6 Icelandic Islands You Probably Haven’t Heard of Yet

Iceland isn’t just waterfalls, geysers, hot springs and whale watching (although those are all great things to do there). Take a quick trip from Iceland’s mainland and you’ll find a flurry of stunning, smaller islands that will have you exploring the country in a new way.
From the Westman Islands — a veritable puffin hotspot — and a town covered in volcanic ash to a rare island-within-an-island, the secrets of the Land of Fire and Ice continue to unveil themselves off the coast.
Hopping on a ferry and venturing offshore is an especially rewarding way to discover Iceland’s lesser-known corners. Before you book your next cheap flight to Iceland, consider working these six little-known Icelandic islands into your itinerary.
Drangey Island
Serious hikers should head to Drangey Island, off the north coast of Iceland. You can spot this steep island — which has a special role in the Icelandic sagas — from the viewpoints of the Skagafjörður fjord. Legend has it, Viking Grettir the Strong lived on the island in exile.
Take a boat tour from Reykir harbor, where you’ll spot rare seabirds including puffins, gannets, fulmars, shearwaters and more. Once on the island, there’s a path that will take you to the top and closer to the puffins, which are known to hang out mere feet from the walking path. The boat tours are offered only between late May and late August.
Viðey Island (Photo by Daniele Carotenuto Photography / Getty Images)
Viðey Island
Chances are you haven’t heard of Viðey Island, but the name Yoko Ono might be more familiar. Head to this island by way of ferry from Reykjavík and you’ll find a secluded world of contemporary art, along with pretty incredible views. Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower is located here, along with a piece called “Milestones” by American sculptor Richard Serra.
The surrounding area offers unusual vistas of mainland Iceland, as well as the coastline of the Snæfellsness Peninsula to the west. Once you’re done checking out the art, there’s plenty of hiking and whale watching to be enjoyed along the shore.
Flatey Island
Flatey is actually the largest of a cluster of 40 islands along the northwestern coast of Iceland. To get there, you can take the Ferry Baldur from Stykkishólmur in Snæfellsnes across the shallow Breiðafjörður Bay to Flatey. There’s only one hotel on the island — and it does close down during the winter months — so make sure and plan ahead if you intend on spending the night.
There are no cars allowed on the island, which only adds to its tranquil vibe. The homes in the main village have been around for decades and deliver the same colorful palette you’ll spot on the mainland. This is also a great place for bird enthusiasts.
Grímsey Island
Many associate Iceland with the Arctic Circle, given its unpredictable weather and cool year-round temperatures. But there’s only one place in Iceland that’s technically within the Arctic Circle: Grímsey Island. You can get here by boat or plane from Akureyri (the second-most populated city behind Reykjavík, it’s also known as Iceland’s capital of the north).
Grímsey Island is approximately 25 miles off the coast of Iceland and is inhabited by a number of fishermen. If you’re hunting the midnight sun, this is the spot to do it: during the summer until late July, the sun is up for 24 hours. This is also when you’ll experience the true breadth of this island’s seabird population. During the winter, they stick to the sea.
Puffins on Heimaey Island (Photo by Vinchel Budihardjo / Getty Images.)
Heimaey Island
Heimaey is the largest in a set of islands comprising the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, home to the largest Atlantic puffin colony in the world and where more than 1.1 million puffins lay their eggs every summer.
The main island, Heimaey, is home to around 4,200 people. And if you spend the night here in August or September, you may even have the chance to help baby puffins on their migratory journey.
Puffin chicks (also known as pufflings) are known to fly into town late in the night. Residents collect the stranded pufflings and return them to the ocean during the day. Participate, and then add “stand-in puffin parent” to your resume.
Compared to the other scenic stops on this list, Heimaey is more of a history lesson. This tiny island — it’s only about five square miles — was covered in volcanic ash after the Eldfell volcano erupted on the island in January 1973. Today, people have homes in Vestmannaeyjar, but the museum is what brings travelers across the bay.
Eldheimar, which translates to “Worlds of Fire,” is an eerie preservation of what life was like in 1973 the day the eruption occurred. The lava and ash preserved many of the abandoned homes, and the museum now features a cottage you can visit showcasing this standstill.
This island is completely different from the others on this list, in that it’s actually located within the mainland. Traustsholtshólmi was formed in 1676 after a series of floods surrounded this small area of land.
Today, you can stay in a traditional Mongolian yurt owned by a local who has lived on the island for most of his life.
During your visit, can also help catch your own meal, if you’re so inclined. You’ll head out to the nearby Þjórsá River to catch fish with your host, Hákon, and his sheepdog, Skuggi.
Feature image of Drangey Island by Subtik / Getty Images.

The Unbreakable Rules for Going Shoeless on a Plane

Welcome to Travel Etiquette, a new TPG column that explores the fragile social contracts and the delicate dos and don’ts of travel. Have an opinion or suggestion for a future subject? Sound off in the comments below. 
There may be no greater source of inflight conflict — and disgust — than people who take their shoes and socks off on an airplane. As flight attendants are quick to point out, sometimes it’s a matter of cleanliness. But bare naked feet have long been a popular topic for travel etiquette debate. Some travelers are fiercely opposed; others see no harm.
“The general consensus is taking your shoes off in a crowded space, such as an airplane, is off-putting to fellow travelers,” national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, told TPG. 
But there are exceptions, some of them cultural, others concerning the placement of the feet and the length of the flight. Whether you’re all for exposed toes or would rather everyone keep their feet fully covered, there’s a code of conduct every frequent flyer should know before stripping down to the phalanges.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Cultural Significance
If you’re offended by your barefoot fellow travelers, there’s an important thing to keep in mind: Your international seatmate may actually be trying to show respect by removing his or her shoes.
In fact, removing shoes “indoors” for the sake of cleanliness and respect is common practice in many regions around the world. The Scandinavians do it. So do the Ethiopians and Russians. And virtually every country in Asia complies with the practice of going barefoot indoors, from Japan, Korea and China to Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore.
In a number of Southeast Asian countries, such as Cambodia, removing footwear inside temples is strictly enforced — and it’s commonplace to remove shoes in certain small shops, too.
There are many different cultural connotations where feet are involved. However, science and safety dictate a few universal guidelines surrounding how and when to wear shoes on planes.
Wear Your Shoes During Takeoff and Landing
Even travelers who think shoes are dirty and rude should keep them on for the most critical parts of flight. “You should keep your shoes on during takeoff and landing, because that’s the most dangerous part of the flight,” a flight attendant for Qatar Airways told TPG.
This safety precaution is not just for you, but for everyone else on board, too. Shoes cluttering an aisle or row of seats pose a potential hazard, she said, but passengers may also need to move quickly outside of the plane in the event of an emergency. And feet are almost always better protected by shoes.
Cover Your Feet When You Go to the Bathroom
According to Gottsman, “it may be more acceptable” to take your shoes off during a long-haul flight. Indeed, on some airlines, each seat comes with a little net for storing shoes.
If you plan to do so, it’s a good idea to at least keep on socks or slippers, simply for the sake of cleanliness. After all, many of the countries that have a culture of removing shoes inside also tend to offer indoor slippers to their shoeless guests, as an additional layer of protection from potential contaminants within the home or store.
Even still, airplanes can certainly be disgusting. Flight attendants have taken to Reddit to describe all of the disgusting things that coat every inch of an airplane’s surface, especially in the bathrooms. If you’ve taken them off, “put on your shoes to walk through the aisles when going to the lavatory,” Gottsman said.
“Please do not ever walk into a toilet with bare feet,” an anonymous flight attendant on Reddit agreed. “I promise you, 9 times out of 10, that is not water on the floor.”
Keep Your Feet to Yourself
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Another rule of inflight foot etiquette involves the placement of the feet. Feet never belong on another person’s armrest. They do not belong on windows or on tray tables or in someone else’s seat. And they should certainly never be on another human.
It’s also unacceptable to work on a pedicure or other forms of foot grooming in an airplane cabin. That means no nail clipping or foot scratching, no peeling of hangnails or cuticles. And it should go without saying that your feet do not belong in the aisle, whether barefoot and hanging off the edge of your seat or simply creeping out and creating a hazard.
On very rare occasions, it’s acceptable to stretch out, whether you’re splurging on a lie-flat economy bed by booking a full row of seats, or you simply got lucky with no seatmates next to you. In these situations, it’s always a nice idea to don a clean pair of socks, both for your own comfort and the mental peace of others around you.
And of course, business class and first class travelers have the option of stowing away their footwear before sprawling out in aviation paradise.
Don’t Be Offensive
Sweaty, stinky feet — and other body parts — can be an issue during travel, especially on long journeys.
“We’ve all had the unpleasant experience of someone removing their shoes and having to deal with … hot, sweaty feet odor,” Gottsman said. “At that point, it makes it uncomfortable and awkward for everyone.”
If you know that odor is an issue, prep well in advance by using shoe deodorizing powders or even baking soda and dryer sheets inside your shoes to quell the smell.
And if you want to go shoeless onboard, consider switching out your socks for a clean pair beforehand in the privacy of an airport bathroom stall.
From a cultural perspective, TPG’s Qatar Airways flight attendant source said that the notoriously strict Middle Eastern carrier doesn’t enforce passenger footwear requirements except in cases of egregious infringement on another passenger’s space, such as feet (bare or otherwise) placed on another traveler’s armrest.
Most other airlines also hope that “passengers can choose to behave like the adults they hopefully are,” said TPG resident flight attendant Carrie A. Trey. When absolutely necessary, flight crew will step in to arbitrate disputes as needed, she said. But common travel courtesy strongly recommends that feet stay below deck and in one’s own personal space, whether covered or exposed.
Featured illustration by Linda Braucht / Getty Images.

