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Tutorial: How I planned, routed, and booked $17k of biz/1st flights on 6 airlines through S.E. Asia for $60 + Points
A lot of readers have expressed interested in a post detailing how I planned and routed my Southeast Asia trip through Taipei, Vietnam, and Cambodia and return through Bangkok and Tokyo. I’m still working my way through reviews, but I know many of you are planning trips to the region, and I thought it may come in handy so here’s how I planned, routed, and booked $17k of biz/1st flights on 6 airlines through S.E. Asia for $60 + Points
Here’s the Trip we’re gonna investigate:
5 different International Premium Cabins, Multiple 5 star hotels, and how I utilized points to book it all for less than a nice meal. Scroll to the very bottom to see a list of all the reviews.
The first step is devising a strategy and thought process.
- Do you have fixed days and just need a flight?
- Are you willing to do a positioning leg?
- Is Business/First that important to you?
- Etc, etc.
My strategy and thought process revolve around one goal: The entire trip should be an experience, not just the destination. How you utilize points, routing, credit card benefits, etc is your key to accomplishing this goal. You need to set goals, make priorities, and then know what you’re willing to sacrifice.
My Strategy primarily revolves around these 3 things.
Premium Cabins and lounges
- I will route my trip to lie-flat. I’d rather fly longer with a stopover and cool lounge than direct in an inferior product (unless I’m doing it for a review).
- I’m an actor. Things happen really fast, without notice, and I need to be able to leave a trip or change it with the lowest possible cost and inconvenience.
- Sometimes a better option opens up and you want to make a switch. I’ll sometimes pay more points for better flexibility, especially if I’m making use of a placeholder.
- e.g. I did this with Lufthansa First Class. It’s cheaper to use Aeroplan for the ticket, but Singapore miles are easier to accumulate and cheaper to change. I’d rather lower the balances of 3 award currencies and gain more flexibility than drain one currency with less flexibility to save some points.
Value of redemption
- I hate wasting points. It pains me to pay extra for a leg, stopover, etc if I don’t have to. However, if the experience of the trip warrants it, I will spend the points to enhance the trip. Like I said above, if I gain flexibility by paying more points I’ll do it, especially if it increases the odds for a better cabin or routing.
- I will coordinate flights with hotel avail to maximize the total value of points redeemed for the trip.
The biggest thing I’m willing to sacrifice is a positioning leg, time, and location. There are many parts of the world I want to see, and I’m not dead set on any order. In addition, I will make an excuse to carve out a couple extra days if it will best serve the trip, and if I have to spend a small amount of money or points on positioning for a great long-haul – I’ll do it.
Step 2: Drop your anchor
I plan my trips with a lot of flexibility, but always have an anchor. In past trips, my anchors were a safari, wedding, colts game, fare sale, and the more you do, the more you can improvise and the better you will hone your skills. For this trip, my anchor was simply the AA award chart devaluation. I knew the chart would be devaluing on March 22nd, 2016 and paying 67,500 points to fly first class back from Asia 2 was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’d also read a lot about the Park Hyatt Saigon, Ha Long Bay, and Angkor Wat. It seemed the perfect location so I searched for tickets back from Hanoi.
I made a placeholder reservation on Japan Airlines First Class. Now my Anchor was dropped and I HAD to fly back from Hanoi and end in Indianapolis.
More than likely, I wasn’t going to fly this itinerary, but I needed to lock in the award price of 67,500 and to do that I needed to find an itinerary that could be ticketed, thus a placeholder. You’ll notice that only one leg was in First Class. AA will allow you to ticket in various cabins as long as the level of award ticket is the same (in this case SAAVER), it’s within their Maximum Permitted Mileage, abides by their routing rules, doesn’t have more than a 24 hour layover, and the cabins are available for them to book. To make things simpler you should have all of the exact flight details ready for the rep when you call.
I found the availability from Hanoi to Chicago using the Japan Airlines website. If you aren’t familiar with how to use it, click that link, it’ll walk you through.
I knew I’d have a year from the booking date to use the ticket, and because of AA’s generous award rules, I could move the trip as much as I wanted so long as the Origin and Destination stayed the same. From there I started to plan the duration, routing, and other destinations around this anchor that work with my schedule and optimize the other aspects of the trip.
Step 3: What interests you around & to/fro your Anchor drop?
My anchor drop was Hanoi so I knew I’d have to end the trip there. I also knew that my ticket wouldn’t allow any stopovers so if I wanted to check out other places it was going to be on the way there. I also knew that I wanted to see Ha Long Bay and make use of my Hyatt points in Saigon and Siem Reap. Beyond that I was open.
