Back in August I took a crazy fast trip to Kona, Hawaii, utilizing the Turkish Airlines sweet spot for my outbound United flight. More than anything, I simply wanted to show that these awards are real and readily available through just a little effort. I previously detailed my experience booking a Turkish Miles & Smiles award over the phone. Some itineraries are available online, but there have been issues with both booking methods lately (hopefully resolved soon).
For my return flight, I went looking for award seats on Alaska Airlines. The airline offers flights to Kona from a few different Bay Area airports, and the only award seat I could find was flying Alaska Airlines 737-800 main cabin to SFO. I booked this with 13,000 British Airways Avios and $5.60, up from the previous price of 12,500 Avios. It’s still a good deal between the U.S. and Hawaii. Alaska would have charged me 17,500 MileagePlan miles for the same flight.
Careful Seat Planning
I’m generally meticulous about seat selection. Most of the time I can “fix it and forget it”, but traveling solo, I often check back. For a flight of five hours, I really wanted to score a window seat with an empty seat next to me. After pulling the Alaska Airlines record locator for the BA booking from CheckMyTrip, I added the trip to my Alaska account and then selected a seat that met these criteria.
During the 24 hours from check-in up until the time of the flight, I checked the seat map via the Alaska app multiple times. Twice I moved myself to a different window seat where the middle wasn’t filled. The effort paid off. I ended up in a row with a space between myself and the person at the aisle. We can call this poor man’s first for the 5-hour haul!
Arrival and Wait at KOA
I arrived back at Kona airport via shuttle from the rental car lot. While renting a car on Hawaii isn’t necessarily a must if you plan on spending all your time at a resort, I wanted to be able to explore a bit. Plus, I was at different hotels each of the two nights. The rental cars are off-airport, but very close by, and shuttles are regular.
Kona airport is unique. The public spaces are all open air. I’ve never seen another airport like it. But given that Hawaii has nice temperatures basically all the time, the design makes sense. The only time it might be a bummer is during a downpour, but even then, many areas are covered.
I made one blunder. Instead of taking literally two minutes to track down my Global Entry number and add it to the reservation, I checked in without it. This meant no TSA Precheck. Turns out the Precheck line had exactly zero people in it, while the general queue was fairly long. Cost myself about 15 minutes of waiting for 2 minutes of laziness.
My Alaska Airlines flight was delayed. I kept getting emails from CheckMyTrip. Oddly, Alaska Airlines never sent me anything directly. The flight ended up being no more than 20 minutes behind schedule, so it wasn’t exactly a major delay.
I hung out at the Laniakea Cafe, one of the only indoor air-conditioned areas, and worked for a bit. Heading out right at the new boarding time, I managed to arrive at the gate seconds before Group C boarding was called. How convenient.
Boarding at Kona is done entirely by ramp. There aren’t any jet bridges. I’ve only ever boarded a 737 in this fashion 2 or 3 times.
The words “Proudly All Boeing” painted on the side of the Alaska 737-800 gave me a chuckle. No longer is their fleet comprised entirely of hometown aircraft. Seems kinda silly after their purchase of Virgin America.
Alaska Airlines 737-800 Main Cabin
While the front of the plane was rather full when I boarded, I was among the first to be seated in the Alaska Airlines 737-800 main cabin. I don’t have any sort of status with Alaska and don’t have their boarding order down, so I’m not quite sure how it worked out this way.
Alaska Airlines’ 737-800s have 117 standard economy seats, 30 premium seats, and 12 recliner first class seats. I was in seat 23F, a window on the right side of the aircraft.
Alaska Airlines 737-800 main cabin is very typical for the plane type. Economy seats offer 31” of pitch, which is average in the industry. Seat padding is decent.
I felt like I had more than sufficient legroom for a 5-hour haul. Forgive the legs. I’m wearing shorts because, hey, Hawaii.
The plane was mostly full, but mine was still a row that still showed an unoccupied middle seat. I lucked out, as it remained empty.
Alaska Airlines 737-800 main cabin seats do not feature seat-back entertainment. This is a bummer, considering the length of the flight. Only on Alaska’s remaining Virgin America aircraft can you find screens (although they are old at this point). Seat-back IFE is one reason (among many) why I choose to fly Delta as often as possible.
The seats do offer universal power outlets, though, as well as a USB port.
Seat recline is minimal, but typical of economy. You’re looking at just a couple inches. The headrests are adjustable, which is a plus. I wasn’t all that concerned with these features, considering that it is a daytime flight.
Overall, Alaska’s economy seat was everything I expected. It’s been a while since I’ve flown one of their 737s. Glad there weren’t any surprises. The lack of IFE might be my only real complaint, but that is a fleet-wide issue.
Departure from Kona
The one downside of sitting on the right side of the plane was that I wasn’t going to get any good view of Hawaii as we departed. Or so I thought. I did have a great view of a JAL 767 taking off. Prior to this trip, I didn’t even know JAL flew to Kona!
Kona airport is small, and we were airborne after a very brief taxi time. We took off headed south, and the ascent path slowly looped away from the island to the west. This ended up putting the airport and coast right out my window.
As we passed 15,000 feet or so, you could start to see Mauna Kea above the clouds. Eventually, Mauna Loa peeked out as well. The view was mesmerizing. I was reminded again why I am on #TeamWindowSeat. I will never tire of taking in the world from the sky. There is nothing like it!
Alaska Airlines Main Cabin Service
Leaving Hawaii behind, we hit our cruising altitude of 38,000 feet and had barely over 4 hours of flight time left to SFO. The flight attendants passed through first with a water service. With no IFE and little desire to stream something to my phone, I contented myself with the in-flight magazine until service was over.
Following the water service was a cart with tablets for rent. These cost $10, and you can keep them for the bulk of the flight. Headphones will set you back $3, but I believe they are included with the tablet rental. I guess this is Alaska’s way of filling the entertainment gap? Gotta pay for everything. Better come prepared with your own device. However, if you’re in first class or a MVP Gold 75k elite, your tablet is free.
One touch I always appreciate about Alaska Airlines is their destination napkins. Although I got the unluckiest draw of them all.
The next cart offered snacks and food for purchase. The lunch options included a savory summer salad, a lemongrass chicken banh mi sandwich, and a protein platter. All three options cost $9.50. I went with the sandwich, which turned out to be one of the better offerings I’ve had on a flight.
I checked the in-flight WiFi in the vain hope that Alaska might not be completely disconnected from the world like my United 737-900 flight from SFO just two days prior. Nope. No signal across the Pacific Ocean.
I contented myself with writing and reading for the rest of the flight. Typically, I would have had free messaging available as a communication option. But you have to have WiFi.
Before I knew it, it was dark, and we were making our descent into SFO.
Overall, flying Alaska Airlines 737-800 main cabin is a pleasant experience. I would absolutely book a Hawaii flight with them again. Given the value at only 13,000 Avios one-way, they are an excellent option for flying from the West Coast. The seats are comfortable, the food fresh, and the service pleasant. The only drawback is the IFE situation, but you can remedy that by coming prepared. You also do not have to worry about your device battery running low, as there is in-seat power.
If you’re looking to book with Alaska MileagePlan, flights will set you back 15,000 to 17,500 miles each-way at saver rates. Another interesting option is Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. A nonstop flight from any of Alaska’s West Coast hubs or focus cities to Hawaii will cost you just 12,000 KrisFlyer miles. Aloha!