Using United Miles to travel to Hawaii; Free One Ways and More

Hawaii Title

I’ve been knocked out the last few days with a killer bug, only today my mind has cleared enough to start writing again. Special thanks to all who commented on the NYE Open Thread. I appreciate your tips and advice for Milenomics in 2014. Now on to today’s post:

A popular destination for domestic travel is Hawaii–no passport needed, beautiful beaches, great food and incredible Hawaii dinner cruises; for some it is the dream vacation. Not only the dream vacation but for some, it’s the dream of where they want to live, if you feel that Hawaii is the ultimate destination for you, you could check out North Kona Real Estate to see if the area speaks to you! Today we’ll go over a few ways to get there with United Miles, talk about when United miles are the right fit and in doing so stretch out the booking as much as possible.

When Should We Use United Miles to Travel to Hawaii?

United’s current award chart charges 20,000 miles each way for a trip to Hawaii. This amount is fixed so long as there are low level awards available. From just about anywhere except the West coast this can be a good use of miles, and today we’ll even discuss when it makes sense to use United Miles from the west coast to Hawaii.

If you remember all the way back to early September, in a post titled “Why Are Frequent Flyer Miles So hard to Use,” We discussed some of the difficulty in using Avios to travel to Hawaii. From the West coast Avios do represent a significant savings over all other programs to get to Hawaii, in fact I did indeed end up using them in my Costa Rica and Hawaii Booking last month.

However for the overwhelming majority of us Avios won’t always be the best fit. There are two specific times that United Miles might make sense for a trip to Hawaii:

1) No Nonstops to/from Hawaii: Because Avios price per segment. If you can’t find a nonstop option, and need to take a 1 stop flight you’ll pay for each segment. A good example of this would be the following, HNL-LAX-PDX:

In this scenario you’ll fly HNL-LAX for 12,500 Miles, and then LAX-PDX for 7,500 miles. Net cost would then be 20,000 Avios. The HNL-PDX nonstopflight is an incredibly difficult one to find award space on.

In the above scenario a second option would be to fly PDX-SEA-HNL, with the PDX-SEA leg costing 4,500 Avios and the SEA-HNL costing 12,500. Compare these to these United’s current 20,000 mile pricing and you see that it can be competitive.

2) Living past the 3,000 mile Zone from Hawaii: Remember the Avios zones:

Avios Tiers--note the
Avios Tiers–note the 2,000 to 3,000 mile tier pricing vs. the 3,001-4,000

40-50 million people might be within 3,000 miles of Hawaii, but the only non-stops that exist with AA and AS are as follows:

Those living outside of ANC, BLI, SEA, PDX, OAK, SJC, LAX and SAN will be subject to two segment pricing.
Those living outside of ANC, BLI, SEA, PDX, OAK, SJC, LAX and SAN will be subject to two segment pricing.

There are plenty of cities which service Hawaii and fall outside of this 3,000 mile boundary including non-stops to ATL, DEN, DFW, IAH, ORD, EWR and IAH. In fact the majority of the US falls outside the 3,000 mile zone around Hawaii:

As with all mileage programs we need flexibility, if we don’t have that flexibility then we’ll need to have more than one type of mileage currency at our disposal. When AA and AS availability is low having United Miles can make a big difference.

Smaller Airports Are Often a Great Use of UA Miles to Hawaii

Let’s assume a reader lives in Omaha Nebraska, and their home airport is OMA. The two best options for an Omaha flyer with AA or avios would be:

Either OMA-ORD-HNL or OMA-DFW-HNL with AA. Everything else means a second connection, continuing to drive up the cost of an Avios trip, and adding more flying time for no reason. OMA-ORD-HNL would price at 29,500 each way and OMA-DFW-HNL would price at 24,500 each way with avios. Either option prices at 17.5k/22.5k with AA miles.

