A Request from Reader: Help Me Get to Maui from LAX with My Existing Stash of Miles

Now and again I like to feature questions from readers. So, without further ado:

“I am trying to plan another family summer vacation, and have accumulated 50,000 Avios points and 54,000 American Airline miles.  I will need to find flights for 2 adults and 2 children (ages 10 and 13 next year).  Would I even be able to find award flights (non-stop) using the above points or with their partners? 

I’m not expecting a complete ride for all 4 of us, just a few one-way tickets would even be fine…but I also don’t want to spend all day in the airport waiting for connections.  What would you do?  I think the flights only extend out to mid-June 2017 when I searched today.”

This reader was not looking to sign up for any new cards, but simply wanted to maximize her existing stash of miles and points. She also told me that they were thinking about flying at the end of July or possibly beginning of August.

First things first. AAdvantage releases award flight tickets 331 days in advance. So, if you plan on flying to Hawaii at the end of July, you’ll have to wait till beginning of September in order to be able to book the tickets. I suggest you set a reminder so you can start checking as soon as the schedule is open. Getting four saver (lowest level) award seats to Hawaii is tough.

The best way to utilize the miles

Fortunately, this reader does have some flexibility, so it’s a big plus. She also happens to live in Los Angeles, a major American Airlines hub. Here is the best way to maximize her miles and points:

  1. Book 4 one-way tickets from LAX to Maui (or vice versa) via British Airways Avios program. The cost is 12,500 Avios. It will only work on non-stop flights that happen to have sAAver availability via AAdvantage program itself (prices out at 22,500 miles one-way during regular season). They should be easily bookable online on ba.com
  2. Book 2 one-way tickets via AAdvantage. Unfortunately, the cost is 22,500 miles one-way for flights from Mainland to Hawaii in the summer.
  3. She can buy the other two one-way tickets on the same flight or look for ways to top off her AA account in  order to get enough for a third ticket. Buying miles would be hardly worth it unless there is a sale. If you use Ultimate Rewards points and happen to have Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus, you can get 1.25 cents towards airfare. The same goes for Citi Thank You Premier card. If you  have Citi Prestige, you’ll get 1.6 cents per point toward AA-operated flights, 1.33 cents on all other airlines.

I didn’t like the idea of paying 22,500 AA miles one-way and purchasing additional tickets, so I decided to follow up with this reader and ask her if she happens to have any flexible points. She replied  that between hers’ and her husband’s accounts they  have 40K SPG points. Bingo! You can transfer SPG points between accounts as long as they share the same address.

British Airways or Virgin America?

That’s the beauty of flexible points, especially SPG currency. They may sit around for years and do nothing, but then one day they are as good as gold. The most logical solution would be to transfer 40K SPG points to British Airways Avios program in order to book 4 one-way tickets to/from Maui. That’s because you get a 5K miles bonus per each 20K SPG transfer.

However, transfers from SPG to Avios are not instant. It took 5 days for mine to go through. Someone can easily grab the award  tickets in that period of time. Like I said, Hawaii is a very popular destination and Avios program is one of the best and cheapest ways to get there. Note that if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Amex Membership Rewards, those transfers  are instant.

Personally, I would look into Virgin America program if I only had SPG points. I wrote a post on how you can leverage this option for Hawaiian-operated flights. Hawaiian Airlines happens to fly non-stop from Los Angeles to Maui, and one-way redemption runs at 12,000 Virgin  America Elevate points.

Transfer takes only 24 hours to go through, so chances are, you should be able to lock in your redemption without any issues. You’ll still get 5K points bonus on each 20,000 SPG points. I’ve also read that Hawaiian planes are a bit nicer than the ones American uses for this particular route.

Of course, there is also an option of redeeming Elevate points on Virgin America-operated flights. After all, they also fly non-stop to Maui from LAX. The program is revenue-based, so award flights can be quite expensive if fares are high. I checked next year’s award options, and this is what came up:


Obviously, prices change constantly according to supply/demand, so it’s very possible that you’ll be able to book it for much less if you keep an eye on fares. But in all likelihood, Hawaiian option will be  a better overall deal as long as there is saver award availability via that program.

