hawaii.
Think for just a minute about the amount of complexity involved in pricing out any given flight itinerary. You’re dealing with thousands upon thousands of flights, a few thousand airports and hundreds of airlines, all with their data in a massive system. Fortunately the interfaces passengers work with simplify things dramatically, but that doesn’t mean it is actually simple. I just booked a mileage run for the first weekend in November to wrap up my qualifications for the year. And given just how complex it is to book, much less try to explain, I figured a real world example would be useful. Here goes!
I decided on a trip to HNL based on the fact that it is about the number of miles I need and it is relatively cheap. At $532 round trip this will be, by more than $100, the most I’ve paid for flights to Hawaii. And at 5cpm it is not quite great as a mileage run. Alas, I’m running out of time in the year and longer stays (for cheaper fares) or more circuitous routings aren’t viable. So I start with a generic search on ITA between NYC and HNL:
I get a calendar of options and the November 3 departures look reasonable (again, no more weekday travel for me this year so I’m stuck paying the premium):
The Hawaiian service is pretty awesome and if I was actually looking for a vacation I’d be booking that. But I’m not.
I like the United Airlines option so I start to drill down:
Those are the only two-stop options shown and the price on them is not at all competitive. Ouch.
Don’t give up hope at this point. ITA has an internal timeout on their systems. If you give it too generic a search (like I did here) it will go for the easy options rather than the more interesting ones. We have to give it a bit of encouragement.
Here’s what my next search looks like:
Note the UA UA UA+ on the second line. This tells the system to search for trips which have at least three flights marketed by UA (including codeshares) and the + at the end means anything else after that is acceptable. I also put in specific dates as I’m pretty sure that’s the right weekend for me to be gone. This search gives a ton of results the initial search missed, including the fact that 2-stop options really can be priced right:
Getting closer now, but still not exactly there. For the outbound I want to fly from LaGuardia. It is a bit cheaper to get to and the timing on the LGA-IAH flights means I can actually sleep in more on Saturday morning. On the return, I want to force the HNL-IAH flight, both because it means more miles and because it lets me connect to the IAH-EWR flight scheduled to be on the 787 on November 5th. And since HNL-IAH-EWR has R inventory open for upgrades I definitely want that route. To mix LGA and EWR I switch to multi-city. I also add IAH in the return routing details which forces that as a connection point:
I get a number of results for the outbound:
Choosing the 9am departure (yes, tight connections, but I’ll take the sleep and deal with a misconnect if it happens; I’m not at all worried since I don’t really have to get to Hawaii at any particular time) I get the following options for the return:
Choose the return I want (hooray, Dreamliner!) and I get the final itinerary:
As complex as it was to find the flights I want, making the booking is almost more difficult. It turns out that LGA-IAH-SFO-HNL is not a logical routing and, with all the other options for the same or less money and way less travel time involved, most online booking sites aren’t all that interested in offering it as bookable. Now it becomes a game of tricking the systems to offer the trip I want.
Once again, multi-city search comes to the rescue. I started with LGA-SFO, SFO-HNL, HNL-EWR. I could get the LGA-IAH-SFO flights I wanted but it wouldn’t add the non-stop SFO-HNL from there. And the price was coming out a couple hundred dollars high. I switched the query to LGA-IAH, IAH-HNL, HNL-EWR and the flights I wanted magically bubbled to the surface. A few clicks later and I now have a confirmation email from United. And a few clicks after that, confirmed seats up front on the return with an RPU debited from my account. Not too shabby.
I should note that I also use a couple different tools to compare the offered routings and figure out how many miles I’ll earn. In some cases the 6am flight might be worth many extra miles, making it more viable. Or adding an extra connection. In this case, however, adding the extra connections didn’t help enough to add the extra time to my trips. One tool is the one I built for comparing Star Alliance programs. If you have specific fare classes and operating carriers it can give you pretty good details on the earning rates. The other tool I use is the Great Circle Mapper. I find it easier and faster for quickly comparing routing options on the fly. Knowing that I would earn an extra 99 miles with the SFO connection rather than the LAX connection was a good nugget of data.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post I think that this one is a bit pricey for a mileage run. That said, I do get to fly a 757, 767, 777 and 787 and the return can be confirmed in long-haul Business seats (777 is the old UA but still good enough for sleeping on the redeye) and, more importantly, it is the right number of miles on the right dates. And I get the 787 on day 2 of service, in BF, no less. All in all, not such a bad deal. Adding the ORD connection on the return would have meant 260 more miles but also getting home later than I want and not the aircraft I want. I’m going to pass.
