The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 57.5k United Miles & 10k Avios: The Island Hopper

There are a lot of cool things you can do with miles. One of the coolest things I’ve thought up, and one which I am strongly contemplating booking, would turn 57.5k United miles and 10k Avios into:

  • A trip to a Pacific atoll to be determined, Guam, and Japan. Three places I’ve never been.
  • Fourteen hours on the famous Island Hopper route.
  • Flat bed business class for seven hours.

The center piece for this plan is the Island Hopper route, which I became obsessed with last week and read everything a google search could find. Three times a week, United flies from Honolulu to Guam with five stops along the way in the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

The 4,365 mile route takes 14:30 to fly west; crosses the international date line; and requires an extra pilot, flight attendant, and spare parts. It takes you across the remote Pacific with all the takeoffs, landings, and souvenir photos you can handle.

Image from gcmap.com showing Island Hopper route. From united.com: Time on the ground in Majuro, Marshall Islands (MAJ) is 45 minutes. Time on the ground in Kwajalein, Marshall Islands (KWA) is 41 minutes. Time on the ground in Kosrae, Federated State of Micronesia (KSA) is 40 minutes. Time on the ground in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (PNI) is 41 minutes. Time on the ground in Truk, Federated States of Micronesia (TKK) is 41 minutes.

The Island Hopper is a famous and historic route that has connected the Pacific atolls to the rest of the world for decades. It was originally flown my Air Micronesia (Air Mike!), then Continental Micronesia, and finally by United after the United/Continental merger.

Here are a few trip reports that got me excited:

Reading those got me very excited about flying the Island Hopper route from Honolulu to Guam. From Guam, United flies daily direct flights back to Honolulu with award space in economy class every day and business class most days.

Award space Guam to Honolulu direct is wide open.

But a direct return seems boring when I would be so close to Asia, plus the Guam to Honolulu 777 has recliner seats in business class, which I don’t want to fly.

I looked into other options. Guam has more flights that you might imagine, and four choices jumped out at me: Seoul, Tokyo, Cairns, and Taipei.

Image from gcmap.com

Since my brother and I just scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns a few months ago, I ruled that out. Taipei and Seoul are interesting choices, but Tokyo caught my eye. Japan Airlines is a oneworld member airline that flies the route, and that means Avios can be used on the route. When I think short, direct flight, I usually assume the best deal will be an Avios award.

From searching ba.com, I learned that Guam to Narita has wide open availability in economy and business class on a Japan Airlines 767, which features recliner style business class seats.

Economy class on the 3:50 flight costs 10,000 Avios and $96. Business class costs 20,000 Avios and $96. That’s not much of a premium for business class, but it’s a short flight, and the business class seat isn’t great, so I haven’t decided which cabin I’d select.

or

Then when I was ready to go back to Hawaii from Tokyo, I would fly United business class. Business class awards between Japan and Hawaii with United miles is a major sweet spot at only 32,500 miles oneway for seven hours in a flat bed. That’s only a 10,000 mile premium on economy class.

Plus premium seats are widely available on the route.

Some days have both United space and All Nippon Airways space.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, United offers a way better product on this route than its Japanese partner. United flies to Tokyo on a 777 with flat beds in business and first. ANA has an angled lie flat business class.

Having flown United BusinessFirst (business) and Global First (first) before, I don’t think the 15,000 mile premium for seven hours is worth the price to fly first class between Japan and Hawaii. The business class beds are plenty comfortable, so I would return in United BusinessFirst class.

Putting the Trip Together

I’ve talked about three parts of the trip:

  • Honolulu to Guam on the Island Hopper in economy with United miles
  • Guam to Tokyo in economy or business with Avios
  • Tokyo to Honolulu in business with United miles

This would take two awards to ticket. One roundtrip, open jaw United award and one Avios award.

Since we are booking a roundtrip United award from Honolulu to Guam, returning Tokyo to Honolulu, we can take a free stopover.

