I just finished planning my upcoming trip and thought I would write a post on the planning and booking process in anticipation of my departure on January 26th, 2017.
This trip has certainly evolved over the past 2 months, when I initially planned to visit Hong Kong for a few days after finding some first class award availability on Cathay Pacific using Alaska Mileage Plan miles. Since then, Alaska announced Japan Airlines being bookable with Alaska miles, and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to redeem miles for an intra-Asia flight while in the region. What was once a simple trip across the pacific has transformed into a round-the-world trip passing through 8 countries and 3 continents.
After my trip to New York in September, I was itching to find a long-haul flight in first class on Cathay Pacific. I started looking for flights departing early January but couldn’t find any space out of any of the North American cities. Cathay Pacific doesn’t release many first class seats in advance, so flexibility with departure cities and dates is extremely important if you want to book more than two weeks out. However, business class space is more readily available for most routes. Alaska Mileage Plan charges only 70,000 miles plus taxes and fees for one-way tickets to Asia from North America in first class. Unfortunately, Cathay award space isn’t searchable using the Alaska Airlines website and must be called in to book after sourcing award space using a different search tool.
I use a combination of British Airways and Japan Airlines to search Cathay Pacific award space. Generally, I will check British Airways first, and confirm on Japan Airlines. However, As One Mile at a Time pointed out back in the summer, Alaska Airlines doesn’t seem to have access to the same award space as British Airways and Japan Airlines. British Airways is quite easy to navigate, but sometimes shows phantom award space (seats that aren’t available). They have also stopped showing last minute availability on some partners, including Cathay Pacific on certain routes.
To use British Airways award search tool, you will need to sign-up for an Executive Club membership, which can be done quite easily by following this link. Once enrolled, login on the homepage and search for award flights using the tool on the left side of the screen. Make sure to select ‘book with Avios’ before entering your search criteria.
Before displaying search results, you will be asked if you want to add a stopover or continue searching without. It’s always easier to search award tickets segment by segment, so choose to continue without.
Search results can only be viewed on individual days, although you can quickly change the date using the tabs on the flight results screen.
As mentioned earlier, its generally a good idea to double check award space using another search tool, such as Japan Airlines, especially if you plan to transfer points to a specific airline program to book. Also, Alaska Airlines doesn’t seem to have access to all the same award inventory as British Airways, so I would call Alaska to confirm any space before transferring points (if needed) or before booking non-refundable hotels, etc.
Luckily the award space I found in November for the end of January was bookable with Alaska, but I also had to find a seat to Los Angeles from Vancouver. It doesn’t cost any additional miles for a positioning flight on Alaska (can’t be a partner airline such as Delta or American), but being based on the west coast there were plenty of options to LA on Alaska operated flights. I managed to find a flight from Bellingham to Los Angeles via Seattle the night prior. This would give me an opportunity to review the Sheraton Los Angeles Airport and get some rest before my long flight the following morning.
In the end, my trip looked like this:
Just a couple of weeks after booking this flight I learned that Japan Airlines had become bookable with Alaska Airlines Mileage plan. This was exciting news for sure, considering Japan Airlines has some great premium cabins and very competitive award pricing. Intra-Asia flights on Japan Airlines cost only 30,000 miles in first class, and can include a stopover in Tokyo. Being in the region, I decided to take full advantage of this, and booked a flight from Delhi, India to Jakarta, Indonesia via Tokyo, Japan.
That’s more than 15 hours of international first and business class for only slightly more than a North American domestic first class flight. Unbelievable!
The flight from Delhi to Tokyo is operated by Japan Airlines 787-9 and features their new Sky Suite business product, which feature fully flat beds and direct aisle access from each seat:
Meanwhile, the flight from Tokyo to Jakarta is on a Boeing 777 in first class, with Japan Airlines First Class Sky Suite:
Now I was booked from Bellingham to Hong Kong and Delhi to Jakarta, but still didn’t have a route home, or a flight between Hong Kong and Delhi.
I knew before booking the Japan Airlines flights that Cathay Pacific offered non-stop service from Hong Kong to Delhi with good award availability. I called Alaska Airlines and added the Hong Kong to Delhi segment for no additional miles and only a minor difference in taxes and fees.
