I Flew to Hawaii (and Back) in First Class for Less Than My Grocery Bill – but I Never Left the Honolulu Airport!

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I Flew to Hawaii (and Back) in First Class for Less Than My Grocery Bill – but I Never Left the Honolulu Airport!

KeithI Flew to Hawaii (and Back) in First Class for Less Than My Grocery Bill – but I Never Left the Honolulu Airport!Million Mile Secrets Team

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My wife and I regularly get First Class upgrades when booking paid or award tickets in coach when flying Alaska Airlines.  This makes flying to New York and Orlando to visit family much more comfortable and enjoyable!

The key is to earn MVP Gold status.  So to maintain my awesome airline perks, this past Saturday I did something you might call crazy – I flew First Class round-trip to Hawaii for $175.  And I never left the airport.

It Only Seemed Right to Bust Out a Hawaiian Shirt for My “Mileage Run” to Honolulu!

Most of my family & friends enjoy exercising, gardening, watching sports, or just relaxing on weekends.  But my Saturday and Sunday hobby is searching for ways to earn miles & points so my wife and I can take luxurious vacations for nearly no cost!

In case you missed it, we wrote about an awesome Hawaii fare sale with round-trip flights for under $250.  Follow us on Twitter  to be alerted of the next sale!  I jumped on one of these cheap tickets and combined it with a $75 voucher I received from a prior flight delay.

And because I have Alaska Airlines MVP Gold status, I was upgraded to First Class on both legs of the journey.  So I paid less than $200 (less than my Trader Joe’s grocery bill) to sit in the front of the plane and earn extremely valuable frequent flyer miles!

Here’s why I’ll do this AGAIN when I get the chance.  And why you might consider doing this same trick!

Alaska Airlines Mileage Run to Hawaii

My day trip to Hawaii was simply a mileage run.  This means I booked a paid flight with the sole purpose of earning miles toward Alaska Airlines elite status.  Prior to this trip, I had never done a mileage run.  But my wife was in San Francisco for the weekend on a girls’ trip, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to try it out.

I’ve written about why I love Alaska Airlines frequent flyer program.  Unlike most, if not all, other US airlines have a revenue-based system, which means the number of miles you earn is dependent on the cost of the ticket.  But with Alaska Airlines, you earn miles based on the distance you fly.  That’s why I was more than happy to pay less than $200 to fly ~5,000 miles round-trip.  Plus, the miles I earned from the Hawaii trip will qualify me for MVP Gold status again next year.

I’ve found MVP Gold status to be super valuable.  I regularly get First Class upgrades when booking paid or award tickets in coach.  And when I book a ticket for my wife on the same itinerary, she usually gets an upgrade as well.  This makes flying to New York and Orlando to visit family much more enjoyable!

Upgrade Alert! Alaska Airlines MVP Gold Status Has Been Good to Me Over the Past Few Years, Which Is Why I Want to Maintain It!

To book my round-trip flight to Honolulu, I simply searched on Google Flights.  After finding the cheapest option, I booked directly through Alaska Airlines.  I actually had to book 2 one-way flights, instead of a round-trip, because Alaska’s system thought my connection times were too tight (less than 1 hour).  The funny part is I flew there and back on the same plane, so it’s not like I had to run to a new gate.

Usually booking last-minute airfare means you’ll pay a premium.  But I was able to book the cheap Hawaii itinerary on Friday night, just 12 hours prior to departure.

A Ticket for Less Than $75 From Los Angeles to Honolulu Is an Absolute STEAL!  My Total Round-Trip Ticket Was Less Than $200!

I could have also used my Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book through the Chase travel portal.  As a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder, my points are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel through the Chase portal.  But I decided to save my points because I can regularly get 2 cents per point or more worth of value by transferring points directly to Chase’s travel partners like Hyatt, Singapore Airlines, or United Airlines.

And although I decided to make a day trip out of the fare sale, I could have easily adjusted my travel dates to stay in Hawaii for a few nights while paying the same round-trip ticket price (less than $200).

The point is that fare sales are REAL!  I told a friend about the discounted tickets to Hawaii and he said, “It sounds too good to be true.”  I know lots of miles & points enthusiasts have heard this comment before.  That’s why we have a post dedicated to common myths you hear in the miles & points hobby.

I’ll Have to Return to Honolulu in the Future to Actually Walk Around and Explore the Sights!

Besides the cost of the round-trip plane ticket, my expenses on this trip were minimal.  Because I was upgraded to First Class, I enjoyed lunch on the way to Honolulu and dinner on the return flight.  Plus, Alaska Airlines provides free tablet computers to passengers in First Class, so my in-flight entertainment was also free.

Once I arrived at the Honolulu airport I did splurge on a jar of Hawaii’s famous coconut peanut butter.

Can’t Leave Hawaii Without Some Coconut Peanut Butter! I Discovered This Delicious Treat on My First Trip to Hawaii and Pick It Up Each Time I’m There!

I only had 30 minutes between deplaning and boarding again.  But that was enough time to explore the beautiful cultural gardens in the terminal.  There are individual gardens representing the influence of the Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese heritage in Hawaii.  The outdoor space is full of ponds, lakes, and sculptures, which were pleasant to see during my short layover.

