Reader Request: Vic Wants 3 Free Roundtrip Hawaii Tickets

As I’ve stated before, reader requests are one of my favorite parts of running this site.  It’s very satisfying to help others get champagne travel on a beer budget.

A few days ago, Vic from Dad is Cheap emailed me with a request.  Here’s a slightly edited version of his email:

Hi Michael, I have a question…

I got the sign up bonuses for Capital One Venture, Chase Sapphire, and Amex SPG. I wanted to somehow combine all of these together for 3 plane tickets to Hawaii for a family trip.  My tentative dates are 10/23 – 10/30 and I’ll be flying between LAX and KOA.

I’m getting a little confused on transferring points to airlines and then not having enough and having to buy more points. Any pointers? The airlines don’t say clearly how much the cost would be if I paid partially with points.

Does award availability go back and forth?  I might just use the Chase Points through the Chase portal to book it through UR, and pay the difference. With my Capital One Miles to be used possibly for a rental car there.

Thanks for reaching out Vic!

Free roundtrip airfare to Hawaii is one of the great gets for travel hackers.  It’s not impossible by any means but  Hawaii is a really special place so flying there and back for free will put a smile on anyone’s face.

Now getting three roundtrip award tickets is a tall order.  Let’s see what we can do…

Sea Turtle Hawaii The Honeymoon Guy
If Vic can get three award tickets to/from Hawaii, he and his family may soon be hanging with sea turtles!

Buying Points or Miles is Usually a Bad Deal

In his email Vic brought up the idea of buying points or miles.  Airlines will often present you with such an option if you don’t have enough miles to redeem for a flight.  Those offers are usually a bad deal.

If you only need a thousand miles or so to get to an award redemption it might be worth paying twenty or thirty bucks to lock in that award ticket before it disappears but you’re probably getting a bad value if you’re buying many thousands of airline miles.

The two main exceptions are if you are buying during a major promotion or if you are buying the miles for a redemption for an award in a premium cabin for international travel.

Diversification of Miles/Points = Many Options

Chase Ultimate Rewards
The Ultimate Rewards program is one of the most versatile around.

Vic has acquired points in three totally different programs – Capital One’s miles program, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards (UR) program and Starwood’s Preferred Guest (SPG) program.  This provides him with various redemption options for flights.

He could purchase a ticket outright and get the cost reimbursed by Capital One.

He could get the ticket through the UR program where each point can be redeemed for 1.25 cents of travel cost.

He could transfer UR points or SPG points to an airline and redeem through that airline’s frequent flyer program.

Let’s Start With A Google Flights Search

When you’re looking to book an award flight it’s good to first understand which airlines fly nonstop to your destination.  Connections are not fun, they lengthen flights and they add schedule risk so it’s best to fly nonstop if at all possible.

My favorite flight search engine these days is Google Flights, as I detailed previously.  A search for flights between LAX and KOA shows that there are three major airlines flying nonstop between the two airports: American, Delta and United.

Google Flights Search Result LAX-KOA The Honeymoon Guy
Google Flights shows that three major airlines fly nonstop between LAX and KOA. So our award ticket search should be focused on these three airlines.

One of My Favorite Redemption Options May Be in Play

Seeing American Airlines show up as a nonstop carrier for a short to medium distance itinerary of interest is great news.  That’s because in addition to the possibility of redeeming American Airlines miles for the itinerary there may be the possibility of redeeming British Airways Avios for the itinerary.

Redemption rates for British Airways’ Avios program vary with distance of the flight.  Though there was a recent devaluation there are still some great redemption values.

Let’s head over to the British Airways website to check availability….

An award search shows there aren’t three award seats for the LAX to KOA flight on 23 October but that there are more than three award seats available on 24 October.

Vic could fly his family of three from LAX to KOA on 24 October using British Airways Avios!
Vic could fly his family of three from LAX to KOA on 24 October using British Airways Avios!

There are more than three award seats available for the return flight on 30 October also!

British Airways Search Result KOA-LAX The Honeymoon Guy
At the time I performed the search there were 5 award seats available for the American Airlines flight from Kona to Los Angeles!

Finding three award seats for a roundtrip itinerary is not always easy but in this case we’ve done so and it only requires some mild modifications to Vic’s desired dates of travel.

Let’s proceed a bit further in the mock booking to determine how many Avios the redemption will require.

British Airways Search Result LAX-KOA Roundtrip The Honeymoon Guy
Not only did we find three award seats on the flights of interest, the redemption rate is fairly strong.

We’ve hit the jackpot here.  We’ve found three award seats on the itinerary and it requires a reasonable amount of miles (Avios) and there are no annoying fuel surcharges.

Our Google Flights search showed that the cash price for this itinerary was $674 per ticket, or $2,022 for three tickets.  If we subtract out the $33 in taxes that have to be paid for the award tickets, the actual received value for this redemption is $1,989.  Dividing that price by 75,000 Avios yields a value of 2.7 cents per Avios.  I generally value Avios at about 1.4 cents each so this would be an excellent redemption!

Two Great Transfer Options to Pull This Redemption Off

Vic wrote that he got the signup bonuses for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express.  Both of these cards are mainstays on my list of the best travel credit cards.  The bonuses for these cards can vary though so I’m not entirely sure how many points Vic earned.

Starwood Preferred Guest SPG AMEX American Express Personal Card
Vic got the SPG Amex card, one of the most versatile travel cards around. Click for more info.

We’ll proceed with the assumption that Vic earned 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points as the CSP signup bonus as that is the current offer.  Similarly, we’ll presume that he earned 25,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points as the signup bonus for the American Express card.

Both of those programs offer transfers to British Airways.  The Ultimate Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio.  The SPG points generally transfer at a 1:1 ratio also but there is one positive twist – if you transfer 20,000 SPG points to an airline, SPG throws in a bonus of 5,000 additional miles.  So 20,000 SPG points become 25,000 British Airways Avios.

