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UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

Old Jun 30, 2016, 1:45 pm
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Last edit by: sonyeoshin
Best seat advice
See update in post 500
See update in post 690


Best seat on the Island Hopper .. {closed to new posts}

An Island Hopper [Micronesia] Definitive Guide on Where to Sit [UA B737] {this thread}

FAQs derived from findark's post (post #500)
What is the Island Hopper?

The Island Hopper is a United route between Honolulu and Guam, stopping at the islands of Majuro, Kwajaelin, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Chuuk in between. The Island Hopper operates in both directions, and skips Pohnpei on certain days. You are allowed to get off the plane and "transit" at each stop except for Kwajaelin, which is a US Army base.

This route is similar to Alaska Airlines' "milk run" routes in rural Alaska. All of these routes serve as lifelines for the residents living in areas served by the routes, as the sole connection providing supplies and transportation to/from the rest of the world.

What is the Island Hopper schedule (as of 2024)?
UA154 (the full Hopper) departs Mon/Fri and flies HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM.
UA155 (the full Hopper) departs Mon/Fri and flies GUM-TKK-PNI-KSA-KWA-MAJ-HNL.
UA132 departs Sun/Wed and flies HNL-MAJ-KWA-PNI-TKK-GUM (skips KSA).
UA133 departs Sun/Wed and flies GUM-TKK-PNI-KWA-MAJ-HNL (skips KSA).

UA193 (GUM-ROR-MNL) departs GUM on the evenings of Tue/Fri and flies GUM-ROR-MNL.

The Hopper arrives around 1800+1, so in order to do the entire flight without a stopover you would need to depart HNL on UA154 on Monday morning.


Should I experience the Hopper?

If you like hopping through short segments, with beautiful island views, as well as a constant parade of amazing cloudscape between islands, the Island Hopper may be for you!

Which direction (west or east) is better?

The prevailing wisdom here seems to be in favor of taking UA154 (HNL-GUM). findark did 155 from GUM to HNL, and I think there were some overlooked benefits. The eastbound Hopper has the advantage of doing all the fun stuff in the morning and afternoon when you're fresh and eager to enjoy. 14 hours onboard a 737 is a long time*, and doing it eastbound you can give in to the exhaustion and conk out for the final MAJ-HNL segment. Even the HNL arrival was actually not too bad - it's only 10:50pm Guam time, so if you head on to a hotel you're pretty much in line for a night's sleep.

The most notable downside of taking the Hopper eastbound is that you visit MAJ in darkness. We ran about 25m late the whole way, and it was full dark by the time we touched down in MAJ. Whichever way you go, don't do it on a Wednesday! Kosrae was my favorite island, and it would be a shame to miss it.

*And, I learned, while the flight mechanic hops off in MAJ and the pilots get to work in shifts, the cabin crew are on duty for the whole 14 hours. They were understandably a bit burnt out by the middle of MAJ-HNL, but were simply outstanding nonetheless - greeting kids and handing out wings as they boarded in MAJ.


What's with the plane configuration?

The Hopper is currently flown by a GUM subfleet 737-800 (currently Version 4 on the United website - Row 1 is set back several inches which yields fewer E+ seats). The seatmap is loaded as the "Asia local" 737 map, which looks roughly like a 737-700. Like with other "generic" maps, it will update to the full seatmap about 4 days before departure, when the additional rows will appear.

1AB are blocked for the augmented flight crew, who change places with the pilots in the cockpit at MAJ. 2AB are also blocked because the crew rest seats at 1AB will recline until almost touching row 2, and it is usually used for crew storage.

Where should I sit?

The key here is understanding approach and wind patterns, along with each airport's runway configuration. The following stops and runways are on the north side of their respective islands:

TKK (4/22), PNI (9/27), KSA (5/23)

The following stops have runways on the south side of their atolls:

KWA (6/24), MAJ (7/25)

The prevailing winds at this latitude blow from the east, so a typical landing goes from west to east (into the wind). Therefore, in order to have best views on final approach and initial takeoff, you want to be on the starboard (right, F) side for TKK, PNI, and KSA, and on the port (left, A) side for KWA and MAJ. If you are flying westbound, or you land backwards at any stop on the eastbound flight, then the flight may need to position into the approach, usually by overflying the island at higher altitude out to sea. In this case, both sides of the aircraft will get views, although the closer views belong to the "correct" side. In my case, we landed "backwards" on 22 at TKK, and used the regular 9, 5, 6, and 7 at the other stops.