We Heart WeHo: A Review of the Kimpton La Peer in Los Angeles

Less than a year old, Kimpton La Peer is a welcome addition to the Los Angeles hotel scene. Its slick, modern décor, fantastic food and beverage options and plush rooms make it a little oasis in the hustle and bustle of West Hollywood.
A friend and I needed a last-minute hotel room in LA for a few nights (as in booked the same morning as I arrived in LA) and turned to my new go-to app, Hotel Tonight. I love its easy-to-use interface, search features, reviews and, of course, the discounts. The winner this time was Kimpton. The hotel was labeled “luxe” and had a 98% approval rating after 59 ratings from Hotel Tonight users, which was more than solid.
For my stay, the rate on Hotel Tonight was $341 per night for two nights, down from the La Peer’s rate of $405, a roughly 15% discount. After just a few clicks, I was all set. I paid for the $682 stay with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which allowed me to earn 3x points on my purchase — in this case a total of 2,046 Ultimate Rewards points, which are worth about $41 according to TPG’s latest valuations.
The hotel was about an hour from LAX by car in heavy traffic. It’s located smack in the heart of West Hollywood and within walking distance of the cornucopia of gay bars, restaurants and shops that line Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue. The Abbey, Zinqué, Fiesta Cantina, Mickey’s, Gracias Madre, Tortilla Republic — they were all within a five-minute walk of the Kimpton La Peer, which was special because LA really isn’t a walking city. When you think LA, you think Uber. And yet, when you’re sitting by the pool sipping rosé, it feels like you’re in your own little oasis. Location-wise, if you’re looking to stay in WeHo, this is the place to be.
We checked in around 1:00pm, two hours before the official check-in time. Although there was a problem finding my reservation, once I told the agent that I had booked it on Hotel Tonight that same morning, he found it. Hans kindly explained that there were rooms available and ready, but that he needed 10 minutes or so to get my reservation properly uploaded in the system. He added that we were welcome to sit down and enjoy one of their welcome cocktails. Um, yes, please!
Welcome to the Kimpton La Peer! How about a drink?
The only other question we had to answer was, “Red or white?” We were promptly brought two white-wine spritzer-like cocktails that were the perfect answer to the searing 90-degree heat outside. Not even five minutes later, a staff member came up, addressed us both by name and informed us that our room was ready and the bags had already been sent up. Stunning!
I LOVED my room at the Kimpton, though the first thing that caught my attention was actually the bathroom.

The massive, freestanding European-style bathtub and open-plan shower, excellent lighting, intricate tile work and large, frosted window that let natural light into the bathroom all felt spectacularly well-done and inviting.
The bathroom was stocked with Atelier Bloem amenities, which left us smelling delightfully herbal and feeling fabulous after every shower. And for those who want to splish-splash in style and make good use of the tub, there was a Bath Rituals by Ole Henriksen Spa menu — basically bubble baths on demand! Yes, I made good use of it and ordered the divine Signature La Peer bath. And no, I won’t be posting any pictures of said bath.
Across from the bathroom was the well-stocked closet, which had all the mod cons and then some: a full-sized umbrella, plush bathrobes, slippers, plenty of hangers (not always the case in hotels!), iron and ironing board and even a yoga mat! And there was definitely enough space in the room to do yoga, if that’s what you felt like doing.
The room itself was as beautifully designed as the rest of the hotel, although with less color than the lobby, which lent a sense of calm and understated elegance to the room. The design had a distinctly Scandinavian feel to it, with dashes of Hollywood exuberance, like the Jeff Koons-inspired golden balloon rabbit next to the bed. Signature contemporary lighting allowed guests to adjust the lights to fit any mood.

The long, low furniture stretching out from the walls coupled with the restful monochromatic palette gave the room a warm, welcoming feeling. There was a wall-mounted flat-screen TV and a king bed I could have easily stayed in all day, and the rabbit lent whimsy and humor to an otherwise tranquil space. What was particularly striking was the lack of clutter one often finds in hotel rooms. The open design felt refreshing and welcoming.

As one would expect in a recently opened hotel, there were outlets and USB chargers everywhere, not only on the desk but on both sides of the bed. The custom workstation was a welcome touch, and while I’m sure people use it to do work-esque tasks such as pop off an email or two, we found it worked just as well as a perch for a well-chilled bottle of Sauv Blanc and a staging area for picking out the evening’s outfit.
Food and Beverage
The restaurant at the Kimpton La Peer, Viale dei Romani, was billed as a “modern West Hollywood trattoria.” It served breakfast, lunch and dinner and provided the catering for the Courtyard Bar by the pool. Putting aside the traditional definition of a trattoria (somewhere where the service is casual, the food and wine are cheap and the wine is della casa and served in carafes — all of which were not the case here), the chef came up with a rather tasty concept. The menus were a mix of traditional Italian and Southern California flair, with something for everyone. I’ll be honest: We never made it down in time for breakfast, but they did provide freshly brewed coffee when we did finally stroll down around 11:00am each morning.
Happy-hour spread at the Courtyard Bar.
We did, however, put the Courtyard Bar to the test. The bar menu included delicious pizzas, ranging from classics like the margherita (for a whopping $25) to the Ipswich clam pizza. While the pizza was delicious, it didn’t teach me Italian and take me for a Vespa ride a la “Roman Holiday,” which at $25 for a small, a pizza frankly should do.

Happy Hour at the pool was much more reasonable (beer for $4, wine and cocktails for $10). The rosé sangria was delicious, the truffle fries were everything you’d expect from truffle fries and then some, and the calamari were done to perfection, not the typical breaded gummy bears one usually is served.
The shining star in this category was definitely the hotel’s pool. We spent two afternoons poolside, enjoying the peace and quiet of the pool and the fabulous service. We loved the direct sunlight that the pool area enjoyed most of the day, but if shade is your game, there were fully covered cabanas at your disposal too. The full Courtyard Bar menu was available poolside, which was a huge bonus, and our bartender gladly provided us with ice buckets to keep our sparkling wine nice and cool while we soaked up the sun.

The Courtyard Bar just next to the pool was another favorite spot. In contrast to the quiet calm of the rooms, the walls here were decorated with enthusiastic graffiti-like designs that gave the space energy. There were pillows and lounge chairs of all shapes and sizes, inviting guests to come in and take a seat. In the afternoon, it was the perfect spot to cozy up with a book, but from happy hour into the late evening, it became a happening gathering spot for the in-crowd in West Hollywood.
Photo courtesy of the Kimpton La Peer.
The gym was just behind the pool and was small but well-equipped. The La Peer would even arrange for a personal trainer to join you at the gym, if that’s your idea of a restful vacation.

In addition to the pool lounge, there was an impressive rooftop space that had commanding views of the Hollywood Hills and Downtown. Both times we went up there, however, the space was completely empty. A shame, really. In the searing heat of the day, I could see how it might not be so inviting, but I was surprised it wasn’t being put to better use at night.
Overall Impression
Overall, we loved our stay at the Kimpton La Peer. The room was nothing short of spectacular, as was the service. The gentleman who handled our check-in, Hans, addressed us by name throughout our stay, as did our bartender in the courtyard, Marley. Everyone at the Kimpton seemed to remember who we were and genuinely care about how we were doing. It was refreshing and something that is really only achievable in a property of this scale.
Honestly, there were only two downsides. The prices of some amenities were a little steep, particularly parking (at $49 per day) and the food. The parking prices were posted on a tiny little sign by the valet booth that we didn’t even see until our last day. I know, my bad for not asking about the rate or if parking was included in the room rate, but nonetheless it seemed excessive.
Two, our room overlooked the pool, which was lovely, but the Courtyard Bar definitely got loud in the evenings. It wasn’t horrendous nor did it go on into the wee hours of the morning, but if you’re the early-to-bed type, you might want a room on the front side of the property.
The Kimpton La Peer is absolutely a welcome addition to the West Hollywood hotel scene. The phenomenally decorated and designed rooms, coupled with the kind of service that one associates with Singapore Airlines make this a hotel that I absolutely plan to return to next time I’m in LA.
Feature photo courtesy of Kimpton La Peer

Mountain Majesty: Dunton Town House in Telluride, Colorado

To celebrate the big 1-0 anniversary this year, we flirted with the idea of going somewhere far away but ultimately decided on two smaller getaways. The first without the kids was courtesy of Hyatt award nights at the Miraval Resort and Spa outside of Tucson, Arizona. But for the second half of the celebration, we wanted somewhere that was much cooler in early September than Texas. We were also craving a touch more adventure than could be found at a spa retreat.
That’s where Dunton Town House in Telluride, Colorado, came in.
Exploring near Telluride
Telluride is a small mountain town of fewer than 2,500 residents with few traditional hotels and virtually no large properties. Since it is a ski town, there certainly are places to stay, but it’s a town that can sell out of lodging options during big events. We happened to decide to visit Telluride during the annual film festival, which almost landed us an anniversary weekend spent in a rental car. 

Thankfully, our preferred bed and breakfast, Dunton Town House, had a last-minute cancellation. Dunton Town House opened in late 2016, making it the newest lodging in Telluride, though it is far more bed and breakfast than hotel.

