Advanced Award Booking Tips: Hawaiian Airlines

Sam KemmisMay 12, 2020
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On a similar note...

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Hawaiian Airlines is one of the only remaining small, non-budget airlines in the U.S., and its HawaiianMiles awards program, while small, still carries decent value.

Although its HawaiianMiles program lacks the complexity of its larger competitors, it can still be confusing to navigate. For example, why are some destinations unavailable to search on the Hawaiian website? And what does "Main Cabin 3" on the award calendar actually mean?

Here we outline some advanced booking tips for using HawaiianMiles. As you’ll see, they mostly focus on which aspects of the program you can avoid or ignore outright.

Skip the app

Although Hawaiian relaunched its app in early 2019, it still lags competitors in both convenience and functionality. Nowhere is this more obvious than when trying to book flights, which simply cannot be done within the app.

The app kicks you to a browser, where you have to log in again to access your account. Skip the annoyance and the load time: Use the website when searching for award flights.

How to deal with the award booking search tool

While we’re griping about Hawaiian’s technology, the award search tools can be pretty frustrating, starting with where to find them. Here’s the normal flight booking tool:

Notice there is no "use miles" option. That’s because this only appears after you’ve made a normal flight search:

If you don’t see the "miles" button on your end, chances are you need to log in to your HawaiianMiles account to see it. This is a frustrating requirement, compounded by the Hawaiian website’s propensity to log users off without warning or notification.

To simplify, here are the steps to search for award flights:

  1. Log in to your account.

  2. Go to the homepage.

  3. Make a search.

  4. Click on "miles" to see award options.

You’ll notice that the "Price Chart" and "Price Calendar" options disappear when switching to award bookings, so finding the lowest fares requires scrolling through results one week at a time by using the arrows on either side:

Check seasonality and compare award prices

Hawaiian Airlines does publish an award chart for its routes as well as partner airlines, which indicates how many miles are needed to book a given route.

However, as you can see, these values vary widely by the type of fare booked (e.g. "Main Cabin 1" and "Main Cabin 2"). What does this mean? Basically, Hawaiian changes the number of miles needed for a particular route based on supply and demand, just like the price in cash. So that Main Cabin 3 award is a lower-point award redemption. You could do better if you find a Main Cabin 1 or 2 available but the price could also go up to Main Cabin 4, 5, 6 or 7 rates.

When cash fares are low, award fares will (generally) follow, and vice versa. So the prices you see at peak travel times aren't the static price for that route, and you might be able to find considerably lower fares during off-peak seasons.

Always compare the award price (in miles) to the equivalent cash price to ensure you’re getting a decent value from your miles. NerdWallet values Hawaiian miles at 1.1 cents each. You can do the math yourself or use our calculator:

(Mostly) skip partner redemptions

Hawaiian Airlines isn't part of a big alliance; instead, it partners with several global airlines to provide reciprocal benefits, mileage accrual and award booking. That is, you can use HawaiianMiles to book flights with its five partner airlines.

However, this benefit isn’t as valuable as it might seem, for two reasons:

  1. You can’t search for or book these partner award flights online. You have to call a Hawaiian Airlines representative and ask them to search for availability. This is a pain, and it makes searching for hard-to-find premium cabin availability nearly impossible.

  2. The award charts for partner award redemptions, while not as dynamic as Hawaiian’s other award charts, aren't very enticing. For example, a round-trip flight from the U.S. to Australia on Virgin Australia will cost a whopping 100,000 HawaiianMiles in economy.

Interestingly, even Hawaiian calls out on its partner page that you’re better off using miles on Hawaiian than partners:

"As with most airlines, the best mileage redemption opportunities are found on flights within your own program’s network (for example redeeming HawaiianMiles for flights on Hawaiian Airlines)."

While a few sweet(ish) spots exist on the partner redemption charts, such as intra-Asia flights in Korean Air business class for 60,000 miles round trip, the juice generally isn’t worth the squeeze.

Elites and cardholders get an extra discount

HawaiianMiles members with Pualani elite status or the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard® receive special discounts on economy award travel with the airline. You can see these in the "discounted award amount" column of the award charts.

Note that these discounts aren't available on first class flights or for partner redemptions. But they can cut down the cost of award flights on Hawaiian.

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