You should absolutely have a window seat - why else are you here?! The best seats are therefore any window in the Business cabin (note that 1A and 2A are blocked), 7AF and 8AF in Economy Plus (10AF has a misaligned window but is okay, the missing window will kill you in 11 and then the wing really starts intruding), and anything nice and far behind the wing in Economy. In this vein, I declined an upgrade on GUM-TKK since only 2E was left, and we flew in 4A/7F, 2F/4A, 2F/3F, 3A/4A, 3A/4A, 2F/7F.


What can I do at the stops?

The best thing to do is get off the plane! You can take tarmac photos and get amazing close-ups of the plane. You will then be shepherded into the gate area, where there are restrooms (some lacking soap and/or towels) and often locals selling souvenirs and snacks. On our trip, the most substantial souvenirs were available at MAJ. If the flight is running late they will make an announcement requesting transfer pax to stay on the plane; however, as obviously savvy travelers who were along for the whole ride and could get on/off quickly with no bags to stow, we got absolutely no pushback from the purser whenever we went outside anyway.

If you do disembark, you are required to take all carry-on baggage with you. They conduct a security sweep onboard the aircraft and will remove unclaimed bags. As is mentioned many times in this thread, KWA is the exception - as it's a US Army base you cannot get off unless ticketed to there. On our flight, we were requested not to take photographs but were allowed to look out the window. I didn't see anything terribly interesting.

You can also use WiFi in the terminal/transit area when you disembark and at some stops you can get your passport stamped. MAJ, PNI, and KSA have confirmed free WiFi. Passport stamps have been confirmed at PNI, KSA, TKK without "exiting" just ask security about getting a stamp at these 3 airports and they should be able to accommodate you.

Should I check my bags?

Yes. As annoying as it was to wait ~10 minutes for our bags in HNL, it was a lot less annoying than having to haul them around each stop, and find bin space again once on board.


What is the food situation?

Going east is a slightly different meal schedule than west. GUM-TKK and KSA-KWA are coded Snack, and MAJ-HNL is Dinner. The first and last meals are reasonably substantial in J (think like a Breakfast and Dinner code) and somewhat small in Y (somewhat less than a meal in int'l Y - was six pieces of fruit and a muffin in the morning, followed by a turkey sandwich for dinner). The middle snack was just a pass of the snack basket up front; neither of us sat in Y that segment but I would guess they just offered almonds. Additionally, every segment they were offering J pax some packaged almonds.

My general verdict is if going the distance in Y, pack some snacks or buy them at the stops along the way. If you're in J then there's enough food for 14 hours of sitting.


And how about IFE?

Look outside! That's actually about all the IFE there is. The GUM fleet has no WiFi and only DirecTV. Note that DirecTV does not work outside of CONUS, so really it just has the 8-10 looping movies of DirecTV (slightly different movie set for an Asian audience). The movie loop resets at each stop, so unless you want to watch the first 1h30 of a movie six times, there's not much use to the IFE. It is at least free in Y. I brought a book and read it for the middle 20 minutes of each segment and until I fell sleep on MAJ-HNL.


Can I get an upgrade on the Hopper?

Empirically, yes! We were offered upgrades of 11/12 eligible segments; I declined a GUM-TKK upgrade to keep my window, and my companion's MAJ-HNL upgrade was eaten by UA IT (agent in MAJ apologized profusely but understandably wasn't going to remove the already-handed-out upgrades to the next 2 pax on the list).

In order to have any shot, however, you need to be able to split the direct flight into six segments. This generally cannot be done on a mileage ticket or a paid through fare, and would need to be done via multi-city ticketing if visiting an island. In my case, I spent a very long time getting an extremely wonderful pmCO agent who was able to hack my ticket together with 9 connections on the way home. As this is also the only way to choose different views for the different approach directions, I recommend asking for this rather than for upgrades. It causes quite the headache for UA systems, but in the end I felt like it was a huge benefit to fly pretty much all of it in J. Absolutely something I credit to the value of being 1K: I was able to ring the 1K desk many times to get agents to deal with the various hiccups that came along with a PNR that had eight tickets and at one point 36 segments attached to it.