I haven’t researched all the stops on the Island Hopper yet, but I would take the stop somewhere on that route, continuing on the next Island Hopper two days later. That would mean two days in the Marshall Islands or Micronesia, plus however long I want in Guam and Japan.

This would be a unique trip and the coolest thing I can think to do with 57,500 United miles and 10,000 Avios.

Image from gcmap.com

But you don’t live in Hawaii.

Not living in Hawaii doesn’t make this trip impossible, just a few more miles. You’d have a few options. Between the mainland and Guam, it only costs 32,500 United miles in economy, and you can definitely route on the Island Hopper.

Since the Island Hopper leaves at 5:00 AM, you won’t be able to connect to it without overnighting in Honolulu. You have two options for the time in Honolulu.

1. You can fly in to Honolulu the morning before the Island Hopper and spend close to 24 hours in Hawaii without burning your stopover. (Layovers of under 24 hours don’t count as a stopover.) This is a great option to get some beach time and save your stopover for somewhere along the Island Hopper.

2. You can fly into Hawaii and hang out for a few days or more before the Island Hopper. This will count as your stopover. That means no stopover along the Island Hopper, but you can still spend as much time as you want in Guam and Japan.

Then on the return from Japan, you can fly directly home instead of going through Hawaii. Unfortunately a business class trip from Japan to the mainland US with United miles is 60,000 miles, and first class is 70,000–quite a bit more than the Japan to Honolulu route.

I would anticipate that attempting to book this award would cause error messages on united.com, so find the space for each segment then call 800-UNITED-1 to book.

That means a mainlander would need 92,500 United miles plus 10,000 Avios to fly the Island Hopper, United business class home from Japan, and Japan Airlines between Guam and Tokyo. That’s well within reach.

Getting the Miles

The ideal currency for this trip is Ultimate Rewards points from Chase. Ultimate Rewards transfer instantly at a 1:1 rate to United and British Airways. The best Ultimate Rewards cards to get would be the Chase Ink Bold and Chase Sapphire Preferred, which combined offer 98,000+ Ultimate Rewards just for meeting their minimum spending requirements. You can apply for them at the same time.

Personal: Sapphire Preferred with 40,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months

Business: Ink Bold with 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Many people don’t realize they qualify for a business credit card.

Two Other Things about the Island Hopper

The Island Hopper as I’ve described only flies Monday and Friday. The Wednesday version skips the stop in Kosrae.

I haven’t seen any business class availability on the whole thing, though there seems to be space on the shortest hops individually. I wouldn’t want business class anyway, since it’s just a recliner.

Recap

I’m currently contemplating booking a trip that would get me onto the famed Island Hopper route, which hops between seven Pacific islands. I would combine that trip with an Avios award to Japan and a return in a flat bed. All that would cost only 67,500 Ultimate Rewards and $150 or so from Hawaii. From the mainland, it would be 102,500 Ultimate Rewards and $150.

Racking up the Ultimate Rewards for this ultimate trip is easy by getting these two cards at once:

Application Link: Sapphire Preferred with 40,000 Ultimate Rewards

Application Link: Ink Bold with 50,000 Ultimate Rewards

31 Responses to The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 57.5k United Miles & 10k Avios: The Island Hopper

  1. All I can say is, awesome! It is posts like this that make your site the top of my list when it comes to travel & miles. I love your creative thinking when it comes to using miles.

    Do you know if you get to briefly de-plane at all those island-hopping stops? That’s a long time to spend in coach, but with it being broken up like that, I could see myself enjoying it.

  2. That sounds like a terrific trip. Never heard that island hopper route before.

  3. gussomer (aka Steve Jones)

    Would love to read this trip report and see the photos!

  4. Don’t neglect the other side of the Island Hopper, Guam-Yap-Palau-Manila, there are options with different stops. Palau is my favorite.

    The flights have a very laid back feeling, crew is very informal, passengers are a mix of islanders, weathered expats, and fresh-faced Mormon missionaries.

