A quick reminder for those of you who need local flights within Thailand or to surrounding countries that Bangkok Airways is partners with Japan Airlines (JAL), which is in turn a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). There’s currently a promotion for redeeming JAL points for flights on Bangkok Airways – as little as 5,000 points for any roundtrip under 1,000 miles flown. If you fly between 1,001 and 2,000 miles, it’s 8,000 JAL points, while a trip between 2,001 to 4,000 miles flown will cost 18,000 JAL points.
This promotion is only good for trips booked and completely flown by December 31, 2014.
That first box (trips of 1,000 miles or less) has exceptional value, considering short flights can often be expensive. The second box (1,001-2,000 miles flown) can also be a great value at 8,000 Starpoints depending on the cost of the flight.
While not an exhaustive list of destinations, here are some destinations that fall within 500 miles of Bangkok. That means a roundtrip between Bangkok and one of these cities would cost 5,000 Starpoints + taxes. Some destinations have cheap paid fares, so points may not be worth it for those.
My experience with booking on points
I needed to book round-trip airfare between Bangkok and Siem Reap for 2 people. If I were traveling by myself, I would probably just take a bus and enjoy the countryside, but I’m taking my mom since she’s always wanted to see Angkor Wat and I decided that I have way too many miles and points to not make that happen as soon as possible. Because she runs her own business that requires her presence to function, it had to be a quick trip, so we had to use the fastest modes of transportation possible.
I’ve yet to fly Bangkok Airways, and everyone I know has had great experiences with them. My mom would be flying one-way, since I was able to find Korean Air business class using my Delta SkyMiles from LA to Bangkok and Siem Reap to LA via Seoul both ways (since she needed to get back as soon as possible). I had booked a one-way ticket to Bangkok using my United miles before the devaluation, centered mainly around Asiana’s new First Class Suite on New York to Seoul. I couldn’t find another award seat out of Siem Reap on the same Korean Air flight as my mom, so I’ve booked my return ticket to the US out of Bangkok.
Surprisingly, Cambodia Angkor Air and Bangkok Airways were within a few dollars of each other – $169 one-way for my mom and $273 round-trip for me. Kind of high for a short flight … I looked at using ThankYou Points to defray the costs, but online travel agencies show much higher prices than what you find on Bangkok Airways’ website. So I looked toward using JAL points transferred from SPG.
Basic JAL mileage rules
Japan Airlines does have some restrictions on their use – first is that you need to have points with them. Starpoints can take around a week to transfer, although my transfer in late February took only 2 days. I transferred the points early Monday morning and had points in my account Wednesday around noon. Don’t forget that if you transfer 20,000 Starpoints, you get 25,000 JAL miles, which may come in handy if you have to book multiple tickets.
You can only search for Bangkok Airways award availability by calling JAL (their number is 1-800-JAL-FONE and they’re open from 6am to 6pm Pacific Time during the weekdays). The flight I needed to book (Bangkok to Siem Reap) had ample availability, although other destinations (like Koh Samui) may not have as much availability. You should check availability first before transferring points.
Another restriction is that you must book a roundtrip award, and your return segment must return to the country from which you departed. For my mom’s one-way ticket, I booked a dummy return to Bangkok, and luckily it didn’t increase the number of points I needed since it was still under 1,000 miles flown. I did have to pay the extra taxes.
Lastly, I could only book flights for myself or direct family members. Since I booked the tickets separately, the mileage department had to verify, but since my mom and I have the last (unique) last name, there was no problem.
Each ticket between Bangkok and Siem Reap roundtrip came out to 5,000 miles + ~$46.50 of taxes. This matched what I saw on ITA Matrix – I had to pay the Thailand and Cambodia taxes but I didn’t have to pay the fuel surcharges.
For my round-trip fare, that meant 5,000 points took care of $226, or ~4.5 cents per point. For my mom, she only needed a one-way that would have cost $169, or ~$122 base fare, so I got about 2.44 cents per point value out of those. I aim to get better than 2.2 cents per point with Starpoints because I get most of them via credit card spending, and every time I use my SPG American Express card, I’m forgoing use of my Barclay Arrival card. In both cases, I beat that 2.2 cents/points goal, so I’m pretty happy that I saved $348 overall with 10,000 Starpoints. I even paid the taxes with my Barclay Arrival card, so I’ll be able to use points to defray the cost of that as well.
the current signup bonus on the SPG American Express card is 25,000 points after $5,000 spending in 6 months, though it has jumped to 30,000 points for a few weeks each of the past few Augusts. If you’d like to support me in signing up for the card, feel free to e-mail me at “amol <at> travelcodex.com” for a referral link – you get the same 25,000 point bonus and I get a 5,000-point referral credit. I use the card frequently and it is my main source of Starwood points.
the Barclay Arrival link takes you to a summary of the card and a link that provides me an affiliate credit – This card is in the front of my wallet, and I use it every single day. It may not be a card for aspirational travel, but it’s the most practical credit card I have. It’s hard to beat 2.2% back when most cards only offer 1 mile for certain transactions – the current signup bonus is 40,000 points (worth $440+) after $3,000 spending in 3 months.