Hawaiian Airlines became the first US carrier to allow passengers to redeem frequent-flier miles for their pre-flight test last week. Since pre-flight tests are becoming mandatory for destinations globally, could other airlines also follow Hawaiian’s lead? How much value does paying with points actually provide? Let’s find out.
Passengers can now pay for their mandatory pre-flight using HawaiianMiles. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com
Pay in miles
In October, Hawaii launched its new testing program, allowing passengers to skip their 14-day mandatory quarantine if they took a test 72 hours before the flight and tested negative. Under the rules, the test must be of the specific NAAT type and from one of the state of Hawaii’s “trusted testing and travel partners.”
Under its limited-time offer, Hawaiian passengers can pay for a mail-in test from Vault Health (one of the trusted partners) using 14,000 HawaiianMiles per passenger. While this might seem like a good deal, it actually works out to be quite expensive.
HawaiianMiles are currently valued at 1.18 cents per mile, according to WalletHub, which means 14,000 miles are worth roughly $165 ideally. Redeeming the miles results in a nearly 40% points devaluation, quite a substantial figure. To put it in more real terms, the cost of a test is almost the same as a round-trip intra-island hop (15,000 miles) or a one-way flight from the East Coast to Hawaii (20,000 miles) on off-peak dates.
Clearly, this likely isn’t the best value redemption for your miles. However, it might make sense if you’d prefer to spend over 56,000 miles instead of paying a hefty $476 for testing alone of a family of four.
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Will others follow suit?
We know that frequent flier programs can be quite lucrative for airlines, bringing in billions in revenue each year. With thousands of passengers stuck on the ground and with nowhere to spend their miles, allowing a redemption for testing might be a wise choice. Airlines can also negotiate rates with testing providers for a lower price per test when passengers use miles.
United has already kicked off its Hawaii pre-flight testing options, including a facility at San Francisco Airport. Allowing passengers to pay with miles could make the transaction more seamless during booking. United customers could put their miles to good use, instead of paying $110 (48 hours pre-flight) or $250 (airport) in cash.
Other major carriers, such as American, also offer pre-flight tests through partners and could switch to miles instead. Seeing that many countries now require negative tests before flying, testing will only become more popular in the coming months. However, be careful to see if the redemption makes sense
Last month, United began a pilot program to offer passengers a free rapid COVID-19 test on flights between New York and London. Passengers simply had to arrive three hours before their flight to take the test, with no extra steps. Testing everyone onboard would give passengers a strong sense of confidence and could allow borders to reopen in the future, United believes.
For now, all passengers will likely find themselves paying for a test when flying to Hawaii or abroad. It wouldn’t be a surprise if airlines began offering a miles-based payment system instead of just cash. However, it is to be seen if testing can truly replace quarantines soon.