    @Daniel Peckham – you do get off at the stops but the layovers are extremely tight, around 30 minutes, so you don’t get to see much more than a transit hall. The alternative is to wait a couple days and pick up the next hopper coming along.

  5. If you are going that far, I would highly recommend Palau. World class scuba diving! And you can swim in a land-locked lake filled with jellyfish. (They don’t sting.)

    And I’ve heard that Yap has amazing manta rays (although I haven’t done that one).

    Have fun!

  6. It’s one I definitely have in mind for next year. I’ll be following your reports with interest. I”m not that interested in Guam. I’m wondering if I can do legs as follows:

    Mainland U.S. to Yap (destination)
    Yap to Majuro (stopover)
    Majuro to mainland

    Alternatively I might be able to add a Hawaii one-way to another redemption at some point and start or end in Hawaii with a few days there, paying or redeeming another one way.

    (Maybe this will get complicated enough that I’ll want to use your award booking service.)

    • Dave: You’d have to overnight in Honolulu, as the Island Hopper leaves there at 7 a.m. I spent a couple of days acclimating in HNL before I ventured to Micronesia. Yap is at the further end of the trip from HNL, so you’ll have a full day on the plane. If you choose to head back via Majuro, bear in mind the plane lands in HNL around 2 a.m. (the same day you left Micronesia!). Again, you’ll be bushed. Might want to decompress for a bit on Oahu before heading back to the mainland. Otherwise, depending on what flight you take and where you’re heading, you’ll have some serious downtime at HNL airport, not exactly a place brimming with amenities, especially in the middle of the night.

  7. For someone like a me, Traveler’s Century Club wannabe, this is totally awesome. I had been looking at this area of the S. Pacific and wondering how I could tie several of these places together into a single trip. Now I know how I can do it with miles!

  8. Scott – this was a f—ing rock star post! Could this work with ANA miles as well? (You’ve got me fired up on ANA miles, especially since I’m rich with MR points – therefore that’s my in for Star Alliance).

  9. I read a post on this subject recently on the “Travel is Free” website a month or two ago. Nevertheless, love your site and thanks for sharing, also expanding on the original theme. Many bloggers just repeat what the OP wrote about, you actually expanded on the idea and built it into a real trip, showing how to get to Japan and then back to the US.

    I’m intrigued by this trip as well. Being from LAX, it seems like a pretty interesting opportunity to score a bunch of segments if they all would count towards status. Wonder where the coolest place to hang for a few days is on that route? Do you know if there’s opportunity to stamp your passport too for passport nerds?

  10. This is cool and all but its nothing more than “ive been there for 30-40min” trip. You dont really get to see each place. Just wasting your free time imo. Do a real trip where you actually visit the place and learn about the location and experience it. I can go thru japan but that doesnt really mean ive been to japan.

  11. Oooh, now you’ve got me thinking about working this into my 90k biz RT to N Asia on US. I’m hoping to route through Istanbul on the outbound, but adding in the island hopper on the return could be cool.

  12. Wow, I guess I now know what my next next next trip will be. Ice cream shopping time!

  13. Oh boy, I’m not going to get much work done today. Off to read up on all things Island Hopper.

  14. Go for it. The Island Hopper is a special trip. I took it 10 years ago from HNL to Kosrae, where I spent a week. I got off briefly at the first stop, Majuro, just to say I was in the Marshall Islands. Even though the trip from HNL to there is only four hours, you’ve crossed the international dateline, though you’ll never know it. You won’t have to reset your biological clock. It’s pretty much the time you’d expect it to be, just a day later. I haven’t been to the other islands in Micronesia, but I could heartily recommend KSA for a short stay. Very relaxing. People are super friendly. And the tiny airport, where lots of folks come to watch the one departure/landing for a day is a memory onto itself. The only place really worth staying is the Kosrae Village Resort, which among other things, also offers up good dive trips. Thanks for a great post and for bringing back even better memories.

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  17. Totally off topic. But how was the scuba diving in Cairns? I was looking at doing that with my wife.

