New Way To Redeem Miles For First Class Flights To Hawaii

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Earlier this year Virgin America announced service to Hawaii, with flights between San Francisco and Honolulu beginning November 2, 2015, and Maui starting December 3, 2015.

Virgin-America-Hawaii

This is great news, in my opinion. Not only because more competition on routes tends to be better for consumers, but also because Virgin America will apparently be putting new planes on these routes, which will almost certainly be nicer than the current legacy options.

Beyond that, Virgin America is partners with several other airlines, including:

  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia
  • Emirates
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines

This means that you can theoretically use miles from any of those partners for flights on Virgin America.

We’re all about aspirational travel here at OMAAT, so for the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on first class redemptions.

And there is a standout option among the partner airlines.

Virgin Atlantic has surprisingly decent award rates

I’ve written before about how Virgin Atlantic redemptions can be a very good value for redemptions on Virgin America. Award availability in the premium cabins is phenomenal (especially compared to legacy carriers), and if you’re looking at transcon routes, Virgin America is a particularly compelling option.

For the new routes to Hawaii, Virgin Atlantic charges the following in first class:

  • 75,000 miles round trip from the West Coast
  • 150,000 miles round trip from the East Coast

The rates from the West Coast are competitive — most other carriers charge around 80,000 miles for the round trip to Hawaii. And the Virgin America product will almost certainly be better than the very very very old planes American, Delta, and United are using on the West Coast routes.

Virgin-America-First-Class

From the East Coast, that’s an admittedly tough price to swallow. However, your options to Hawaii are already pretty limited, so this might still make sense in some cases given the one-stop routing. Beyond that, because the system prices this as two awards, you can stopover in San Francisco for as long as you’d like.

In both cases, availability is great. There are even lots of seats around Spring Break, which is very rare for the legacy carriers.

Getting Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles

While these prices are on the high side for those in Eastern states, the good news is that it is comparatively easy to rack up Flying Club miles. Virgin Atlantic offers a co-branded credit card through Bank of America, the  Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard®. This card occasionally has very high sign-up bonuses though, so I would probably wait for one of those offers if you’re considering the card.

Virgin Atlantic is also a transfer partner of all the main flexible points currencies. That means you can move points to Virgin Atlantic from any of the following programs/cards:

American Express Membership Rewards

Citi ThankYou Points

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Starwood Preferred Guest

Of these, both American Express and Citi offer occasional transfer bonuses to Virgin Atlantic, so those are probably your best bets.

Redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on Virgin America

The actual process of redeeming Flying Club miles is both crummy and fantastic.

The not so great:

  • Awards can only be issued as round-trips.
  • You have to call Flying Club (in the US, the number is 800.365.9500).
  • Tickets can take a day or two to actually process (which is really something AAdvantage should aspire to).

The good news:

  • No fuel surcharges! Just the basic taxes/fees, so the cash outlay is low.
  • You can place flights on hold while you transfer the miles. This is like the Holy Grail of award redemptions nowadays as far as I’m concerned.
  • Availability is amazing. Generally multiple flights per day, with multiple seats.

Bottom line

While I’m not personally looking to redeem miles to Hawaii, it’s certainly a popular destination, and one where people are typically hoping for a more premium experience.

The new Virgin America experience will likely be better than the current options to Hawaii, and given the ease of accruing Flying Club miles, Virgin Atlantic is a solid choice for redeeming miles.

Does anyone have plans to fly Virgin America to Hawaii?

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Comments

  1. I saw that earlier today. Was looking to see where they flew from Boston and I see tickets to Maui for surprisingly decent 20000 elevate point + a few depending on the dates which is not bad at all.

  2. You should check what American is flying. They just started 321 service from LAX to the islands and will be fully A321 on that route in the next few months.

  3. @paincorp – American is using regular domestic config A321’s (A321H) – an Etop certified plane and albeit new birds, they are not the A321T used on the JFK to LAX and SFO with the F and J cabins.

    So Virgin will still have the better product to Hawaii.

    With that said, maybe AA and the others will listen and put the A321T and other newer jets over there.

    I flew to HNL twice this summer and the F class experience, well it’s just not!!

  4. Are the mileage redemption options on Virgin Australia, Emirates, Singapore, and Hawaiian so bad it’s not even worth mentioning how many miles they require and the pros and cons?

  5. @ Larry — I’ll try to do a post with all the options, but pretty much. Singapore charges 79k one-way from the West Coast, and 137k one-way from the East Coast, for example.

  6. Not to give you more homework but it’d be super helpful to throw in some ideas about the possibility of using these flights enroute to Asia, whether that’s using SQ, UA or other miles. I’ve always thought that HNL would be the perfect Pacific stopover.

  7. Jordan: There’s no demand for three cabin service on that route. United only flies the 777 since it heads down to Guam. If legacy carriers had all economy planes, they would probably fly those to Hawaii, as F is rarely filled with paid F.

    321S/H are still miles ahead of what’s currently on that route, and the big difference hard product wise (not including food/service) is VX’s live TV, which last time I checked won’t work over the Pacific Ocean.

  8. @ Ivan — Yes, but only on one flight a day, and award availability (at least at the saver level) isn’t great.

  9. I’ve run into a caveat:

    While award availability is there on Virgin America

    Apparently the availability to Virgin Atlantic members is not the same.

    I called Virgin Atlantic to book a flight I saw on Virgin America to Maui, and was told that there are no award seats available. Rep said that the award availability is not always the same between the two.

    So now I have a bunch of points stuck in Virgin Atlantic that I just transferred there.

    Rep said only way to find out of seats become available is to keep calling back.

    Any thoughts/suggestions?

    Thanks

  10. In addition to the daily 764 with lie flats, UA also has two daily 772s ex-SFO and one ex-LAX with an equivalent (though older) hard product.

  11. @ jediwho — Nope, but they’re very nice on the phone, and I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than a few minutes on hold.

  12. @ Usza — Ouch, sorry to hear that! That’s why I mentioned calling ahead and placing the reservation on hold. Virgin America will always show every seat as available with points, as they have a revenue-based system. A selection of seats are made available to partners for award tickets.

    That said, have you tried a day before or after, or maybe a flight into Honolulu?

  13. Whoops – just re-read and see there are no fuel surcharges. It’s a lot of miles for me (DC based) but at least that’s good.

  14. @ keith — Maybe if you found a screaming deal, but keep in mind Virgin America Elevate is a revenue-based program. A first class flight that is $999 dollars one-way (the price of a random SFO-HNL next March, though I wouldn’t expect that to always be the price), would require 48,781 Elevate points. A fixed 75k Virgin Atlantic miles round-trip is almost certainly going to be the better value in most cases.

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