What’s the first thing your little fingers start typing when planning a trip? How to get there, where to stay and how freakin’ much is it gonna cost me? Well aren’t you lucky you landed here today.
I’m going to show you exactly how the hubster and I flew to Asia–in business class–and stayed in fancy-schmancy hotels–that often left us feeling a few tax brackets below the rest of the population–all for under $650. 2 weeks. 2 people. Less than $650.
Why do I care, Not Your Average Gal?
Because travel is more accessible than you believe and it’s something I wholeheartedly think changes your world perspective–for the better.
Ready to dive in? Let’s go!
I’ve organized this little lesson according to our itinerary, so you can see how it all adds up in the end.
Flying to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific, Business Class
140,000 American miles
Since we live in separate states, very often when we leave for international trips, we fly to connect in the same airport, enjoy some bubbly and then jet off to paradise. Did that sound obnoxious? Good.
We redeemed 140,000 American Airline miles to use on their partner, Cathay Pacific, for our long-haul flight to Hong Kong. It also included my flight to Chicago in First Class on American. I have some American Airline miles through credit card sign-up bonuses. Additionally, I transferred 51,000 SPG points to my American account, which gave me a 20% transfer bonus, for a total of 61,000 transferred points. SPG is Starwood Preferred Guest, the mothership company for hotels like Westin, the W and Sheraton.
Staying in Hong Kong
Intercontinental Hong Kong
60,000 IHG points
1 Free Night Certificate
The last time I stayed in Hong Kong, I spent 3 nights at the Intercontinental Hong Kong and knew I wanted to show the hubster what killer views it had of Victoria Habour. I redeemed one of my free night certificates I have by being an IHG Rewards Club Select credit card holder. The hubster used points from his 80,000 point sign-up bonus that he got when I encouraged him to apply for the IHG Rewards Club Select credit card last year, when we originally booked our flights for this trip.
Conrad Hong Kong
132,000 Hilton Honors Points
While I enjoyed staying on the Kowloon side, I knew I wanted to explore more of Hong Kong Island itself, so we booked 2 nights at the Conrad Hong Kong for 132,000 Hilton Honors points. I’ve built up quite a stash by primarily staying in Hilton brands, like on our trip to London last year, utilizing the sign-up bonus with the American Express Hilton card (formerly Citi Hilton) and making sure I book stays when bonuses are going on. For instance, I got double the points for our 4 night stay in London because I booked during a time when that promotion was going on. That helped with booking on points for this stay. What’s awesome about having the card is you’re automatically given Hilton Gold status which gains you access to the Executive Lounges in Asia. Free bubbly, wine, beer and good eats with a view!
Flying to Hanoi, Vietnam
Cathay Dragon, Economy
9,000 British Airways Avios
You don’t think it’s all bubbly and business class all the time, do you? We’re totally fine booking cheap flights in economy and traveling light so we don’t need to pay for checked luggage. I utilized British Airways amazing award travel chart for 4,500 Avios for flights that are less than 650 miles (excluding flights to/from North America). Because Cathay is a partner of British Airways, it was super easy to book through BA online. Wham. Bam. Thank ya’ British ma’am.
Staying in Hanoi, Vietnam
Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi
30,000 Hilton Honors Points
It was hard to pass up using our stash of Hilton Honors points for only 10,000 points a night. Basically, our entire stay in Hanoi wouldn’t even cover half the cost of one night of our stay in the Conrad Hong Kong. We had hoped with my Hilton Gold status we would have been upgraded to the suites, but there weren’t any available and we did have a nice balcony view that others didn’t. The hotel manager did provide a nice tip though, he said when booking at a Hilton Garden Inn online, make a note of your room preference because status isn’t necessarily recognized automatically at Hilton Garden Inns (since the rooms are typically the same).
Flying to Da Nang, Vietnam
It was a super quick and super cheap flight into Da Nang from Hanoi. Remember, these costs are for two people. So the individual ticket price is less than $67. This is when it makes much more sense to use cash than points. Discount carriers are plentiful in Asia (and Europe) and this flight fit perfectly in our itinerary. Plus, we played the middle seat game and scored by having no one book the seat between us in the front row.
Staying in Da Nang, Vietnam
Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa
24,000 Ultimate Rewards points transferred to World of Hyatt points
1 Free Night Award
Oh how I wished we could have stayed one more night in this glorious resort! I transferred 24,000 points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt for 2 nights of our stay and utilized a free night award at the Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa.
A majority of points earned are by using our Chase Sapphire and Chase Freedom cards. The points earned with Chase are Ultimate Rewards points and can be transferred 1:1 to many travel partners. We pay for nearly everything with these cards, utilizing their bonus categories. See my tips below on how to maximize. Then, because I have the Chase Hyatt credit card, I get 1 free night each year, which I utilized for this stay. It may not have been the best redemption because it costs “so few” points to stay here as compared to other Hyatt resorts. For instance, our regular stays at the the Hyatt Zilara Resort are 25,000 points/night. But, we don’t anticipate traveling a ton this year while I build my business, so I say, USE AWAY!