    And btw, bad ass post. Really cool looking at what your options are with this.

    • Absolutely incredible. My brother and had never dived in our lives and we got to go to 12m with our own air supply. We saw some incerdible rays, fish, and coral.

  18. I did three day/two night diving trip with Scuba Pro (11 dives including 2 night dives, recommended to me by a friend) and I absolutely loved it!

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  20. Not sure if it’s a glitch, but Avianca (Star Alliance) LifeMiles only charges 12,500 miles (one-way economy) for GUM to mainland USA via HNL. By comparison UA charges 35,000! Check it out on LifeMiles website.

  21. Back in the Air Mike days (1982) I worked for CO in El Paso. A work buddy and I made the journey on the “island hopper” as non-revs, a 2-week trip with many adventures and a few mishaps. As non-revs we flew standby, with small carry-on bags, and had no lodging arranged before the trip. We flew to LAX and couldn’t get on the HNL flight the first night. The next day we made it to HNL and spent the night with a CO pilot we met onboard (we had agreed to couch surf as often as possible, though it wasn’t called that back then).

    We got on the long long flight to GUM, stopping at Kwajalein (military base), Johnston(also a military base), Majuro, Ponape, and Truk. IIRC. No one got on at Truk, there was a cholera epidemic and the island was quarantined. Once we got to GUM we stayed in the empty house of a CO pilot we already knew who was in the process of moving his family to GUM. No furniture, just slept in sheets on the carpeted floor.

    I must mention that in those days Air Mike flew special 727s. They had a cargo hold just aft of the flight deck, with a giant gull-wing-type door that opened for freight. It was truly amazing to watch the unloading and loading at each stop: fridges, washing machines, fresh coconuts, copra, etc. The plane held about 60 passengers in the back, the aft air stairs were used instead of doors. All the airports had SHORT runways of crushed coral (I think they’re all paved now), and the planes were specially painted to resist damage from the coral. It took true piloting skill to land and take off on the very short runways. CO pilots vied for assignments to Air Mike, they all said it was the most fun flying of their careers. The “terminal” at most islands consisted of an open air hut with palm leaf roof. The flights only operated 2-3 days a week, so everyone on each island would come to the airport to see the comings and goings. Every stop was like a scene out of a movie.

    We took a side trip to Saipan, with a stop at Tinian. The pilots escorted everyone who was interested to the plaques commemorating the loading pits for the B-29s during WWII. The Enola Gay and Bock’s Car were loaded there, the plaques specifically mentioned which plane was loaded at each site.

    We spent a few days, at a real hotel on a beach, in Saipan. We rented a car and drove all over the island to battle sites from WWII. It was very very eerie, ghostly, even all those years later. Ironically, 98% of the island visitors were Japanese, it’s a popular destination for honeymooners.

    We then flew to Palau, via Tinian, Guam, and Yap. We decided to not deplane at Yap. The absolute highlight of the entire trip was Palau. At the advice of our Guam friend, when we landed we sought out “Johnny,” who owned a tiny resort way out in the heart of the Rock Islands near Pelelieu. We negotiated a price with him for transport to his Carp Island, famous with divers, and stayed for several days. Each day we would go out on a boat for the most mind-boggling snorkeling on earth, the experience spoiled us forever for being able to go anywhere else and enjoy snorkeling. While we snorkeled, the boat man would fish and catch our evening meal.

    On the way back we stopped at Ponape for a few days (fun, especially seeing Nan Madol by boat) and then got bumped at Majuro for 3 days. This was unforeseen and we stayed in a trailer with no water, the island’s water pumping was broken! We had to haul water to our room from the local village well. At least the A/C worked, it was very hot on Majuro.

    This trip remains a high spot in all the world travels I’ve done in my lifetime. Visiting the islands of Micronesia definitely is the best use of UA miles possible, Scott is absolutely right.

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  24. Definitely WOW!! Incredible story! Sounds fun.

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