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Conde Nast Traveler’s “2011 Readers’ Choice Awards” chose Hawaii as one of the top destinations to visit in the U.S. and my Dad wants to go.  

He called this past weekend to see if I knew any “tricks” for getting a cheaper first class seat.

Here’s what I told him…

Every airline offers different reward programs and credit cards that will give you enough free miles to fly to Hawaii.  The trick is finding a deal that can be booked in first class and picking dates that are far enough in the future that you can get a seat.

Delta requires travelers to book a flight to Hawaii six months (and sometimes a year) in advance when using miles. And, a representative at American Airlines said travelers will book an award ticket to Honolulu as early as 331 days in advance.

So let’s assume you can book your ticket in advance and get a seat.  Here’s how many miles you’ll need:

***American Airlines generally costs 45,000 miles (one way) in Economy. United Airlines is a little better at 40,000 miles (one way) in Economy.  So let’s say you need a total of 90,000 miles to fly roundtrip in Economy class.

***First Class on American Airlines costs 95,000 miles (one way). Whereas, United costs a bit more at 100,000 miles. So let’s say you need a total of 200,000 miles to fly roundtrip in First or Business class.

(Note: I’ll tell you in a minute how to SAVE 50% each way on a first-class seat on American Airlines.  This is what I recommended to my dad since he’s not a frequent flyer and doesn’t have a lot of miles built up on a single airline.)

First, some creative ways to accelerate your mile reward earnings if you’re not a frequent flyer…

** 1. Sign up for the “Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)” credit card from American Express (Click here for Starwood website). This is a good card to have if you travel a lot anyway.

You’ll get 10,000 bonus Starpoints when you make your first card purchase. And then an additional 15,000 bonus Starpoints when you spend $5,000 in six months. (Maybe you charge your groceries, gas, home renovations to the card. But, please, never run a balance. Always pay off your card.)

Now, you’ve got 25,000 Starpoints you can transfer to miles on over 30 different airlines.

** 2.  Sign up for your preferred airline’s mileage reward credit card.

When you apply for one of Citibank’s American Airlines’ cards (Click here for Citibank card website), for example, you have a chance to earn up to 40,000 AAdvantage bonus miles.

You’ll get the first 30,000 bonus miles after making $750 in purchases within the first four months.  Then, once you make another $5,000 in purchases during the first six months you’ll get the remaining 10,000 bonus miles.

You can multiply the rewards, too, with “churning.” Churning is when you apply for a new credit card that offers a mileage bonus. Then, once you get the miles, you cancel the card. Wait 60 to 65 days. Then, apply again for the same card.

It is legal. But it’s not a comfortable strategy for everyone. (If you’re interested, you can learn more about churning – the pros and cons – and how one traveler cashed in on the perks by clicking here).

For the sake of illustration, let’s say you do churn. Then, you could come away with 80,000 bonus miles (from two American Airlines credit cards at 40,000 bonus miles each). Add on the SPG bonus points (25,000) and you now have 105,000 bonus miles to work with.

(Note: My dad makes a lot of credit card purchases for his business so spending $5,000 on multiple cards over a six month period isn’t a big deal for him.  If it’s a big deal for you, you might try method #3 below.)

** 3.   Take a trip.

Most airlines offer triple bonus points or special deals where you might be able to get enough miles for a free trip to Hawaii by simply going someplace else first.

American Airlines, for example, is offering a chance to earn up to 30,000 AAdvantage bonus miles for visiting Australia! Click here for American Airlines website  (Note: this offer expires Nov. 30.)    

This package includes five nights in Sydney, five nights in Perth, and four nights in Melbourne. From $2,683 per person, you’ll get an economy round-trip flight from the United States to Australia, plus flights between the different Australian cities, and 14-nights’ hotel accommodation.

However you get the miles, it doesn’t matter.  Now, here’s the kicker…

>> Here’s how to get a first-class seat for HALF the miles someone else might pay…

Several airlines, including American Airlines, have options for you to save on mile redemption.

American Airlines, for instance, has a “Mile SAAver” option when you book award tickets. This could save you thousands of miles, if you’re flexible with your travel dates.

If you are flexible, a flight to Hawaii in First Class (regularly 95,000 miles one way) can be yours for only 47,500 miles (that’s 50% LESS miles). And, Economy (regularly 45,000 miles one way), can be yours for as little as 17,500 miles.

It really does depend on how flexible you are on your dates. For example, let’s say you were to book an award ticket to Hawaii for April. Here’s what you do:

Go to American Airlines website and go to their booking engine. Then click “More Flight Search Options.” Now click on “AAdvantage Award.”  (For illustration purposes, I put in the route of JFK airport in New York to HNL, Honolulu’s International airport, and searched the dates April 2 to 29 so I could see the options for all of April).

When the search results appear, click on a tab that says, “Show Full Calendar.” This will help you see what’s available in the month using Mile SAAver. To see what’s available in the different classes, you’ll see there’s an Award Legend.

Using the Award Legend, I clicked on “Economy MileSAAver.” Here’s an example of what I found:

***April 10 departure for only 22,500 miles using “Economy MileSAAver.”
***April 16 return for only 22,500 miles using “Economy MileSAAver.”
Total Miles: 45,000 miles for a round-trip (a 50% savings compared to it costing 90,000 regularly). And, remember, if you choose a different month, it’s possible to get this flight down to 17,500 miles each way.

Next, I went back to the Award Legend and clicked on the “Business/First MileSAAver” option. Here’s an example of what I found:

***April 10 departure for only 37,500 miles using “Business/First MileSAAver.”
***April 18 return for only 37,500 miles using “Business/First MileSAAver.”
Total Miles: 75,000 for a round-trip flight (a 50% savings compared to it costing 150,000 miles in the “Business/First AAnytime” fare).

Although we’ve talked about how to accelerate mile rewards – and cash them in for a free trip to Hawaii — you could try this strategy for other vacations.

Here’s all you do:

1) Apply for the “Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG).” Plus, apply for credit cards with the best mileage rewards – that also match up to the airline you prefer flying with.

2) Make qualifying purchases to get those bonus miles, such as spending $750 within four months with Citibank’s American Airlines’ cards. (Remember, never run a balance.)

3) Look for great deals on earning miles on your preferred airline’s website. Each airline website will vary. But, in general, look for a “special offers” or “deals and offers” section.

4) Convert SPG’s Starwood points to the frequent flyer program of your preferred airline.

5) See if your airline has an opportunity to save on reward redemption – such as American Airlines’ Mile SAAver opportunity.

6) Enjoy your free flight!

For more tips on flying for less, check out our How to Get a First-Class Seat for Less on Every Flight You Take.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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