Upgrading on Hawaiian Airlines is relatively easy compared to the methods followed on the larger U.S. carriers. The most common way is to redeem miles for an upgrade (click HERE to view Hawaiian's redemption chart).
Since I'm flying to Las Vegas, let's look at the Hawaii to/from the U.S. mainland redemption offers. The choices are under two categories:
- First/Business Saver - the lowest mileage First/Business Class flight award. This award does not have to be purchased online.
- First/Business Flex - can be redeemed for travel on Hawaiian Airlines with twice the miles of a First/Business Saveraward when a First/Business Saver award is not available.
- Upgrades - must be processed through Hawaiian Airlines Reservations. All award upgrades must be ticketed 26 hours prior to the flight departure.
For a first class ticket, the mileage options are:
40,000 First Class Saver
80,000 First Class Flex
To upgrade from coach ticket, the mileage options are:
25,000 First Class Saver
50,000 First Class Flex
So depending on the miles you have in your account, you have your choice of using miles to upgrade or to redeem them for a first class seat. Hawaiian keeps it simple by allowing you to call HawaiianMiles customer service for redemption. The agent will confirm your available miles and which reward is available for redemption.
Naturally the closer you book to your departure and the availability of first class seats will be the factors on whether a "first class saver" or "first class flex" reward is necessary. The scarcer the number of first class seats, the option using more points is then required. Keep in mind that the upgrade must be ticketed 26 hours prior to departure.
STANDBY FIRST CLASS UPGRADE
This option is available on the day of departure and available to all coach passengers. First class upgrades on the day of departure are completed through online or airport check-in within 24 hours prior to departure.
The catch is the fee for standby upgrade varies by season and route for International and North American flights. The fee also varies depending if the passenger is a Puulani Platinum or Puulani Gold holder in the HawaiianMiles program or Hawaiian Airlines Visa Card Holder.
Click HERE to view Hawaiian Airlines fee chart. According to this chart, standby upgrades cost $349 to $449 each way on flights to/from North America.
MY EXPERIENCE USING BOTH METHODS
Last month when I flew from Honolulu to Las Vegas I upgraded using miles. It cost me 25,000 miles each way and I redeemed the miles by calling the HawaiianMiles Service Center (Toll-Free 1-877-426-4537; Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm HST). I called a week before to book the upgrade to Las Vegas and two days before to book the upgrade to return to Honolulu. The customer service rep handled the transaction, advised me which first class seats were available and sent an email to confirm the details.
Today I had the opportunity to use the "standby first class upgrade" option for my flight from Honolulu to Las Vegas. Since I am a Puulani Gold member in the HawaiianMiles program, the cost to upgrade is $270 including all taxes. This is much less than what is shown on Hawaiian's fee chart. I booked this upgrade at the self check-in kiosk at the airport. I confirmed a seat in the first class cabin and a receipt for the transaction is printed at the kiosk.
Using either option is easy on Hawaiian Airlines and I would use either method again. Of course upgrades are always debated based on the comfort, amenities and service that is provided. But that's a different article.