It should be noted that changes to award tickets using Alaska Mileage Plan are no-charge if more than 60 days before departure, or $125USD if within 60 days. Alaska is one of the only airlines that offers no-charge changes (more than 60 days out) and I find their last-minute change fee competitive with other airlines.
Here’s a map of the routing:
I knew I wanted to stay in Jakarta for a couple of nights before starting my journey home. I initially thought I would just route back over the Pacific Ocean and maybe sample EVA business class. They had a one stop option through Taiwan and plenty of award space. Unfortunately, EVA operates an outdated Boeing 747 on the Taiwan – Vancouver route with an antiquated business class product.
Ultimately I decided to fly home through Europe after finding first class award space on Thai Airways. This would be my first time flying Thai, and my first flight on an Airbus A380! I would also get to sample Singapore Air first and business class products, in addition to United Polaris First.
The flight from Jakarta to Singapore will be on Singapore Airlines in first class on their Boeing 777. The flight from Singapore to Bangkok will be on an Airbus A330 in business class.
The flight from Bangkok to Paris will be on Thai Airways in first class, operated by an Airbus A380!
The flight from Paris to Chicago will be operate by a United 767-300 in Polaris first class, and after an overnight layover in Chicago, I will board an Air Canada flight in economy back to Vancouver. Hopefully award space will become available between now and departure. Aeroplan will upgrade me at no-charge if space opens up considering since I’ve booked a first class reward ticket.
Here’s what the return trip looks like mapped out:
Overall, I’ll be flying 31,152 miles, or just over 50,000 kilometers. Here’s a breakdown of the total cost in miles and taxes/fees:
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Bellingham-Seattle-Los Angeles-Hong Kong-Delhi
- 70,000 Alaska miles
- $69.58 USD ($92.00 CAD)
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Delhi-Tokyo-Jakarta
- 30,000 Alaska miles
- $55.51 USD ($73.40 CAD)
Air Canada Aeroplan Jakarta-Singapore-Bangkok-Paris-Chicago-Vancouver
- 107,500 Aeroplan miles
- $97.56 USD ($129.30 CAD)
The total retail price for these flights, priced out segment by segment, would be approximately:
That’s incredible value!
Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver
I decided to start my trip the night before my first flight by booking a room at The Four Seasons Vancouver. Rates are low in Vancouver this time of year and it’s a property I’ve been meaning to try. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the property, with some saying the building is well beyond its prime and needs to be completely renovated. I booked the room through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts:
That was the same rate available by booking direct with the hotel but also included all the usual Fine Hotels and Resorts benefits, which are quite valuable on a one night stay. Furthermore, I had just received my annual $200 travel credit from my American Express Platinum Card which I applied to this stay.
Sheraton Gateway Airport Hotel Los Angeles
My flight out of Los Angeles to Hong Kong was a morning departure, so I intentionally booked a positioning flight the night prior. I enjoy staying at airports the night before an early flight, as I find it much less stressful than worrying about irregular operations, sleeping in, etc. Also, this would allow more time to visit the Qantas First Class Lounge at LAX before boarding my Cathay Pacific flight.
Los Angeles has no shortage of airport hotels, and they all seem equally underwhelming. The offerings by Marriott and Starwood are disappointing, and in my opinion, overpriced. Perhaps I’m spoiled by having a Fairmont in the terminal of my home airport in Vancouver…
Anyways, I decided to book the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Airport hotel using Starpoints. The redemption rate was steep at 10,000 SPG points per night, but paid rates were approaching $300 a night. Also, I just recently applied for the American Express Canada Starwood Preferred Guest credit card and received 20,000 SPG points as a welcome bonus. I will check back to see if rates drop significantly before my arrival, at which point I might consider changing it to a paid stay.
My American Express Business SPG card allows lounge access at Sheraton properties, which is a unique benefit to this specific card. Lounges in North America are significantly less interesting than Asian properties, but still good for refreshments and breakfast. I probably won’t take advantage of this benefit since I’ll be out early to explore the Qantas lounge (likely superior breakfast options).
