Trip Introduction: Honolulu, Hawaii United States of America via United Airlines First Class


Travelling during a pandemic has never been fun. Planning a trip has been fraught with challenges along with flight cancellations, possible trip interruptions and Coronavirus health concerns. After almost fourteen months of isolation, in the middle of the Omicron variant, it was time for us to get back out travelling again. We tested the waters with a local trip to the Islands of Hawaii, United States of America.

This post is one chapter on our trip during the pandemic to Honolulu Oahu, Hawaii, United States. This trip was redeemed through Marriott Bonvoy and further enhanced through Marriott Bonvoy Elite Status. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Trip Introduction: Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of American via United Airlines First Class

Planning the Trip:

After a year and fourteen months of pandemic living in Vancouver, Canada, and climbing vaccination rates of over 83% in British Columbia and 73% in Canada, the urges to travel were getting ever stronger. With both of us being fully vaccinated with a Pfizer / Pfizer combination, it was time to get away once again which started the search for travel destinations.

While we were searching for many international destinations, we looked for tickets that did not involve complicated routings, stopovers in exotic foreign destinations. Not being in favour of loaning money to airline carriers in the event the flights got cancelled, we ended up settling on nearby Hawaii, United States of America.

The island state of Hawaii was relatively easy to be reached from our West Coast home in Vancouver, Canada and only one or two flights away; dependent on your routing. Surprisingly, Hawaii and the United Island Hopper was the last destination we went to prior to the pandemic shutting the world’s air travel down.

Planning Flights:

Flights from the Mainland to and from Hawaii

While searching for options on google flights, I happened to find that United was offering terrific First Class fares to and from Canada to Hawaii. The service was via San Francisco or Los Angeles on their International Polaris Business Class full flat seat. Although the flights were not branded as United Polaris Businesses, they did offer a unique business class pod featuring a full flat seat and would meet up with our past memories and longing for a proper wide body international flight.

Our typical route to Hawaii was on Alaska Airlines First Class with a connection in Seattle, so this was a reasonable alternative that would have us travelling on a wide body aircraft instead of a narrow body Boeing 737 tube that Air Canada, Westjet or Alaska were offering. We booked these with cash for $1,369 CAD ($1,071 USD) per person.

We credited these flights to Air Canada Aeroplan. With a Business “Z” Fare earning 150%, we earned 9,568 elite qualifying miles, and 2,232 status bonus miles, thanks to being an Air Canada Aeroplan Elite 35K status on base miles of 6,379 status miles travelled, totalling 11,800 miles earned.

There is nothing like full flat business class seats for less!

In the end, the routing ended up looking like this after it was all put together:

YVR – SFO – HNL (paid)
HNL – SFO – YVR (paid)

The United Airlines

Planning Hotels:

In terms of Hotels, the pandemic hasn’t been kind to hotels and their partner credit card holders. We had a fistful of American Express Marriott Bonvoy credit card hotel certificate nights valid only at Category 5 hotels. We typically save them for US hotels where the currency exchange premium makes this redemption a better bargain. I also had a Marriott Titanium qualification free night award valid for a room worth up to 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. We ended up redeeming our certificates against the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani located right in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.

Marriott Bonvoy Redemptions Always Make Me Happy

While it wasn’t the best redemption, it did offer us 5 nights in Waikiki just mere steps from the beach for free. We would later use Marriott Bonvoy Suite Night Awards to have us upgraded from a base room booked, into their nicest Tower Luxury Larger Guest Room with an Ocean View.

Since we were looking for a little resort styled stay, we also returned to our usual favorite The Sheraton Waikiki for the a 4 night paid stay booked under a cash rate of Members Stay More, which lowered the rate by 20% to $269 USD per night over a four night stay. While we had stayed here previously, we had a great time and were impressed by the infiniti pool, the Executive Lounge and the views afforded from it’s oceanfront rooms.

The hotel being so large and with so many rooms, offers great upgrade opportunities, and we applied Marriott Bonvoy suite night awards to the rooms in hopes of an upgrade. The hotel also offers some resort styled beach chairs around its two swimming pools, whereas in many other resorts, these are on a paid reservation basis.  

We also considered the Moana Surfrider and the Marriott Waikiki Beach Hotel, but the Sheraton Waikiki shined compared to these other two. We did consider the Marriot Ko Olani resort, but rates were above $465 USD per night. Thanks to the Marriot Ko Olani being branded as a Marriott Vacation Club property, Marriott Elite status was virtually non existent. With no included breakfasts, lounge access or other upgrade opportunities, staying here made little sense to us at a $465 USD a night rate.

My acupuncturist, who is a regular visitor to Hawaii, had always raved about The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort – Waikiki. We stayed here on a reconnaissance basis for one night before departing, just to see how it was.

Getting Around:

Since car rentals were pricing at over $1,000 USD per week in Hawaii thanks to the global shortage as a result of the inventory offload, I ended up locating reasonable rates through Hertz on a daily “when and as needed” basis. I actually booked 5 one day rentals at $80 USD a day while we planned our trip and exploration around Oahu, Hawaii. I ended up cancelling some of these after we had solidified our plans. The demand dropped down to $50 USD a day, and I would end up cancelling the $80 USD a day rates in favor of cheaper rates.

Our points and miles redemption summary:

In summary, we redeemed:

  • Four American Express Marriott Bonvoy Annual Free Night Certificates
  • One Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Free Night Award Redemption

While it was an ironic surprise that we would be returning to this Pacific Island that was the location of our last holiday before the world shut down, after almost 2 years of no leisure travel, I’d take almost travel at this point.

If you have flown during the pandemic, what strategies did you use to get outsized value during periods of high demand ?

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