What Is Hawaiian Elite Status Worth?

Airline elite status is worth more than just bragging rights. The perks — including bonus miles, checked bag waivers, entry into airport lounges and free seat upgrades — have real cash value. NerdWallet has analyzed various airlines’ elite status benefits by adding up the estimated value of these perks to determine the value of each status.

Hawaiian Airlines has two elite status tiers: Pualani Gold and Pualani Platinum. Here, based on NerdWallet’s number-crunching, is the estimated cash value of each tier of Hawaiian elite status.

Pualani Gold: Estimated value of $620

To become a Pualani Gold member, you have to fly on cash fares for 30 flight segments or 20,000 miles, whichever comes first. The most valuable Pualani Gold benefits are:

  • Free upgrades to Extra Comfort seats when available.

  • 50% more miles earned when you fly on a cash ticket.

  • Discounted award tickets when booking online.

  • Zone 2 priority boarding.

  • First two checked bags free.

  • Priority TSA security lines where available.

  • Access to Premier Club lounges on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii Island and Kauai.

Our analysis estimates these perks to have a raw estimated value of $620.

Hawaiian charges $30 for the first checked bag and $40 for a second on flights to and from the continental US, so Gold status could save you up to $70 each way or $140 round-trip. Of course, if you don’t plan on checking bags or usually check just one, this Pualani Gold benefit won’t put as much money back in your pocket.

But perhaps the best perk of Pualani Gold status might be those free upgrades to the Extra Comfort seats, which provide about five inches more legroom than you get in economy.

Cash prices to upgrade to roomier seats have risen dramatically on numerous airlines in recent months, at times reaching $235 each way on a Hawaiian flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu. So free upgrades to Extra Comfort seats make Pualani Gold status worthwhile, especially if you fly to Hawaii often.

Pualani Platinum: Estimated value of $3,240

This is where Hawaiian elite status gets really valuable. Pualani Platinum members not only get free upgrades to Extra Comfort seats when available, they also earn certificates redeemable for upgrades to premium cabins (first class on domestic flights or business class on international flights). On most longer routes, this means you can sleep your way to paradise in a fully lie-flat seat.

Plus, Pualani Platinum members get additional free checked bags, more bonus miles, earlier boarding and access to a wider variety of airport lounges. Here are the major perks of Pualani Platinum status, which we estimate to have a raw value of $3,240.

  • Earn certificates redeemable for upgrades to first or business class.

  • Free upgrades to Extra Comfort seats when available.

  • 100% more miles earned when you fly on a cash ticket.

  • Zone 1 priority boarding.

  • First three checked bags free.

  • Priority TSA security lines where available.

  • Access to the Plumeria Lounge on Oahu when flying internationally.

  • Access to partner lounges at international airports.

How the value of Hawaiian status compares with competitors

Hawaiian Airlines’ elite status program ranks as one of the best in the business, second only to Alaska Airlines in NerdWallet’s most recent overall analysis. It also ranked second when comparing entry-level and mid-level status tiers across airlines, handily beating out even the biggest names like United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

This impressive showing means that travelers who regularly head to the Aloha State can get more out of their elite status if they fly Hawaiian.

Should I earn elite status with Hawaiian this year?

Frequent flyers from the US mainland to Hawaii face a unique dilemma: Should you give your loyalty to Hawaiian so every flight to the islands moves you one step closer to Pualani elite status? Or should you favor a bigger airline that serves more destinations so you can enjoy your elite perks while flying all over the world?

Imagine, for example, you live in Seattle and fly to Honolulu four times a year for work. But you also like to fly to Dallas to visit family and to New York City to visit friends. If you fly Hawaiian to Hawaii, a distance of 5,354 miles round trip, in a year you’ll rack up the 20,000 miles required to earn Pualani Gold status.

But if you fly Alaska Airlines to Hawaii as well as Dallas and New York, your flights could bump you up to Alaska’s MVP Gold 75K or even MVP Gold 100K status — the airline’s top tiers — which gets you better perks on all your flights to Hawaii, as well as your trips to New York and Dallas.

What’s the best way to earn Hawaiian Airlines status?

Some airlines, like United, for example, offer several ways to achieve elite status, like signing up for one of their co-branded credit cards. Hawaiian Airlines offers no such shortcuts: The only way to get to elite status is by flying the minimum required miles or segments — 20,000 miles or 30 flight segments for Gold, or 40,000 miles or 60 flight segments for Platinum.

Methodology

Value of each tier

To determine the value of each elite status tier, we considered those perks that carry a clear value, and we omitted luxury benefits (like dedicated phone lines) that don’t. Specifically, we considered:

  • Premium seating upgrades.

  • Other individual program perks with clear value.

The table below explains these benefits as well as the assumptions we made in calculating their value.

The number of extra miles or points earned for this status tier. For example, Alaska MVP members receive 50% bonus miles.

The value of offset bag fees.

The traveler takes advantage of these offset bag fees every 10,000 miles flown.

Complimentary upgrades to economy plus, economy comfort, etc.

The traveler is upgraded once every 2,500 miles, discounting those times they are upgraded to first class. We estimate the value of these upgrades at $50 apiece.

Complimentary upgrades to first and business class.

We assume that higher elite tiers within a given program are more likely to be upgraded, with a maximum upgrade rate of 75% across all programs.

We estimate the value of these upgrades at $200 apiece.

Complimentary upgrade certificates, such as American Airlines systemwide upgrades.

Since members can choose which flights receive upgrades for these, we peg them at a slightly higher value of $300 apiece.

The value of change/cancel fees that are offset from holding the status.

Travelers change or cancel one flight per 5,000 miles flown (ie, 10 times for 50,000 miles flown).

Other perks with clear value

Includes lounge membership, mile bonuses, etc.

Here are the raw estimated values ​​for each program tier:

Cost of earning each tier

Airlines offer different thresholds for achieving each status tier, which can be broken into two categories:

  1. Other combination of factors, including elite qualifying dollars spent.

For No. 1, we will estimate the cost of achieving each tier as:

Number of miles needed to achieve tier multiplied by the median cost of flown mile (12 cents, per a separate analysis we conducted). For example, Hawaiian requires 20,000 flown miles for Gold status, so the cost of achieving this tier is 20,000 x $0.12 = $2,400.

For No. 2, we will estimate the cost of achieving each tier as:

Number of elite qualifying dollars divided by the fare-to-cost ratio. The fare-to-cost ratio is a percentage value that represents the average “base fare” to “total cost” of airfare (83% per our separate analysis). For example, AAdvantage Gold status requires $3,000 EQDs, so the cost of achieving this tier is $3,000 / $0.83 = $3,614.

If an airline requires a combination of Nos. 1 and 2, we used No. 2 as the cost of earning because this is usually more difficult to achieve. In other words, it’s rare to hit a minimum spending requirement without hitting the mileage requirement.

Here is the estimated cost to earn each status tier:

Featured image courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines.

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