Pacific Rim Honeymoon for $250 (and a Bunch of Miles)

I booked an amazing set of award flights yesterday. In addition to booking 20,000 in revenue miles with United for various meetings and family gatherings, I finally sat down to book the flights for Megan’s and my two-week honeymoon this August/September for another 20,000 miles in award travel.

Our original plan was to take advantage of the Star Alliance’s generous routing rules, which permit travel from North America to Asia via Europe. And since United allows a stopover on round-trip awards, we figured we would take the opportunity to visit Bali and stopover in Istanbul on the return. (Sitting around on the beach, or in any place for that matter, is very boring to me.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize just how hard it is to get to and from Istanbul. Sure, options exist, but very few with good timing and premium class availability. We finally settled on sticking to the Pacific Rim since Bali was a higher priority. With mid-afternoon departures and arrivals almost everywhere, we won’t be trying to check-in at 3 AM this time ;)

Accept Defeat and Try Something New

I still didn’t want to spend two weeks at one place, so I had the clever idea to book a stopover in Bangkok and add a second roundtrip flight out of there to someplace else in the area, currently Phuket. That way we could visit Bali on ticket A, Phuket on ticket B, and even spend a few days in Bangkok in between.

While looking at routing options between Bangkok and Phuket, I also noticed something odd. There are a dozen nonstop flights a day, so why were there these options with connections? In fact, one of them connected in Hong Kong before doubling back to Bangkok on the return, with first class space on Thai Airways’ A380! Megan and I had a great time in Hong Kong last year, so I booked yet another stopover.

The Masterpiece Revealed

I now had two round trip itineraries, each with a stopover, nested inside each other. We’ll be spending 5 nights in Bali, 2 nights in Bangkok, 4 nights in Phuket, and 2 nights in Hong Kong. Since our routing includes some 12-hour daytime layovers in Singapore on the outbound and Seoul on the return, we’ll take a couple day-trips, too! We’ll get to fly Singapore Airlines’ business class again, as well as try Thai first and business classes and Asiana business class for the first time.

The big picture. Image from GCMap.com

The big picture. Image from GCMap.com

The first itinerary cost only 120,000 United miles per person and the second itinerary only 47,500 miles per person (it would be less, except I insist on trying first class on an A380, even if only for 2 hours). Total cost is 335,000 miles plus about $250 in taxes. This is why I work so hard to get and keep my Premier 1K status. I can change those flights at any time since one niggly flight is still in economy class …for now… and I earn double miles on all my travel. 355,000 miles may be a lot, but it’s not quite enough to drain my account.

Update: I was poking around at options to go to Koh Samui as one reader suggested in the comments. I eventually ruled that out for several reasons, but along the way I realized that though I made good use of stopovers in my itinerary, I completely neglected the power of open jaws. United allows both one stopover (a delay before continuing from the same airport) and one open jaw (returning or departing from a different airport).

I thought to myself, why go back to Bangkok after Hong Kong? I found more business class space on Asiana from Hong Kong to catch up with my original Seoul-Seattle return flight and dropped the legs from Hong Kong to Bangkok and from Bangkok to Seoul. The new itinerary is much simpler, has less time spent in coach, and actually saved 25,000 miles and $64. The A380 will have to wait for another trip. The image below is still the old itinerary, but I will go over everything again once I finish the hotels. End Update.

Zoom

Just the intra-Asia flights. Image from GCMap.com

I like to think this example shows the power of creative thinking. If I wanted more than one stopover, I would have normally broken the itinerary into a series of one-ways that cost more altogether, or maybe I would have instinctively tacked on a second ticket departing Bali, which would have required a connection to get almost anywhere. Instead, originating my second ticket at my stopover city made it much easier since we were already at a major hub and avoided significant backtracking.

United’s Online Award Search Rocks!

Finally, I’d like to compliment United’s online award search engine. Not only does United display results for all its partners, but it’s also made it significantly easier to book those flights online, too. This used to be what I considered a major benefit of elite status since the phone reservation fee was waived. But it still takes time to feed an agent all the flight numbers as she skeptically listens, doubting there is actually business class space on that Singapore Airlines segment (there was).

I found that as long as I knew which dates I wanted to travel, I could easily book a stopover using the multi-city award search online. Both tickets priced correctly, and the availability was identical to what I found earlier. Like usual, you should start your award search by looking at individual one-way segments and piece them together. Only at the end when you are ready to book, with the knowledge of which days have which flights available, is it time to search for more than one at a time. I would have to do this prep work anyway before talking to an agent, but in the end it took me 5 minutes online to finally book two complicated tickets instead of 20 minutes or more on the phone.

Time for Hotels

I’m still looking into hotels. We’ll probably choose the St. Regis Bali (and use every last Starpoint to book it) and the Grand Hyatt Bangkok (using a suite upgrade on top of their already affordable rates). In Hong Kong, I thought about returning to the Grand Hyatt, but the news about Hilton’s award chart changes has me thinking of trying the Conrad instead. We really don’t know what we’re going to do in Phuket. The choice is between the Westin Siray Bay and Le Meridien. Maybe two nights at each. Or should we change the ticket and go to some other beach destination instead? I’d appreciate your suggestions.