For an Omaha flyer with United Miles there are many more options:

Some of these aren’t the best options, for example OMA-DCA then overland to IAD and a IAD-HNL would be a lot of travel, but I’ve included it for completeness. Each of these options, with low level availability, would be 20,000 miles each way, per person. For those not in AA/UA hub cities this can represent the best way to get to Hawaii with miles.

Free One Ways

When it really starts to save miles is when you live in any of the cities in which a nonstop to HNL is flown:

Nonstops HNL UnitedLiving in PHX, IAH, LAX, SFO, DEN, ORD, EWR, IAD or YVR means you can exploit the free stopover allowed on United tickets that transition zones. This is the same stopover we’ve written about before here on Milenomics. A lesser known fact is that this stopover works for trips to/from Hawaii as well as international destinations.

Take any one way flight off your demand schedule, book one way with avios and the return as part of this trip–giving you the free one way. Examples of this include LAX-IAH stop IAH-HNL-IAH:

LAX-IAH-HNL-IAH 40k DetailFor those of us in *A hubs we have almost unlimited options for our free one ways–as you can see above backtracking from LAX-IAH and then to HNL is allowed. Similar to international free one ways we can pretty much book anything we want here.

A question I often receive from readers is “what if I don’t live in a hub?” well, for those of you not in a major hub, like our above Omaha, NE example we can still take advantage of a free one way on a booking to Hawaii.

Stopovers Work for Smaller Cities as Well

Returning to our Omaha Nebraska example, we can use this same stopover trick to put a free one way onto our flight from Omaha as well. We’ll book OMA-HNL-OMA then stop for months and continue on to a destination of our choice, in this case I chose the nonstop OMA-EWR:


The basics of this stopover are that you’ll not want to re-transit any city more than twice–so in the OMA example we couldn’t have flown back through IAH on our free one way–we had to pick another city to transit, like DEN, ORD, or EWR.

OMA has more than one nonstop destination which is a hub.  Any UA city with more than one destination would allow a similar type of free one way.
OMA has more than one nonstop destination which is a hub. Any UA city with more than one destination would allow a similar type of free one way.

Those of you who live in small Star Alliance cities, like Cedar Rapids, Grand Rapids, or Lexington can use this free one way option on flights booked to Hawaii. For smaller cities Using United Miles to travel to Hawaii is likely the best way to save miles and money on your flights.

West Coast–Still Good Uses of UA Miles to Hawaii.

Many people will say that United miles aren’t the best way to go from the west coast to Hawaii. Even I have mentioned in the past that using UA miles to Hawaii isn’t a good idea. I’ll be the first to admit the importance of never saying never.

Lets take someone who lives in Los Angeles, and use them as an example. Flying LAX-HNL-LAX with Avios would cost 25,000 total Avios per person. Compared to 40,000 UA miles this sounds like a no brainer. But I’ll offer up the following:

LAX-HNL-LAX with Avios: 25,000

Then later in the year LAX-BUF-LAX with UA Miles: 25,000 UA Miles

Total Spent: 50,000 miles


LAX-HNL with Avios: 12,500

HNL-LAX with UA miles, then a stopover, then:

LAX-BUF-LAX with 37,500 UA miles:

Not Quite a Free One way–but a great savings, and a good way to knock off flights from your demand schedule.

Total Spent: 50,000 miles

We’ve flown LAX-BUF-LAX which normally costs 25,000 miles, and spent just 12,500 more miles for our one way from HNL back the LAX. We’ve matched our Avios cost for the return flight, and opened up availability that avios bookings would not have access to (UA award seats).

Putting these two flights together might only happen with UA miles. While I agree Avios are generally cheaper to acquire and spend, when you’re stuck, and can’t find a return flight with Avios, looking for one with United miles and booking as part of another round trip flight for just 12,500 more miles is the way to save the booking.

One Way to/from Hawaii for 12,500 UA

The above trick isn’t just for west coasters. If you booked your flight to/from Hawaii as a free one-way, say with AA miles, then using the above one way, stopover and round trip will represent significant savings for your return, so long as you can add in a flight you’re going to take anyway off your demand schedule.