Rates vary by room type and season, from $350 to $700. Our room, Reh, was one of the larger rooms, and we paid the highest festival rate of $550 per night.
While I am fairly certain I have seen Dunton Town House on sites like Hotels.com in the past, I couldn’t find it listed there when we booked. If you can find the property on Hotels.com, you could earn 10x miles by booking via Hotels.com/Venture and paying with your Capital One Venture Rewards credit card. Alternatively, you could use miles from your Capital One Venture Rewards credit card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard by charging the travel purchase to those cards.
We booked our stay directly with the hotel and earned 3 points per dollar on the travel charge by paying with my Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Dunton Town House was in an absolutely ideal location for exploring Telluride, roughly a block away from the free Telluride Gondola and about two blocks away from Telluride’s main thoroughfare, Colorado Avenue. We were easily able to walk to all of our meals, some hiking trails, shops and more. Despite its central location, we heard virtually no street noise at night, even with the windows partially open.
When we arrived on a Friday afternoon, a farmers market was set up right in front of the property.

Dunton Town House was not a big hotel but rather a high-end bed and breakfast that houses a maximum of around 10 guests at any one time. Our host for the stay met us out in the street to help park the car when we arrived and continued to meet all of our needs for the duration of the weekend visit. There was not a traditional formal check-in process, but rather a tour of the home and a rundown of ways we could relax and enjoy ourselves there during our stay.
The main area of Dunton Town House, where breakfast is served.
The keys to the room were real keys, we had a direct line to our on-site host, and we felt right at home from the moment we walked in the front door.

The Room
Each of the five rooms at Dunton Town House was unique. Our room was a king room on the ground level, accessed by walking through the entry room of the house and then back out onto an exterior hallway.

“Reh” means “roe deer” in German, and the deer theme was carried throughout the room, with accents on items such as pillows and curtains.

There was a large couch, dresser and TV.

The TV remained in the off position at Dunton Town House.
The bed felt large even for a king and was comfortable enough, though the pillows were quite floppy and it took two or three of them combined to get decent head support.

My favorite thing about the room was simply cracking open the windows and feeling the cool early-September mountain air chill the room. Add a cup of hot tea brought to us by the host and you have my version of vacation perfection.

Our room had a relatively large, bright and white en suite bathroom with two pedestal sinks and lots of cozy towels.

There was a shower/tub combo, but the tub was deeper than most. If you have any mobility issues, getting in and out may be a challenge, but I found it perfect for soaking after a long hike. The shower pressure and temperature were good and easy to control.

There were a variety of high-end Aesop bath amenities available in the bathroom in addition to two thick robes with the Dunton logo.

Food and Beverage
An included continental European breakfast was served each morning from 7:30am to 10am. Breakfast quickly became one of my favorite times of the day, as it was a true joy to chat with the other guests and the host. We often stick to ourselves on vacation, but the warmth here made us want to sit down and chat with other travelers over coffee.
Breakfast consisted of pastries brought in from a Telluride bakery, fresh berries, yogurt, granola, sliced meats, cheese, bagels, jam, orange juice and coffee.

The food was laid out on the main table, and you could make and refill your plate as often as you wished. I found the selections to be plenty varied for a weekend stay.

As a coffee lover, I was particularly impressed that the coffee was made using a Chemex, which we first learned of last year while staying at the Andaz Costa Rica and have periodically used for our own morning coffee routine ever since.

Though breakfast is the only meal served at the Dunton Town House, you could help yourself to the well-stocked fridge and pantry, which held wine, beer, soda, candy and fruit, for no additional charge.

There were also bowls of beef jerky, granola bars, chips and fruit set out on the main table each afternoon.

Factoring in the breakfast, snacks and drinks we enjoyed at Dunton, the $350-plus rates weren’t quite as painful as they were at first glance.
There weren’t a lot of amenities to speak of at this small bed and breakfast, but there were a couple of things worth a mention. First, we were told they’re actively looking into putting in a small heated pool. They don’t like the word “hot tub” and want something a bit more sophisticated, so fingers crossed.
There was a common room above the breakfast area where you were free to watch TV, play games, read a book or just kick back and relax, which is exactly what we did. There was also a room for your skis, boots and winter equipment.

The host himself was an amenity of sorts, as he was great at making local recommendations, reservations and could even coordinate activities at their sister property, Dunton River Camp, about 90 minutes away. If we had stayed another day, I would have almost certainly booked the $100 full-day fishing trip, which included fishing on the Dolores River, lunch at the farmhouse deck and access to their hiking trails.
Overall Impression
Though no children were present on our stay, large families can book out the entire five-room property at a discount, and children 2 years and up can stay in the in the rooms for an additional $100 per night. Though the website states no rollaways, we were told in person that rollaways could be an option for families, so I’d inquire directly with the property.
I would not hesitate to book a stay at Dunton Town House with just my two girls on a future ski trip to Telluride, as the property is steps from the gondola that takes you up the mountain, but it may work best for a couples getaway. 
Enjoying a 10th-anniversary hike in Telluride.
We enjoyed our stay immensely, and the only thing that made leaving OK was looking forward to a return trip. This historic home with its warm and personalized service would be special anywhere, but in the middle of a magical place like Telluride, it was just about perfect. A summer visit was idyllic, but I hope my next visit is during the ski season so we can take full advantage of the gondola.

Many of our stays are at chain properties in order to leverage miles and points to stretch our vacation budget. However, there is a time and place for everything, and a 10th anniversary was the perfect time to slow down the pace, let in some fresh mountain air and enjoy our time at Dunton Town House in Telluride.
All images courtesy of the author.

Cold Shoulder in the Tropics: Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa on the Big Island in Hawaii

Back before American Airlines introduced basic economy on flights to Hawaii, my husband, JT Genter, and I booked flights to Hawaii’s Big Island for just $414 per person. Since TPG is doing a large Hawaii package, we decided to review two Big Island hotels during our four-night stay. We spent our first two nights at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort and the last two at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Note that we completed both of these stays in August just days before Marriott and SPG combined.
Although some might be hesitant to visit Hawaii’s Big Island due to recent lava flow, rest assured that it only affected a small portion of the island. It’s perfectly fine to visit the rest of the island.

In This Post

We booked our two-night stay shortly before arriving on Hawaii’s Big Island. We booked an Ohana larger guest room with one king bed, sofa bed and balcony for $701 including taxes, or about $352 per night, using the AAA rate. It was a Category 6 hotel, so if we’d used points, it would have cost us 50,000 points per night, which TPG’s latest valuation valued at $450. Note that a $30-per-night-plus-tax resort fee was charged even on award nights.

Since JT matched the SPG Gold elite status he received through having The Platinum Card® from American Express to Marriott Gold elite status, we booked directly to have access to elite benefits. But we quickly found that many elite benefits weren’t offered at Marriott resorts or included as part of the mandatory resort fee. So it might be better to book through Hotels.com/Venture with the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card and the Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card to get 10x miles per dollar spent. You could also stack this return with Hotels.com rewards, which awards one free night per every 10 paid nights, effectively giving a 20% return.
During our stay, the only benefits of our elite status were late checkout and a room upgrade. Neither benefit was proactively offered, though — we had to ask for each.
The Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa was a 25-minute drive north of Kona Airport (KOA) and about a hour and a half from Hilo (ITO).
Hawaii’s Big Island is larger than you might expect, so you’ll probably want a rental car. We found a cheap option using AutoSlash and were upgraded to a convertible.
The Waikoloa Beach Marriott was situated on 15 acres overlooking Anaeho’omalu Bay. Kings’ Shops were directly across the road from the resort, while Queens’ Marketplace was slightly farther down the road. Both shopping areas offered many dining and shopping opportunities. I highly recommend a fresh poke bowl, one of the main dishes of native Hawaiian cuisine, available from a staffed counter at Island Gourmet Markets in Queens’ Marketplace. It may just be the cheapest and most delicious food you’ll eat during your stay.
After self-parking, we carried our Osprey backpacks the short distance to the lobby. Although the family entering the lobby ahead of us was greeted with shell necklaces, we were initially ignored by the greeter. He only brought us necklaces after we’d gotten in line at the front desk to check in.

The check-in agent didn’t offer us an “enhanced” room upgrade for our Marriott Gold elite status until we asked. At first, she handed us the room keys to a ground-floor Ohana room. We’d booked a 550-square-foot Ohana room on Marriott’s website (the only higher-category rooms were suites and 620-square-foot Na Hale rooms) and requested a higher-floor room at booking. But the agent claimed that the only upgrade possible was to a 410-square-foot ocean-view room with two double beds, a smaller and lower-category room with a different sleeping configuration than we’d booked.
It’d be one thing if there weren’t upgraded rooms available, but we’d checked availability before approaching the front desk and saw multiple upgraded rooms still being sold, including other Ohana rooms that were presumably on higher floors, Na Hale rooms and various suites. When we inquired about the slightly larger Na Hale rooms, the agent impatiently said that these were “much larger” than the room we booked and that the resort didn’t upgrade anyone into the Na Hale rooms because they were cabanas. However, after she began making conflicting statements about the room sizes and other elite benefits like late check-out, we asked to speak with a manager.
It’s not clear on Marriott’s website, but Na Hale rooms are in the shorter building to the right.
The manager listened to us and explained that no level of elite status provides upgrades to Na Hale rooms “because there are only twelve of these rooms.” She asked how long we were staying and then asked us to take a seat while she went to her office to see what she could do.
It’s our policy here at The Points Guy not to tell properties or employees who we work for, and we didn’t in this case either. We don’t know if anyone at the hotel looked us up between our first and second interactions, but the manager’s attitude completely changed when she returned with keys to the presidential suite and an apology for the rough start. Although we’re appreciative of the upgrade, especially for the purposes of this review, I don’t think the upgrade would have happened for most other guests in the same situation.
We stayed in a one-bedroom presidential suite called the Kukui Suite. Despite searching many dates, I was unable to find any availability for this room on Marriott’s website.

