Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kauai/Kalalau Trail May 2013 - Introduction

***This post is part 1 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

The Kalalau Trail along the famed Na Pali Coast on Kauai is consistently named one of the most beautiful hikes in the world, and even the most beautiful coastal hike period. Although I had already been to the island a number of times before, I knew I had to make another journey there just to see Kalalau Beach at the end of the 11-mile trail with my own eyes.

Luckily, armed with a sizable amount of Avios in my British Airways account and also some SPG points, I knew I could make this trip a lot more affordable than the typical traveler. One of the best uses for Avios are domestic short-haul flights on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines, since the British Airways award chart is now based on the distance traveled. As such, direct flights from the West Coast to Hawaii actually come at a huge discount when compared to the typical number of miles charged by legacy carriers (25,000 Avios vs. 35,000-45,000 miles).

Alaska Airlines has tons of direct flights to many of the islands from the Bay Area, and since I was booking nearly ten months in advance, I easily found round-trip award space for SJC-LIH. Taxes came out to a whopping $5, and I was even able to convince them to waive the phone fee since Alaska Airlines award flights cannot be booked on the British Airways website.

Unfortunately, one of the hassles of booking so far in advance is the likelihood of schedule changes. And about four months prior to departure, I received an email stating that the direct SJC-LIH flight had been canceled, and I was being rerouted through SEA. Even though this increased my travel time by more than two hours, I didn't really mind, as British Airways didn't charge me more Avios or taxes and fees. Luckily, the LIH-SJC return flight remained unchanged.

For lodging, I used SPG points to book two nights before the hike at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas on the north shore, which is relatively close to the Kalalau trailhead. For the two nights after, I booked the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Poipu on the south shore just to experience a different part of the island. Luckily, I did all of this prior to SPG's major Cash & Points devaluation and comparatively minor category changes in March 2013. The Westin moved up to Category 6, while the Sheraton stayed at Category 5.

Most frustrating of all was the inclusion of the dreaded resort and parking fees, along with taxes on the cash portion of the redemption. I'm glad to say that the Westin still doesn't charge a resort fee, but they do have a $13/night parking fee along with taxes. Sheraton charges a $31.25/night resort fee (including parking) along with taxes. Both provide in-room WiFi, thankfully.

Lastly, in order to camp at Kalalau Beach, you must have a permit purchased from the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources website. The cost is $15 for Hawaii residents and $20 for non-residents, along with a $2 online fee. Permits for the Kalalau Trail go fast, especially during the summer high season, so be sure to purchase them far in advance. In all, total out-of-pocket cost for airfare and lodging came out to $422.82.

Kalalau Beach - May 3, 2013

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