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

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

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Old Jan 31, 19, 6:23 pm   -   Wikipost
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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 1/14/19)?
UA154 (the full Hopper) departs HNL Mon/Fri and flies HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM.
The shorter UA154 flies from HNL on Wed and does HNL-MAJ-KWA-PNI-TKK-GUM (skips KSA).
UA132 departs Sun and flies HNL-MAJ-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM (skips KWA).

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 View Post
They just did a video in the Micronesia island hopper flight which is pretty interesting
https://youtu.be/TPueM5OF1Wc
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Old Feb 19, 19, 7:00 am
  #811  
 
Join Date: Aug 2013
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Wrote up some quick impressions from my Island Hopper journey if anyone is interested: https://princeoftravel.com/blog/impr...ld-2019-part-2

In short: I made use of the "long layovers" feature on an Aeroplan award ticket and got 12 hours in TKK (Blue Lagoon) and 24 hours in PNI (Yvonne's Hotel). Such an eye-opening trip, loved the Nan Madol ruins although I didn't have enough time to explore it fully, which is a shame. Flew from PNI through to HNL, where our flight skipped KSA (!) due to weather, and then I was told not to deplane at MAJ as a transiting passenger and unfortunately should've read the stories here about being able to deplane anyway. Thoroughly enjoyed the trip and would do it again sometime down the road.
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Old Mar 26, 19, 10:43 pm
  #812  
 
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Thanks all for this thread; fantastically helpful. After years of hemming and hawing, I've finally booked the eastbound Island Hopper in mid-September in 7F.

Of note, I'll be positioning myself in GUM from Melbourne and was surprised it was only 40K in business class from MEL - GUM via BKK and NRT. Definitely a great redemption as it seems GUM is treated the same as SE Asia. Then booked the Island Hopper in Y for 27.5K. I was unable to book as separate segments so will hope for the best on check-in to switch sides on the last few legs. I've planned 36 hours in Guam and imagine I'll quickly become familiar with the supermarkets to stock up snacks. (The "meal" on even the longer MAJ - HNL leg sounds dreadful.)
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Old Mar 27, 19, 5:30 am
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Be sure to spend some quality beach time at Tumon Bay.
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Last edited by WineCountryUA; Mar 27, 19 at 2:13 pm Reason: merging consecutive posts by same member
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Old Mar 27, 19, 9:37 am
  #814  
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Originally Posted by navigator4309 View Post
Thanks all for this thread; fantastically helpful. After years of hemming and hawing, I've finally booked the eastbound Island Hopper in mid-September in 7F.

Of note, I'll be positioning myself in GUM from Melbourne and was surprised it was only 40K in business class from MEL - GUM via BKK and NRT. Definitely a great redemption as it seems GUM is treated the same as SE Asia. Then booked the Island Hopper in Y for 27.5K. I was unable to book as separate segments so will hope for the best on check-in to switch sides on the last few legs. I've planned 36 hours in Guam and imagine I'll quickly become familiar with the supermarkets to stock up snacks. (The "meal" on even the longer MAJ - HNL leg sounds dreadful.)
That is a great routing and a TON of flying for 40k miles in J. 8,993 flying miles!


That said are you doing the hopper in the east-bound direction (GUM-HNL)? I thought I heard that it was reported the experience is significantly less interesting that way due to flying at night.
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Old Mar 27, 19, 11:30 am
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Originally Posted by helvetic View Post
That said are you doing the hopper in the east-bound direction (GUM-HNL)? I thought I heard that it was reported the experience is significantly less interesting that way due to flying at night.
The main thing with eastbound is that it's dark when you arrive in MAJ. "Significantly" is in the eye of the beholder of course. I still had a great time and plenty of gorgeous views going eastbound. I admit I do have some interest in doing it westbound at some point but if that doesn't happen, I'm still quite satisfied with my eastbound experience.
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Old Mar 27, 19, 8:44 pm
  #816  
 
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Originally Posted by Dublin_rfk View Post



Be sure to spend some quality beach time at Tumon Bay.
Thanks for the tip - that indeed looks like a pretty phenomenal way to spend a day, especially coming out of winter in Australia!

Originally Posted by helvetic View Post
That is a great routing and a TON of flying for 40k miles in J. 8,993 flying miles!


That said are you doing the hopper in the east-bound direction (GUM-HNL)? I thought I heard that it was reported the experience is significantly less interesting that way due to flying at night.
As noted, eastbound means it will be dark by Majuro, but it is what it is. I do like that going east means the longest segment is at the end, as I'll still be fresh for all the short hops in the morning. Having lived in a few places in the tropics, I also find mornings typically clearer than the afternoon as clouds and rain start to gather. Not sure if that applies here, but I'm doing my best to rationalise the compromise of Majuro being in the dark. In reality, though, it just didn't make sense to fly westbound as I'm using Alaska miles back to Australia and was able to get a 45K flight in J on Fiji Airways. I couldn't get either J-class redemption to and from the Hopper in a way that made sense going in reverse, so eastbound it is.

Incidentally, the flight back to Melbourne heads via Samoa and Fiji, so this adventure really is shaping up to be a pretty epic Pacific island hop!