SkyCity Marriott Hotel Hong Kong
I decided to book the Marriott SkyCity airport hotel for its convenience to the airport and a solid endorsement from One Mile at a Time. I arrive in Hong Kong at 4pm, and after 15 hours of flying, I know I’ll be tired. It’s my first time in Hong Kong, but from what I understand, the city is quite accessible by transit. I plan to get a good night’s rest and spend the following day exploring the city before my flight to Delhi in the evening.
I booked a standard room using Marriott Rewards points. The total cost was 30,000 points including taxes and fees, or 10,000 SPG points (SPG convert to Marriott at 3:1 ratio)
That is good value with paid rates at $300 a night over Chinese New Year. Furthermore, as Marriott Gold, I will receive an upgrade to the executive floor with lounge access, and late check-out. Lounge access is a huge plus at most Asian properties. Most are much nicer than North American offerings and include breakfast, afternoon snacks, cocktail hour, and evening canapés.
JW Marriott Aerocity Hotel New Delhi
My flight from Hong Kong to Delhi arrives just before midnight and based on my experience at Mumbai Airport last summer, I expect the arrival process to be chaotic and potentially delayed. I decided to book a 3rd airport hotel since Marriot has a JW Marriott property about 10 minutes from the airport.
I’ve never stayed at a JW Marriott hotel and look forward to trying this property for one night. Like the Marriott SkyCity Hong Kong, I used points for this stay. The total cost for this one night stay was 25,000 Marriott Reward points (or 8,333 SPG points) with taxes included. Also, as Marriott Gold, I will receive the same benefits as Hong Kong including lounge access and late check out. The late check-out will be useful as my flight to Japan the following day is scheduled to depart at 8:20pm.
The room looks great, and at 25,000 points is good value, especially with the upgrade to the executive lounge floor with extra benefits.
Four Seasons Jakarta
I leave Delhi at 8:20pm on an overnight to Tokyo with a short stop before continuing to Jakarta. I’m scheduled to arrive around 4pm and understand traffic will be insane. I decided Jakarta would be a good city to book a luxury hotel, and completely relax after days of travel and airport hotels.
I decided on spending two nights, which I felt was enough to relax and rejuvenate. Jakarta isn’t a bucket list destination for me, but thought there would be enough to keep me entertained for 48 hours. Jakarta has an interesting mix of luxury properties, with many past their prime. I originally thought it would be a good time to try a Mandarin Oriental property, but read a shocking number of poor reviews.
I remembered reading about the recently reopened Four Seasons Jakarta, and how they were offering a second night free in their Premier Suite. I found availability for roughly $350 per night, which is expensive, but the property looked stunning.
The hotel is all-suites, and the Premier Suite is their top category room (apart from speciality rooms). At over 730 square feet, these corner suites are large! Also, the bathroom looks gorgeous, and could easily be the nicest hotel bathroom I’ve seen (current honor goes to The St Regis Fifth Avenue Suite Bathroom).
I booked the hotel using a Four Seasons Preferred Partner, which provides benefits similar to Fine Hotels and Resorts Offerings. What’s best is I found a much lower rate through an online travel agency just hours after booking (which soon disappeared) and Four Seasons had no problem matching the rate and honoring the Preferred Partner Benefits after submitting a best rate guarantee claim.
Currently I’m scheduled to fly home through Singapore, Bangkok, Paris and Chicago. I haven’t booked a room yet in Chicago for my overnight layover because I’m considering changing the routing to fly through Germany instead. I would much rather fly Lufthansa first class via Frankfurt than United Polaris first class any day of the week. Thankfully hotel prices near Chicago O’Hare Airport are reasonably priced around my travel dates, with many SPG and Marriott properties for last minute reward reservations.
I can’t begin to describe how excited I am for this trip! What started as a simple trip to Hong Kong for the weekend to experience Cathay Pacific first class has evolved into a global trek featuring 4 international first class cabins, 3 international business class cabins and a few domestic flights around North America.
I’ll keep everyone updated on Instagram throughout my journey and plan to review each flight, hotel and lounge when I return in February!