How I Took A $4000+ Flight To Hawaii For $82-And How You Can Too!

Smart Money Squad, how have we been doing? It’s been a while since I last checked in. That’s because we’ve been working hard behind-the-scenes on some awesome content, all in the name of saving you some money! Today, we get to talk about one of my favorite topics…TRAVEL!

Who doesn’t love flying on the cheap? I know I’m always looking for the best deals on flights, hotels, excursions, you name it…but that often comes with a time investment. I’m here to take the time commitment away from you, giving you the step-by-step details you need to book that awesome trip you’ve been planning for years. Want to go to Europe? How about a cross-country baseball trip? Everybody has their own travel dreams, and with our points & miles game, we can achieve that and much more.

If you need a back-to-basics crash course on some of the methods we use to travel on the cheap, check out our 'Vacation Like a Baller' piece. Earning enough points & miles to see the world for free may seem hard, but I can promise you it's not as bad as it looks. Take it from one of our own, Christian, who's knee-deep in trying to earn the Southwest Companion pass from two credit card bonuses. He's doing an excellent job and is well on his way to snagging some awesome flights with Rosie, all on the cheap.

To take a page from one of my favorite trivia games (HQ), let's get down to the nitty-gritty. We're cleared for takeoff...here's the step-by-step guide you need to book the trip of your dreams, all for a fraction of the cost!

Step One: Narrow In On Your Destination

The first mistake lots of travelers make is casting a wide net when deciding where to travel. While it’s nice to have lots of ideas on where you want to go, if you can nail down exactly where you want to take a trip, it’ll pay dividends in the long run. We need to make a decision on where we want to go so we can pinpoint exactly what type of points we’ll need to make that dream a reality!

For Kayleigh and I, that was a stellar points redemption to the tropical oasis of Hawaii. We traveled with Kayleigh’s parents, who were generous enough to pay for our lodging while we were there for 8 (EIGHT!?!) days. As I type this, it’s snowing in Ohio in April, which is certainly making me long for pina coladas on the beach with no Sunday scaries inbound.

Our view from the lanai in Ko'Olina, Oahu. Not too shabby!
Pina Coladas, No Work, No Worries
Anyways, since we did not need to pay for our housing, we were determined to book killer flights in the cheapest way possible. We only had a couple of stipulations:

  •     Aim for a lie-flat bed on the way home.
  •     Ensure we can pick our seats (aka not be stuck in the middle of a 4-wide row)
Other than that, we were comfortable with any airline that could take us from Columbus to Honolulu and back. Destination, check. Now it was time for the hard part…how the hell do we pay to get there?

Step Two: Identify The Miles You Need To Get There

This is the step most people lose interest in the points & miles game. If I had a nickel for the amount of times I hear “it takes too much time” or “it sounds too hard”, I’d at least have enough money to beat Alex & Christian at NBA Jam for a whole night at the arcade. (On a side note, you don’t want these Indiana Pacers hands. Reggie Miller=cheat code!) I’m here to tell you it’s not that hard to figure out exactly what you need to get where you want to go. 

While I could go on a tangent about every mileage program & how to use their points to fly, we’d be looking at about 20+ posts. I love you guys…but maybe not enough to write that much today. So for now, let’s look at the airlines we used to book our Hawaii trip: Delta & American.

Leg One (CMH-ATL-HNL): Delta Airlines

For our departing flight from Columbus to Honolulu, Kayleigh and I elected to use Delta miles. Delta is a bit tricky with their award booking in that they do NOT publish an award chart. There’s no set-in-stone price for award booking, which can make finding a specific redemption tough to find. All it takes is a little research to find that flights to Honolulu from Columbus can be found for as little as 30,000 miles one-way (and sometimes cheaper)! With that in mind, I just searched flights from CMH-HNL for the Sunday after our wedding to see what was available. This is what came up:

Flights from Columbus-Honolulu for only 30,000 miles one way!
This is a cheap redemption for a flight from CMH-HNL but comes with 2 layovers. Kayleigh and I were able to get a similar mileage price for a one-layover flight from CMH-ATL-HNL, which worked perfectly for us. Our experience goes to show it pays to check the award charts when you have a trip in mind-you never know when a great deal is going to pop up, and when you see it, SNAG IT! For those that don’t want the multiple layovers (and we don’t blame you), I found this option for 53,000 miles:
Less Layovers=Happy Travels!

No matter what option you go, we’ve identified that Delta is a viable option and we’ll need to earn Delta miles for this portion of the trip. While there are definitely cheaper Delta options (booking through Flying Blue, transferring alternate FF points, etc.), for the sake of simplicity, we'll stick to strictly Delta miles.

