A co-worker of mine is heading to Hawaii this summer and he smartly sought my advice on the best use of miles to get to Hawaii and also how to jump between various islands. When he brought up which miles to use to go from the Big Island to Maui, I remembered a great deal that I recently took advantage of for my trip to Hawaii next month – using only 3,000 Virgin America Elevate points for inter-island flights on Hawaiian Airlines.
Virgin America points aren’t like traditional miles found in programs like Delta, American or United. Instead, they are revenue based, more similar to JetBlue or Southwest’s frequent flyer program. On average, Virgin America points are worth about ~2.2 cents when redeemed for Virgin America flights, however you can also redeem Virgin America points on various partners including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Hawaiian Airlines, Singapore Airlines & Emirates Airlines.
To start, it is important to figure out what other airlines charge for inter-island flights. For the same exact one way Hawaiian Airlines flight, Hawaiian charges 7,500 miles, United charges 6,000 miles, American charges 5,000 miles, Delta charges 7,500 miles while Virgin America only charges 3,000 points. Now while Virgin America is cheaper than the competition you do have to remember that if you do not have Virgin America points, you can transfer from American Express at a 2:1 ratio, so the cost is really 6,000 American Express Membership Rewards one-way in that scenario.
Personally, I like to use my United and American miles for bigger, more expensive trips such as business class to Europe or Asia so I would rule those options out as I want to converse those miles. Hawaiian and Delta both charge too many miles for my taste (and I try avoiding collecting miles in those programs as a general rule of thumb) so that leaves me with Virgin America as my top choice. If you want the absolutely cheapest option (assuming no Virgin America points) or you have some spare American miles leftover that you have no other intentions for, 5k on American Airlines would be my second choice on this list to book.
If you’ve followed my blog, you would have noticed I’ve posted several free or really, really cheap (under $1) offers for Virgin America points including this one for 500 points and how to spend 99 cents to get another 500 Virgin America points. So assuming you’re a loyal reader and followed my awesome advice (you’re welcome), you now only need 2,000 Virgin America points for this flight (or 4,000 American Express Membership Rewards points). Considering the retail value of these flights, which can range from $80 – $100 or more if you book last minute, redeeming points is a great deal. Especially if you have a handful of Virgin America points that you wouldn’t use otherwise!
I recommend searching award availability on either united.com or aa.com before booking these flights. Virgin America should have the same access other partners have to the award space. From there, here is how to book these flights on Virgin America.
- Once you’ve confirmed availability on Hawaiian Airline flights only, write down the flight numbers and call Virgin America at 1.877.FLY.VIRGIN (877.359.8474). You cannot book these flights online.
- When you get to the phone prompt, choose Elevate and after selecting award travel, choose partner airline.
- In my experience, Virgin America’s agents are very good. The agent I had was very knowledgeable and was able to find the flights after I read her the flight number.
- Virgin America will NOT charge you the $20 phone booking fee since this is a partner award that cannot be booked online.
- After collecting the taxes on your award, the agent will let you know they generally need 24 hours to confirm the flight with Hawaiian and issue your ticket. I received an email from Virgin America about 30 hours after I contacted them. In the email, it had both the Virgin American confirmation code as well as the Hawaiian Airlines confirmation code to select seats.
- In the event you need to cancel or change the award, there is NO redeposit fee (at least according to my email confirmation). This was a pleasant surprise but good to know in case plans change.
Both Andrea and I had a little over 2,000 Virgin America points in our account from the promotions mentioned earlier in the post and one flight we took on Virgin America back in 2013. We only need another 1,000 points so it ended up costing us an additional 2,000 American Express Membership Rewards points each to save $125 per person on the quick, 33 minute inter-island flight on Hawaiian Airlines. We each got over 4 cents in value per Virgin America point which is better than redeeming points for flights on Virgin America. The next time you go to Hawaii I would strongly consider this option to cover your inter-island flights.