The living room included a 65-inch flat-screen TV with a couch, chair and coffee table. Various Hawaiian-themed books and decorations surrounded the TV.

Off the living room was a nook with a working desk and a chair. The one power outlet under the desk was difficult to access.

Toward the entrance was a half bathroom with a sink and a toilet. Strangely, the sinks all had small bottles of hand wash instead of bars of soap or normal soap dispensers.

The dining room had two side tables and seating for six at the table.

The living room and dining room shared a balcony with four chairs, a coffee table and a smaller table. The view from the balcony was perhaps the best view on the property, as it looked across the pool and luau grounds to Anaeho’omalu Bay.

The kitchen was seemingly set up for a party. The refrigerators looked industrial, and there was an ice well suitable for serving drinks.

The cabinets had cups, wine and champagne glasses, utensils and plates for six. There were also ample empty cabinets and drawers.

There was a Keurig coffee machine with plenty of coffee pods and creamer, a microwave, an ice bin and a large sink. But there wasn’t a dishwasher, dish soap or any kitchen towels.

Next to the kitchen was a locked door, presumably to an adjoining room.

The walk-in closet came with two robes, an iron, an ironing board and a larger dresser in the closet. On shelves were extra pillows, slippers and a safe.

To the right of the walk-in closet was the bedroom. There was a bed that was just about king size. The bedroom also had a 42-inch flat-screen TV, a table with two chairs and a lounge chair with a footrest.

There were nightstands with three drawers on either side of the bed. These nightstands had two US-style three-prong outlets and a USB plug.

The bedroom had its own balcony with two chairs and a small table.

To the left of the walk-in closet was a large bathroom. There was a tub, large shower, two sinks and a large toilet stall. The water pressure in the shower was low, and it was impossible to take a cool shower, since the coldest setting was still rather warm.

Hand soap, bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, cotton buds and a hair dryer were all provided. When we ran out of lotion, more was delivered five minutes after we called to request more.

Decorations throughout the suite were minimal and understated but adequate, seemingly designed to fit with any event that one might want to host in the suite.
Food and Beverage
There were two restaurants on site, Hawaii Calls Restaurant and Lounge and Aka’ula Lunai. Aka’ula Lunai, just off the lobby, operated as a coffee shop from 6am to 2pm before converting to a bar and bistro from 4pm to 9pm. Hawaii Calls was down one level near the pool. It served breakfast from 6:30am to 11am, lunch from 11am to 5pm and dinner from 5pm to 9:30pm.
Aka’ula Lunai.
We had a late lunch at Hawaii Calls one afternoon. We originally enjoyed overlooking the pool, but soon found ourselves constantly having to shift the table to avoid being seated in direct sunlight. We each got a mai tai using the drink coupons that came with our resort fee. The drinks (normally $16 each) were surprisingly strong.

For lunch, JT and I split two meals: a fisherman’s basket with beer-battered mahi mahi and shrimp for $20 and a club sandwich with shrimp, lobster and avocado, also for $20. Although the fisherman’s basket satisfied my cravings and was tasty, the sandwich tasted fresher and was more filling.

On our last day, we tried the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at Hawaii Calls. Breakfast cost $30 before the 25% discount from the resort fee. Although we arrived as breakfast was ending, the restaurant offered to keep the breakfast buffet and omelet station open for us until 11:15am, which gave us plenty of time to get what we wanted from the buffet.

The buffet food was surprisingly fresh and good, considering that it’d likely been sitting out for a while. The omelet-station worker was friendly, but my omelet ended up being overly oily.

A stand on the beach sold ice cones for $3.50 each, as well as a variety of snacks and drinks.

The schedule said a “pool pleaser” would be poolside every day at 1pm. I went to the pool shortly before 1pm one day and waited until 1:30pm but never saw any snacks being served. An attendant at the pool shack merely shrugged and said, “Sometimes they’re late, sometimes they never come.”
A luau was hosted by the resort every Monday and Wednesday evening. The luau ($108 plus tax per person) featured high-quality entertainers but was disappointing in most other aspects.

Even if you didn’t attend the luau, you could attend the imu viewing at 9:30am any day a luau was being held. You got to watch the underground oven being prepared. Then, a large pig was lowered into the oven and enclosed in the oven to be slow-cooked all day until being unearthed for the luau.

Front-row seats for the luau cost $30 more and were in the first two of five rows of tables. This meant that not all front-row seats were actually in the front row.

The food options were of lower quality than you’d expect for the price. To make matters worse, about a fourth of the food was gone (and not replenished) before half of the guests had gotten their first serving.

Luau tickets were only checked when getting food. So people without tickets could, and did, get drinks from the open bar and enjoy the show.
Speaking of the bar, there were only two bartenders, so it took about 15 minutes to get each drink.

The luau was more fun for groups. If you have children, be aware that staff were giving children tattoos with permanent Sharpies. If you have an oceanfront or ocean-view room on a high floor, you might be able to get a free, but admittedly distant, view of the luau from your balcony.

At check-in, we were handed a flyer that said that there was a daily island orientation each morning with a complimentary continental breakfast. I figured this was a disguised timeshare pitch, but I went mainly to see if I needed to warn TPG readers to avoid the session.
To my surprise, I found myself in a useful orientation to the island hosted by a concierge and local expert. Although her job was admittedly to sell tours and activities, she did provide useful information about tours, do-it-yourself activities around the island and free activities. All in all, it was a useful and entertaining 90 minutes with no hard sell.
The mandatory resort fee of $30 plus tax per night per room included:

Enhanced high-speed internet access
International long-distance calls (60 minutes per day)
Calls to US and Canada
A 45-minute photo session with souvenir digital photo
Daily one-hour snorkel-equipment rental for two
Daily beach yoga class for two
Daily pool fitness class for two
Daily cultural activities
Shell lei upon arrival
Waikoloa logo cooler bag
20% off regular luau prices
15% off daily car rental with Enterprise, when booked online or at the lobby Enterprise desk
25% off regular breakfast buffet
Two coupons for a mai tai drink
Two coupons for coffee at Aka‘ula Lanai

The enhanced internet access wasn’t enhanced or high speed, at just 5 MBps upload, 4 MBps download and 11 ms ping. It was stable, though.

I tried out the one-hour yoga class held on the beach at 8am each morning and included in the resort fee. I’d never tried yoga before, but the instructor tried to make the class approachable to beginners, and I really enjoyed it.
Yoga was held on the far end of the beach each morning.
I also tried out a lei-making activity offered three days a week at 12:30pm. Although it would’ve been better for families with children, I did make my own beautiful lei out of fresh flowers.

There was a modern and extensive gym on the ground level of the Ka’ahumanu Tower. There were four elliptical machines, three exercise bikes, five treadmill machines, a stair machine, various weight machines and assorted tools for stretching and exercising.

The resort had two swimming pools, both freshwater, and three hot tubs. One swimming pool had a slide and a shallow sand area for children.

The other swimming pool was a long infinity pool.

Shady seating could be difficult to come by at both the pool and the beach, especially after 10am.

A pool shack and beach shack provided towels and equipment, but were only open from 8am to 5pm, though many guests were at the pool and beach outside these hours.
The beach shack offered various rentals and guided activities.
The “ancient” fish ponds between the resort and the beach were pretty and contained a surprising amount of wildlife. Children of all ages enjoyed watching crabs, snakes, eels and other creatures in the ponds.

A few short trails snaked through the property between the buildings and beach.

There were four cabanas and three pavilions around the pools that could be rented at the pool shack. The cabanas were $50 per day and provided seating for two, as well as two mai tai drinks.

The pavilions were $100 per day and provided seating for four, two mai tai drinks and a hot or cold pupu sampler.

Lamont’s Gift and Sundry Shop on the first floor of the Kamehameha Tower had branded clothing and souvenirs. There was also a small business center in the lobby that featured a few computers, a computer set up for printing boarding passes, a paper shredder and a lending library.

There were Marriott Vacation Club sales staff onsite. Although we were never approached or otherwise bothered, we did receive an invite in our room to come visit for a gift.

We also found a letter under our door before checkout offering a six-day vacation package for $799. Both of these advertisements contained small print noting that the purpose of the promotion was to solicit timeshare sales and that attendance at a 90-minute timeshare presentation was required if you accepted the vacation deal.

Parking wasn’t included in the room rate or resort fee. The only parking options were to valet park for $31 per day or self-park for $21 per day. In either case, our car would’ve been parked in a large asphalt lot that offered little shade.
One benefit of the resort sharing space with a Marriott Vacation Club property: There were affordable self-service laundry machines on the first floor of the Ka’ahumanu Tower. The cash price was much lower than the credit-card price for these machines, so it was worth using the change machine to get quarters instead of using a credit card. Laundry supplies like detergent could be bought through a machine for four quarters each.

Overall Impression
Our suite was significantly larger and better-equipped than we needed, but even as digital nomads that work on the road, we didn’t spend too much time working in the room. Indeed, I spent most of my time working on the balcony. Although the balcony seating wasn’t the most conducive for working, the views more than made up for any discomfort.

Although I liked that the property was within walking distance of off-resort shops and restaurants and found the walking areas between the resort and beach enjoyable, the staff members weren’t particularly friendly, and it was difficult to find a shaded chair at the pool or beach in the middle of the day. Based on my experience, I preferred the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, particularly the Westin’s atmosphere, beach and patio furnishings, and would try a different property before returning to this Marriott.