Leg Two (HNL-DFW-CMH): First Class on American Airlines

As I previously mentioned, I was looking for a flight where I had a lie-flat option for my return trip. These flights normally cost upwards of $1,500 one way and are not within most of our traveling budgets. Personally, I’d rather spend the $1500 doing amazing things in Hawaii-and that’s why we play the points & miles game. I had identified American Airlines as a potential option for this trip & luckily, they actually post their award chart online for ALL destinations. Let’s take a look at what a trip home from Hawaii typically costs:

You can fly from Hawaii-Mainland US for only 40k miles one-way in BUSINESS/FIRST CLASS!
From the chart, you can see that American has “SAAver” awards from 40k miles one way, while their normal redemption rate will cost you 67.5k miles. Again, this seems like a lot of miles on the surface, but we’ll find that earning that many miles is much easier than you think. Taking a look at flights a week after our original flight to Hawaii would allow you to see these redemption options:
First Class Redemption Options HNL-CMH

Economy Redemption Options HNL-CMH (20k miles one way!)
Two very different types of redemptions: one first class flight for 67.5k miles with all the bells and whistles, and one economy flight with a killer redemption at 20k miles! Again, this all depends on your personal preference for travelling. Kayleigh and I wanted the lie-flat seats on the way home, and therefore we opted for the first class flights on our February Hawaii trip. If you’re on the fence about first class, I say GO FOR IT. Here’s a few pics from our Hawaii first class redemption:

Kayleigh was digging the "Pod"-style seating!
Nicer Interface & ALL THE LEG ROOM
Adjustable Controls For The Seat

Full Service Dinner Menu
Drinks Menu (All Included!)

Mixed Nuts, Tito's & Golf-Never a Bad Combo!

Can't Beat An Ice Cream Sundae At 30,000 Feet!
Needless to say, Kayleigh & I really enjoyed our first long-haul first class flight. Drinks were had, food was consumed, and the best part? We were both able to lie flat at the end of the day and actually sleep on a plane, something that both of us struggle with.

Ok, Smart Money Squad…you still following along? We’ve identified exactly what kind of miles we need to make this trip a reality. Now we just need to earn them! Let’s look at some of the cards you can utilize to book that dream trip you’ve been planning.

Step Three: Earn The Miles You Need To Travel

Now that we know we need Delta & American miles to travel, we can take a look at a few of the cards that can get you the mileage needed to book your trip. Here’s a sampling of the cards available on the market for Delta and American:

·       AMEX Delta Gold Card-Earn 50,000/60,000 miles after spending $2,000/$3,00 in the first three months from account opening; $50 one-time statement credit after making Delta purchase; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.
·       AMEX Business Delta Gold Card-Earn 50,000/60,000 miles after spending $2,000/$3,00 in the first three months from account opening; $50 one-time statement credit after making Delta purchase; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.
·       AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card-Earn 50,000 MR points after spending $2,000 in the first three months from account opening (MR points transfer 1:1 with Delta, equating to 50k Delta miles).
·       AMEX Business Premier Rewards Gold Card-Earn 50,000 MR points after spending $3,000 in the first three months from account opening (MR points transfer 1:1 with Delta, equating to 50k Delta miles).

American Airlines
·       Barclaycard AAviator Red-Earn 50,000 miles after making your first purchase with the card after account opening. Comes with a $95 annual fee, not waived first year.
·       Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select-Earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months from account opening; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.

·       Citi Biz AAdvantage Platinum Select-Earn 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months from account opening; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.

These are just a FEW of your options in the points & miles world that can get you exactly where you need to go. Kayleigh and I used only two cards each on this list to book our flights. While there is certainly a stigma around having multiple credit cards, I’m here to squash that. My credit score keeps going up with the more credit I accumulate-and so do my mileage accounts!

For those of us that can’t meet minimum spends on these cards in three months, another reminder-we go over all the ways you can meet minimum spends without actually spending money in 'Vacation Like a Baller". Check it out-it's literally saved Kayleigh & I thousands of dollars throughout our travels.

You can absolutely use these cards to your advantage to travel around the world for free-and there’s no reason you shouldn’t! To summarize the mileage-earning portion of our free trip, just do the following:
  1. Calculate how many miles you need to get to your destination.
  2. Find the credit card offer that earns the appropriate mileage for the trip.
  3. Meet the minimum spend requirement using your natural spending/SMS alternate methods.
  4. Spend miles on your destination!

Cleared For Landing

All in all, Kayleigh and I were able to fly round-trip to Hawaii for pennies on the dollar. Our Delta/American flights’ cash price equated to $4,159.38. Now, I talk a big game, but I certainly don’t have that much money to be blowing on flights. However, with credit card bonuses & some fees we incurred from meeting the minimum spends, our final net cost was $82 for our flights.

  •          $22.40 in taxes & fees for the flight
  •          $60 in activation fees while meeting minimum spends for the credit cards

If I told you that you could fly round-trip to Hawaii with one leg in first class for $82, you’d tell me I was crazy, right? Nope-that’s the reality of the points & miles game.

So what’s holding you back? Join us in travelling the world for pennies on the dollar-it’ll be the best decision you ever made. Until next time-safe travels!

From the top of Diamondhead!



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