I booked myself an award from Honolulu to Manila with eight take offs and landings and multi-day stops on Pohnpei and Palau for 47,500 United miles by taking advantage of the free stopover on roundtrip United awards and how lenient the definition of “roundtrip” is.

A few weeks ago I shared how you can book United’s amazing Island Hopper route with miles and stopover at one of the otherwise-nearly-impossible-to-reach islands along the way.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 1.02.03 PM
The Island Hopper. Source: gcmap.com

United operates the Island Hopper from Honolulu to Guam with five stops twice per week on Mondays and Fridays. On Wednesday, it flies the same route but skips Kosrae. This is an inefficient way to get to Guam, but it’s certainly a cool one with amazing take offs and landings on remote islands. Here are a few trip reports that got me excited to book the Island Hopper one day:

The Island Hopper is an ideal use of miles because ordinarily this flight is ridiculously expensive with cash, since it is a route on which United has a monopoly and has high operating costs.

Trip Planning

I need to get from Hawaii to Southeast Asia around New Year. The Island Hopper heads in that general direction, and United has daily flights from Guam to Asia, so I started looking seriously at how to make everything work.

I want to stop at one of the islands along the route of the Island Hopper. First, because I’d like to split up the 14.5 hour trip, and second because when else would I have a chance to spend a few days in Chuuk or Kosrae or Pohnpei?

United doesn’t allow a stopover on one way awards, but it does allow one on roundtrips, and as I’ll show, the definition of “roundtrip” is very loose. It basically means any two one way awards joined together.

I also want to go to Palau. Snorkeling with the jellyfish looks so fun.

Then after Palau I want to go to Asia for my planned Southeast Asia trip in January.

Choosing the Stopover

There are five stops between Honolulu and Guam. Kwajalein Island is not a possible stopover because it is a military base.

Of the other four options, Chuuk and Pohnpei got the most love in FlyerTalk threads (1, 2, 3) asking for the ideal stopover point.

I picked Pohnpei for my stopover.

Choosing the Asian Destination

I want to start my Southeast Asia trip in Bangkok, but the flights are a real hassle from Palau to Bangkok. There are daily flights from Palau to Guam at 1:45 AM that sync pretty well with flights to Fukuoka and Sendai, Japan, so I read up on each. I was thinking about a Fukuoka-Hiroshoma-Tokyo blitz of Japan and then flying to Bangkok, but decided it would take too much time and that Japan is “on the way” on plenty of other trips, so I’ll see it soon enough.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.07.53 PM

I decided the best option out of Palau is to fly directly to Manila, Philippines on a day when that flight operates. I’ve never been to the Philippines either, and it’s a direct flight that’s headed the right direction towards Bangkok.

Flying to Japan, though much farther, would be much cheaper as United’s award chart prices Oceania (Palau) to Japan at 12,500 miles one way. Oceania to Southeast Asia (Philippines) is 22,500 miles ones way.

Searching

I searched everything as a one way trip first. I noted dates when award space was available, and then looked for a set of dates that would give me 2-3 days in each place. Right now there is award space for two passengers in economy every day the Island Hopper operates from December 28 to January 8 and the days I checked in March. I haven’t found any Business Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.46.33 PM

Click “Details” and you’ll see the short stops on each far-flung island.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.46.44 PM

Turning that Award Space into a Trip

United one way awards allow zero stopovers of longer than 24 hours. United roundtrip awards allow one stopover plus your destination plus up to two open jaws. I decided to book a roundtrip award with a stopover and an open jaw.

  • Honolulu to Pohnpei (stopover)
  • Pohnpei to Palau (destination)
  • Palau to Manila (there is an open jaw between Honolulu–the origin–and Manila–the destination)
Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.51.50 PM
Color coded by day of travel

You may notice that the open jaw–the distance between Honolulu and Manila–is much longer than either the outbound–Honolulu to Palau–or the “return”–Palau to Manila. United’s computer doesn’t mind at all.

To book the award, I did a multi-city award search on united.com searching for the days I had found award space. I didn’t get any errors on my multi-city award search, though that frequently happens on united.com. If you get an error, just call in to book.

On the multi-city search page, you break the trip into three parts, so that each place you plan to spend more than 24 hours is listed. (Yes, this is the old united.com. It’s better, and it still exists if you use this trick to access it.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 2.42.41 AM

On the search results, the mileage price and taxes are not shown, but keep picking from the Saver award column and you’ll be fine.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.20.46 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.21.08 PM

In the end, I booked an award that gives me three days in Pohnpei and three days in Palau.Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.48.09 PM

The total price is a puny 47,500 United miles and $18. The miles price is because United charges 25,000 miles from Hawaii to Oceania (Palau) and 22,500 miles from Oceania to Southeast Asia.Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.50.13 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.50.20 PM

The equivalent cash ticket was over $2,000. I would never pay $2,000 of course, which means that without miles I would never be able to take this trip.

I paid the award taxes with my Citi Prestige® Card to earn 3x points on the airfare purchase. If I hadn’t already used up my $250 Air Travel Credit in 2015, the $18 would have even been refunded to me. No worries, that credit resets for me in January. The Citi Prestige® Card comes with 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open

The Rest of the Plan

Tentatively I’m thinking about going to these places in this order though lines don’t necessarily represent flights. I fly back from Chennai to the United States in late January on an Etihad A380 in First Class.
Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.54.04 PM

Plan B?

For whatever reason, United basically never releases Business Class award space on its flights through Oceania.

The Business Class product is what you would find in Domestic First Class, just a wider recliner with more leg room, but it would probably be worth booking if Saver space were available because the price premium is small.

  • Hawaii to Oceania in economy: 25,000 United miles
  • Hawaii to Oceania in Business: 40,000 United miles
  • Oceania to Southeast Asia in economy: 22,500 United miles
  • Oceania to Southeast Asia in Business: 35,000 United miles

I wouldn’t pay 12,500 extra miles for Business Class from Palau to Manila because it is only 2:45, but I would pay 15,000 extra miles for Business Class from Hawaii all the way to Palau because that is about 13 hours in the air.

United offers Plan B awards where you pay the premium cabin price, get top waitlist priority as if you are a displaced premium cabin passenger, and get the miles refunded if your upgrade doesn’t clear. I am going to call and try to have 15,000 miles taken out of my account now as part of a Plan B award booking. If I don’t get upgraded to Business Class, I’ll get those miles back. If I do, it’s well worth the price.

You Don’t Live in Hawaii

You don’t need to live in Hawaii to make any of this work. You can either book from your home airport to Oceania via the Island Hopper on a single award or fly one award to Hawaii and then book an award like the one in this post.

To get home from Manila or Japan after flying there to end your “roundtrip,” you can book a one way award with almost every type of miles.

Don’t put this post in the category of “cool but useless because I don’t live in Hawaii or have the flexibility to end in Asia.” Use this post as a guide to book what you can given where you live and how much time you have available.

Bottom Line

To get a stopover at a hard-to-reach island on the United Island Hopper in addition to your destination, book a “roundtrip” United award. It can be a real roundtrip or an open jaw roundtrip that ends in Asia.

I booked myself Hawaii to Pohnpei to Palau to Manila for 47,500 United miles + $18.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 spend in 3 months

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 80,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months and 2x points earned on dining and travel spend, this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!

Learn More

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.