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 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.
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.