There are two sides to travel hacking with points and miles, earning the points and then actually booking travel with those points. Both sides have their own world of respective methods and tricks to maximize your return, but are largely independent of each other except for the point and mile currencies that tie them together. In order to get the most travel for the least amount of time, effort, and cost, it’s important to at least familiarize yourself with both sides of the equation. Nobody can keep up with every possible way to earn points or every possible way to redeem them, but luckily there exist a lot of good posts out there for specific currencies and specific destinations that can be found through Google. This post is going to cover one of the sweet-spots on the award booking side of the equation, which involves using British Avios to book Alaska Airlines tickets from the west coast of the US to Hawaii. I’ve known about this particular possibility for a while, but after getting invited to a wedding in Maui next year, I actually get to try it out myself! I’ll walk you through how I earned the miles, found the award space, and finally booked our flights below.
Earning and Transferring the Miles
For this particular trip, the miles currency of choice is British Avios which is the loyalty program for British Airways. At first glance, it probably seems odd that you would want to earn miles tied to a European airline to book flights within the US, but due to different award booking rules and airline partnerships, the most obvious currency isn’t always the best! Most US carriers charge a flat 25k miles for a round-trip ticket within the lower 48, but add on a premium to book out to Hawaii. For example, Alaska Airlines charges 40k miles on the low-end while American charges 35k-45k depending on the time of year (for now at least, the low end is going up to 40k next year). These may not be terrible redemption depending on how you earned the miles and the cash price of similar flights, but we can do better with British Avios.
Luckily, there are lots of different ways to earn British Avios! Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards both transfer directly to Avios and Chase also offers a British Airways card that can earn them directly. Potential credit cards that often have good signup bonuses include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Amex Premier Rewards Gold, and Chase British Airways card.
Keep in mind that Chase UR currently transfer at a 1:1 rate while Amex MR only transfer at a 5:4 rate which means 100 MR is only worth 80 Avios.
For us, we used a combination of Amex MR and Chase UR transferred to my Avios account. The majority came from MR because even though they recently devalued the transfer (used to be 1:1), I haven’t managed to find a better use for MR that matches up with our travel plans since earning them with the Amex PRG over a year ago. I topped off the account with a couple thousand Avios transferred from UR.
Even if you know you want to book an Avios flight via flexible points, you don’t necessarily have to transfer the points very far ahead of time. Both MR and UR transfer “instantly” to your Avios account so you can verify the flight availability before transferring in order to maintain flexibility in case the available dates don’t work with your travel schedule.
I actually found the availability without even having my Avios account linked to either my Chase or Amex accounts, but was able to link both, transfer the points, and actually see them in my Avios account within about 15 minutes.
Finding the Flight Availability
The sweet-spot of this trip involves finding a direct flight from the west coast of the US to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines. This particular award works because the British Avios award chart is distance based per segment and most cities along the west coast of the US are less than 3,000 miles from Hawaii which is the cut-off for the 12,500 Avios price each way.
Alaska Airlines is partners with British Airways and offers a fairly large selection of direct flights from the US to Hawaii. Some possible cities for the 12,500 Avios price include Seattle, Portland, San Fransico, Los Angeles, and San Diego, which all fly to some combination of Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and/or the big island.
For this trip, our destination is locked in because we’re attending a wedding in Maui and will be flying from Seattle, so I was focused on finding an SEA->OGG flight. If you remain flexible on which island you fly to initially and are even open to driving to a different airport for the departure, there is a lot better chance you will be able to find available award space that works with your plans.
Unfortunately, the British Airways website does not allow you to search Alaska award availability, so we will have to use a different flight search engine and eventually call in to actually book the flight. I prefer using Alaska’s search engine, but you have to pay attention to several factors to see whether or not the flights returned to you can be booked with British Avios. American Airline’s search engine will work as well and will filter the Saver awards much more clearly.
Below is a perfect example of why Alaska’ search may be a little confusing if you are trying to book with Avios:
- Alaska 861 – The first flight in the list can’t be booked with Avios because it’s an upper-tier “Lowest” award from Alaska. Only their lowest level of the “Lowest” awards can be booked by partner airlines.