The first five Hopper segments (going east) are CPU eligible; MAJ/HNL requires a GPU. We had GPUs on our reservation and did a mixture of advance clearing and clearing at the gates in the islands (where amazingly enough they had the new J BPs waiting!).


Where to stay and what to do in GUM and HNL?

I think this depends on lot on which way you're going. Flying east, we arrived in GUM around 11pm (maximizing time in Tokyo, but not crazy enough for the 2am arrival), and spent the night at the Days Inn Tamuning. It was at the very bottom of my quality standards, but quite affordable and with 9h45 of total ground time all in the dark I did not want to pay double for a beachfront property I would never enjoy.

In HNL, I took up the excellent recommendation in this thread of the Best Western Plaza Honolulu. It was the cheapest of the few airport hotels in HNL. Having cleared customs by 3:45 (we arrived late), it was off to bed quickly. The arrival is only ~11pm Guam time, so I highly recommend going straight to a bed on arrival in HNL. Afterwards, we took advantage of the 24h connect rule to spend the whole day in HNL before continuing on home to SFO. We were pretty exhausted after another redeye home, but the beach time in Hawaii was well worth it, especially after being taunted by all the beautiful mid-Pacific islands.

Big Metal Bird Episode 8: Island Hopper - 2018
Originally Posted by COEWR2587
They just did a video in the Micronesia island hopper flight which is pretty interesting
https://youtu.be/TPueM5OF1Wc
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UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

Old Sep 7, 2015, 4:15 am
  #181  
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 5,441
Don't forget the landing directions can change based on wind, weather etc. especially so far in advance. Not to mention flight paths can vary - so you might not be able to count on a certain view
belfordrocks is offline  
Old Sep 8, 2015, 10:44 am
  #182  
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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Trick for 75% + saver award availability on UA Island hopper 154

I have done a lot of research and just booked myself on the UA island hopper for March, part of a complex multi city award itinerary for 70K UA miles.

UA 154 (Island Hopper) seems to only have small saver availability right when it goes on-sale about 335 days out and then disappears after 2-3 days. After that point, one of the segments sells out in saver and it cannot be booked. But booking a round trip and utilizing a stopover on one of the Micronesian islands (PNI and TKK work best), one can book the hopper as part of an island hopping itinerary up until around a week before departure with limited exception. Very wide open availability (2 out of 3 days a week or more usually). I was able to book it on .bomb , but if you search the segments individually and they have saver award availability, then a UA rep can book it over the phone at no additional fee.

Search like this:
US City - Micronesian Island
Micronesian Island - next pacific island (GUM / SPN / ROR / ROT)
next pacific island to US city.

For example, I did SFO-PNI, PNI-ROR, ROR-SFO.

This then breaks down to SFO-HNL (full day layover), HNL-PNI (leaves next morning on UA154) // PNI-GUM (full day layover), GUM-ROR // ROR-NRT (full day layover), NRT-SFO.

Some things to keep in mind: this only uses one open jaw and your stopover, so you could return to a different US or Canadian city. For only 12.5K miles more you can add on another island or any Asian destination. For example you could search as SFO-TKK, TKK-ROR, PEK-SFO (70K miles). Then for 12.5K book a ROR-PEK flight. 82.5K total.

Also sometimes the pacific island to GUM is unavailable in saver. To get around this, assuming you're already using 82.5K, take the problem segment out and book it separately instead of the say ROR-PEK which is almost always available in saver. Now it looks like: SFO-TKK, ROR-PEK, PEK-SFO for 70K. And the segment you need to fill in is the TKK-ROR which is available for 2K in Y but usually 25K in F as well. So that comes out to 95K miles but you can be in F for some of it.

The bottom line is to use your stopover at one of the islands that 154 stops at. Then you should be able to construct it fine. Enjoy!
mspel is offline  
Old Sep 8, 2015, 5:40 pm
  #183  
 
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I've tried the above, but I'm not sure if the site is still down or if I'm picking days where 154 doesn't operate.

