How to last minute fly to Hawaii for $118

View from Diamond Head

Short version: If you, or someone who loves you and wants to support your traveling lifestyle, work for an airlines, you can get discount tickets! You just pay taxes/fees on the ticket, and you’re put on standby. If there’s room on the flight, you’re in! This, plus a flexible white collar job, able/healthy body, stable income, no familial/caregiver commitments, emergency miles, and US citizenship, of course, was how I was able to fly round trip to Hawaii with my best friend on a day’s notice for less than $200.

Long version (aka my story): We went to Seattle’s airport at 5 AM, checked in early, and found out we were 15-16/11 on the standby list… Meaning there were 11 open spots and 16 people trying to get on! Our chances were low, but we remained hopeful and determined that no matter what happened, we were going to go somewhere and have an fun filled weekend.

While waiting for the standby passengers to be called, I noticed that half the people, airport staff included, waiting for this flight knew each other! People who grew up together but moved away, distantly (or perhaps not at all) related aunties/uncles, adults who had once long ago gone to the same middle school. I grew up with no friends so it’s always cool for me to see people keep such close ties, and the warm, friendly air put me in a good mood- even if I woke up early to potentially go nowhere.

But, I had a suspicion that our chances were high. The flight started boarding early in the morning, and I know from experience that certain people (i.e. my mom and me) book these flights because they tend to be cheaper but aren’t actually morning people so miss the flight… And it turned out there was a family of 10 who didn’t show up, so we were in (thanks Nguyen family, and I hope you were able to make it somehow to O’ahu)!

Giddy with excitement, we found our spots in the adorable, Moana decorated plane, and watched the personalized safety videos, which included traditional Hawaiian dances against famous landmarks in Hawaii. Seriously the coolest safety video ever (Virgin is probably second). I also appreciated that Hawaiian Airlines fed us, gave us a complimentary tropical alcoholic drink on landing, and had videos on Hawaiian culture (before American imperialism). The one downside is that there was no wifi (paid or otherwise- I am a child of the internet) or free games (I fucking love plane sudoku).

We landed safely, had a fun trip, and all was good until we tried to leave paradise.  

When we made it to HNL, we were actually higher up on the list and more spots were open compared to when we flew in.. But we still didn’t make standby!! It turns out the biggest influencer on where you are in the list is if you’re actually traveling with an employee, so we lost our spots to someone who showed up last minute (it must be nice to decide that you want to go somewhere 20 minutes before the plane departs #jealous).

This was the last flight of the day to Seattle with Hawaiian, so we spent the rest of the day overeating and driving with loud music, and I tried to get work things sorted out since I was technically supposed to be in the office that day.

The next day we tried again, and the same thing happened!! Discouraged, stressed, and kind of sick of airports, we decided to try standby to Maui, then standby to Seattle since it was the only chance to get back to Seattle that day. We made it to Maui, but lost our spots to Seattle!

We both desperately needed to get back to Seattle like two days ago, so we explored our options. After probably three hours of brainstorming, phone calls, and freaking out, we were able to / remembered that we could buy tickets using miles! I have the Alaska Airlines credit card and save miles on it for emergency situations like this, and my friend used his Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card which is cool because you can get 50,000 bonus miles with it. For whatever reason, Maui had more late flights to Seattle compared to Honolulu, so we were able to successfully catch a red eye.

By the way, the Alaska terminal of the Maui airport is literally the only place that you can buy Wi-Fi throughout the whole airport, and don’t listen to the airport staff if they say there is no Wi-Fi anywhere because it’s there, I found it.

Anyway, I think every day is a learning experience, and these three days of airports taught me three things:

  1. Don’t sweat the little things. I was so stressed at that time, but what good did it do me?
  2. Make the most of your time somewhere because you don’t know when you’ll be back. We took time to explore Maui during the layover, but if we figured out our plans sooner, we could have stayed out longer!
  3. Risky behavior is risky behavior. Like really, what did I expect traveling on a buddy pass but needing to be somewhere at a certain time? It’s a risk!

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