It sounds complicated in terms of building the routing out with ITA but with a bit of practice it does get easier. Give it a try and if you run in to trouble feel free to ask.
As a general rule I hate the idea of buying points directly for cash. Even with the occasional US Airways 100% bonus I’m not completely convinced that it is the right move, at least for me. I’m not entirely sure why (or even if) I’m broken that way, but it just doesn’t seem the same. Still, every now and then a deal comes along which screams out to be at least tried. It seems like today is one of those days.
I see this whole obsession as a game of arbitrage, acquiring the points at a discount and redeeming at a higher value. Sometimes that’s not entirely possible. At least not directly. So when an opportunity to play the game in multiple steps comes along I get even more interested, particularly as the associated challenges make it more fun to me. In today’s example it seems that a two step process can yield rather impressive results.
The Icelandic economy collapsed a couple years ago thanks to unfortunate arbitrage plays so maybe their airline is just trying to catch up on the fun. It seems that they’ve got quite the deal available for redemptions on Alaska Airlines flights. Reading OnlineTravelReview this afternoon I came across the details of this deal. Very interesting, indeed. Not only is the current exchange rate from Icelandic Krona to USD or EUR rather favorable right now to folks not in Iceland (arbitrage #1), but the redemption rates of Saga Club points on their partner Alaska Airlines is also quite favorable (arbitrage #2). A glorious deal in the making.
The gist of it is that 30,000 Saga Club points is enough for a first class return ticket on Alaska Airlines metal. Anywhere they fly. And from now until September 28th you can purchase points in the Saga Club program and get a 20% bonus. The cost to purchase 25,000 points – netting 30,000 with the 20% bonus – is only about USD $328. That’s a tremendous bargain. Assuming availability (I’m a bit less inclined to book from the East coast because of that) a trip to Hawaii in first class is going to run you roughly $370. That’s not bad at all.
More details and the original math can be found here.
Folks flying between Hawaii and the mainland can look forward to new meal choices on Hawaiian Airlines, including more island flavors and free drinks. The airline announced a revised Mea Ho’okipa’ (translation: I am host) inflight service philosophy. The current focus is mostly on the dining options.
We’re bringing back the ‘good old days of flying’ by making inflight dining a pleasant part of the travel experience, while showcasing the products and promoting the ambiance that makes Hawai’i so special.
Apparently one of the key factors in the the "good old days of flying" was free drinks. Passengers will now receive a complimentary glass of wine to go with their lunch or dinner meals. There will also be a free rum-based signature cocktail offered during the snack/beverage service 2 hours out from landing in both directions. This is comparable to the mai tais offered by Alaska Airlines on their Island service. Hawaiian was already the only carrier offering free food in economy on all flights to Hawaii; now they’ve got free drinks, too. Not too shabby.
The updates will also see flight attendants assigned to specific zones, allowing for more personal interactions with passengers and changes to the buy-on-board menus to feature more island flavors in the selections. The cheeseburger will be disappearing in favor of a Kalua pork sandwich, for example.
I rather enjoyed the service on the JFK-HNL flight I took back in June. The food was decent and the flight was reasonably comfortable. Upgrading the meals and adding free drinks certainly isn’t going to hurt that opinion.
Read more about the new service announcements at Fodors.com, too.
Aloha NYC: On board the inaugural flight JFK-HNL
An interesting change showed up on the United Airlines upgrade award chart this afternoon.
Denver is no longer listed on the list of destinations from which CPUs are excepted when flying to Hawaii. Considering that the route is not being served with the BusinessFirst configured 764s anymore that is a logical change. It is nice to see the company recognize that and update the policy.
Hawaiian Airlines is growing their long-haul service offerings in a big way, with Auckland, New Zealand as the newest destination announced. The carrier will be offering service between the South Pacifica capital and Honolulu three times weekly starting on March 13, 2013. Flight schedules have not been announced but the carrier has indicated that the trip will be flown on their 767-300ER aircraft.
Auckland is the eighth new long-haul destination announced by Hawaiian since November 2010. Other options include Tokyo, New York City and, also starting in early 2013, Brisbane, Australia. These route additions have come as Hawaiian is adding to their long-haul fleet; they’ve taken delivery of several A330s over the past two years and eventually expect to have 22 of these aircraft in their fleet. Even with the scheduled retirement of the 767-300 fleet the new aircraft have opened up opportunities for Hawaiian to reach into new markets, something they are pursuing aggressively.