Since I was taking this trip with my buddy, Dave, we needed to figure out dates that we thought we could both manage. In fact, we originally booked the entire trip over Thanksgiving, routing through Hong Kong, on Singapore First Class, but had to cancel it because Dave ended up in a wedding. This is where flexibility came in handy. We ate the $30 cancellation fee, redeposited the Krisflyer points, but kept the return itinerary with AA miles to see if we could make other dates work.
Several months later we figured out that the 2 weeks around New Years would work.
This meant that we now needed to move our anchor ticket because the booked flight date was now before the date we would need to fly back home. If we didn’t do this and let the flight come and go, and merely miss it, the award would be canceled and only re-issued at the new price: 110K miles.
The problem was…no availability
We made the decision to build the trip as if something would open up around January 9th. We thought if we left the mid-west sometime between December 26th and 29th we would have enough time to see everything we wanted and the perfect trip was somewhere around 12 nights. If avail opened up on the 26th, we’d spend the extra time in a different city we would route through, and if a return flight didn’t open up until the 10th or 11th, we’d enjoy Hanoi for a couple extra nights.
We were also very lucky that every single night we would potentially be staying in Saigon or Siem Reap was available with either Points, or Points + Cash at the Park Hyatt Saigon and Park Hyatt Siem Reap. This allowed us an enormous amount of flexibility.
We sat on our flights for weeks and weeks and then one ticket opened up on January 9th from Hanoi-Hong Kong-JFK-IND
I used Qantas to search for the Cathay Avail and then double checked it on BA. I used AA to find the JFK-IND connection and made use of the 24 hour layover option…Again, I just needed to keep the ticket alive. This wasn’t the routing I wanted, but I had to move it later, and if all else failed, it would get me home.
It had a fairly difficult routing. It was also switching carriers so I made the call to switch my ticket instead of Dave’s because I thought it would take some extra effort. It did…but it got booked after having the rep speak to the rate desk.
Dave, in mid October, moved his flight to the end of January to keep the ticket alive.
I’d been tracking the prices of flights between Saigon, Siem Reap, and Hanoi and found that the cheapest coach tickets to purchase originated in Saigon. So how would we get there? Singapore First through Hong Kong was no longer avail…so I went to Wikipedia to see what airlines operated in and out of Saigon…Ho Chi Minh City.
Wikipedia is an amazing resource to see what airlines serve an airport, and then which cities they connect into. From there you can start looking at the award currency you have, and make a decision as to what makes the most sense.
Since we had cancelled our Singapore Air First Class ticket from SFO – HKG I took a look at their award chart for Intra-Asia flights. I found a great deal at 27,500 . Singapore miles expire after 3 years so “use ’em or lose ’em.” I put this in the back of my head as a good option.
Step 4: Find routing to your Anchor. Look at your fixed currency options first.
Look at a map of possible cities that look interesting and cross reference it with the wikipedia list of airlines that service the city you want to go to, in this case: Saigon. Start by prioritizing the award currency you’d prefer to use. For me it was Delta.
We now knew that we wanted to get to Saigon roughly 10 days before we would leave Vietnam, out of Hanoi, on roughly the 9th of January. Since Dave and I had both signed up for Amex Delta Gold personal and biz 50k offers we had a nice bevy of Delta SkyMiles. I’d been leaning towards using them as I prefer to exhaust fixed currency before using flexible. There had been several people raving about China Airlines Business Class and I’d been tracking avail to Asia on Delta. The Grand Hyatt in Taipei looked quite nice and Dave had a category 4 night from his Hyatt Credit Card that he was looking to use. We were also tracking China Eastern through Shanghai, but had heard miserable things about the airline and service.
I then re-referenced the Wikipedia table and noticed that China Airlines also served SGN. That meant we could potentially route straight from IND to SGN. I started to look for routing options on Delta. What I found is China Airlines releases a TON of seats out of LAX and SFO, but not many out of JFK, to its hub in Taipei, TPE. The hard part was finding a ticket from IND-LAX at Saver level.
- Delta has a 5 tier award system. Each tier is a higher redemption price. Each leg has a different price attached to it relative to origin and destination, as well as the tier it’s pricing in at. So, as you can see in the example above, the LAX-TPE leg is pricing in at the lowest possible level. However, the IND-LAX leg is pricing at a level higher. As a result, the entire itinerary is pushed to the tier that the highest priced segment is priced at. IF the IND-LAX leg were priced as saver as well, the itinerary would price at 80k.
I continued to search this and other options and then things changed a bit.
We heard our buddy, Fritz, would be in town visiting his brother who lived in Taiwan. Ok…now we had to meet up with him in Taipei.
