For anyone who lives near an airport served by Hawaiian Airlines, the lure of the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard® is powerful. The sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles is just 10,000 shy of the lowest price for two round-trip tickets to the islands from the West Coast. You can earn those miles by hitting a relatively low minimum spend: Just $2,000 in qualifying purchases in the first 90 days will get you that big bonus.
The card earns 2 miles on gas, groceries and dining; 3 miles on eligible Hawaiian Airlines purchases; 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. You also get the first checked bag free, worth $50-$60 on a round-trip flight. Cardholders also receive a one-time 50% off companion discount on round-trip travel between Hawaii and North America, along with a $100 off companion discount every account anniversary.
But alas, like every card, this one has its shortcomings. Here are some of the benefits I wish came with my Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®:
You heard that right: Cardmembers don’t get any special privileges when it’s time to board a Hawaiian Airlines flight. Even if you purchase a flight using your card, you’re just part of the herd, shuffling on board en masse and hoping there will be enough overhead space for your carry-on bag by the time you get to your seat. It seems a no-brainer that this card should offer cardholders priority boarding, as so many other airline credit cards do.
Expanded partner redemptions
I’m conflicted about this. HawaiianMiles can be used for flights on some partner airlines, but really, HawaiianMiles are designed to get you to Hawaii. In some ways, this limitation is a huge benefit — for example, around the holidays when one spouse wants to visit the family, the other can counter with, “But if we go to Hawaii instead, our flight will be free with miles.”
Setting aside those moments when inflexibility can give you leverage, expanded partner redemptions are a good thing. HawaiianMiles aren’t very strong in that regard. The only airlines whose seats you can book with HawaiianMiles are Japan Airlines, JetBlue, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. That means the destinations you can get to outside Hawaii are limited, as are the flight options, which makes using the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard® less appealing.
50% companion discount every year
The first year after signing up for this card, you get a 50% companion discount on a qualifying round-trip airfare. Every year after that, you get a $100 off companion ticket discount. But if a round-trip ticket is $600, that $100 off seems pretty low compared with the 50% off you could have gotten the first year. I would appreciate this card a lot more if the 50% off companion discount renewed every year.
» Learn more: Top airline credit cards with companion tickets
No annual fee
I know, I know. The issuer has to make a profit somehow. The annual fee is $0 intro for the first year, then $99. It forces me to reconsider annually whether I want to keep the card or not.
Opportunities to upgrade to extra-legroom seats
I’ve already accepted that I’ll never accumulate enough HawaiianMiles to book first-class tickets. Long before I’ll have the miles needed for first class, I will be redeeming them for a flight in coach. But I’d sure love more opportunities to get into the extra-legroom economy seats Hawaiian calls Extra Comfort.
If I could wave a magic wand at my Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®, it would offer me some kind of improved access to these comfy, inviting seats. I’d be happy with discounted upgrade fees or the ability to upgrade to Extra Comfort using miles, which currently isn’t possible.
» Learn More: Find the best airline credit card for you
Exclusive award flight availability
When it comes to award flight redemptions, another airline card has set a high bar in my mind. The United℠ Explorer Card gives cardholders like me expanded award availability on United-operated flights. If my Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard® did the same, it would mean more low-level award space to choose from when I redeem my hard-earned miles.
How to maximize your rewardsYou want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
- Airline miles and a large bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- No annual fee: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
- Premium travel rewards: The Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Business travelers: The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
United Explorer: Richer rewards, perks you’ll actually use
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles: The complete guide