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How can I get to Hawaii using a frequent flyer credit card?

Dear Tim,

I have a couple of questions that I was hoping you could answer.

I live in Philadelphia and was wondering what airline has a hub in this city? I believe that it is US Airways but I wanted to make sure.

Secondly, I am going on a honeymoon to Hawaii next August and I have some big purchases coming up that I could make on a frequent flyer credit card. However, I don’t have one and I am looking to find the best one. On your website, you said that bank cards can be capped at $500, so a bank card probably would not be a good choice. So I was thinking of going with an airline card. However, my major question is: Does US Airways fly to Hawaii? If it does not, how do I use the card to get to Hawaii? Will US Airways set me up with another airline to get me there? How does this work?



Dear Greg,

This is a challenging question, because your circumstances and goals are in conflict.

Let’s begin by addressing your individual questions:

Yes, US Airways is by far the largest operator at Philadelphia International Airport. So, all things being equal, the logical choice of airline programs would be US Airways’ Dividend Miles. Reason: the “best” program is typically the one that offers you the most opportunities to earn and redeem miles.

And no, US Airways does not fly to Hawaii. Furthermore, none of their Dividend Miles partners flies to Hawaii either. So you can’t get to Hawaii on the strength of miles earned in the US Airways program.

While Dividend Miles would be your best program choice under normal circumstances, your specific goal of using miles for a free trip to Hawaii makes Dividend Miles entirely unsuitable for your purposes.

What to do?

Following are three options to consider. (I’ve kept the focus on credit cards since you indicate that your miles will be earned chiefly for charges, rather than from travel.)

First, consider the most flexible of all mileage-earning cards, the Diners Club card. Its Club Rewards program rewards charges with points, which can be converted to miles in 24 airline programs, including all the largest U.S. programs.

The two downsides to the Diners Club card are cost ($80 per year) and merchant acceptance (4.7 million versus 19 million for MasterCard).

Another card to consider is the Delta SkyMiles card issued by American Express. The SkyMiles card’s claim to fame is the earning rate: Two miles are awarded for every eligible dollar spent at supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations, and for other “everyday” purchases. That’s double the industry-standard payout, so you could conceivably reach your goal in half the time.

Finally, regarding bank cards, the cap need not be a deal-breaker. The $500 maximum applies to the price of the award ticket. So if your Hawaii ticket can be had for less than $500, it’s effectively free. If it costs more than $500, you’ll pay the difference.

But even programs with ticket-value caps may have some value for you. For example, the Chase Travel Rewards program (a $25 add-on to their Visa and MasterCard accounts) offers Continental award certificates to Hawaii for 40,000 points. Unfortunately, there’s a 10,000-points-per-month/80,000-points-per-year limit on earnings, so you won’t be able to earn enough points for two tickets in time for your honeymoon trip.

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