Reader @bitachu gave me an incredible tip the other day–at trivia night in Honolulu of all places–check out Virgin America’s award chart for flights on Hawaiian Airlines.
Basically the chart is incredible and presents huge opportunity for mainlanders and Hawaiians alike whether they want to go to Hawaii or beyond.
Instead of just listing the chart, they have you type in your departure and arrival cities and spit out the number of Elevate points you need to book the award.
Nonetheless, I think I’ve figured out the underlying chart. Basically, it’s a chart-plus-segment mechanism. Every segment adds to the cost of the award in much the same way British Airways Avios awards work. But instead of being distance based, it is region based.
Here’s what I’ve worked out:
Virgin America’s chart for redemptions on Hawaiian Airlines
Each cell shows the oneway/roundtrip award price in Virgin America Elevate points for a direct flight from the region listed along the top to/from Hawaii. Example: JFK to Honolulu is 20k/35k oneway/roundtrip in economy class. JFK-HNL is 45k/80k in first class for a oneway/roundtrip.
As you can see, the oneway price is 50-60% of the roundtrip price for all regions and for both economy and first class redemptions.
Each connection adds to the price. Example: interisland flights cost 3k each as you can see on the chart. That means that JFK to Maui would be 23k/41k oneway/roundtrip in economy class because you have to route JFK to Honolulu, Honolulu to Maui (20k/35k + 3k/6k).
All Hawaiian Airlines flights–except interisland flights–fly through either Oahu (HNL) or Maui (OGG). Here are wikipedia’s lists of Hawaiian’s flights to/from those airports, so you can figure out if you can take advantage of the direct-flight prices listed above.
Hawaiian’s flights to/from OGG
Hawaiian’s flights to/from HNL
I define the regions like so:
- Hawaii: Honolulu, Kahului, Lihue, Kona, Hilo
- Western US: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle
- JFK: New York
- Japan/Korea: Fukuoka, Osaka, Sapporo, Seoul, Tokyo
- Aus/Phillipines: Brisbane, Sydney, Manila
- South Pacific: Pago Pago, Pape’ete
This chart is incredible
In my post The Cheapest Ways to Get to Hawaii, I noted that British Airways Avios can get you to Hawaii for only 25k Avios roundtrip on American and Alaska flights from the west coast. This chart gets you to Hawaii from more places in the western US for 20k points roundtrip.
The cheapest way to take an interisland flight was 5k United miles. It is now 3k Virgin America points.
The cheapest way to get from the US to Australia was 75k American miles roundtrip. It is now 65k Elevate points, and you can stop one or both ways in Hawaii.
Asia is now insanely cheap for Hawaiians at 35k roundtrip, down from 50k United miles.
Of course, at MileValue, we aren’t fooled by the headline number since all miles and points have different values. Virgin America’s loyalty program is basically a fixed-value program when redeeming for Virgin America flights. The Points Guy finds that you get about 1.6 – 2.3 cents per point from such redemptions depending on the exact flight and route.
Let’s assume a 2 cent value for Virgin points. All the deals I mentioned above are still better deals than the next best deal, using mile valuations from the Mile Value Leaderboard.
Other Notes about the Chart
If your award would require an interisland flight, only the economy price is listed online. Virgin America seems unable to book Hawaiian Airlines first class on domestic flights (though I believe that first class exists on the flights.)
I assume that you could actually fly the long segment in first and add on the interisland flight in economy class for the sum of the price of those two flights. I haven’t booked any Virgin America/Hawaiian awards, though, so I can’t say for sure.
Generally, booking first class awards on the Virgin American/Hawaiian chart is probably not worth it. Hawaiian’s first class product on all flights that leave Hawaii is a recliner with 42″ of pitch. That means 4″ more leg room than most domestic first class. I would not pay more than double the economy class price for that type of seat.
By contrast, economy class on Hawaiian is awesome. As they proudly announce, Hawaiian is the only domestic carrier to provide free meals (!) with a free glass of wine (!!). I just flew Hawaiian from Los Angeles to Honolulu last week; the pasta and cake were quite tasty, and the price was right.
cheesy pasta, chocolate cake, salad, and a glass of wine
The A330s offer an individual screen with movies and TV for purchase. And the crew has more Aloha spirit than your average economy crew. For these reasons, I would look to redeem Elevate points for Hawaiian economy awards not Hawaiian first.
On all redemptions, the out-of-pocket cost will be only government taxes, which are estimated relatively accurately on Virgin’s site.
How to Get Virgin America Points
There are three main ways to get Virgin America points to take advantage of its favorable chart for Hawaiian redemptions.
Like all airlines, you can earn points by flying butt-in-seat miles. Virgin points are earned at a rate of 5 per $ on your base fare. They are not earned the way that legacy-carrier miles are earned–based on the distance of your paid flights’ routings.
Butt-in-seat is probably only viable for people who live near LAX and SFO–Virgin’s hubs.
The easiest way for most people is probably the Virgin America Visa Signature card from Barclay’s.
The card comes with 20k Elevate points on first purchase. That’s enough points for a roundtrip direct flight from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, or Seattle to Hawaii.
Or if you live in Hawaii, it’s enough for a roundtrip to Tahiti or Samoa or almost seven interisland flights.
The card comes with a very low $49 annual fee, which is more than offset by the $150 annual companion ticket discount code. And unlike a lot of companion ticket discounts, this one is actually easy to use. It is valid on any roundtrip published airfare, purchased 14 days in advance as long as the cardholder is on the itinerary.
Finally, the card is issued by Barclay’s, which is great, since you can get it in addition to other offers from the other banks with more rewards cards. And it has no minimum spend to get the points, which is great if your spending is being spread thin by the ever-growing minimum spends on most cards.
I should also mention that 20k is the highest bonus I’ve ever seen on this card–the application page notes it is double the usual bonus–so I am not expecting a bigger bonus any time soon.
Application Link: 20k Virgin America Visa Signature Card
The last option to get Elevate points is through a transfer from Membership Rewards. AMEX points transfer at a 2:1 rate, meaning 2,000 Membership Rewards gets 1,000 Virgin America points.
That means that if you are transferring in Membership Rewards, you basically need to double the prices in the award chart. That takes the deals from a great deal to a bad deal in most cases.
In November, there was a 50% transfer bonus to from Membership Rewards to Virgin America, which made the transfer rate 4:3. At that rate, you only need to increase the award-chart prices by 33%, which leaves some good deals.
Virgin America is not a transfer partner of SPG.
How to Book
Most Virgin America reps have probably never booked a Hawaiian award, so you should do your own research first. You can search Hawaiian’s award space on aa.com.
I would recommend using this technique because AA has an easy-to-use award calendar and because the space AA can book should exactly match the space Virgin America can book.
You can even search only Hawaiian flights by unchecking the boxes for other airlines on the search results.
I would not recommend using hawaiianair.com to search because sometimes the space available to Hawaiian Miles members does not match the space available to partners.
When you’ve found the space, call 877.FLY.VIRGIN (877.359.8474) to book.
Virgin America has an incredible award chart for its partnership with Hawaiian Airlines. Economy class to/from Hawaii starts at 20k points roundtrip from the western US. Oneway awards cost 50-60% of roundtrip awards.
People with Virgin America miles have a new cheapest way to get to Hawaii in a fantastic economy class product. If you don’t have any miles, consider the Virgin America credit card or a Membership Rewards transfer.