Mileage Run: 4 hours in Hawaii

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Back in March I was surfing the FlyerTalk Mileage Run forum and saw a deal for Charlotte (CLT) to Phoenix (PHX) via Newark and Honolulu on United for only $200. At that point I was still planning to earn United 1K again through flown miles, and this was a sweet deal! 8,409 eqms at 2.4 cents a mile.

I called Jeanne and we booked flights for early June. Half the flights were on US Airways metal so we were hoping that my United 1K status and her US Airways Platinum status would score us upgrades on each leg. Because I had recently taken trips to South America and Alaska, I wasn’t comfortable taking lots of time off, so we decided to do the trip on a Fri-Sat (Sunday flights weren’t avail), with just a couple of hours layover in HNL.

Our flight left Charlotte before 8AM, so we flew down the night before, cashing in Starwood points to stay at the Sheraton Charlotte Airport. Thanks to Jeanne’s status we upgraded to First Class from DC to Charlotte and again from Charlotte to Newark. The flight from Newark to Honolulu was on United metal and I’d already determined complimentary elite upgrades didn’t apply to that route.

No confirmable upgrades were available at any point, but I decided to plunk down two of my Global Premier Upgrades (GPU) in the hopes that something would open up. After booking the flight in March I had decided I wanted to go for status on US Airways instead, but left my frequent flyer number on the reservation until I saw if the upgrades cleared. (Which I should have remembered was unnecessary since it’s the sponsoring account status that determines ranking, not the status of the person traveling.)

At the gate in Newark our hopes were totally dashed. Not only was First Class full, it was oversold, and they were asking for volunteers who would be given a $1500 voucher and be rebooked on a flight the next day or given a coach seat. AAAAHHH. If only the upgrades had cleared, we would have taken the voucher, asked them to just get us back to DC and netted $1100.

But instead, we went to the newsstand to buy lots of snacks and other forms of amusement. Jeanne & I had been friends for several years, but we had only been traveling together for 2 months and an 11hr flight was going to be a test of our friendship. Fortunately she had prepared, bringing lots of gadgets including an Empower plug in to keep all our electronics powered up in the air.

The flight wasn’t terrible, although about 5 hours in we both decided we were ready to be on the ground.

Buying lots of United snackboxes and meals helped and I still had a few 1K complimentary drink chits left.

We finally landed around 5PM and popped in the bathroom to freshen up and change clothes before heading to the rental car area. With a 4 hr layover (and it being Jeanne’s first trip to Hawaii) we wanted to do more than hang out at the airport, and we wanted a little more than the nearby L&L.

We grabbed an awesome dinner at the La Marianna Sailing Club and then headed back to the airport, returning the car to a very surprised and concerned (at our brief stay) attendant.

The TSA folks were not happy about having to deal with two female assists in a row so it took a while, not to mention wearing maxi dresses instead of knee-length dresses ensured a full body pat down :(.

Our PHX-HNL flight was on US Airways metal and because we had booked through United, Jeanne was told that her status couldn’t upgrade us, we’d have to wait for it at the gate. Even trying to upgrade via miles in advance was unsuccessful so when we got to the gate it was clear our fate in economy was sealed. Fortunately we had great seats in the exit row – only 2 seats in the row and tons of leg space.

It did get cold in that area (I was donning all the extra clothes I had brought) and at some point in the night Jeanne and I were both startled awake. The person sitting behind us thought she was part gazelle and decided to try jumping through the small space between Jeanne and the exit and then over us rather than waking her seat mates. She didn’t clear the space and we both freaked out, only dimly aware of what had woken us up.

Other than that it was uneventful and we headed in search of the nearest United lounge when we landed in PHX. I was glad we had a long connection since we wound up having to take the PHX tram to get several terminals over. The lounge attendants were kind enough to print out our boarding passes for us (since technically we were checking in for a one-way flight from PHX to CLT via Washington, DC).

Our last real meal had been 12 hours earlier and we were hungry, but tired of snack foods. So we skipped the offerings in the lounge in favor of whatever breakfast they were serving in First (yes, my United status finally got us upgraded).

On the plane we were sitting in 3D/F, which meant by the time the flight attendant got to us, he only had one hot meal left. Jeanne and I were desperate for real food and not in the mood for oatmeal so we asked if he could bring us a Jimmy Dean sandwich from the for sale options in the back. He agreed and we split both the omelet and potatoes offering with the sandwich, both of which were good.

When the flight landed in IAD we got off, we’d originally planned to go back through Charlotte, but the StarMegado4 launch party wound up being that night and Jeanne had scored us spots. So we got out off at Dulles about 2 hours before the reception started and bolted for the Radisson near DCA to shower, get changed and pull ourselves together. Our 48 hour adventure wasn’t over yet, I still had a lot of shrieking to do!


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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.


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  1. Pingback: $345 Flights to Hawaii on United from CLT or PHL

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