- Alaska 831 – The second flight CAN be booked with Avios! It meets all the requirements of being an Alaska direct flight pricing out at the lowest tier cost of 20k miles. Keep in mind it will only cost 12,500 Avios to book, we’re just using Alaska’s search engine which displays the price in Alaska miles.
- Delta 1397 – The third flight can’t be booked with Avios because Delta is not a partner of British Airways.
- Alaska 823 – The fourth flight can’t be booked for 12,500 Avios because it involves a stop, even though the flight number remains the same for both segments. This is probably the trickiest one because it prices out correctly and “looks” like a direct flight at first glance. It is possible to book both halves of the trip with Avios, but will end up costing 20,000 instead of the 12,500 we’re looking for.
- Alaska 2329 + 863 – The fifth and final flight above also can’t be booked for 12,500 Avios because it too involves a stop which breaks the total flight into two segments. Once again, it is possible to book with Avios, but not at the lowest 12,500 price we’re looking for.
If you don’t want to go through the process of elimination on the Alaska website’s search results, using American’s might work better for you. As you can see below, the only direct flight that shows up for the same search as above is the Alaska flight 831 which can be booked for the ideal 12,500 Avios:
Don’t forget, if you’re having trouble finding a qualifying flight for the 12,500 Avios price, try searching for different airports in Hawaii or even different airports in the US that aren’t too far away. As always, a little flexibility can go a long way when trying to find award flights.
Booking The Award
Once you find an available award that meets all the requirements, it’s time to actually book it. To recap, we need an Alaska Airlines direct flight that prices out at the lowest saver level that they offer.
If you don’t already have enough Avios to book the flight(s) in your British Airways account, be sure to transfer them in and verify they are there before calling in. Once you confirm the transfer from the bank of your choice, it may be necessary for you to log out and log back in to see the new balance in your account on the British Airways website.
As Alaska awards don’t show up on the British Airways website, it is necessary to call in to book these awards. Luckily, this should be a fairly painless process if you’re specific in your request. I actually called in twice to book each direction separately, but neither call took more than 15 minutes.
The number to call is 800-452-1201. I’ve heard that sometimes the wait time can be long, but I was connected to a person right away both times I called.
Once you get a hold of a British Airways representative, inform them you would like to book an award ticket from *origin* to *destination* on *date(s) of travel*. Fill in the *parts* with information for the available flight(s) you found online. It may help to give them the flight number you previously found because I think they have to search for Alaska separately from regular awards. The first person I reached found it right away while the second person came back saying there wasn’t any available flights before I mentioned checking Alaska Airlines.
After they find the flight and you give them your name and other travel information, they will give you the price of the award. IMPORTANT: Be sure to pay attention to what price they are giving you, specifically the taxes and fees in addition to the Avios. Each direction and each person you are booking for should require 12,500 Avios and $5.60 USD. They may incorrectly try to charge a phone booking fee because you called in, but they should waive this fee because Alaska awards are not bookable online.
The first person I called for the outbound leg waived the fee without even mentioning it, but the second person first came back with a much higher price for the inbound flight. I mentioned that the phone booking fee had been waived for me in the past because Alaska isn’t bookable online and after a few minutes of being on hold, the price was adjusted to the proper $11.20 for two people going one direction.
If the person on the other line refuses to waive the fee, I recommend hanging up and calling again, but hopefully that doesn’t happen to you.
After the booking it complete, the representative should give you both a record locator for British Airways and an Alaska Airlines confirmation number. Once the flights are officially ticketed, you should be able to plug the Alaska confirmation number into Alaska’s site and pick the seats for all passengers.
Once all that is complete, you can start thinking about what you’re going to pack on your upcoming Hawaii adventure!
Overall, I was really happy with the availability I was able to find and we will be visiting Hawaii for the first time next year! I’m actually excited I was able to use this British Avios sweet-spot as well because while I’ve mentioned to several people interested in getting to Hawaii for cheap, I’m always hesitant to recommend things I haven’t tried myself. Now that I’ve gone through the process, there will be no hesitation when people ask me the cheapest way to get from Seattle to Hawaii in the future. It’s hard to beat getting two flights to Hawaii for one credit card signup bonus and $22.40!
Note: The current Chase Sapphire Preferred and British Avios credit card signup bonuses are enough to get 2 people round-trip tickets from the west coast to Hawaii using the process I walked through above.