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Old May 18, 19, 2:22 am
  #817  
 
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Hi all. Firstly this thread is fantastic. Although reading it has been the direct cause of several hours of fruitless searching to solve a dilemma Iíll describe below. Sorry in advance for the post length

Its become somewhat of a January tradition for me to look for a MR both to get a head start on status for the year and burn an expiring GPU or two. Iím looking at trying to make this work with the island hopper. I am traveling ex YYC and also have a $1000 voucher available.

As a revenue ticket, I canít find any way to get on the island hopper and have it price below about C$2,400. Iíve tried multi city flights throigh NRT, HKG and HNL, as well as positioning to SFO, LAX or DEN and Iíve hit a total brick wall. Even flying straight through with < 24 hours in GUM canít get me a decent price unless I fly the non stop. Choosing the hopper seems to kick me into a Q fare which makes it very expensive.any tips on getting this to work for a somewhat affordable price?

many of the blogs seem to do this on miles. I have found tons of mileage availability on the island hopper itself, however Iím still facing the same kind of issues getting a multi city connecting to the island hopper to price affordably. Eg. YYC-HNL/TYO-YYC, or the reverse. The best I can do is around C$1,300, but this only seems available if doing the hopper eastbound.

Doing the whole trip with miles isnít feasible for me because it would leave my voucher unused and because I need some PQMs from it.

Final question on using miles just for the island hopper portion. Some of the times donít make any sense. The screenshot below shows one example, but I found many. Does this flight actually have 6 hours overnight in TKK?? And 8:49am to 3:20pm is definitely not 14.5 hours. I would love a short layover on any of the islands if it is possible (preferably not 1am to 7am &#128528, but are these schedules believable??

Thanks in advance for those able to help me out with this one.



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Old May 18, 19, 2:29 am
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Originally Posted by david_oz View Post
Hi all. Firstly this thread is fantastic. Although reading it has been the direct cause of several hours of fruitless searching to solve a dilemma I’ll describe below. Sorry in advance for the post length

Its become somewhat of a January tradition for me to look for a MR both to get a head start on status for the year and burn an expiring GPU or two. I’m looking at trying to make this work with the island hopper. I am traveling ex YYC and also have a $1000 voucher available.

As a revenue ticket, I can’t find any way to get on the island hopper and have it price below about C$2,400. I’ve tried multi city flights throigh NRT, HKG and HNL, as well as positioning to SFO, LAX or DEN and I’ve hit a total brick wall. Even flying straight through with < 24 hours in GUM can’t get me a decent price unless I fly the non stop. Choosing the hopper seems to kick me into a Q fare which makes it very expensive.any tips on getting this to work for a somewhat affordable price?

many of the blogs seem to do this on miles. I have found tons of mileage availability on the island hopper itself, however I’m still facing the same kind of issues getting a multi city connecting to the island hopper to price affordably. Eg. YYC-HNL/TYO-YYC, or the reverse. The best I can do is around C$1,300, but this only seems available if doing the hopper eastbound.

Doing the whole trip with miles isn’t feasible for me because it would leave my voucher unused and because I need some PQMs from it.

Final question on using miles just for the island hopper portion. Some of the times don’t make any sense. The screenshot below shows one example, but I found many. Does this flight actually have 6 hours overnight in TKK?? And 8:49am to 3:20pm is definitely not 14.5 hours. I would love a short layover on any of the islands if it is possible (preferably not 1am to 7am ��), but are these schedules believable??

Thanks in advance for those able to help me out with this one.


On Saturday nights/Sunday Mornings there is a "mini" island hopper that goes to PNI and then returns to Guam, but good question as to why such a long layover in Chuuk, perhaps a glitch marrying up your evening segment with the following segment the morning of the same day. The PNI and beyond is actually the Sunday full island hopper.

As for getting a cheaper flight, since you are using travel cert (i.e. not necessarily tied to a specific billing address), try setting your region to Guam (united.com/en/gu). This often returns cheaper fare classes not available to those who have their billing address set to North America.

Last edited by therossinator; May 18, 19 at 2:37 am
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Old May 18, 19, 8:57 am
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Originally Posted by david_oz View Post
Choosing the hopper seems to kick me into a Q fare which makes it very expensive.any tips on getting this to work for a somewhat affordable price?

I would love a short layover on any of the islands if it is possible (preferably not 1am to 7am &#128528, but are these schedules believable??

You will not be able to get an extended layover on the islands using a discount cash fare. None of the discount fares allow for transfers at any of the intermediate islands, so the only way to route them via the hopper is to use a single flight number and to take the whole thing from HNL to GUM or vice versa.

Try pricing it as a one-way eastbound from HKG or ICN. Those fares may be missing the hopper surcharge that most of the fares have. Otherwise, just see what you can find with ITA Matrix, I guess. If it keeps bumping you up to a higher fare class, you[Ď want to read the rules to figure out why (or post specific travel dates and cities that do it).
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Old May 18, 19, 10:44 pm
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Got it! Not 100% perfect, but we made it work well enough. Used the cert to buy our flights from YYC-HKG which came to C$1,250 in W. then paid 22,500 miles each for HKG-MAJ (via TKK and PNI), and finally 35,000 miles each for MAJ-YYC.

