Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hawaii Trip Report Part 1: Getting There

Vacation Video

Welcome to my Hawaii trip report! This is one of the ways I document our vacations so that we can reminisce about this trip in the future. My family of 5 recently traveled to Oahu, Hawaii on miles and points for (almost) free. We stayed 2 nights in Waikiki and 5 nights at Disney's Aulani resort. On the return trip, we had an overnight layover in Las Vegas before returning to Dallas.

First, let's talk about finances and saving money on this trip. I posted here and here about how we earned the miles and points for this trip, but due to security issues I didn't post exactly which hotels we visited. Here is a recap of our (almost) free flights and hotels:

Airline tickets: 

We used ~180,000 American Aadvantage miles for 5 round-trip tickets to Honolulu and ~30,000 Southwest Rapid Reward points for 5 one-way tickets from Las Vegas to Dallas. Retail cost for these tickets was ~$4500, but we only paid  $119 ($50 in taxes plus a $69 annual fee for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card).


We used 30,000 Korean Airline Skymiles for 2 hotel rooms for 1 night at the Waikiki Resort Hotel. We had accumulated these miles when we flew to Russia in 2004 and 2007. Retail cost of the rooms was $356.68, but totally free with the Skymiles.

We also used 2 free weekend room certificates earned from a Hilton credit card to stay one night in 2 rooms at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. Retail cost of the rooms was $416.18, but we just paid the $95 credit card annual fee.

We stayed for 5 nights at Disney's Aulani with a 30% off special in a 1-bedroom villa. The cost was $2660.47. We paid for the entire cost of Aulani through various credit card rewards: $1739.73 in Barclay Arrival Plus travel rewards, $460 Capital One Venture travel rewards, $126.81 Discover bonus cash back, $16.27 Disney Reward dollars, $17.66 Ebates Big Fat Check, and $300 in Disney gift cards that my husband won at his workplace. Since we did not have any annual fees on these credit cards, our total out-of-pocket cost for Aulani was $0.

We stayed 1 night at the Hyatt Place in Las Vegas for 8000 Hyatt points. Retail price of the room was $147.84, but we paid $0.

Retail cost of air plus hotels: $8081.17
Our cash cost: $214.00

Of course, in addition to airfare and hotels we incurred other costs like parking, rental car, food and recreation.

Other savings:

We saved money on food by having the hotel free breakfast 7 out of 8 nights and by buying groceries for some lunches and dinners (our villa at Aulani had a full kitchen). We also stuffed a carry-on with food we bought in Texas (since it's cheaper than in Hawaii). I booked our catamaran whale watching/dolphin spotting/snorkeling boat trip using a discount website and saved $75. We saved 10% on our Kualoa Ranch outings by booking ahead online. Grandma and Grandpa gifted our boys their surfing lessons for Christmas as well as our daughter's Keiki Wahine experience (more on those later). I saved up my birthday money from last year to pay for my spa appointment. We pre-purchased Disney gift cards to pay for food and entertainment at Aulani by using my Chase Ink card at Staples (which gets 5% reward points that we will use for a future vacation).

Our trip was not all about savings you will see, we had a few splurges!

Trip Report Part 1: Getting There

A few days before our trip, we took a photo of the kids with our traditional pre-vacation sign:

We only brought 2 suitcases and 1 carry-on (in addition to each of us carrying a small backpack for the plane). Our villa included a washer and dryer, so we didn't see the need to bring a lot of clothes. The carry-on was full of food.
Sunday, March 8, 2015:

Our limo picked us up at 8:00 a.m. Yes, you read that correctly, our limousine:
This was our first splurge. Since we were flying out of DFW but flying back into Dallas Love Field, we couldn't park our car at the airport. When I was researching rides to the airport, this limo was only $15 more than a Super Shuttle van. Our kids were shocked. This was their first time in a limo, and only the second time for Brian and me.
So that was a fun way to start our trip. We made it through airport security with no issues and found this lovely playground for the kids to run off some steam before our long flight.

It really was a great find just a few gates down from our gate. The only problem was that Alyssa liked the playground a little too much and she refused to go to the bathroom before our flight because she didn't want to leave the playground. I had to practically drag her to the bathroom with her screaming that she didn't want to go with me. I was sure I would be stopped by security for looking like I was kidnapping a child.
We would be on the plane for a little over 9 hours if we counted from the time we boarded until the time we arrived in Honolulu. American Airlines doesn't serve any meals on domestic flights, even the long ones. Our plan was to buy fast food at DFW shortly before we boarded at 11 a.m. and have that for lunch. I had packed us sandwiches for dinner later in the flight.

Except our plan didn't go so well, because the plane started boarding earlier than scheduled and we wanted to board early to get a good spot in the overhead compartment for our carry-on bag. So I boarded the plane with the kids while Brian went foraging for food to take on the plane. McDonalds was still serving breakfast, so he had to run down to Wendy's. I was super stressed on the plane, thinking he wasn't going to make it back before the plane took off. Luckily, he did make it back on time.

The flight went ok for the most part. Unfortunately, the travelers in front of Alyssa and I chose to recline their seats fully for the duration of the flights and a man's head was practically in my lap the entire trip. This American Airlines plane was the oldest and most cramped airplane of our trip, but hey, we couldn't complain because we were still flying to Hawaii for free!

We arrived in Honolulu around 3:00 p.m. (8:00 p.m. Texas time). The airport had a lot of open-air sections, and the trees were beautiful.

Photo of the kids near the "Aloha, Welcome to Hawaii" sign.
Since we were landing at 8:00 p.m. Texas time and we knew the kids would be tired soon, we didn't want to stay at Aulani the first night. We booked the Waikiki Resort Hotel using Korean Airline Skymiles points. Our plan was to drive the roughly 30 minutes to the hotel, get some food and get to sleep so that we'd be fresh for the next day.

We had heard that traffic in Honolulu is bad, but since we were arriving on a Sunday afternoon we figured we would miss the bad rush hour. We were wrong. It took us over 2 hours to make the normal 30 minute drive! The kids were miserable in the back hungry and tired, and we couldn't find anywhere to pull over and re-group. It turns out that the Honolulu Festival and parade was happening that day, and several roads in the Waikiki area were closed, resulting in huge traffic jams. My kids still remember that horrible car fact, my son says that he loved our trip "except for that horrible car ride on the first day."

We got two connecting rooms at the Waikiki Resort Hotel. Here is what a room looked like:
And the nice open-air lobby:
Gift shop area:
And the fountain outside the hotel:
I think we may have been the only non-Korean travelers staying at this hotel, but we didn't care. It was in a great location in Waikiki! I walked to a store near the hotel to grab some sandwiches, and after we ate we decided to walk the short 1/2 block to Waikiki beach. After all, this was our first night in Hawaii and we were excited to be out of the car! It was after sunset and perfectly pretty outside.

A local was explaining the Honolulu Festival to us...there was a parade in progress with sparklers and fireworks soon to start.
It felt almost surreal to be there at the beach and watching the parade.

We saw this huge banyan tree near the beach:
But by now, it was after midnight Texas time and our kids were fading fast. Although we wanted to stay for the fireworks, we knew that wouldn't be possible. So we walked back to our room to get some sleep. We had big plans for the next morning!

Next up: Hiking Diamond Head

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