When it’s all said and done, I’ll go into more details about how many miles and points this cost and where we got them all because, unlike some people, I actually don’t do a lot of manufactured spend and try to fly and stay as much as possible.

Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • Andrew

    If you want to spend money and care about service atop all else I fell in love with the Bali Hyatt on my last trip…they’re undergoing renovations later this year but since I spent most of time on the beach, or in the club I didn’t care, and the rooms really aren’t all that bad. I cannot speak enough praises of the staff there though. They blew me away with friendliness.

    • Scottrick

      I looked at both Hyatts on Bali, and I wouldn’t mind paying for a room and using a suite upgrade. But I also hear from a lot of people that the St Regis, if you can afford it (with cash or with points) is the top choice, so I will aim to do that if we can.

  • bradR

    I’ve got to say that if you can change things up and ditch the OZ sea-icn segments, it’d be worth doing so. Even a stopover in NRT seems preferable, but you could route via sfo or lax – if the goal is to try OZ in J, then find a short segment elsewhere in asia rather than kill a transpac with sub par hard and soft product.

    • Scottrick

      Interesting. My impression from some of the trip reports I read was that OZ business class was actually pretty good, and the timing works well for us. It was all I found at the time I boked, but I will keep an eye out for routes through NRT.

  • Dave

    StR Bali is truly fantastic – we did the last 5 nights of our honeymoon there in 2011. Fantastic place. Would be more than happy to share some tips (email should come through comments) on Bali and on the property if you’d like.

    Going to be staying at Conrad Koh Samui in a couple weeks for 5 days – maybe consider that for your HHonors burn (instead of HKT – there is a TG flight to USM) and stay at the Hyatt in HKG like you originally intended?

    • Scottrick

      Not a bad idea. Thanks.

  • Mikus33

    I love seeing how others use their points. Looking forward to seeing the final decisions on hotels and the details on the points used there.

  • SC Parent

    Thanks for explaining your logic and thought processes. Great idea to simplify the routing, too

  • Vicky

    Boy it’s a tough life when your hardest decision is between GH HK or the Conrad. We’ve stayed at both and enjoyed both. I think the food in the club lounge at the Hyatt was better. Service at both locations was superb. GH wins for location being so close to the ferry. If we were going back tomorrow we would probably opt for the Conrad as we found the room a bit more comfortable.

    We are going to be in Bali later this year and are planning on staying at the Conrad as have heard only good things about it. Are you fixed on going to a beach location seeing you will be on the beach in Bali? Why not try Chiang Mai?

    • Scottrick

      I loved the GH. But we can always go back, so it will be worth draining the Hilton account to try something new.

      Megan really wants to relax on a beach. I’m a city guy. This itinerary is a compromise.

  • harvson3

    Skip the hotels and rent a private villa in Bali. They’re not expensive, and much more private. Many come with butler/poolboy/maid service.

  • tarheel traveler

    Great post. Talk about fortuitous timing. I just decided to try to book a south east asia trip with my girlfriend this summer as well. We’re flying out of SFO and hoping to hit Bali, Singapore, and Hong Kong – maybe even Bangkok. Any chance you could email me your itinerary details? I’ve been trying to create a similar trip for June or July, but haven’t had much luck with Bus/First class ticket availability. Also, I’ve found separate award flights for legs of a bigger open jaw/stop over itinerary, but when I try to get the website to book them into one award, they don’t appear. Can’t tell if that means if I’m fouling something up or if I just need to call United to get the tickets booked. Thanks!

    • Scottrick

      Our itinerary is SEA-ICN-SIN-DPS-BKK-HKT-HKG-ICN-SEA.

      Award space is pretty hit and miss, but I found a fair amount. Start by searching for the trans-Pacific segments, and don’t worry about connections. Just get an idea of what is there. If you are seeing availability issues, start searching segment by segment and check other routings, like going through LAX, SEA, or YVR. Fill it in the pieces.

      When you have availability for every leg identified individually, then you can do a multi-city search. If it fails the first time, repeat the search and maybe specify “nonstop flights only.” If it still fails, call an agent.

      If you do need to start in LAX and can’t find award space from SFO to LAX, then you may need to buy that ticket separately.

  • Aptraveler

    Great Post, I really enjoyed your thought process in choosing the routing to Asia in order to maximize your miles; and when you decided to include the mapping of the whole trip as a visual, now that was just the cherry on top for me! It just goes to show that with dedication and some patience one can really attain an incredible flight award, or a dreamy honeymoon as it is the case here.

    Regarding recommendations, I too liked the GH HK not only for their great
    service but also for their good location. In Phuket, I stayed at the Meridien Hotel and felt it was a sub-standard hotel when compared to the high quality accommodations and excellent service that can be had in Asian hotels. So, I’d suggest look into the Westin. Now, I really enjoyed the GH Bali better than the cozier Bali Hyatt. But like you, I understand that the St. Regis is in a class all by
    itself, so a great choice. Make sure to go and explore both the Artsy town
    of Ubud and the Ulun Danu Temple at Bratan Lake, they are both worth the trip outside of the Nusa Dua area!