Flying to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Vietnam Airlines, Economy
45,000 Delta SkyMiles
The hubster and I have been “saving” our SkyMiles for quite a long time and honestly, they are getting impossible to redeem for a good value, as many travel hackers will tell you. The last time we redeemed SkyMiles was on our flight to Seoul, South Korea in the upper deck of their now retired 747. *Let’s pour one for the Queen of the Skies* We could have dropped close to $400 each to fly into Siem Reap, but we thought it was a good opportunity to use those SkyMiles. Plus, with my Delta Gold Medallion status, I get free lounge access on international flights, so
we I did enjoy some bubbly.
Staying in Siem Reap, Cambodia
The Amazing Residence
Our main goal was to see and explore Angkor Wat again, so we just were looking for a nice, clean place to lay our heads. We saw The Amazing Residence had a pool and were sold. You really can’t beat the rate and it was in a central part of town. Plus, their employees were so gosh dang friendly. It certainly made our stay.
Flying to the United States
Bangkok Airways, Economy
If you do nothing in life except get the Citi Prestige Mastercard, you’ll be one happy camper when flying out of Siem Reap. With Citi Prestige, you are automatically given a Priority Pass Select membership which gives you lounge access in many airports. We really enjoyed Siem Reap International Airport’s Plaza Premium Lounge–it was easily my Top 5 of lounges I’ve been in.
We flew on Bangkok Airways, which is known as the “boutique airline” of Thailand. It was perfectly nice, except the flight attendant at check-in eye-balled my luggage that I was carrying-on and asked me to put it in the dreaded carry-on bag size tester on display. I knew it would fit because my bag not only fits domestic standards, but international as well. Meaning, I lose 1 inch of space each time I fly, just for moments like this when they want to test my travel prowess. I took my slim toiletries bag out of my luggage (which I keep in the front), put it in my backpack and watched that puppy slide right into the display. Passed with flying colors.
“Take that,” an immature world traveler thought to herself.
Asiana, Business Class
160,000 Ultimate Rewards Points transferred to United
From there, we had an 8-hour layover in Bangkok and had we not been so darn exhausted from hauling our butts around 3 countries, we would have left the airport to explore Bangkok again. But, instead we ate mango sticky rice and waited for check-in to open before we busted it to the lounge for bubbly. Are you sensing a trend?
We transferred 160,000 Ultimate Rewards points that we earned using our Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom cards to United. United is a partner of Asiana and you can book directly on United.com if you find availability. The transfer usually happens immediately, so you can book right when they hit your account. I always recommend Asiana Business Class, it may not be as fancy-schmancy as some redemptions, but the hard product and customer service are always consistent and friendly.
To give you an idea of how much a trip like this would cost, I’ve placed the approximate retail costs of each flight and hotel next to what we actually paid. Since I didn’t look at the actual prices the day I booked, the retail costs are a general average based on a basic search and other travel bloggers findings. Your mileage may vary, but it gives you a pretty dang good idea.
|Travel for 2 Persons||Approximate Retail Cost||Paid|
|Cathay Pacific Business Class||$8,500.00||$11.20|
|Intercontinental Hong Kong||$600.00||$0.00|
|Conrad Hong Kong||$950.00||$0.00|
|Cathay Dragon Economy||$65.18||$65.18|
|Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi||$200.00||$0.00|
|Hyatt Regency Da Nang Vietnam||$675.00||$0.00|
|Vietnam Airlines, Economy||$62.40||$62.40|
|The Amazing Residence, Siem Reap||$76.80||$76.80|
|Bangkok Airways, Economy||$197.20||$197.20|
|Asiana Business Class||$6,000.00||$94.32|
Not bad, eh?
Award Travel Tips
- Pay for everything with your miles-points earning credit card. Every-thing. Then pay off your balance at the end of the month. (Duh.)
- Don’t immediately scoff at how many points we redeemed for this trip as something you could never possible spend in order to earn the points. You will be shocked at how quickly you earn points, especially with bonus categories.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred gives you 2X points on all travel and dining. Chase Freedom gives you 5x the points for different categories each quarter. This quarter is grocery stores. Score!
- Having a lot of credit cards does not decrease your credit score. Not paying them on time and carrying high balances does!
- Sign up for hotel credit cards. Very often, they give you status and Free Reward Night Certificates for a nominal annual fee.
- Have a trip or travel focus in mind. For the hubster and me, we like long-haul flights where we can lay down and sleep on our way to Asia. So we know the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is our sweet spot. But if you’re into family vacations to Disney, you may concentrate your spending on an airline credit card that allows you to redeem points to fly the fam for free.
- You can see my favorite Miles and Points Programs here. I will be doing an updated post soon to show you what has or hasn’t changed for how we utilize award travel.
Please note: As many of you know, the hubster and I live 1400 miles apart temporarily. This total does not include our positioning flights because most (sane) couples live in the same state. I felt it would misrepresent the costs for a majority of people if it were included. But, in full disclosure and for your nosey information: We paid $331.90 in total for all of our positioning flights.
Traveling and seeing the world is possible. It simply depends on whether or not you make it a priority. Do you need to fly business class or stay at fancy hotels? Heck no! But when you can do it for free, we see the value in it. Our preferences and priorities have certainly changed over time and yours may be totally different. However you want to roll, just know that traveling tens of thousands of miles is away is something you can (and should) do.
What do you think? How did we do?