Aloha! The Honolulu Airport Has Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese Cultural Gardens, Which I Strolled Through During My 30-Minute Layover

There’s a Much Simpler Way to Earn Frequent Flyer Miles so You Can Save Money on Travel!

You don’t have to book ridiculous flight itineraries to earn a few thousand frequent flyer miles.  In fact, I’ve earned millions of miles & points without having to step foot on a plane.  How?  By taking advantage of the best travel credit card offers.  Earning sign-up bonuses with travel credit cards is the secret to getting Big Travel with Small Money!

Miles & points made it possible for my wife and me to book an around-the-world honeymoon.  And we were able to use credit card rewards to take family on an epic trip to New Zealand.

Before I got started in the miles & points hobby a few years ago, I was skeptical about applying for rewards credit cards.  But I quickly learned I could travel for nearly free just by earning valuable credit card sign-up bonuses.  The key is using credit responsibly.  I have 15 rewards credit cards and I’ve NEVER paid a penny of interest.  That’s because I pay off my statement balances in full each month.  Even with more than a dozen credit cards, I still maintain an excellent credit score (it’s above 820+).

There Are Lots of Myths Associated With Applying for Credit Cards! But As Someone With 15 Cards and a Credit Score Above 820+, I’m Here to Reassure You That Credit Cards Are an Amazing Tool If You Use Them Responsibly!

I’m not the only one that’s figured out the secret to earning and redeeming miles & points.  Check out our Inspiration page, which includes loads of success stories from Million Mile Secrets team member and readers.

What’s the Best Way to Get Started in the Miles & Points Hobby?

If you’re looking for the best card to start your miles & points journey, we recommend applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  This is the top card for beginners.

When you sign-up, you’ll earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.

The points you earn with this card are valuable because you can transfer them to various airline partner loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio.  One Chase point will convert to one partner airline mile.  For example:

You’ll have at least 54,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (because you earn points on the $4,000 minimum spend too).  Here are just a few of your many options:

  • 60,000 United Airlines miles to fly round-trip to Europe
  • 60,000 United Airlines miles to fly Business Class one-way to Europe or 70,000 miles to fly on their partner airlines (The same ticket would cost ~$4,000 if you paid cash!)
  • 60,000 Hyatt points for 2 completely free nights at luxurious hotels like the Park Hyatt New York or Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme
When I’m Not Flying First Class on Alaska Airlines, I Like to Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to United Airlines to Book Lie-Flat Business Class Award Seats!

Or you can redeem the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s sign-up bonus for $500 in cash back or $625 in travel when you book through the Chase Travel Portal.  You’ll get potentially much more value if you transfer points directly to airline and hotel partners, like Hyatt.

The card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year, which means you can use the card for free for ~11 months.  Then, decide if you like the benefits enough to pay the annual fee.  You can read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred to learn more about the amazing perks this card offers!

Do you have any fun mileage run stories?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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With the short connection time in Hawaii and two separate 1-way tickets, what would have happened to your return if your outgoing flight had been delayed?


Great question! I flew on the same aircraft each way, so didn’t have to worry about missing the outgoing flight.

So if you book an economy class ticket and get upgraded to First class because of status, do you earn miles based on a first class ticket?


You earn miles based on the fare class of the ticket you initially purchased. So an upgrade will not earn you more miles.

So you spent $200 and earned about 5500 miles. That’s a terrible value. You can get better deals with Alaska when they have bonus mile offers.

Hey Tom,

Keith didn’t do this to earn frequent flyer miles, because as you pointed out it would be a bad value, but instead did it to earn the miles towards status with Alaska.

To earn MVP Gold status on Alaska, Keith would need to fly 40k miles in a year to maintain his status in 2019. The 5,500 miles he earned helped push him over the 40k miles flown with Alaska meaning he’ll get to keep his perks into next year.

Hopefully that makes sense!

Thanks for clarifying. it lt all makes sense now.
The key thing to stress here is that Alaska still gives you miles based on distance traveled and not the fare.

Trying to decide Preferred or Reserve. Same spending requirement and points bonus. Even if I don’t use the lounges seems Reserve comes out ahead.

Hi Brett!

Thanks for commenting. For me personally, I was initially offput by the higher annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Reserve. But I still ended up going with the card (instead of the Preferred) because I realized that I’d be getting more in value from it.

The way I look at it, with its $300 annual credit for travel purchases, I see it effectively as a $150 annual fee card ($450 minus $300). Its also got a ton of other benefits like a $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, Priority Pass Select membership for airport lounge access, and the fact that Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents each through the Chase Travel Portal.

Here’s a post from that might help you decide which one is right for you though. There’s a chart highlighting the differences between the 2 cards. Hope this helps!


If you flew in F, you gain an extra 75% in Alaska Elite Qualifying Miles towards renewing MVP Elite Status.

No extra EQM are earned when upgrading from a lower tier.

Alaska’s First Class is fantastic, and I believe they have the best domestic service. And I’m an AA EXP (and walking away from AA).


That’s right! Alaska’s loyalty program definitely seems like one of the most rewarding. I’ve been very impressed. Thank you for commenting!

Alaska lately rarely has rewards availability at low rates. Even for short haul flights they need 20K miles for one way. Unless you fly Tuesday through Thursday Alaska miles are poor value for domestic route redemptions.


I’ve been saving up to hopefully one day redeem for a Cathay Pacific Business Class or First Class award.