Hawaii For Spring Break Introduction
I just booked Hawaii for spring break using reward points for the flights and hotel, and thought I would write a post sharing how. I often get asked about reward travel over peak periods to popular destinations, and I usually encourage people to book well in advance to secure the best flights and hotel rooms. There are three peak periods in North America when using reward points can be tricky, especially for families:
- Christmas Holidays
- Spring Break
- Summer Vacation
The reason is fairly obvious: many families are restricted to travel times when school is out, and thus demand usually exceeds supply for award travel over these periods.
A couple of days ago I decided to search for availability after learning some family members would be on Maui over spring break. I decided to search for hotel space first, assuming most properties would be sold out. As luck would have it, I actually found available rooms using points (usually quite tough for popular destinations over peak travel times) and decided to look up flights. With a bit of creativity, I was able to find a routing from Seattle (about 2 hours from where we live) and booked right away! Below is a breakdown of the flights and hotels, and how I used points for the trip.
Hawaii For Spring Break – The Flights
I found the hotel for our preferred dates and quickly looked up available flights. Generally speaking, award travel to Hawaii is overpriced, with the exception of Alaska Airlines using British Airways Avios Points. Because British Airways is a distance based program, there is a sweet spot from the west coast to Hawaii with roundtrip tickets costing only 25,000 Avios miles (Avios can be earned by transferring RBC Reward Points or American Express Membership Rewards). Finding flights wasn’t going to be easy this close to departure, as I was looking for 3 adult tickets on the same flight (Brad’s cousin was also looking to redeem some points over the same dates). Finding the outbound availability was simple enough, with several dates having space from Seattle to Maui.
Booking the return wasn’t quite as easy, with no dates having space from Maui to Seattle for three adults. I had to think outside the box a little, and found space on the Maui to San Jose flight, which I booked, and easily added a connecting flight on a separate award ticket from San Jose to Seattle, which was a very reasonable 5,000 miles per ticket. A word of caution: if you plan to add a connecting flight on a separate award ticket, make sure you plan plenty of time for the connection and have good travel insurance. In the event you misconnect, there is generally no responsibility for the airline to accommodate you for the separate ticket.
The reason I booked this way is because British Airways charges per flight segment, and not total combined flight distance. To book this ticket with Avios, I would have needed to pay 12,500 miles per ticket for the flight from Maui to San Jose, and an additional 7,500 miles for the flight from San Jose to Seattle. While I do value Alaska Airline miles more than British Airways, I have an abundance of Alaska miles now and decided to use them rather than transferring additional miles to British Airways Avios.
In summary, the total cost for the flights from Seattle to Maui, roundtrip, was 75,000 Avios points and 15,000 Alaska Airlines miles, plus approximately $60 in taxes and fees!
But wait.. there’s more. Alaska Airlines recently introduced ‘Premium Class’ seating on select routes, where for an additional charge, you can have access to priority boarding, complimentary beverages, and most importantly, 4 more inches of legroom. I recently flew premium class economy from Bellingham to Maui and thought it was good value considering the length of the flight. Seattle to Maui is just as long, so I quickly went online to pay the difference for the premium seats.
Unfortunately, it seems Alaska has recently restricted access to these seats for bookings made with British Airways Avios (or any other third party) and only allows customers to pre-select these seats if booked through Alaska directly. For everyone else, you will now need to wait until check-in for the chance to upgrade, based on availability of course. Not impressed by the new rule, I called in and asked to speak to a supervisor. I explained my previous experience a few months ago booking these seats was seamless, and I expected the process to be the same for this reservation. While initially she said I would have to wait until check-in, she eventually came around and even offered the seats for no additional charge. Lesson learned: There is a lot of value in being nice to call centre agents, and I’m positive the outcome would have been different had I called in demanding the seats be made available.
Hawaii For Spring Break – The Hotel
When initially looking at booking this trip, I started with hotel availability first, thinking many of the resorts would be sold out of standard rooms. This past summer I had looked at booking Hawaii over Christmas break and couldn’t find a single property in Hawaii on the beach with availability for award stays. Needless to say, I wasn’t optimistic for spring break. As luck would have it though, I found availability at The Marriott Wailea Resort on Maui for our preferred dates, and booked without thinking twice.
The best part about Marriott Award redemptions is you can actually reserve the room using points before you have the points in your account. This is huge, especially for markets like Hawaii. For this stay, I planned to transfer American Express Membership Reward Points to Starwood Preferred Guest to Marriott for the redemption, and needed a couple days to do all of the transfers. Good thing Marriott has this policy, because by the time all of points were in my Marriott account (about 4 days later), the hotel was completely sold out for award stays!
Being a Category 8 Marriott, free-night redemptions are 40,000 Reward Points per night (which is approximately 13,334 SPG points, or 26,667 American Express points). Keep in mind though that Marriott offers the 5th night free, which adds a lot of value for award stays. Also, taxes are included in the points redemption, though you are still on the hook for the mandatory resort fee.
Not an insignificant number of points, but considering the paid rates for our dates were $5,448.49USD (or $6,775.46CAD), it seemed like a pretty great value!
The resort is oceanfront, and in the desirable area of Wailea right next door to The Four Seasons Resort. The property looks, well, stunning, and I can’t wait to experience my first resort stay in Hawaii!
Hawaii For Spring Break Bottom Line
Booking reward travel over peak periods can require a bit of creativity, but in most cases, is still possible (even with little notice). For us, booking 2 months out, we were still able to find availability at one of Maui’s finest oceanfront resorts paired with fairly convenient flights, though that’s where we needed a bit of flexibility to make everything work (and having a good understanding of route networks and program rules certainly helped).
In total, this trip cost 240,000 Marriott Reward points, 75,000 British Airways Avios points, and 15,000 Alaska Airlines miles for three adults, along with approximately $60 in taxes and fees for the flights and $280 USD in resort fees for the hotel.
Considering this trip has a retail value of approximately $8,000 CAD, paying $350 dollars seems like a relatively good deal!
Need some extra points to book a similar trip for yourself?
There are some great offers from American Express in Canada right now that can help you reach your travel goals faster! Consider any of the Membership Reward cards below which all offer great flexibility in redemptions, including transfer opportunities to British Airways Avios and Starwood/Marriott!
Apply for the American Express Business Platinum Card to earn 40,000 Membership Reward Points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of membership.
Apply for The American Express Business Gold Rewards Card to earn 30,000 Membership Reward Points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of membership.
Apply for The American Express Platinum Card to earn 50,000 Membership Reward points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of membership.
Apply for The American Express Gold Rewards Card to earn 25,000 Membership Reward points after spending $1,500 in the first three months of membership and adding a supplement cardmember during the application.
Don’t forget to check out our course on leveraging the American Express referral program to learn how to boost your reward accounts even faster!
Have you managed to book award travel over peak periods to popular destinations? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below!
(Hotel photos courtesy of Marriott)