We got really lucky and within a week of this…the flight from IND-LAX-TPE opened up on December 28th and we booked it.
A great value.
Step 5: Link the outbound to the Anchor
We narrowed down the dates in Taipei and worked out 2 nights would be perfect. This would set up for a fun NYE in Saigon, and some touring days. Knowing that Singapore had a great price on partner intra-asia flights and EVA is based out of Taipei, we checked inventory on the 31st. Luckily…we found avail using United.
We booked it for 27,500 Singapore Krisflyer +$24
Since I’d mentioned earlier that the Park Hyatt Saigon and Park Hyatt Siem Reap both had a ton of availability we locked down the exact dates. We also emailed the hotels requesting suite upgrades. Ultimately this was our itinerary.
- 2 nights Grand Hyatt Taipei
- 3 nights Park Hyatt Saigon
- 2 nights Park Hyatt Siem Reap
- 1 night Intercontinental Hanoi
- 1 night Ha Long Bay Cruise
- 1 night Hilton Hanoi
This brings us to our Anchor problem. You can see we were leaving on the 28th; however, Dave still didn’t have a tenable return flight UNTIL the night of the 27th. We wanted Japan Airlines First Class…and they release inventory roughly 10-14 days out.
Using the Japan Airlines site I found that tickets were pealed off and released for us on the First Class leg from NRT to ORD on morning of the 9th, and then tickets from ORD to IND on the 10th (which we would change). The problem was that the flight from HAN-NRT that we needed only had one seat on it. In addition to this, the flights through Hong Kong weren’t avail. So there we were, the night before leaving, with first class available on the day we wanted and no way to get to that flight.
I kept thinking the only airlines I could route with were Cathay, Japan, AA, and Malaysian. I was looking at BA to find seats, Qantas, and JAL and COULD NOT find anything. Then suddenly it hit me…look at Wikipedia for ideas.
I’d completely overlooked Qatar and routing through Bangkok. I checked BA for avail and it was there. Then checked BKK-NRT and there was a redeye on JAL that would get us in with plenty of time to connect to our First Class flight to Chicago. It was perfect. I called, and booked it.
Some people had expressed doubts that this ticket would be issued. Dave had to call a couple times because the agents couldn’t get it to work, but in the end…as you can see – it was issued, ticketed, and flown.
I absolutely loved the JAL first class experience and was very happy to do all the routing to make it work.
The only let down was the flight from BKK to NRT didn’t feature the JAL SUITE and instead the old angled seats. In all the switches I had forgotten to check the seat map, not that it would have mattered, we booked what we had to book. In the end, it was SUPER FUN, and we got to experience a bunch of new and different products.
To Recap: We flew $17022 worth of flights for 80k Delta, 27,500 Singapore, 60,750 AA and $59.60. That’s 168,250 total points redeemed in total at $0.101 per point.
And then EVA Royal Laurel from TPE-SGN for 27,500 Krisflyer + $24
If you have any questions, lemme know. Happy to help
This review is a part of the Trip Report: Miles Traces his roots in Southeast Asia
- Delta SkyClub Indianapolis IND
- Delta First Class IND-LAX
- Amex Centurion Pop-UP TBIT
- China Air Business Class 777-300ER LAX-TPE
- Grand Hyatt Taipei
- Grand Hyatt Taipei Club Lounge Review
- Taipei 101 Tour
- EVA Air Infinity lounge TPE
- Plaza Premium Lounge TPE Zone A1
- Plaza Premium Lounge TPE Zone A
- EVA Royal Laurel Business Class TPE – SGN
- Vietnamese Visa on Arrival Experience
- Park Hyatt Saigon
- Park Hyatt Saigon Breakfast
- Cu Chi Tunnels Tour Ho Chi Minh City
- Orchid Lounge SGN
- Cambodian Visa on Arrival Experience
- Park Hyatt Siem Reap
- Viator Ankor Wat Private Tour
- Afternoon Tea Park Hyatt Siem Reap
- Plaza Premium Lounge Siem Reap
- Intercontinental Hanoi
- Dragon Legend Ha Long Bay Cruise
- Hanoi Hilton
- ACV Business Lounge Hanoi
- Qatar Airways Business Class 777-300ER HAN-BKK
- Louis Tavern CIPFirst Class Lounge Bangkok BKK
- Louis Tavern CIP Business Class Lounge Bangkok BKK
- Japan Airlines Business Class 787-8 BKK-NRT
- American Airlines Admirals Club Tokyo NRT
- Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Tokyo NRT
- Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge Tokyo NRT
- Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER NRT-ORD