All in, quite a good result. I know we could have done it more efficiently in terms of miles, but we have quite limited time and not much flexibility. We got a $0 flight cost (after applying the certificate), New Year’s Eve in SFO, PZ9 on SFO-HKG, 2 full days in HKG and 3 full days in Majuro. Looking forward to it!
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Old May 28, 19, 7:22 pm
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Noticed that UA132 on 9/15 is scheduled to fly HNL-MAJ-PNI-TKK-GUM skipping KSA. Doesn't appear to stop at KSA in all of June-Sep. Is this new?
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Old May 28, 19, 10:27 pm
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From memory 132 always skipped KSA
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Old Jun 17, 19, 10:25 am
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GUM-MAJ, pay for E+ or settle in the back?

Booked Economy Saver for myself and SO on UA155 from GUM-MAJ, and UA154 back to GUM the next day. Trying to figure out where to sit and then start to worry if we'll survive all the flying in two days.

UA155 has 8ABC and 10A open (thinking about getting 8A10A so we can both enjoy the view), while UA154 doesn't have any window seat in E+. I've read it that the segments between KWA and TKK are quite empty, should we settled for the back of the plane (row 29 and beyond are almost empy ATM on both flights) or just buy up to E+? I'm *G/UA S while my SO has no status.
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Old Jun 17, 19, 11:00 am
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Personally I think I would only consider E+ if 7A and 7F were available. You're not flying HNL-MAJ, which is the harsh segment. All of the other Hopper segments are short, with beautiful views, and a chance to stretch your legs after each. Beware of misaligned windows in E+ also.
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Old Jun 18, 19, 5:12 am
  #825  
 
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Hello Everyone!
Super excited as I've been reading this thread from start to finish and just about any article I could find about the Hopper one I found out about it. After a few years of hard work and saving up *A miles on my ANA card and work flights I have finally been able to book the Hopper. As a resident of Japan, I had to go about considering the flight much differently than most of the people on this thread so I thought that sharing my routing might be helpful for a planning an out and back Hopper trip.

I’m Ex OSA and while using the ANA booking site the OSA to GUM section seemed the hardest. They would give me flights to HKG then back up to KIX rather than direct GUM->KIX most of the time. I figured this was due to seat availability. I tried booking with a stopover also using the multiple destinations option and that did not work either. It looked like the seats were there but the system just did not know how to book the ticket. Making the call to the ANA Mileage Club reservations desk made all the difference. I could not be happier with the service I got over the phone. I chose the English option because I thought it would be easier to explain what I wanted to do, however I am sure the Japanese desk would have been just as helpful.

I first tried to book OSA->MAJ->PNI (Stopover)->OSA for any time during the first two weeks in September. That did not come up with any options. Next, I asked for OSA->HNL->PNI (stopover)->OSA. An itinerary was made Ex NRT then the ITM->NRT flights were connected to that to get me to and from home. That ticket was illegal as the stopover was further away from the destination or something like that. So, third time is the charm, we went back to an OSA->MAJ->OSA booking. Knowing the dates of the hopper then offering that I would be OK with an overnight connection in GUM on both the outgoing and incoming legs made the difference. Having a night in GUM on both legs was better for me as I get to take a shower and get out of the airport! An itinerary was made.

I really wanted to have at least a day in MAJ and PNI for this trip to see the islands rather than just the airport for 30 minutes. I do not have the money or time to do a trip like this again so this is my one shot at it. I wanted to make it count. I cannot be more thankful for all the helpful people at ANA that got this booked for me. There were hang-ups here and there but everyone was so polite and friendly.

Sat UA150 Dep1105 Arr1550 KIX->GUM
1 night in GUM (TBD hotel)
Sun UA133 Dep0920 Arr1840 GUM->MAJ
2 nights in MAJ (MIR or AirB&B… still deciding)
Tue UA154 Dep1120 Arr1450 MAJ->PNI
2 nights in PNI (7 Stars Inn looks like a winner)
Thu UA154 Dep1500 Arr1754 PNI->GUM
1 night in GUM (TBD hotel)
Fri UA151 Dep0720 Arr1010 GUM->KIX

This is the ideal trip and I cannot believe that I got it ticketed after reading some of the experiences.

I am in 30F or 29F for all the flights so out and back I’ll be on different sides of the plane. I am still confused what is the best side even after reading this tread a few times. My feeling is that as long as I have a window--I am OK.

The ticket cost basically all the ANA mileage I had: 50,000 + JPY15,780 in taxes etc. More than happy at that price point.

I also get to skip the least interesting part of the trip the HNL->MAJ section (I guess I do not get the meal on that bit! Haha) and I also do not have to get another expensive hotel room in HNL and save that money for the pricier accommodation in MAJ.

This routing seems very doable for those of us heading from Asia towards the USA. I hope to write up a flight report on the way back to see how doable it actually is.

If you have any idea what hotel I should go to in PNI or MAJ, that would be helpful.

Thanks for all the FTers out there who wrote this great thread. You helped me a bunch! See you on the Hopper!!!
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