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Which Branded Credit Card is Best for Getting to Hawaii on Miles?

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travel to hawaii

When it comes to stockpiles of frequent flyer miles, it’s safe to say that many of those miles are earmarked for a special trip to Hawaii. The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most popular destinations in the United States and it’s a no-brainer to use miles to get there. The flights are generally fairly expensive, and long—even if you’re departing from the West Coast—so you’ll be tempted to book into or upgrade to a premium cabin, if possible. 

To start planning for your dream trip, start by asking yourself which credit card—Alaska Airlines’ Visa Signature or Hawaiian Airlines’ World Elite MasterCard—will help you get to this Polynesian paradise.

There is healthy competition among airlines to ferry passengers from the continental United States to the Hawaii Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Two strong contenders are Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines. Both offer many daily nonstop flights to the Hawaiian Islands from cities throughout North America and both offer branded credit cards with strong benefits that will help you get to Hawaii sooner for less money. So, which card is best for you? Let’s break it down.

Alaska Airlines Credit Card

Bank of America offers the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and it’s a strong option—especially if you’re trying to get to Hawaii on the cheap. Here are some of the card benefits…

  • 30,000 bonus miles upon card approval
  • 3x miles on Alaska Airlines purchases and 1x miles on everything else
  • free checked bags for up to six passengers on your reservation
  • no mileage cap on the number of miles you can earn
  • annual companion fare from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22)

There is a downside; this card has an annual fee of $75 and it’s not waived in your first year of card membership.

Before you can determine if Alaska Airlines’ credit card is the best option to get you to Hawaii, you need to know a bit about the airline’s routes, partners, and awards first.

“Metal” Routes to Hawaii: Alaska Airlines already has a strong route map to the Hawaiian Islands, flying nonstop to the Big Island, Maui, Oahu and Kauai. Here are Alaska’s continental U.S. gateways that can get you to Hawaii…

Kona, Hawaii—Anchorage, Bellingham, Portland, Seattle, San Jose, Oakland, and San Diego

Kahului, Maui— Anchorage, Bellingham, Portland, Seattle, Sacramento, Oakland, and San Diego

Honolulu, Oahu— Anchorage, Bellingham, Portland, Seattle, San Jose, Oakland, and San Diego

Lihue, Kauai—Seattle, Portland, Oakland, and San Diego

*Note: Alaska Airlines is in the process of acquiring Virgin America. If and when it does, flight options to Hawaii increase even further with Virgin America serving Honolulu and Los Angeles from both San Francisco and Los Angeles (the Kahului to LAX route begins June 14, 2016).

Partner Routes to Hawaii: You can also use Alaska Airlines miles to fly to Hawaii on partners American Airlines and Delta.

American Airlines offers nonstop flights to Kona, Hawaii from Los Angeles and Phoenix; to Kahului, Maui from Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Jose; to Honolulu from Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Phoenix; and to Lihue, Kauai from Los Angeles and Phoenix. American also offers routes to Hilo, Hawaii that connect in Honolulu.

Delta offers nonstop flights to Kona from Seattle and Los Angeles; to Honolulu from Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Salt Lake City, and Seattle; to Lihue from Los Angeles; and to Maui from Los Angeles and Seattle.

Alaska Airlines Metal Award Chart to Hawaii

Continental U.S. To HawaiiOne WayRoundtrip
Money&Miles - 50% Discount up to $10010,00010,000
Money&Miles - 50% Discount up to $20020,00020,000
Refundable Coach40,00080,000
First Class40,00080,000
Refundable First Class80,000160,000

Alaska Airlines’ Partner Award Chart for American Airlines

Continental U.S. to HawaiiOne WayRoundtrip
Business/First Class47,50095,000

Alaska Airlines’ Partner Award Chart for Delta

Continental U.S. to HawaiiOne WayRoundtrip
Business/First Class80,00080,000

Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard

Now that we talked a bit about Alaska Airlines, let’s move on to Hawaiian Airlines and its credit card offering from Barclaycard: the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard. Here are some of the card’s benefits…

  • 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of card membership
  • 2x miles on all Hawaiian Airlines purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
  • a one-time discount of 50 percent off a companion roundtrip coach ticket between the continental United States and Hawaii (the discount is valid for 13 months of opening your card)
  • one companion discount of $100 off a roundtrip coach flight upon your card anniversary (that discount code is valid for 12 months after your anniversary)
  • the primary cardholder gets his or her first checked bag for free
  • no foreign transaction fees for purchases made in another country

“Metal” Routes to Hawaii: As you begin to make your travel plans, consult Hawaiian Airlines’ route map. The airline flies to the Hawaiian Islands, nonstop, from these gateways in the continental United States…

Kahului, Maui—Oakland, San Jose, and Seattle

Honolulu, Oahu—Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York/JFK, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle

The airline also flies seasonally to Kona on the Big Island and Lihue on Kauai.

Partner Routes to Hawaii: You can also use Hawaiian Airlines miles to fly to the islands on partner Virgin America. (Note that this will partnership with Hawaiian Airlines will likely be severed once Alaska Airlines completes its purchase of Virgin America.)

Virgin America offers nonstop flights to Honolulu and Maui via Los and San Francisco (the Kahului to LAX route begins June 14, 2016).

Hawaiian Airlines Metal Award Chart to Hawaii

One-Way Flight AwardsNorth America to HawaiiNorth America to Hawaii Upgrade
Coach SuperSaver20,000n/a
Coach Saver30,000n/a
Coach Flex40,000n/a
First Class Saver40,00025,000
First Class Flex80,00050,000

Note: If you are a Pualani Platinum, Pualani Gold, or Premier Club Member, or you have the Hawaiian Airlines MasterCard, log in for access to a larger number of award options.

Hawaiian Airlines’ Partner Award Chart for Virgin America

Distance Between Original and DestinationMain CabinMain Cabin SelectFirst Class
Less than 750 miles20,00030,00040,000
Between 750 and 2,000 miles30,00045,00060,000
More than 2,000 miles40,00060,00090,000

Alaska Airlines Credit Card vs Hawaiian Airlines Credit Card — Which Is Better for Travel to Hawaii?

Which credit card you should focus on will depend on where you live, if you plan to purchase a paid ticket or book an award flight, and if you’re traveling with other people on your reservation.

Choose Alaska Airlines Visa Signature if…

  • You don’t have enough miles for an award ticket and you have to purchase flights. Alaska’s annual companion fare discount for a coach seat is generally a better value than Hawaiian’s one-time 50 percent off discount.
  • Other people are on your paid reservation. This credit card offers the first checked bag free for up to six people on the primary cardholder’s reservation. The card from Hawaiian Airlines only offers one free bag to the primary cardholder—no matter how many other people are on his or her reservation.
  • If you’re departing from the West Coast and want to travel on Alaska Airlines flights. The airline has excellent coverage throughout the West Coast.

Choose Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard if…

  • The bonus miles are important to you. Hawaiian Airlines offers 35,000 bonus miles once you hit the $1,000 threshold of purchases within 90 days. Alaska only offers 25,000 miles (but there is no minimum spend required to get them; just get approved for the card).
  • You are traveling from the New York City area to Honolulu. Hawaiian Airlines offers nonstop flights from JFK.
  • You want to travel in Hawaiian’s new 180-degree lie-flat seats. In the second quarter of 2016, the airline will begin installing new lie-flat seats that convert to 76-inch beds. All planes will be retrofitted with the new seats by the end of 2017.

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