How Suite It Is: Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on the Big Island in Hawaii

My wife, Katie, and I travel a lot. In fact, we’ve been traveling the world full-time as digital nomads since June 2017. But in all of our travels, we have yet to stay at a resort, much less a Hawaiian beach resort.
For our anniversary celebration this August, we decided to break that tradition and booked a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii — getting a free upgrade to lie-flat business class on the way. We reserved rooms at two resorts in the area just north of Kona with the help of resort expert Nick Ellis. Our first stay: The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort.

In This Post

Originally built in 1996, this Hapuna resort was officially renamed a Westin property in June 2018 after undergoing a lengthy $46 million renovation and conversion. Even after this transition, the property is still owned and managed by the former namesake, Prince Resorts.

As this stay was before the Marriott-Starwood integration, we booked our stay directly through the Starwood website without having to go through Marriott first. Hoping for an upgrade, we booked the cheapest available room, a partial-ocean-view room. Starwood immediately tried to get us to upgrade to an ocean-view room for an additional $63 per night.

Although the rate was initially listed in the results as $269 per night, this quickly increased once taxes and fees were added in. All together, we ended up paying $339 per night for the two-night stay.

I’d just signed up for the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card and needed to hit the minimum spending requirement. Plus, as part of the SPG/Marriott merger, the Ritz-Carlton card should’ve earned 5x Ritz-Carlton points on purchases at Starwood properties. However, the purchase still coded as a purchase from Prince Hotels, so I only earned 1x Marriott point on these charges. A quick secure message to Chase fixed this situation, and a Chase representative added 3,220 points as a manual adjustment to my account.
One of the two transactions charged to my card for the stay.
After the Marriott acquisition of Starwood, this property is a now a Marriott Category 5 property bookable for 35,000 Marriott points per night. At current TPG valuations, an award night costs about $315. Adding in the mandatory $30 nightly resort fee came to $345 a night, virtually break-even with the $339 per night we paid for our stay.
To get to the property, we headed north from Kona Airport (KOA) along Highway 19, counterintuitively turning away from the ocean to enter the resort complex, a trip of about half an hour by car. A guard at a booth confirmed our hotel reservation before letting us in the gate. Then we proceeded under the highway and downhill to reach the understated front entrance of the resort.

The hotel was on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island, perched on white-sand beaches on the dry northwestern side of the island. The resort was north of Hapuna Beach State Park and just south of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, a sister property. Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, which contains the ruins of the last ancient Hawaiian temple, was about 10 minutes north by car. Besides that, there wasn’t anything else nearby of interest to your average tourist.
Although the guard told us to park and check in at reception, the valet shooed us away from the front of the hotel, telling us to pull a parking ticket and park in the garage before checking in. From the garage elevator, it was a long and confusing walk back to the lobby.

The entrance and lobby were on the eighth floor because the hotel was on a slope dropping off toward the water. Rooms were on floors five through nine. Elevators dropped visitors on floors two to four for the various levels of pools, and the first floor provided beach access.
While the renovation of the lobby and rooms was complete during our stay, there was plenty of construction noise, as Westin was building Hapuna Beach Residences units between the resort and the beach.
As Platinum Card from American Express cardholders, we both had Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Elite status. However, this didn’t save us any time at check-in, as there was only one agent working when we arrived.

After confirming our reservation and taking a credit card for incidentals, the agent excused herself. She returned shortly later with a tray containing two frosty glasses of juice and cool towels, both of which we appreciated in the hot, open-air lobby in mid-August.

As a welcome amenity, I was offered a voucher for a $15 cocktail or 250 Starpoints (worth $6.75 per TPG valuations). I took the drink voucher. After mentioning that Katie was also a Gold Elite, we received a second voucher.

On the walk over from the garage, I checked online and saw there was both an upgraded room and suite for sale online. As a SPG Gold elite, I was only entitled to upgrades to “enhanced” rooms, such as a room with a better view. But I figured it never hurts to ask. We ended up getting a two-room suite.

There were two two-room suites on each floor of the north building: one next to the lobby and one most of the way down the hall. If you have the choice, get the lobby-adjacent suite for better views of the beach, pools and sunset. We were assigned Room 710, a handicapped-accessible suite further down the hall, which seemed like it could handle a family of six.
The first room of the suite was a living room complete with a large L-shaped couch with views out the balcony toward the ocean.

This room contained the suite’s kitchen, a 65-inch TV and a small table with two seats. The kitchen area contained a microwave, Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, a sink with a boiling-water tap, and an ice bucket, which was filled with ice when we arrived. The kitchen came with a kettle, six full sets of plates, knives, forks, spoons, wine glasses, mugs and more.

Individual pods of Starbucks coffee and tea bags were provided. Upon arrival, a large bottle of Hawaiian water (provided as part of the resort fee) and a small bottle of Dasani were on the counter. The Hawaiian water was refreshed daily with a new bottle.

The bedroom was dominated by a king bed and a day bed, which could double as a child’s bed for a large family. The far corner of the room contained a small table with a chair, while another corner of the room was dedicated to a cabinet of drawers with a 55-inch TV screen on top. While much of the suite seemed ready to handle a crowd, drawer space was quite lacking. We practically filled up the cabinets with just our two sets of clothing.

One annoyance was the lighting. There were no overhead lights or light switches on the wall as you entered the room. Instead, each of the three lamps had its own switch, which weren’t easy to find when the room was dark.

The room’s balcony contained a table with two seats. The table’s design allowed views over the railing rather than through the bars. The balcony also had power outlets, allowing us to work while enjoying the view.

Alas, the elevated table couldn’t help us see through the obstructed view of the beach, thanks to the construction. It’s important to note that our room was on the third of five floors: You should expect to have an obstructed view from your room, particularly on lower floors.
Off to the side, the balcony also contained a large day bed.

The room’s bathroom seemed oversized. In an otherwise standard hotel bathroom, there was one noteworthy feature: a Japanese-style toilet with a bidet function.

The bathroom amenities were Westin’s signature Heavenly brand, with bottles of body lotion and mouthwash and a bar of soap.

Small bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash with another bar of soap were provided in the roll-in shower:

The room’s wheelchair-accessible setup was also evident in the closet, which was noticeably low to the ground.

Food and Beverage
At the time we stayed, we were SPG Gold elites, which didn’t entitle us to free breakfast. Now that Starwood and Marriott programs have merged, you’ll need to be a Marriott Rewards Platinum elite to get a chance at breakfast. Platinum elites get 1,000 Points per stay, an amenity per stay or daily breakfast for two.
This resort only had a few breakfast options: a breakfast buffet, a la cart menu or grab-and-go station. The grab-and-go station was at Piko Coffee Bar one level below the front desk. This area doubled as a bar at night.

In addition to snacks available all day, theres were boxes of turnovers ($4), cinnamon buns ($4), muffins ($3.50) and assorted single pastries ($1.25 each). The hot bar offered bento ($15), breakfast bento ($9) and egg croissants ($7).  Everything was a bit pricey, but not awful considering the captive market (there was nowhere nearby to go for breakfast outside the hotel).

We tried a breakfast bento one morning and found it contained hash browns, three slices of bacon, three slices of sausage and scrambled eggs. While not a generous portion, it was enough to get one person started for the day.

Ikena Landing had full breakfasts: an extensive, all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet ($33 for all options or $24 for a continental breakfast) or a wide selection of a la carte menu options.

The full Moku Nui breakfast bar had a mixture of Hawaiian (e.g., loco moco), Western and Japanese foods.

Everything from the buffet was tasty. But perhaps Ikena’s best feature was its great view of the pools and beach.

There were two choices for lunch at the hotel: grab-and-go at Piko or sandwiches, salads and poke bowls at the Naupaka Beach Grill by the pool. Naupaka Beach Grill also served as a casual dinner option.
The resort’s primary restaurant was just above Naupaka at a restaurant called Meridia. There was also a complimentary nightly dining shuttle that ran seven times each direction to and from Hapuna’s sister property, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
Both the poolside Naupaka and upper-floor Meridia restaurants had good views facing the sunset.
On our second night, we redeemed our free drink coupons at Naupaka Beach Grill and then stuck around to order a meal as we watched the sunset.

The bar’s mixed drinks packed a punch. The Backscratcher was the only drink I needed for the night. And, yes, it came with an actual backscratcher as a stirrer.

My poke bowl with kimchi was both delicious and a decent value. Katie’s shrimp dish was good but small.

Overall, the food at the Westin Hapuna Resort was good albeit pricey. If you’re looking to save a bit of money on your stay, you’ll want to stop by a grocery store in Waikoloa Village on the way up from the airport.
The first of the pools was only designed for fish to swim in, surrounded by chairs (both of the rocking and nonrocking varieties) for guests to enjoy.

On the next level down was the adult infinity pool.

The pool closest to the beach was the family pool and almost always the most crowded.

In hallway corners and near the lobby elevators, the resort was tastefully set up with a variety of chairs, tables and swings from which guests could enjoy the view.

One of our favorite features of the resort wasn’t on land. Just inside the ocean from the resort’s beach was wonderful reef snorkeling. Our first time snorkeling, though, the rough currents stirred up a lot of sediment, reducing visibility and making it tough to swim around. Thankfully, we tried the next morning and ended up staying out for more than an hour, seeing easily thousands of reef fish and one sea turtle. To access the best snorkeling, start as far to the right of the beach as you can before entering the water.

