A Free Week in Hawaii With Miles & Points Is Easier Than You Think!

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Welcome to the next installment of our Reader Success Series where Million Mile Secrets Readers share how they booked a trip with miles & points to get Big Travel with Small Money!

A Free Week In Hawaii With Miles Points Is Easier Than You Think

View from the Top of the Makapuu Lighthouse Hike

Harry is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.

A big thank you to Harry for sharing his story!

Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.

My name is Harry Campbell and I’ve been racking up miles and points since 2009!  So I think that makes me pretty old in ‘miles and points’ years.  🙂  

In fact, I still remember the first credit card deal I applied for: an offer for 75,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points after signing up for an AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card – and the annual fee was waived for two years! 

A Free Week In Hawaii With Miles Points Is Easier Than You Think

We Got to Zip Around Hawaii in a Sweet Volvo Convertible

It was actually a targeted offer for Yale alumni.  But I found it on Slickdeals and ended up redeeming the points for $750 in gift cards to all my favorite restaurants.  Over the years though, I realized how much more valuable those points can be when you transfer them directly to airlines and/or hotels!

What was the goal of your trip?

My wife is a 4th year medical student at UC Irvine and she got an interview at the University of Hawaii for their medical residency program.  So we decided to make a little vacation out of it!

While the goal of our trip was really to get her there for the interview, we also wanted to stay at a nice hotel near the university and get free flights there and back. 

How long did you collect miles and points for your trip? 

Between my wife and me, we had about a million points saved across all the major credit card carriers and airline/hotel chains, so collecting the miles and points was really the easy part for us.  I used to apply for a lot more credit cards for the two of us but these days I focus on the best deals or whatever can help me achieve my travel goals.

A Free Week In Hawaii With Miles Points Is Easier Than You Think

Lanikai Beach Was by Far the Most Picturesque We Found in Oahu

The most recent cards I applied for were Chase Hyatt (looking to redeem the 2 free nights at the Park Hyatt New York), AMEX Platinum (love the Centurion lounges and SPG/Marriott Gold status) and Chase Sapphire Reserve (my wife and I were denied because we had too many cards though).

Which points did you save to take your trip?

Because we live in Long Beach, California, we can fly out of Los Angeles or Orange County to Hawaii.  

And as any west coast traveler can tell you, Hawaii is one of the easiest miles and points awards because there are so many options!  The last time we went to Hawaii, I booked 2 Business Class seats with American Airlines miles, but I really was not impressed with the experience.

This time around, I transferred points from AMEX to British Airways and booked 2 round-trip tickets from Los Angeles to Oahu for just 25,000 British Airways Avios points and ~$11 each.  The cash price would have been around $575 for the same round-trip ticket!  So we got a value of over 2 cents per point.

A Free Week In Hawaii With Miles Points Is Easier Than You Think

We Loved Trying the Local Restaurants in Hawaii

Our flights out on November 10, 2016: 

  • Los Angeles to Honolulu for 25,000 British Airways Avios points and $~11
  • Cash price of $618

Flights back on November 16, 2016: 

  • Honolulu to Los Angeles for 25,000 British Airways Avios points and ~$11
  • Cash price of $528

What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?

An entry-level card like Chase Freedom.  You won’t get a ton of points or cash back from it, but there’s no annual fee and will help build and solidify your credit.

Chase Sapphire Reserve – I love how easy Chase Ultimate Rewards points are to redeem because you can book travel directly or transfer to one of their many transfer partners.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard – Nice and easy 50,000 Barclaycard Arrival miles that can easily be redeemed for ~$525. 🙂

How did you search for and find the award flights?

I like searching on American Airlines’ website because it’s easy and intuitive.  And you can also pull up the calendar view to quickly see which days have availability at the saver level. 

Because our trip was in November, I knew there “should be” good availability booking a couple months out – this is typically “low season” for Hawaii. 

One thing I noticed was the availability seemed to change from day to day.  Initially, the flights we wanted weren’t available but then I kept checking once a day for a week and eventually found the flights we wanted on the exact dates. 

The round-trip flight would have cost 45,000 American Airlines miles on American Airlines.  But because the distance from LA to Hawaii is only 2,556 miles, you can actually book this same round trip flight on British Airways for only 25,000 British Airways Avios points per person!