So my recommendation for Vic would be to transfer 20,000 SPG points and 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways, yielding him the 75,000 Avios needed to grab all three award tickets.

If he earned more than 25,000 SPG points as a signup bonus he could shift the transfer a bit toward the SPG side and use less of his UR points.

A Note on Timing of Transfers

There is one element of risk associated with some transfers – they’re not always instantaneous.  That means that an award redemption that shows when you initiate the transfer may be gone by the time the transfer completes.  The lag for a transfer can vary with the program the points are coming from and the program they’re going to.

Fortunately, redemption from Ultimate Rewards to British Airways is instantaneous.  On the other hand, transfers from SPG to British Airways can take several days.

Since Vic has enough Ultimate Rewards to get two award tickets I would recommend proceeding with the two transfers.  He can immediately book two award flights and then book the third ticket once the SPG to British Airways transfer completes.

In the off chance that there isn’t an award seat available by the time that SPG to British Airways transfer completes, he could use his Capital One miles to offset much of the cost of purchasing that third ticket.

The Final Word

Finding three award tickets on the same itinerary isn’t always easy.  We’ve done it though in this case and our find also yields a great value per point.  I recommend Vic jumps on this redemption immediately and then starts his snorkeling and luau planning!

Vic – Nice work on obtaining three diverse cards with versatile redemption options.  Please let us know how your planning turns out!  I hope this post helps you book a dream vacation to Hawaii!

UPDATE: Vic Got the Deal Done!

See Vic’s update in the comments section below!

If Vic can get his three award tickets to/from Hawaii, he may soon be lounging at one of the world-renowned luaus!
If this award ticket plan works out, Vic and his family can put a few of the thousands of dollars saved towards one of the famous Hawaiian luaus!

What are your thoughts on this redemption plan?  Have some other suggestions?  Share them in the comments below!

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5 thoughts on “Reader Request: Vic Wants 3 Free Roundtrip Hawaii Tickets

  1. Hey Michael!

    Thanks! I just booked my flights for Hawaii 10/24 and 10/29 and used my SPG points and Chase Ultimate points with British Airways! I only paid $33 for fees (which I can cover with my Venture points :)) I can also use those Venture points for a rental car. This is pretty sweet! Thanks for all your help!

    In the past I thought using points and miles for traveling was too much trouble than it was worth. I was content to maximize my 2-5% cash back on the various cards I owned. I am now a convert and will be getting rid of most of my cash back cards pretty soon 🙂 I didn’t realize HOW lucrative travel cards can be.

    Admittedly, it is a bit challenging trying to understand how points and miles convert to an actual flight. But if my story shows, saving almost $2000 is definitely worth the effort. I don’t think I’ll ever travel again without using my miles or points 🙂

    PS – I received an extra 5000 UR points for adding my wife to my card and received the promo last month of 35,000 SPG points. I used the 35,000 SPG (plus the 5,000) in addition to 35,000 UR points. I still have 27,000+ UR points that I can use in the future 🙂

    1. This is excellent news, Vic! Congratulations!

      Nice work all around, including getting the extra miles with the SPG transfer and the extra points for asking an authorized user to your Sapphire Preferred card.

      Enjoy your trip. I’m glad my suggestions worked out for you! I can tell you from experience that vacations are even sweeter than normal when you know you got flights and/or lodging for free!

  2. I would not cancel the cash back cards yet, unless you are paying anow annual fee. If you get 5% per quarter on some categories that’s pretty nice too. Especially if you got the Discover it card where they will double your cash back the first year. I want to go to Hawaii in a year or two myself. Can you tell me how long the delay was between converting SPG points to the airline miles? Thanks for posting this story, it gives me hope my my future trip!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Clfwrs!

      I agree that the cash back cards have merit in certain cases – particularly the quarterly bonus categories. That said, the 5X category for Discover It and Chase Freedom often seem to be the same. In that situation I prefer racking up 5X with the Chase Freedom because those can be transferred to Ultimate Rewards if the cardholder has a Sapphire Preferred or Ink card. For the first year of Discover It ownership it’s close to a wash in that situation because of the doubling offer for Discover It.

      I’m interested to hear Vic’s personal experience on the transfer time because his transfer was done so recently. In the past a transfer from SPG to British Airways took 3-5 days.

      Good luck with your Hawaii trip planning! Let me know if you have any questions – I’d be happy to try to help!

    2. Hi,

      Glad my story gives you hope! I was not a believer in this whole travel hacking experience until I scored these tickets :). My story is a little complicated on how I did it (I’m sure Michael begs to differ haha). If you want simplicity, you could go with the Barclays Arrival or Capital One Venture to get a simple statement credit back on travel purchases.

      One challenge is hitting the minimum spending requirements on the cards. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) I had a few big expenses around the holidays and New Years to take care of two of the cards. For the third (Amex SPG) I did have to do a bit of manufactured spending in which I bought Visa gift cards and bought money orders with them to dump them back into my checking account. I’ve been told this isn’t very advisable, but it was the method that worked for me 🙂

      The delay between converting the SPG points was 4 days which was nerve racking as I kept monitoring the availability daily and it kept on going up and down. That’s definitely one thing to keep in mind when booking trips. I’m not sure if I’ll be using the SPG card anymore so I don’t know if it’ll be an issue in the future.

      I have a lot of cash back cards and am probably going to end up cancelling some of them soon. I do have the Discover IT and Chase Freedom which are great for the 5% categories so I’ll most likely keep those. My daily card used to be my Citi Double Cash, but I think I can get just as good a return if I use my Chase Sapphire as my new daily card and make good use of Chase’s transfer partners 🙂

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