Snorkel gear, paddleboards, kayaks, surfboards and boogie boards were available for rent from the Beachery on the resort’s beach. Though we couldn’t pack larger equipment, you might want to bring your own snorkel gear if you want to avoid the $10-an-hour, $25-a-day rental fees.
At check-in, we received a card explaining the amenities that the $31.25 daily resort charge (that’s right, $1.25 tax got tacked onto the advertised $30 resort fee) included:

Daily self-parking for one vehicle ($6 surcharge for valet)
Eco shopping bag
Unlimited internet connections
One bottle Hawaiian water daily
Beach chair service
Cultural activities
Nightly dining shuttle service to Manua Kea Beach Hotel
Local and long distance calls (United States only)

This list sure seemed padded to try to justify the fee. The Hawaiian water was available at local grocery stores for less than $1, and the “eco shopping bag” wasn’t even worth $1. Free Wi-Fi was an advertised benefit for all Marriott Rewards members. The nightly dining shuttle was convenient for those who didn’t want to eat on site, but it only went to the resort’s sister property. We didn’t have any need for free US calls, since we could use our cellphones for free. In all, more than half of the listed amenities had no value to us.
The property’s garage charged $3 per hour or $19 per day, a fee that was waived as part of the resort charge. Most spaces in the garage were covered, which was certainly appreciated in the summer heat.

Beach chair service wasn’t as formal as the amenity list made it seem. Each morning, the lifeguard would set up dozens of chairs and umbrellas on the beach. Each night, they would put them away. Even though the resort didn’t feel crowded at any point during our stay, a surprising number of the beach chairs were claimed by people’s stuff by 8am.
Also, there was a shelter that was usually staffed with an employee to hand out towels, provide water or sell you sunscreen or bug spray.

Of all of the amenities included in the resort fee, we appreciated the cultural activities the most. At check-in, we were directed toward a table to get a list of the activities, but no printouts were ever available there. Instead, we got a list of activities from the front desk after our first night.
There were two or three 30-minute activities scheduled each day from Monday to Thursday, led by the hotel’s Aloha Ambassador. And yes, we also chuckled at the name of this position too, until we met Healani. As an absolutely delightful native Hawaiian, Healani embodied the best possibility of what an Aloha Ambassador could be.

Each of her activities was interesting, meaningful and informative about the local culture. At one, we learned a detailed interpretation of the word “aloha” and how to chant in Hawaiian, going into depth about the culture and the land. Healani also chanted a song written to honor the land where the resort is located. She noted that she sang the song at the ceremony for the resort’s conversion to the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort just a couple of months before our visit.
Later we learned how to make a lei from local ti leaves. Healani balanced the crowd well, providing guidance as needed to all.

We got up at the crack of dawn the next day to meet Healani at the beach at 6:30am for a wonderfully rich and cleansing sunrise chant at the edge of the ocean. We were the only attendees, but it was certainly worth getting up early.
On Fridays, the calendar listed a weekly run with the hotel manager! from 7:15am to 8am Friday mornings.
Local newspapers (West Hawaii Today and Honolulu Star-Advertiser) and a New York Times digest printout were available in the lobby each morning.

At the bottom of the southern wing of the resort was a surprisingly well-equipped gym.

Near the gym, we stumbled across a family room. We didn’t see any schedule of activities, but there was a pretty large room with game, books and more.

Overall Impression
Of hundreds of stays we’ve done at all kinds of hotels, this was Katie’s and my first resort. But, even as resort newbs, this stay made us understand why one might want to go to a resort. It was a peaceful property (besides the construction noise) with wonderful views and great reef snorkeling just off of the beach.
That said, this property was much better set up for peace and relaxation for couples rather than families. The few on-site restaurants and lack of diverse activities might leave those visiting for more than a few days wanting more.

Great Categories for Everyday Spending: AMEX Blue Cash Preferred Review

Groceries, gas, and clothing are big expenses in most households.  So why not use a card that earns you the most rewards for your spending?
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is one the best cards to use in the US at supermarkets, gas stations, and select department stores.  And when you apply, you’ll earn a $200 statement credit after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. 
You can apply for the Blue Cash Preferred here.
The Blue Cash Preferred Is Ideal for Grocery Shoppers!
Let’s see who the Blue Cash Preferred Card is best suited for and if it’s right for you!
The Blue Cash Preferred Card Has a $200 Welcome Bonus!
Apply Here:   Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

If you’re looking to take the sting out of rising fuel prices and expensive grocery bills, the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred should be in your wallet.
With the Blue Cash Preferred, you can earn a $200 statement credit after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
The AMEX Blue Cash Preferred has a $95 annual fee.  But you can easily offset it if you spend a lot in the card’s excellent bonus categories!
How to Earn Cash Back With the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred
It’s easy to earn cash back with the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred.  You can earn cash back in 3 ways:

   6% cash back at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1% cash back)
   3% cash back at US gas stations and select US department stores
   1% cash back on everything else

The average family in the US will spend several hundred dollars per month on groceries.  And you’d only need to spend ~$132 a month on groceries to have the annual fee “pay for itself” (~$132 X 12 months X 6%)!  So, it’s easy to see how regular folks can easily benefit with this card in their wallet.
You Will Earn 6% Cash Back at US Supermarkets on up to $6,000 in Spending per Year (Then 1%)
Remember, grocery stores offer you much more than just food.  You can buy necessities such as toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc. all while earning 6% cash back!
Note:   Grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s qualify for the 6% cash back, but Walmart and Target do not qualify.
How to Use Your Cash Back
It’s just as easy to redeem your hard earned cash back.  You can redeem cash back in 3 ways:

   Statement credits
   Gift cards
   Shopping through the online portal

You Can Redeem Cash Back for Statement Credits, Gift Cards, or for Shopping
Note:   You must have at least $25 in cash back in order to redeem it.
Benefits of the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred
Unlimited 3% Cash Back at US Gas Stations and US Department Stores
You will earn 3% cash back at US gas stations and select US department stores with mo maximum limit!
Gas is just as much as a necessity for some folks as groceries and earning 3% cash back is a nice cherry on top.
Some department stores that qualify for the 3% cash back are:

  J.C. Penney
  Saks Fifth Avenue

For those folks who do a lot of shopping during the holiday season, this card might be a great fit for you!
Free Shipping With ShopRunner
So long as you have your card, you’ll also get ShopRunner membership.  ShopRunner is like Amazon Prime but for over 100 retail stores!  You get free 2-day shipping and free returns with your online orders through participating retailers.  An annual membership for ShopRunner normally costs $79.
Get ShopRunner for Free With the Blue Cash Preferred Card, Worth $79!
Roadside Assistance Hotline
You can call 855-431-1156 if you need assistance with things like a flat tire, towing, gas refill, etc.  Access to the hotline is complimentary with your AMEX however, costs incurred for services are not.  Hopefully you don’t need this service, but it’s nice to have access to premium safety services when you need them.
Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance
When you decline your rental car agency’s rental coverage and pay your reservation in full with your AMEX Blue Cash Preferred card, you’ll get secondary coverage for damage due to collision or theft.
Extended Warranty
When you purchase eligible items with your AMEX Blue Cash Preferred card, you can get up to 2 additional years added to the original manufacturer’s warranty of 5 years or less.  I always use my credit cards to purchase things like vacuums or electronics that I know I’m going to have for many years.
Return Protection
Didn’t like that vacuum?  If a merchant won’t take back an eligible item and it hasn’t been 90 days since the purchase date, AMEX could reimburse you up to $300 per item and $1,000 per calendar year.
Get Free Extended Warranty and Purchase Protection With the Blue Cash Preferred
Purchase Protection
Oops.  Did you break that vacuum?  Theft and accidental damage can be covered by purchase protection.  If it hasn’t been 120 days since your purchase date, then you could get up to $1,000 back per claim up to $50,000 per calendar year.

Is the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred Worth the Annual Fee?
The AMEX Blue Cash Preferred does have a $95 annual fee.
But you can earn $95 cash back if you spend as little as ~$1,583 at US supermarkets in a year (~$1,583 in groceries X 6% cash back)!  That’s less than $132 a month.
And that’s not even factoring in the 3% cash back at US gas stations and US department stores.  I drive a lot for work and see myself using this card when I’m not using cards like the Chase Freedom during 5% cash back quarters.
Does the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred Have a Foreign Transaction Fee?
Who Is Eligible for the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred?
Welcome bonuses on AMEX cards have a once per card lifetime limit to them.  Meaning, if you have ever earned a bonus for the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred, you are ineligible for the welcome bonus.

The new terms say:
Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this card.  We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.
AMEX online applications have also introduced a new system to let you know if you’re eligible for the welcome bonus during the application process.

Credit Cards Similar to the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred
Credit cards usually check off some of the same boxes when it comes to perks and benefits.  Here are cards we’d recommend in addition to or in place of the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred:
1.   Chase Sapphire Preferred
Apply Here:   Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Read our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred

For folks that want to squeeze a little more value out their hard earned rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a great welcome bonus and is our favorite card for beginners!
You earn 50,000 amazing Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening the account.
Here are some tricks to get $1,000+ worth of travel from those 50,000 points.  Or instead, you can get $625 worth of travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal with no brain-work whatsoever.  Or…turn the 50,000 points into $500 if you love cash.