On both the Brisbane service starting in November 2012 and the Auckland service Hawaiian will be the only US carrier operating to those cities. They will also be the only US carrier flying to New Zealand; United Airlines recently indicated that they will scuttle their planned Houston – Auckland route before it ever takes flight.
The airline has noted the significant tourism opportunities in both directions for these destinations. Going after such markets is, in many ways, flying in the face of recent industry trends which have focused more on business-heavy routes. Given Hawaii‘s location in the Pacific and what destinations they have within range it is not surprising that they are going in this direction; there aren’t a lot of other business destinations to be found. Said CEO Mark Dunkerley in a statement:
New Zealanders are avid travelers and we believe the introduction of new nonstop flights with our winning brand of service will be welcomed in meeting pent-up demand for a Hawaii vacation. At the same time, our new service will offer Hawaii residents easy access to the natural wonders and Maori culture of New Zealand.
With 40,000 seats annually between the islands the opportunities for passengers to have these experiences is growing significantly.
Apparently premium cabin bookings into London aren’t so strong right now; British Airways has launched another business class sale for travel into London and Manchester from most USA gateways at $2012, inclusive of taxes and fees. The deal books into I inventory and allows for travel on American Airlines or British Airways metal. It is valid for travel between July 16 and September 2, 2012, with a Saturday night stay required. It is the same price from the west coast, too, so if you’re in it for the miles keep that in mind. Oh, and if you’re in Hawaii it is just an extra $130 for the connection to the mainland, making this quite a reasonable run.
Even more impressive is that there are a number of packages available including 3 nights of hotel at very reasonable rates. No idea how the hotels will price out during the Olympics (and the flight options are tighter during the games, too), but if you’re still considering going and trying to pick up some tickets on the street I’d definitely take a look at this deal.
Oh, and just because they can, Air France actually has heaper fares from some gateways, assuming you don’t mind the connection in Paris.
More details available on the BA sale site here.
Or maybe Brisbane is saying G’day to Hawaii. Hard to know exactly which way the translations should go, but it is quite clear that flights between Honolulu and Brisbane will start November 27, 2012, with thrice weekly service from Hawaiian Airlines. The flights will be operated on a 767 aircraft with 262 seats, meaning 40,000+ new seats in the Australia – Hawaii market annually.
The route is about 9 hours in the air, and the arrival and departure times are quite convenient. The outbound flight leaves Honolulu at 10:20am arriving at 4pm +1. The return flight departs Brisbane at 6:35pm and arrive back in Honolulu at 8:05am the same day (the international date line is all sorts of awesome). This timing allows for connections at both ends, including a number of mainland flights on the east-bound flights (though not the new JFK service). Then again, a 22 hour layover in Honolulu isn’t so bad, right?
For folks looking at the frequent flier redemption options this opens up, the redemption rates are likely to match those of the Sydney route:
Not the best rates out there, but there aren’t a whole lot of other options out there so you take what you can get, I suppose.
The lounge options in Honolulu are, for the most part, pretty sad. Sure, it is a US airport and most lounges in those are comparably bad, but with most passengers taking reasonably long flights to get home from Honolulu I feel like things should be better there. Alas, it seems I don’t get to make that decision.
Recently I’ve spent most of my time in the United Club in Honolulu and, quite frankly, it isn’t all that impressive. I love the big picture window views but the rest of the lounge is just a regular United Club, and that’s not a particularly great vote of confidence. On this most recent trip, however, I ended up in the JAL Sakura Lounge. It isn’t incredible by any stretch, but I definitely like it better than the United Club.
The JAL lounge is quite spacious and split up into a few different rooms. There are a variety of seating options available, making it easy to find the appropriate arrangement for different sized groups. I chose a a work carrel by the windows but there are chairs and couches available, too.
On the food & drink front, everything is self-service, including the booze, at the two stations they have set up. They could stand to improve the beer selection a bit, but overall quite reasonable. There is also soup & bread available for snacking. It isn’t enough for a full meal, really but way better than the snack mix options which seem to otherwise be the norm.
There is also a massage chair to relax and a kids play area to keep the little ones occupied.
I got in using the Priority Pass membership which came with my American Express Platinum card. One of the few benefits of that card I still enjoy.
This is hardly the best lounge ever. Overall it is probably just a mid-level option. But compared to the other choices in Honolulu, this just might be my new hangout of choice. Read more about the JAL Sakura Lounge at HNL and other lounges over at the Airport Lounge Guide.