The cash price would have been $528 so we definitely saved some money. 

A Free Week In Hawaii With Miles Points Is Easier Than You Think

I Got to Beat the Computer at Chess on American Airlines’ New A321 Planes

We also got to fly on American’s relatively new A321 airplanes, which has a good coach experience.  Every seat has an outlet and USB port for charging and you get your own TV with a large selection of movies, TV shows and games.  

The seats in coach aren’t overly comfortable, but even at 6’3″, I can handle a 5-hour flight easily – especially if there’s a movie or two to watch. 🙂

How did you find your hotel accommodations?

When we go to Hawaii, I try to get at least 4 full days.  So that means we try to be there for a minimum of 6 days and 5 nights. 

I always find travel days are sort of a waste because you can’t get a lot done.  And when I’m in Hawaii, I don’t like to rush 🙂

Airbnb is a great option in Hawaii, but since I had a 7-night Category 1 through 5 Marriott certificate burning a hole in my pocket, I really wanted to use it on this trip. 

I originally received this certificate when I redeemed 270,000 Marriott points for a Hotel + Air package that gives you the 7-night certificate and 120,000 Southwest points which qualify you for the Companion Pass.  

A Free Week In Hawaii With Miles Points Is Easier Than You Think

Here’s the View from the 22nd Floor of Our Hotel!

The Companion Pass has been great.  But the certificate has proven difficult to use since we rarely stay in the same place for 7 nights!  The certificate also expires after 1 year but I was able to email Marriott and have them extend it by one year. 

But for this trip, we ended up booking flights that would allow us to be in Hawaii for 7 days and 6 nights so it seemed like a great time to use it.  The only problem was the hotel we wanted to stay (Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa) was a Category 8! 

Fortunately, Marriott allows you to “upgrade” these certificates to a higher category by paying 90,000 more points (the difference between the Category 1 through 5 package and the Category 8 package) so that’s what I did!

What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?

One of the downsides to traveling on miles and points is you sometimes get accustomed to the “high life” and a regular old city view room just doesn’t cut it, even in Hawaii.  At the time, I didn’t have status with Marriott but I figured we had a good chance of an upgrade if I could get it.

A Free Week In Hawaii With Miles Points Is Easier Than You Think

Sometimes Getting an Upgrade Is as Simple as Asking for It!

Once the hotel was booked, I applied for the AMEX Platinum Card (and for the sign-up bonus and Centurion Lounges!) so I could get my SPG/Marriott Gold elite status

A Free Week In Hawaii With Miles Points Is Easier Than You Think

Here’s the View From Our Ocean View Suite!

I was approved instantly and got my Gold elite status within a couple days of submitting the information.  Now normally, Marriott won’t confirm upgrades for Gold members until you get there but I tweeted them ahead of time and mentioned my Gold status and the fact that it was our anniversary and they confirmed our upgrade a few weeks out 🙂

Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination.  Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.

One of the great things about Hawaii is there is so much great free stuff to do.  The snorkeling wasn’t great while we were there due to high surf.  

But the views from the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail were amazing!  And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can hike down (shoes recommended) to the double blowhole and pools.

A Free Week In Hawaii With Miles Points Is Easier Than You Think

Here’s an Awesome Gif of Me Standing in Front of the Blowholes

Lanikai Beach area was by far our favorite beach and you can swim, snorkel or just lounge and look at the postcard-like beach scenes.

And if you’re like me, you mainly care about food so make sure you get your fill of poke!  Foodland (grocery chain) actually has a great selection of poke and makes for good snacks at the beach/hotel/etc. 

We also loved the Asian fusion restaurants and had great meals at Doraku and Lucky Belly.  The latter was definitely our favorite and they had an amazing sampler platter of oxtail dumplings, pork bao buns and lobster shu mai!  We also had udon for breakfast on our last day at Marukame (they have long lines in the evening).

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

Because the reason for this trip was an interview for my wife, I’d say we learned while it may be tough to be stuck on an island for 4 years, Hawaii is definitely a place we could live.  Oahu isn’t a huge place but there really is a wide variety of neighborhoods, people and culture.

Life is definitely slower on the islands but there are plenty of people hustling.  And I’m confident that I’d be able to run my business out of Hawaii – just might have to take up a few more outdoor hobbies to take full advantage of all that Hawaii has to offer!