2.   Chase Freedom
Apply Here:   Chase Freedom
Read our review of the Chase Freedom 

With the Chase Freedom, you’ll get: 

5% cash back (5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on up to $1,500 in spending in rotating categories each quarter when you activate the bonus
1% cash back (1X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) on all other purchases

The card currently has a welcome bonus of $150 (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.  And it’s great if you have a limited credit history, as many of our readers have been approved for this card with credit histories less than 3 years and credit scores around 680.
This card often has bonus categories that match the Blue Cash Preferred Card so it’s a great alternative with no annual fee!
Both cards are subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule though, so if you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards from ANY bank in the past 24 months (excluding certain small business cards and Chase business cards), Chase will NOT approve you for many of their best travel rewards credit cards, including the Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Bottom Line
The AMEX Blue Cash Preferred Card is a great card for folks who want to earn premium cash back when grocery shopping and on expenses like gas and clothing.
You’ll earn 6% cash back on the first $6,000 in purchases per year made at qualifying US supermarkets (then 1%).  This card does come with an annual fee of $95 but you can earn that back with ~$132 in grocery spending per month, which is less than the average household in the US.
You can also earn $200 statement credit after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.  And 3% cash back at US gas stations and select US department stores.
You can apply for the Blue Cash Preferred here.

The Best Time to Take Your Dream Hawaiian Vacation Is Right Now

Ask any American where they’d like to travel, and chances are you’ll hear “Hawaii” more often than not. For decades, the youngest state in the Union has attracted tourists from all over the nation with its Polynesian culture, breathtaking natural beauty, pleasant (for the most part) weather and abundance of options when it comes to outdoor activities. Due to its location smack dab in the middle of the Pacific, however, Hawaii has long been out of reach for many, especially for those who live east of the Mississippi, whether it was due to the high cost of traveling there, or just the sheer amount of time it took to make the trip.
But things have changed. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t see downright incredible prices for round-trip flights to Hawaii — from both the East and West Coasts (and everywhere in between). And, in addition to it being cheaper than ever before, it’s also easier than ever before to get to the Hawaiian Islands from the continental US. Several years ago, Hawaiian Airlines launched nonstop flights between New York (JFK) and Honolulu (HNL), enabling sun-starved New Yorkers to high-tail it out of the city in the morning and arrive with plenty of time for a Mai Tais at happy hour in Waikiki. In addition to Hawaiian’s JFK nonstop, New Yorkers have the option of hopping on United’s nonstop flight from Newark Liberty International (EWR), or Delta’s seasonal service from JFK.
Honolulu is just one flight away from many cities in the US — including the East Coast.
And airlines have continued to aggressively expand their networks between the mainland and the Aloha State. Just a couple of weeks ago, Hawaiian Airlines announced plans to fly between its home base in Honolulu and Boston’s Logan Airport (BOS), which will have the distinction of being the longest domestic flight around once it launches. And last week, Delta shared its ambitions of connecting HNL with another one of its hubs, Detroit (DTW), with nonstop seasonal flights operated by one of its Boeing 767s with lie-flat seats up front.
Kauai’s Na Pali Coast is an unforgettable destination.
In addition to these new adds for cities on the East side of the continent, there are a whole host of options from the West Coast on airlines like Hawaiian, American, Delta, United, Alaska and soon, of course, Southwest. Once the Dallas-based low-cost-carrier begins its flights to the islands, travel to Hawaii is bound to get even cheaper for those who hold what is arguably the holy grail of travel perks: the Southwest Companion Pass.
How does having the beach to yourself sound right about now?
Whether your sights are set on metropolitan Oahu, the Big Island, upscale Maui or the verdant isle of Kauai, travelers have long been spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting a hotel for a Hawaiian vacation. But new debuts and stunning overhauls continue to make Hawaii’s hotel scene exciting, even for travelers who have already checked Hawaii off the list.
This month, for example, the Queen Kapiolani Hotel in Oahu will reopen after a $35 million renovation to restore the retro, midcentury modern property. And on Kauai in September, the luxury Timbers Kauai at Hōkūala resort celebrated its grand opening. (The property’s focal point may be its tiered oceanfront infinity pool.) Also on Kauai, the Aston Aloha Beach Hotel has rebranded and reopened as a Hilton Garden Inn — the first Hilton property on the island.
In light of all the great things happening for travelers dreaming of a Hawaiian getaway, we at The Points Guy did something we’ve never done before: Send several writers each to a different Hawaiian Island to review some of the great ways to get to those islands — as well as a selection of the top points hotels you can choose from upon arrival. So over the next four weeks, watch out for much more exciting content from the Big Island of Hawaii, Maui, Oahu and Kauai.k
All photos by the author.

The Points & Miles Backpacker: 8 Tips for Traveling With Only a Carry-On

Fitting everything you need for an extended trip into a carry-on sized pack is a skill that took me a long time to perfect. “Be prepared” and “just in case” were phrases I told myself that led to overpacking, baggage fees, time wasted at baggage claim and lost-luggage annoyances. I’ll share the key tips I’ve acquired during my downsizing journey as an experienced traveler with just a backpack, so you really can live for weeks or months out of a carry-on.
1) Know Your Limits
For most US carriers, the size limit for carry-on luggage is 9″ x 14″ x 22″. However, when shopping for a backpack, you’ll typically find size listed in liters, not dimensions. Generally, 40-liter packs will work as a carry-on, although with the flexibility of a backpack, that can vary. My 40-liter pack won’t fit in a measurement bin if I jam it full, but I’ve seen 50-liter and bigger backpacks tightened up and taken on board. You’ll want to pack completely and measure at home to avoid surprises at the airport.
If you’re close to the limit on size or weight, you can strategically pick your travel outfit. On the same trip where I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I had a small regional flight from Zanzibar back to the mainland where they wanted to charge me ridiculous fees for my slightly overweight luggage. So I put on my hiking gear and got just below the weight limit. I looked slightly ridiculous wearing a winter coat, hiking pants and hiking boots through a tropical island airport, but I was also wearing a smile because I avoided a $50 baggage fee on a $50 flight.
What I looked like at the summit of Kilimanjaro is almost what I looked like walking through security in Zanzibar airport.
Unfortunately, many international airlines, especially low-fare ones, have really cut down on carry-on allowances. Ryanair, for example, now only allows one small personal item (8″ x 10″ x 16″) brought on board with its base fare. These sizes and allowances vary drastically, so make sure you check the airline website directly for your allowance. Occasionally, checking your bag may be unavoidable, so be sure to factor in all of the fees before booking an ultra-low-fare on an airline that charges high fees.
2) Make Efficient Use of Your Personal Item
My laptop backpack also holds my DSLR camera, toiletries and other electronics along with things I want readily available for a flight like a book or eye mask. I also find it’s a better place to protect smaller or fragile items like sunglasses.
To carry, go with the classic backpacker look: big pack on your back and smaller pack in front. It actually helps with weight distribution and keeps you from hunching forward. You don’t want too big of a personal item though — stay well below the common 9″ x 10″ x 17″ US limit or it’ll be too awkward to carry in front.
The classic backpacker look, although this picture is admittedly from before I slimmed my backpack to carry-on size.
3) Choose Footwear that Packs Small
Ditching regular shoes is probably your biggest space saver, but I’m not suggesting you travel hobo style. Bring footwear that is versatile and can pack very small. For me, it’s a pair of TOMS Canvas Men’s Classics which are comfy enough to walk around in all day but also stylish enough to make myself mildly presentable. While I’m not a fan of the $50 price tag for what is essentially slippers, that includes a second pair that the company takes credit for giving to charity. I haven’t found a travel shoe I like better, but many TPG team members though swear by Allbirds.
If you ever see me traveling, there’s a good chance I’ll be wearing these. Photo courtesy of TOMS.
A pair of flip-flops is also essential, especially if you’ll be seeing a beach. Invest in a comfy, durable pair, and avoid leather or cloth so you can also use them as shower shoes. Havaianas do the trick for me.
If you need something with a bit more support — I travel with running shoes — wear those shoes on flight days. On other transit days that don’t involve luggage restrictions or other people handling your bags, you can tie the shoes to the outside of your pack.
4) Here Is What You Can and Can’t Bring in a Carry-On
TSA publishes a list of all questionable items and whether they are allowed in carry-on and/or checked luggage. Note the common disclaimer that the final decision rests with the TSA officers. Also, you should expect similar guidelines abroad, but perhaps not exactly the same. So while you may be able to crisscross the US with deer antlers on board, other countries may make you check them.
5) You Don’t Need a Pocket Knife
Swiss Army knives can be pretty handy, but you don’t often need tools when traveling. Most times I’ve wanted a knife, it’s been for pretty minor cutting, and I’ve been able to substitute nail clippers for it.
Scissors with rounded points and less than 4 inch blades are technically allowed by the TSA, but remember the note about airport officers getting final discretion and varying regulations abroad. You can find multi-tools without knives like this Leatherman, but given the resemblance to a pocket knife, expect to be stopped and be ready to do some convincing.
6) You Can Buy Most of What You Need at Your Destination
This is how you can justify leaving behind your “just in case” pile, and these new items can double as a souvenir. Nights colder than you thought? Grab a jumper with the logo of your favorite Argentine beer. Back home, “What is Quilmes?” will be a conversation starter. Do your arms need freedom from t-shirt sleeves? Buy a tank top and get ready for story time after people ask “What is the Vang Vieng?” when your tank declares to the world you went tubing down it.
If you go tubing down the Vang Vieng river in Laos, you’ll want to tell the story. Best to let others ask you about it first.
Also, don’t feel like you need to pack a pharmacy. Decent, English-speaking health care is widely available across the world for pretty much anything your medical kit would combat. Even without insurance, the cost for doctor visits and medicine often compares to the price of a deductible in the USA (but travel insurance is a great idea).
However, if you have specific, non-generic go-tos for ailments, you may want to bring a bit of that. For me, it’s Alka Seltzer Plus Cold, Wellness Formula and Pepto-Bismol tablets. The same would apply to regularly taken prescriptions or birth control for the duration of your trip unless you have confirmed you can get it abroad. Finally, my recommendations on medicine are very general, so research your destinations specifically. And beware that taking prescription medication overseas may be problematic.
7) 100 ml Is Enough for Your Liquids
TSA has been drilling the 3-1-1 rule into our subconscious for over a decade now, but don’t let these limits force you into checked baggage. Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, lotion, sunscreen, bug spray and pretty much any other type of liquid, aerosol, gel, cream or paste that you’d want while traveling you can buy at your destination. However, like with medicine, if you have a specific, branded preferences, you’re far less likely to find those abroad (contact lens solution is a common example).
Get some 100 ml reusable travel bottles for your essential brands. If 100 ml won’t be enough, fill up a couple bottles and buy your other liquids on arrival. It’s best not to push the limits, but in my experience the “100 ml bottle size” requirement is enforced much more strictly than the “in a one quart bag” requirement.
8) Roll Your Clothes
The folding vs. rolling debate lives on, but I am firmly a supporter of the roll — especially if you “Ranger Roll” your clothes as demonstrated by this guy. The roll works especially well with packing cubes, which I also highly recommend.
The main argument against rolling is wrinkles, but I’m normally not packing nice button downs or dress pants. If I am, I’ll fold only those items as the exception. Anything else you need to get wrinkles out of, hang next to you in the shower and let the steam take care of it.
The complete contents of a recent multi-month backpacking trip. I rolled clothes even before I was introduced to the “Ranger Roll.” To this day, I’m still learning new packing tips and tricks.
The Points & Miles Backpacker is a weekly column appearing every Monday. TPG Contributor Brian Biros, who has backpacked the globe for the past 15 years, discusses how to fund this adventurous, budgeted and increasingly popular form of travel with points and miles. He’ll also explore all things backpacking-related. Read his story here and his high-level approach here.
If you’re looking to back that pack up and get some guidance, send your questions to [email protected] !

