Earlier this summer I took my sister on her first trip to Asia. This was a little celebration after she finished her graduate degree, and I wanted to fit in some travel of my own after just starting a “real” job — I had wanted to travel, didn’t get around to planning it before the hiring date, but was able to arrange for two weeks of unpaid time off. (Clearly I’ve been working hard since then and am only now beginning the trip report.) Flush with miles from Citi’s Executive / AAdvantage card, I knew I wanted to try out Cathay Pacific first class and I wanted to do it soon before they removed the Boeing 747-400 from their North American routes.
We ultimately decided to visit Hong Kong, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, Shanghai, and Macau. I wanted to avoid cities like Bangkok and Singapore that I’d visited before. Macau was sort of an accidental requirement but still worth crossing off the list.
Booking all these flights was a bit of a logistical nightmare. I was still on the phone when we arrived in Hong Kong trying to book our tickets for the return journey. But it worked out. This is what we ended up doing and should give you a rough outline of the future posts (miles/points are per person):
- Cathay Pacific first class SFO-HKG using 67,500 AAdvantage miles
- Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
- Dragonair economy class HKG-CNX using 7,500 Avios
- Le Meridien Chiang Mai
- Bangkok Airways economy class CNX-BKK-REP for ~$100
- Park Hyatt Siem Reap
- Dragonair economy class REP-HKG for 7,500 Avios
- Cathay Pacific business class HKG-PVG for 15,000 Avios
- Grand Hyatt Shanghai
- China Eastern economy class HKG-MFM for ~$160
- Sheraton Macau at Cotai Central
- TurboJet from MFM to HKG for ~$15
- Cathay Pacific first class HKG-SFO for 67,500 AAdvantage miles
Hotels were pretty reasonable with an average cost of $150 a night. Obviously Shanghai and Hong Kong were more expensive, though not — in my opinion — expensive enough to justify some lofty award valuations. I found it worthwhile to pay cash in Chiang Mai and Siem Reap simply because the hotels were so cheap and as able to secure suite upgrades at both.
My point for calling out the cost of the airline tickets, however, is to demonstrate that even a lengthy trip with multiple stops doesn’t require one complete award itinerary. Our primary use of miles was for a single long-haul segment in each direction, though I added on connecting flights to Seattle and my sister was already based near San Francisco. Within Asia, we traveled only 4,000 miles, which is less than a round-trip journey between San Francisco and New York. It was very reasonable to use Avios or pay cash for some cheap economy fares, though I splurged for business class for HKG-PVG, which uses the same acclaimed seats on that route as it also uses for its long-haul flights.
Katherine has always been a little dubious of the value of miles and points. My whole family is, in fact. They don’t necessarily like traveling long distances, and they’re generally workaholics who are content to stay home. Weekends see us all typing away on our laptops. This was really her first time seeing how much one can accomplish on a limited budget and a lot of miles. 😉 I’m not sure she’s a convert, but she did say she’s going to think about it a little harder when she starts traveling for work.