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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.
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:
- YouTube Video of all Takeoffs and Landings
- YouTube Stills from the Trip
- Five-month Old milepoint Trip Report
- Continental-operated Trip Report
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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