The Best Airlines for Pet Travel

So you’re ready to travel the world with your pet by your side. But which airline is best for your fur baby? To help you choose the right airline for you and your favorite canine, feline, rabbit or bird, The Points Guy teamed up with Airfarewatchdog.com on a reader survey answered exclusively by traveling pet parents. We also asked TPG Lounge members to weigh in on their favorite airlines for pet travel; sifted through five years of Air Travel Consumer Reports from the Department of Transportation (DOT); and scoured pages of airline pet policies to identify the top (and, frankly, not-so-hot) airlines for pet travel.
The Data
According to the TPG and Airfarewatchdog.com reader survey, the most popular reason travelers fly with a pet (40.7%) is because they can’t — or simply won’t — leave their pet at home. Moving to a new location came in second, with 27.4% of the vote. For 21.9% of travelers, it’s the need for emotional support.
A majority of pet owners (78.1%) have traveled with a dog, while 18.8% have traveled with a cat and 3.1% have traveled with another type of animal. To give you some idea of what that “other” might be, Spirit, Alaska and Delta Air Lines all permit birds inside the cabin. One airline even green lights hamsters and guinea pigs! (But we’ll get to that later.)
Only about a third (30.3%) of pet owners reported putting their fur baby under the plane in cargo. Though it’s rarely the preferred method of transporting pets, it’s the only option for some.
Happily, 81% of travelers reported having only positive experiences when traveling with their pet. In fact, 35% of pet parents said they’ve actually had an exceptional experience while flying, nodding to accommodating and friendly flight attendants.
The Details
So welcome aboard, furry friends! In the back pocket of the seat in front of you, you’ll find the airline pet policy cards ranked by the best-rated airlines from the survey. Each card features important information about flying with a pet on that particular carrier. The animals featured on each card represent the species that will be allowed to fly alongside their humans in the cabin. (Additional types of animals may be allowed in the cargo area, depending upon the carrier.) Pet fees apply to carry-on pets only, as animals flying in cargo need to be booked on a separate ticket with a price dependent on the individual flight.
Of course, there are a number of other things animal owners should consider before flying with pets. In addition to the airline, pet parents have to make important decisions about the right type of carrier, where they’re staying upon arrival and whether or not it’s necessary at all for their pet to fly.
10. Hawaiian Airlines (0.5%)

Hawaiian is one of the most restrictive airlines in terms of pet travel. Animals can only fly in the cabin on inter-island flights, and those departing the Hawaiian Islands. And pets flying from or to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) are completely prohibited. Given the fact that people can’t travel with their pet in the cabin unless they’re leaving the Aloha State, it’s not surprising to see this airline’s low survey scores. The state of Hawaii has strict laws regarding incoming pets, including a mandatory quarantine if pet owners do not take the proper steps beforehand. This may be a turn-off for traveling pet parents.
9. Spirit Airlines (2.2%)

Despite the ultra low-cost carrier’s notorious baggage restrictions, it actually allows one of the most spacious onboard carriers, compared to other domestic airlines (18 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches). The airline allows the heaviest pet carry-on, too: a combined 40 pounds for both the weight of the pet as well as the carrier. Dogs, cats and small household birds are welcome in the cabin. Bigger dogs are out of luck, however, since pets cannot fly under the plane on Spirit.
8. Frontier Airlines (2.4%)

Though Frontier received only 2.4% of the survey vote, its not all bad news for this regional airline. The fixed fee of $75 per pet, per segment is the most affordable across all the domestic airlines. Frontier also allows for a spacious in-cabin carrier and welcomes the largest variety of pets in the cabin, including dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and small household birds. Plus, TPG Lounge member Rachel H. said that though she’s only traveled with her pet once, her experience with this airline was great. “Frontier let me hold my bird’s carrier in my lap the whole way,” she said.
7. Allegiant (2.7%)

Good news for young travelers, four-legged and otherwise. Allegiant is the only airline that allows minors (age 15 and up) traveling alone to bring a pet onboard. All other airlines, for reference, require solo passengers to be over the age of 18 to travel with a pet. Allegiant also does not enforce a minimum age for traveling animals, meaning you can start getting your kitten or puppy acclimated to air travel early. Pets can only travel as a carry-on, so leave the big dogs at home.
6. JetBlue (8.6%)
In her experience, Michele C. from the TPG Lounge said “JetBlue is the easiest” airline for pet travel, as it’s the only airline with which you can “book and pay the pet travel fee with your itinerary.” With other airlines, she explained, “you have to call after you’ve booked your flight and then pay [the fee] at the airport.” This makes JetBlue one of the most straightforward and convenient airlines for travelers with four-legged companions in tow. When booking a JetBlue flight for you and your pet, a Pet Travel designation shows on your boarding pass. The airline also offers a complimentary JetPaws program that includes a guide to pet travel etiquette, a designated bag tag and an additional 300 TrueBlue points per segment for flying with your pet.
5. Alaska Airlines (10.8%)

Donna M. from the TPG Lounge had a great experience flying with her cats on Alaska. “We took our cats on Alaska [from] SFO to DEN when we relocated,” she said. “We called and booked the entire row of three and then spoke to the gate agents, who had us preboard to be out of the way and have the cats settled under the seats in front. Such a good experience for all. But allow plenty of time, [and] be polite and grateful when people help you — not entitled!” Lisa V., meanwhile, has flown twice with her dog in the cabin on an Alaska flight with zero issues to report.
4. United (11.3%)

Despite snagging the No. 4 spot in the reader survey, United has a notoriously bad reputation when it comes to pet travel. But this might have something to do with the fact that United is the only airline that will fly brachycephalic dog breeds in cargo. Brachycephalic breeds include dogs with flat faces and short noses, such as pugs, boxers and bulldogs. These breeds are more likely to have respiratory issues in flight, which is the reason all other major US carriers have banned brachycephalic dogs from flying in cargo. According to the Air Travel Consumer Reports from the DOT, six out of the 10 dog deaths reported by United in 2017 included brachycephalic breeds. Although United has its issues, it is frankly the only airline for travelers who need to transport their brachycephalic dog.
3. American (15.6%)

American Airlines offers one of the biggest carrier dimensions (19 inches x 13 inches x 9 inches), so your pup can enjoy a bit more space during the flight, though the total weight limit is half what Spirit allows. The airline allows pets to be transported in the cabin when traveling to and within the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Colombia and the Caribbean. If you’re flying in first or business class on an A321T, pets will need to be put in their carrier and stored in a special compartment at the front of the plane during taxi, take-off, landing and turbulence.
2. Southwest (22.6%)

Southwest ranked in second in the pet travel survey, and it also offers the second least expensive pet fee, behind Frontier’s $75. The airline also makes it easy for pet owners to pick out an appropriate carrier by offering a branded carrier of their own that will fit under any Southwest seat. The airline allows cats and dogs to travel within the US, but does not offer this service on international flights. Only small cats and dogs will be able to fly on Southwest, as they do not allow pets in cargo. And according to a TPG reader eyewitness report, you may have a lot of freedom on a Southwest flight with your pet. “I don’t think [Southwest] enforces keeping dogs in the carriers or under the seat,” Connie C. observed. “My last few flights had dogs on laps the entire flight.”
1. Delta Air Lines (23.4%)

TPG lounge member Brittani S. said she was “very pleased” with Delta’s pet cargo. “It’s climate controlled and well-regulated. We flew from Texas to Hawaii [during] the summer and they were able to accommodate us despite the heat because of air conditioned transport between the terminal and plane.” Likewise, Lindsey B. was also pleased with her experience flying a pet in Delta’s cargo hold. “The crew verified our dog was on board before take off,” she reported. If you have to fly with your pet in cargo, Delta may be the best airline for you.

What airline do you like best when traveling with your pet? Sound off in the comments below! 
All illustrations by Aida Amer.