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Getting to the Big Island of Hawaii from the United States mainland is easy with miles. There are a ton of direct flights on several airlines, most of which have fantastic award space. Several of the flights can even be booked for as little as 12,500 miles each way.

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I’ve been on the Kona side of Hawaii Island this week with my family, and it has been fantastic.

The snorkeling on this coast is the best I’ve ever experienced. I’ve seen more turtles than I can count, and just last night 1,000-pound manta rays swam within a few feet of me on a beautiful night snorkel.

Plus the weather here is like the rest of Hawaii, but better. Every day has been in the eighties with a nice breeze, and the Kohala Coast (the northern part of the west coast of the Big Island) almost never sees rain in contrast to some parts of the state.

There won’t be any trip reports from this trip because we aren’t staying at a hotel–rented a house for the week–and because my flights are 27 minutes each way. But, better than a trip report, I want to share how you can get here with miles.

  • What cities have direct flights to Kona?
  • What miles are best to get to Kona?
  • What is the award space picture to Kona?

The Routes

The Big Island has two major airports in Hilo and Kona. All the major resorts are on the Kona side, and its airport has all but one of the flights to the United States mainland.

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Routes to/from Kona

The Miles

Despite nine airlines operating flights to the North American mainland, there are really only three main types of miles I’d use to get to Hawaii:

  • British Airways Avios: If you live a city with direct service to Kona on a British Airways partner, it will cost you only 12,500 Avios + $2.50 each way in economy. British Airways partners that fly to Kona are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and US Airways.
  • American Airlines miles: If you live in a city without a direct flight to Kona, American Airlines miles are your best bet to fly Alaska, American, Hawaiian, or US Airways flights to Hawaii for only 17,500 miles each way or 22,500 miles each way depending on the date of the flight.
  • Non-United Star Alliance United miles: To get on the United or Air Canada flights, use a type of Star Alliance miles other than United miles. Why? United charges more miles than other major Star Alliance programs for the exact same flights between the mainland and Hawaii. For instance, Lufthansa miles can access all of United’s Saver award space to Hawaii and charges fewer miles for the same flights. Plus the Lufthansa card is offering 50,000 bonus miles for 10 more days. See Why I’ll Never Use United Miles to Fly to Hawaii for more details.

The Award Space

I searched several airline websites to isolate award space on direct flights. You don’t need to live in any of the cities listed for this to be very relevant to you. For instance, you don’t need to live in San Francisco to use the space on United’s flight from there to Kona. You just need to live somewhere that has flights to San Francisco, which is dozens of cities, since it is a United hub.

All searches are for two people except the Air Canada flight from Vancouver, which is for one person.

On United Flights (with Non-United Star Alliance Miles)

Yellow days have Saver economy space. Blue days have Saver First space. Green days have Saver economy and First space.

The best award space I found was from San Francisco. Award space for two passengers is available almost every day this summer or next winter–and most times in between–in economy. Saver First Class space is mostly only available within three weeks of departure.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 10.49.58 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-19 at 10.50.30 PMUnited flies up to three flights a day between San Francisco and Kona, and sometimes there is award space on multiple flights.

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Award space from Los Angeles is wide open later this summer in economy, though not quite as wide open as United’s San Francisco route. This route operates only once daily.

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Award space from Denver is only available in economy on Saturdays.

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Of little use to most of us is Air Canada’s flight from Vancouver that operates during the winter. Americans cannot route from their home airport to Kona via a foreign country (including Canada.) But Canadians who book this flight in Business Class will enjoy a flat bed, the only flat bed that flies to Kona.

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On American Flights (with Avios or American miles)

American Airlines serves Kona only from Los Angeles. Award space is excellent at the end of the summer in economy. On August 21, American drops the price from 22,500 miles each way to 17,500 miles each way for the “off peak” Fall. Make sure to book with British Airways Avios if that is cheaper than booking with AAdvantage miles, and it always will be if you live in Los Angeles.

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On US Airways Flights (with Avios or American miles)

US Airways flies to Kona from Phoenix. Most of the year has very little award availability. The best availability is in economy within one month of departure. There is more availability from Kona than to Kona.

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On Alaska Flights (with Avios or American miles)

Alaska flights to Kona have some seriously good award space! Just like American and US Airways flights, these can be booked with American Airlines miles or British Airways Avios. The direct flights cost fewer miles with Avios, but connecting flights will often cost less with American Airlines miles.

From Oakland, there is fantastic award space for two people in First Class next Spring.

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From Seattle, there is amazing economy award space next Spring.

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From San Jose, California, you can fly to Kona most days next winter in economy.

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Bottom Line

The west coast of the Big Island is an incredible part of the Hawaiian Islands, despite being less famous than Oahu and Maui.

The snorkeling is mind blowing, and the weather is dry. Resorts with the big international chains are plentiful–perhaps the subject of another post if there is interest–and award space is wide open on a number of direct flights from the mainland.

The best space is found on Alaska and United flights.

For folks who live in a city with an Alaska Airlines flight to Kona, British Airways Avios are the best type of miles for the trip.

For folks who don’t live on the west coast, the best bet is to fly United via San Francisco. Don’t use United miles though. Consider the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® with 50,000 bonus Lufthansa miles after spending $5k in 90 days, since it only costs 20,000 Lufthansa miles each way from the mainland to Kona on United flights.

Economy award space is far more plentiful to Kona than First Class award space. If you have your heart set on First Class, though, more space opens on many of these routes within a month of departure or even later.

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