If you like to play it safe

Let’s say you haven’t found any saver availability on Hawaiian Airlines and award rates on Virgin America are astronomically high. But there is saver-level availability via AAdvantage in both directions. The only logical thing to do is to transfer to Avios program and book those flights for only 12,500 miles each way, right? Maybe, maybe not.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, transfers to Avios take 5 days or possibly longer. There is no way to put your award seats on hold. However, you can put your AAdvantage seats on hold as long as you are willing to pay 22,500 miles for the same exact flight. American offers a free 5-day hold even if you don’t have the required number of miles, and transfers from SPG usually take 2-3 days to go through. Emphasis on “usually.”

Is it better to just grab the seats via AAdvantage and be done with it? Only you can decide. Personally, I hate overpaying for anything, so I would probably take a chance on Avios transfer, especially if there happened to be availability on several days. If, however, my dates were firm, I would consider it. I would probably dump the entire 40K SPG points in order to take advantage of the transfer bonus.

In miles and points hobby, it’s hard to know what’s the best course of action for any given scenario. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. Oh, and have a Plan B for your miles, always. See this post on some other ways you can get to Hawaii via miles and points.

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6 thoughts on “A Request from Reader: Help Me Get to Maui from LAX with My Existing Stash of Miles

  1. Hmm, this one is a toughie. It depends on her budget situation. Considering that she is located in Los Angeles, sub-$400 airfare sales to Hawaii seem to popup several times a year since it is a very competitive route. I’ve been to Hawaii in July and it’s a popular destination for Californians – seemed like everyone we met was middle/upper management types from SoCal. Personally, SPG points are so valuable that I would not want to redeem them for miles on a route that has decent airfares, plus there are the transfer delay hoops and program choices to jump through as you have described. From a budgetary perspective, if that’s the difference between going or not going, then have at it. One advantage of booking the one-ways with Avios is BA’s low cancellation/redeposit fees of only $55 per ticket vs. AA’s $150 and Virgin America’s $100. (BTW, I believe it is only 12500 Avios one way between LAX-OGG, not 22500).

    She can monitor and configure notifications on Twitter for @airfarewatchdog, @theflightdeal, and @secretflying to get alerted to breaking airfare deals. You can also setup e-mail fare alerts on Airfarewatchdog’s web site for specific time periods. Hipmunk is another good site – simply plug in some target dates and set fare alerts. I would also recommend installing the iOS/Android app from http://www.hopper.com – it is an airfare prediction app that helps tell you when is a good time to buy. I am not sure if it includes all the LCCs, but it will at least give you a feel for the price range.


    • @Erik I definitely agree that it depends on one’s budget. Fares from LAX to Hawaii are usually very competitive. So, it depends on how flexible your schedule is. I don’t know what this person’s situation is financially, but my assumption is that they don’t have a lot of cash. Out of curiosity I checked fares to Maui from LA for next summer. It appears that the lowest one is $565 on Hawaiian, $700 on AA. I have no doubt that the price will come down eventually, but it’s not a guarantee.
      Oh, and you are right. I didn’t word my post properly when I referred to Avios pricing. I said she can get 4 one-way tickets with 50K Avios which implied 12,500 pricing, so I went ahead and added that last part.
      What I meant was that it has to price out at 22,500 AA miles via AAdvantage on AA website in order to be bookable at 12,500 Avios level. But I can see that I didn’t make it super clear, so thanks for pointing it out.
      Personally, if I could book LAX-Maui rote for 25K Avios roundtrip, I probably would. I think that’s a good deal, plus, like you said, if fares get crazy cheap down the road, you can always cancel and lose only what you’ve paid in taxes.


    • @HML Yes I did! I did a retweet of DoC post on it and plan to mention it tomorrow. It looks like many blogs have already reported on it, so I didn’t feel the need to write a dedicated post. Could be a good deal for some. AA program is not what it used to be, but there are still decent redemptions to be had. A nice thing is that you can put a 5-day hold on awards, and transfer from SPG takes 2-3 days (usually).


  2. Thanks for the info! Didn’t realize that Virgin Elevate points could be used on Hawaiian Airlines – what a great option for my family since I usually can’t find availability on AA. From my experience, late June – early August, flights are averaging $600 – $800 per ticket (from LAX to OGG) so any freebie one ways would help us out. The $400 tickets are usually for San Diego on Alaska Airlines.


    • @Stephanie No problem! I’m not sure how availability on Hawaiian is for this particular route. I would call Virgin America before transferring any SPG points. Just because there is award availability via Hawaiian website, doesn’t automatically mean that Virgin America will see those flights on their end. Partnerships can be tricky. With some flexibility, you should be able to come up with something (hopefully). Please, do let me know when the time comes in case you need any help!


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