How many miles would it be for BOS-connection-HNL-island hopper-GUM-NRT/connection-connection-BOS? Seeing as how I'm unable to get it to price on the site, I'm a bit confused. Also, how many miles for a premium cabin redemption? How much does a flight like this cost? How much for F/J?
diburning is offline  
Old Sep 8, 2015, 6:15 pm
  #184  
 
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Now that you see each segment priced for mine when I booked (about 9.5 months in advance) the F ticket for the IH leg would have been about $1950 and Y was $1k+change.
JVPhoto is offline  
Old Sep 8, 2015, 9:21 pm
  #185  
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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Originally Posted by diburning
I've tried the above, but I'm not sure if the site is still down or if I'm picking days where 154 doesn't operate.

How many miles would it be for BOS-connection-HNL-island hopper-GUM-NRT/connection-connection-BOS? Seeing as how I'm unable to get it to price on the site, I'm a bit confused. Also, how many miles for a premium cabin redemption? How much does a flight like this cost? How much for F/J?
It should be 70K. You want to book it as BOS-PNI/TKK /// PNI/TKK-GUM /// GUM-BOS. Or if you want your destination to be TYO instead of Gum that works too. You want to depart BOS on a Sun, Tue, or Thur.
mspel is offline  
Old Sep 11, 2015, 2:12 am
  #186  
 
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I'm assuming that the 70K for a coach redemption? Is that at the saver rate or standard rate? What about in F?
diburning is offline  
Old Sep 13, 2015, 11:50 pm
  #187  
 
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Originally Posted by diburning
I'm assuming that the 70K for a coach redemption? Is that at the saver rate or standard rate? What about in F?
70K for Y. J is more like 120 at a minimum but almost impossible to find saver availability.
mspel is offline  
Old Sep 14, 2015, 8:05 am
  #188  
 
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Originally Posted by diburning
I'm assuming that the 70K for a coach redemption? Is that at the saver rate or standard rate? What about in F?
another economical option is to look for cheap TPAC fares, especially to places like HKG, SIN and SGN. sometimes the fare rules will allow routing via HNL, which then may allow UA154.

i'm flying the hopper next week on a $660ai BOS-SGN K fare.
riphamilton is offline  
Old Sep 21, 2015, 4:34 pm
  #189  
 
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Ua201 -> ua154?

What are the chances of being able to change from UA201 (HNL-GUM direct) to UA154 by asking the agent in HNL?

I have an itinerary that includes UA201 but would, of course, prefer to take the 154.
vip66 is offline  
Old Sep 21, 2015, 8:44 pm
  #190  
 
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Originally Posted by riphamilton
another economical option is to look for cheap TPAC fares, especially to places like HKG, SIN and SGN. sometimes the fare rules will allow routing via HNL, which then may allow UA154.

i'm flying the hopper next week on a $660ai BOS-SGN K fare.
How does one search for cheap TPAC fares that allow HNL and UA154? I've tried on the ITA Matrix, but it doesn't return any results.
diburning is offline  
Old Sep 21, 2015, 9:12 pm
  #191  
 
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Originally Posted by diburning
How does one search for cheap TPAC fares that allow HNL and UA154? I've tried on the ITA Matrix, but it doesn't return any results.
on ita:

[origin] UA+ HNL UA+ GUM UA+ [destination], and then a UA+ return.

be aware that UA154 doesn't operate every day, and you need to build in a HNL overnight layover since the hopper leaves so early.
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Old Sep 21, 2015, 9:21 pm
  #192  
 
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Hmm, that doesn't seem to work.
diburning is offline  
Old Sep 21, 2015, 11:43 pm
  #193  
 
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UA+ HNL UA154+ GUM N+

or alternatively just UA+ UA154+ UA+
belfordrocks is offline  
Old Sep 22, 2015, 12:49 am
  #194  
 
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I've been searching one ways and roundtrips and have been coming up with nothing. I've set it to calendar of lowest fares for 2-5 days. Could that be causing it?
diburning is offline  
Old Sep 22, 2015, 5:34 am
  #195  
 
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Originally Posted by riphamilton
another economical option is to look for cheap TPAC fares, especially to places like HKG, SIN and SGN. sometimes the fare rules will allow routing via HNL, which then may allow UA154.

i'm flying the hopper next week on a $660ai BOS-SGN K fare.
Thats a great deal considering what the island hopper actually costs. What would happen if you did that but got off in PNI to save about $1000? Would United ban you or something?
be001 is offline  

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