If you can get through this first paragraph I’m going to tell you how I visited Guam, Singapore, Sydney, New Zealand, The Cooke Islands and Japan in business class for 40,000 United miles. 40,000 miles is nothing! The Chase Sapphire Preferredcard, for example, gives 40,000 points (or United miles) as a sign up bonus. So stick with me and I’ll help you recreate this or a similar trip for a similar price or less. This may be the most rewarding but challenging post in the series.
- The Island Hopper with Miles
- The Island Hopper with Cash
- The Pacific Hopper with Miles
- Our Photos from these Pacific Islands
The premise of the Pacific Hopper is basically this: United has priced a round trip ticket between two destinations in the pacific as 25,000 miles or 40,000 in business. Which is cheap. But it’s too cheap when you consider that there are basically no flights from one Pacific island to another in the polynesian and melanesian islands (southern half of the Pacific). So flights need to be routed through New Zealand at the very least. Plus, when you fly from Micronesia (the northern part closer to Asia) to the Polynesia islands the routing becomes even more difficult. You would surely have to route through Japan, South Korea and/or Singapore just to get to New Zealand which is the hub for many pacific islands. At minimum the ticket from Guam to Rarotonga and back would be 18,000 miles of in-air flying!
Basically what I’m telling you is that to go from one Pacific island to another can require a routing through Asia and Australia and/or New Zealand for 25,000 – 40,000 United miles. Who cares? Here’s the big deal: United gives one stopover, two open jaws and a lot of layovers if you wanted. (Scroll down to the bottom for definitions for each term). This means that you could potentially see Asia and New Zealand/Australia as well as your Pacific Islands.
The goal is to start from an island like Guam and book a ticket to a place far away, but in the same “pacific” region, like Rarotonga. Then create your stopover in Auckland, New Zealand. I guess the hardest part is starting from Micronesia in the first place. But it’s well worth burning the miles to start the trip, or perhaps you’ll get a good sale to Guam or something. Plus I’ll show you a little trick to see more and spend less by creating a layover in Japan. Next pick your destination in the South Pacific. We went to Rarotonga on this ticket but would highly recommend Fiji as [in my opinion] a better option. I would also recommend spending the extra 15,000 to fly business class since you’ll be doing a lot of flying!
How do you find these tickets? Despite the fact there is a great post on booking these dream-trips on United.com, the website is not as good as it used to be and the multicity tool will likely not cooperate the way you want it to. So you need to find the route and then call it in. If you do not understand the rules (and terms defined below) well, you will not be able to guide the agent in your booking.
The easiest way to do this is to make a stopover in New Zealand because you can then fly out to the next pacific island whenever the flight is available (or Sydney as there is a flight direct to Rarotonga). This means that you just need to search from Guam (or wherever you’re starting from) to Rarotonga (or wherever you’re ending). I would highly recommend trying to fly Air New Zealand as I love their Business Class. It should then give some possible routes, although you can force it to do many other routes. You then can find a oneway to the island you want and then plan to leave on the day that there is an available Air New Zealand flight out.
Essentially your goal is to piece together a flight starting from Guam (or a nearby island) to an island in the south Pacific (like Fiji) with a stopover in New Zealand (or Sydney). If you find all the flights that abide by the rules, call it in and try booking. If at first you don’t succeed try again. If the computer didn’t take your route, understand what you did wrong and recreate. If you just had a stubborn agent who had never seen such a route, hang up and try again.
It may be helpful to read the series on how to use United miles to book your dream trip (stopovers) if the concepts aren’t clear. The definitions are at the bottom. Please comment below and let me know if there are any other terms or concepts that I could expand on.
The rest may get even more complicated, fyi…
Sometimes you have to try to piece together your flight. First, find flights to Guam (or wherever there are direct flights) and then find seperate tickets from Guam to New Zealand. The outbound flight from Guam just has to be less than 24 hours later than the inbound from the island you’re leaving. You just want to find all the segments of your route that appease these rules.
The reason I say that you should make New Zealand (or Sydney) your stopover is that you may not be able to connect there in less than 24 hours. Meaning you may be able to arrive on a monday and they only have flights to some pacific islands on a Thursday. Thus, this stop would not be considered a layover but would be your one stopover. If you can make this stop a layover, then you could use your stopover elsewhere.
I’m not sure but you may be able to make an open-jaw on your destination. Esentially you could fly from Guam to Sydney, then book the ticket from Rarotonga back to Guam. You would then require miles to get you from Sydney (or wherever) to Rarotonga. This means that you get to save your stopover and use it on another destination – perhaps New Zealand, maybe even Bangkok if you can pull it off. The pros and cons may be obvious… You get to add another destination but you have to use miles to get from Sydney to Rarotonga. Which kind of defeats the point as that one flight would cost 17,500 United miles when the rest of the trip could cost 25,000 United miles.
Though, with or without this trick, you still have one extra stopover and you could technically return to a different island. Like leave from Saipan and return to Guam. Though it didn’t make a different to us as we got off the plane in Japan.
How did Japan make the flight cheaper?
I booked the flight returning to Guam through Tokyo, as United has a direct flight. However, I got out of the plane in Japan. Yes, I had a ticket back to Guam but I did not take it. Why? Well, I already saw Guam. But that’s not my main reason as I’ve already seen Tokyo too. What I really wanted is to fly home from Japan using American Airlines miles. Japan to the USA costs 32,500 miles on AA and 25,000 during off-peak (Oct 1 – April 30). Although, 37,500 from Guam (or anywhere else in the Pacific) is really not that much more.
Forcing other routes?
One way to piece together other routes is search a ton of one-ways. Search one at a time and give yourself the “<24 hour” window. It will normally keep layovers short, however we wanted a long layover to spend the night in Sydney and spend an 18 hour day in Singapore.
I wonder if…
Although this is completely a theory, I wonder if you could route through the United States… Check out the Star Alliance route map. Air New Zealand has two routes that intrigue me. First is Rarotonga to Las Angeles. What if I could use up my stopover and fly business class one-way from Guam to Rarotonga for 20,000 miles. And then fly back to Guam via Las Angeles in economy for 12,500… and just get out of the plane? Is it a long shot? Something tells me the US is a more powerful pricing zone and it would price as a US ticket. But it could work. If so, the other route is Auckland to Honolulu and get out of the plane in Hawaii. That would be a double win as you would see Hawaii and get to book a much cheaper flight home. RAR-AKL-HNL-GUM for the second half of the trip? I actually have no idea if this would work, anyone else know?
On a personal note, I would really love to go to Yap [instead of Guam next time] and make another trip to Fiji. “YAP-GUM-MNL-BKK-AKL-NAN-AKL-BKK-NRT-GUM”. I’d try to fly Air NZ as much as possible. It would be nice to make a long layover in Manilla or get out of the plane there on the way back. This is assuming the Hawaii route wouldn’t work.
Did anyone actually read this all the way through? If so I’d like to hear your thoughts and please share anything you would like to hear more about?
Stopover: A stop on an itinerary that is more than 24 hours and has no limit in length of the stop. 1 stopover is allowed on a destination that is on the way. For example a flight from New York to Rome could have a stopover in London. For no extra cost you could spend 1 week in London and then one week in Rome.
Open-Jaw: When you fly out of a different airport than you originally landed in. For example, if you wanted to take a cruise, road trip or a train from London to Rome you could create an open-jaw. This means that there is a gap in your ticket and United is not responsible for getting your from London to Rome. You could fly New York to London [and then take a train to Rome], and fly Rome to New York. However, an open-jaw can be added to your stopover, destination or you could even return home to a different airport.
Layover: a stop that is less than 24 hours.