If you live in a city which is a oneworld gateway city you could tag a free one way to Hawaii on any International AA flight, and then use the return trick listed above to return for 12,500 net UA miles per person:

HNL_ORD-MIA-ORDThe only three cities that I know which this works are oneworld gateway cities, like LAX, ORD (see above example), NYC, DFW. These are the cities you can stop in, and then fly to Hawaii on a free AA oneway. The return can be via the above United trick, tagging a 25k R/t booking along with the 12.5k Return from Hawaii.

To be clear; the 37.5k booking works from just about any city–the issue is how to then get to Hawaii. You could book another one way with United to Hawaii–but at that point it is probably better to fly the Hawaii round trip for 40k UA and add a free one way somewhere, with a return back either with UA or Avios for 12.5k or less.

Update: Be Sure to read Ed’s comment below for a good tip about connecting flights that could save you up to 10,000 miles r/t.

Wrap Up

This is a great time to book travel for Thanksgiving, and in a few weeks Christmas travel will open up as well. Using your free one way for either of those as part of a Hawaii trip might be a good idea. Whatever you decide, try your best to book before the 2/1/14 devaluation. If Hawaii is in your plans this year you’ll save 10,000 miles per person r/t once United ups the price of award travel to Hawaii.

Even after the increase the tricks and tips in this post will help you to get the absolute most from your miles. We work far too hard earning our miles to give them away for anything less than the maximum. Today we’ve seen that pulling extra value out of United bookings to Hawaii is a useful tool no matter where we live.

Everything below this line is automatically inserted into this post and is not necessarily endorsed by Milenomics:

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. Maybe I missed it in your article, but UA charges 20k miles each way to Hawaii if there are no inter-island segments. Those add 5k miles. e.g. ORD-HNL = 20k. ORD-HNL-OGG = 25k. etc. So it may be worth spending time to find a route that avoids that segment on the end by positioning at the beginning. e.g. ORD-HNL-OGG = 25k, but ORD-LAX-OGG = 20k.

    1. Ed: you are correct, I didn’t include that in the post. A great tip to remind readers to keep in mind. I got hit with that extra 5k when I booked my Costa Rica Trip, flying LAX-HNL-LIH instead of LAX-LIH. For me the 5k was worth it to avoid arriving late at night on a short weekend, but for others tight on miles, and with a larger family the 5k/10k could really add up. Every mile counts!

      Thanks again for sharing the warning.

  2. So glad to see a post from you. Sorry you were sick and glad you are on the mend. I was wondering where you’d gone….

    You post is, once again, a timely one for me. Just this weekend we started talking about whether to plan a trip to Hawaii for June or July. We also need to be in Philadelphia in early Sept. Perhaps this will give me an opportunity to try my hand at my first free one-way booking.

    I was actually eyeing a $218 r/t fare that goes from PDX to downtown Philly (ZFV). It seems too cheap to pass up, especially as we need to be in downtown Philly. I know we are not supposed to hoard our miles, but my initial thought was I could certainly put United miles to better use than a simple cross country trip. Doing a free one-way might do just that.

    On the other hand, Hawaii was only one option. We may instead do a road trip to the San Juan Islands, either before or after the Seattle Sessions. Given the impending devaluation, we’d better make a decision fast, especially if I want to get the most out of the miles we have!

    1. Thanks Elaine. Unfortunately my wife who took care of me is now coming down with what I had 🙁

      I agree–$218 r/t is a tough one to pass up. I’m intrigued how that flight works–do you fly into PHL/EWR and then take a train? or is it something else? I haven’t been to Philly in years–but the history in that city is amazing.

      San Juan Islands sound great as well, Not Hawaii, but every destination has its own charm. I always say if I had to leave Southern California it would be for the Pacific Northwest. My wife and I stayed here: when we were in the OP area of WA. We could see the San Juan Islands in the distance from the room, and want to make a trip back there next year as well.