What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!

Oahu has 3 major highways.  And you can actually get from one side of the island to the other relatively quickly but you definitely need a rental car!  Uber and Lyft aren’t nearly as prevalent there as they are in other places and a lot of the best activities are relatively spread out but all less than an hour drive from any point on the island.

We actually rented a car on Turo and had a pretty good experience.  It was only slightly cheaper than a regular economy rental car because I opted for the highest level of insurance (most credit cards don’t cover Turo yet).  But we also got to zip around in a sweet Volvo convertible!

If you’re getting started with miles and points, I’d say try and start with a nice small win.  See if you can get a couple nights free at a hotel or one leg of your flight paid for with airline miles.  Over time, you’ll get the hang of things and eventually be able to book a 7-day trip to Hawaii for free without breaking a sweat!

Want to Share Your Story?

If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send me a note!  Emily and I would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points!

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12 responses to “A Free Week in Hawaii With Miles & Points Is Easier Than You Think!

  1. When did you request the extra year for your marriott extension?

  2. I requested it about a month before it expired and interesting thing to note is that they extended it one year from that day. So I technically only got an extra 11 months so don’t request too early 🙂

  3. Just an FYI, I booked a round trip flight for 2 from EWR to KOA on American for 40k miles each inMarch 2017 and had a schedule change that would cause us to miss connecting flights. Because there was not an earlier flight for us out of Newark I was able to call in and have the flights changed in/out of Hartford,CT (BDL). We live north of NYC and Hartford is easier for us in and out of airport but with less flights available, but it works for us this time. Schedule what works and have backup plan when things change. Thank you Daraius for previous information!

  4. I’m sort of lost if you have over a million of miles combined, why didn’t you transfer to Korean and spend 90K for 2 FC tickets on Delta. The process wasn’t all that difficult.

  5. So when you are interviewing for medical residencies, they don’t reimburse your travel expenses?

  6. Hey Harry – Thanks for sharing your story. I did not know that you could upgrade a Marriott certificate by paying the difference between categories after you had already acquired it. This should help me get the Companion Pass sooner rather than later, and by extending the expiration of the certificate, I can get a higher category hotel by earning more Marriott points in the meantime.

    To (1) extend the Marriott certificate by a year and (2) upgrade it from a Cat 1-5 to a Cat 8, to whom did you talk? Were the first line of Marriott Rewards CSR’s available to handle these requests, or did you have to dig deeper (supervisor) to find someone who knew how to handle your request?

    Thanks again.

  7. @Tony Delta is a great deal if you’re coming from the East Coast but you get much better value using the BA/AA redemption if you’re on the West Coast. And like I said, I don’t think first/biz is worth it on 5 hour flights unless you’ve got lie flat seats 🙂

    @Brian No they don’t and a lot of times they don’t give you much notice. So miles and points has saved us a TON of money this interview season (currently in NYC at the Park Hyatt – thank you Hyatt card 🙂

    @Chris It was a while ago but I think I actually called the Marriott Rewards hotline and got it taken care of. I do remember that I had to try once or twice though and if that doesn’t work, give it a shot on social media.

  8. Hi Harry, great story! Quick question: How did you amass so many Marriott points? Did you transfer from Chase UR?

  9. Hi Harry, first congratulations to your wife on getting interviews! Wish her a good match. Do you recall how long it takes from requesting the marriott package to getting the Southwest companion? I have a trip scheduled for Jan 14th, and would like to get the package early Jan. Thanks.

  10. When do you receive the 120K southwest points? Is it when you get the certificate from Marriott or not u til you redeem the certificate?

  11. @josh, No I don’t know if I’d do that since Chase UR pts are so valuable elsewhere. But I did sign up for personal/biz versions of the Marriott card at 80k each I believe and did one card for the wife. Marriott is actually really flexible since they let you combine pts for awards with a spouse and do everything else I mentioned in the article. Another option would be to redeem 90k Starwood pts which I’m sure MMS has an article about 🙂

    @Sophia, It was a while ago but it should be pretty quick – maybe even instantly? In your situation, I’d book the first ticket for yourself (on points if you have them) and then you can actually book the companion seat later (even day of as long as one seat is available) in case it doesn’t come asap.

    @bob, you get the 7 night cert and the 120k pts as soon as you redeem the package 🙂