      If today’s post does nothing it shows you that UA miles for Hawaii can make a lot of sense. Even after the devaluation, Hawaii (with a stopover, or the Avios/UA one way) could make a lot of sense with UA miles. I can say that I half wrote the PDX part knowing you’re in PDX and the OMA part for those readers of Milenomics who live in the midwest. I feel like I can be too “LA Centric” sometimes, so I’m glad you got something out of the post. Let me know how the planning goes for those trips.

      1. I had a feeling that the PDX routings in the post might not be a coincidence! Thanks, much appreciated. I hope your wife bounces back fast.

        Here’s a link to that Philly flight, which is actually even cheaper – $213!

        And from Flightdeal’s explanation:
        “LAX – EWR (Newark) – PDX (Portland) – EWR – LAX
        ZFV is the the airport code for Philadelphia 30th Street Amtrak Station. The ZFV – EWR // EWR – ZFV segment is operated by Amtrak.”

        Kathy of Will Run for Miles has taken it a few times; she may have even blogged or at least tweeted about it. I think that many who take it try to get out of the Philly leg if they can, because they really are not going there, but it is tricky unless you can convince the airline that due to weather or a schedule change or ??? that you must pick it up in EWR. But for us – we have a wedding in downtown Philly – it would be perfect.

        Thanks for the B&B recommendation. If we end up planning a trip there, I will follow up for sure. When we were in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia we stayed at B&Bs almost exclusively. They can be great, depending on your needs, location and the accommodations they offer. We had some fabulous stays in spacious rooms with enormous adjoining bathrooms, but we also had some stays in rooms that were smaller than that bathroom. My husband likes them because he (a sociologist) can get a good window into the place/people by talking with the hosts. I am OK with B&Bs but do less well in a cramped room with a simple double bed and a bathroom down the hall. The San Juans are probably not the best place to try to use points from chain hotels.

        Good news from here. My daughter called and wants to do her first churn! She got a $500 bill from an insurance company and realized it could get her half way to a lot of miles. So she is modifying her “I do everything through my checking account to keep a handle on our finances” attitude to dip her toes into the miles world. We will meet later this week to decide what cards make sense for her. We will start real slowly.

        My son, despite my (and your!) heroic and successful efforts to get him home at Xmas thanks to United points, still says he is too busy. And he may be right. He is currently in Vegas for CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) and he is working 14-18 hour days, which seem to be the norm for the events marketing company he works for, a company that is running an event that CES participants can attend. Whether he is planning events or facilitating them on-site, it seems to be a 24/7 business with little time off. During the last event he did in LA, he worked 19 straight days including Thanksgiving! He then had one weekend off before working straight through until he boarded the flight for PDX. He has been in Vegas now since 12/27, with just a half day off on the 1st. He is definitely earning his paycheck!

        OK, speaking of paychecks, I’d better get some work done!

  3. Been looking for UA award ticket iah to ogg maui aug 8-31.
    While I usually get these for 20,000 pp each way, nothing has shown up in two months of looking everday. Even tried iah to hnl to ogg, still no luck. Any suggestions?

    1. Karen: You could try setting an alert with the tools found here However none of that will help if no seats open up. I was looking for some seats to HNL myself, and there’s really not a ton of good dates left. I’m guessing that people are booking Hawaii like mad before 2/1/14, and the available seats are all getting snatched up because of that.

      I would also start your searches from the last segment–either DEN, SFO, LAX or PHX, and work backwards from there. You may not see flights IAH-OGG because IAH-LAX (or SFO, or PHX) is sold out. For example there is space LAX-OGG on Aug 5 and 6th but nothing from IAH, which means your IAH flight is the catch there. Wish I could be of more help.

  4. I am trying to book a one-way from Denver to Hawaii with United Miles. Is there any way to get a free one-way if I’m only booking a one-way? Or does this strategy only apply when booking round-trip tickets?

    1. jr: Stopovers only work for round trip tickets. A better strategy might be using Singapore Krisflyer miles for a one way DEN-Hawaii (17,500). Can transfer from UR if you have them.

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