Our Trip to Asia: Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget


In June of 2013, I read a blog on travel hacking which made a huge impact on the way we spend and how we plan to travel. What exactly is travel hacking? Simply put, it is about getting inexpensive or free flights, hotels, car rentals, etc. Those engaged in this practice has two main goals; 1) travel for next to nothing and 2) travel in luxury, getting absolute best travel experience possible, for the least amount of money.

The idea made sense and got me excited. It prompted me to take sort of ” 3 week accelerated course” on Travel Hacking. I studied, read as much as I can and learned as much as I can, to get started quickly. Sufficed it to say, I am hooked and collecting points & miles became my new hobby.

Travel hacking basic premise is to earn, accumulate points and miles quickly, then use them to book award flights and hotel nights. This is accomplished by applying for credit cards that offer big bonus points (50,000 to 70,000) after meeting the minimum spending required within 90 days. If you’re interested to know more, there are many written blogs for beginners which cover everything you need to know. Here are some of my favorites who I follow for updates: Million Mile Secrets, View From The Wing, Mile Value, Travel Sort, The Points Guy.

Credit App-O Rama

We used to carry only 2 credit cards in our wallet, but now have a few. Just on 1st round of our credit apps, where we both applied each for 2 cards, we earned  200,000 airline reward miles. Per experts on this field, we timed our next credit apps for new credit cards every 91 days to keep up our excellent FICO score and hence, increased chance of instant approval. Ultimate Reward (UR) Points is one of my favorites for its flexibility. They  are not tied to one specific airline or hotel, and you can transfer 1:1 to about 12 airlines, to Hyatt, Amtrak, etc. Therefore, we got multiple cards from Chase Bank (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, Chase Freedom); and soon enough have about 200,000 UR points.

Use credit cards when possible became our mantra, to add more to bonus points we’ve earned thus far. We discovered many of our monthly expenses we can pay with credit card: utility bills, insurance premiums for car & home, gardener, medical copays, prescription drugs, dining, gas station. I also shopped more online on portal shopping malls that offer from 2 -15 points per dollar spent on my credit card. For weddings, baby showers and birthdays, I’d buy gift cards or to send flowers (FTD, Teleflora) for special occasions and funerals. It’s amazing how quickly those extra points added up.

Time to plan our Trip to Asia

Six months after I started, we had enough points and miles to plan a 3 week luxury travel to Asia: Japan, Hong Kong, Bali and Singapore.

I booked our flights and hotel accommodations using a combination of all points, cash & points, or all cash.

  • ANA Business class one way (San Jose, CA to Narita, Japan) 100,000 United Miles plus $10.00 in taxes for 2
  • CX Pacific Economy one way (Kansai to Hong Kong) 20,000 British Airways Avios plus $115.92 for 2
  • CX Pacific Economy one way (Hong Kong to Denpasar, Bali) cash & Avios points British Airways 4,000 Avios plus app. $280 total for 2
  • KLM Economy one way (Denpasar to Singapore) all cash $180 total for 2
  • CX Pacific First Class one way (Singapore-Hong Kong- Los Angeles) 130,000 AAdvantage miles  plus $149.50 for 2

I had time, patience and was up for the challenge, so I searched and booked everything myself. However, you can use award booking service offered by travel bloggers ranging from $150 to $200 for 1st person, and reduced rate for a 2nd passenger on same flight schedule.

The Hyatt Diamond Challenge

I transferred UR points to Hyatt and was able to cover most of our hotel stays for free, except for the 4 nights we stayed in Bali ( I ran out of points).

Since we are already staying at Hyatt hotels for our trip, when I learned about the Hyatt Diamond Challenge and its advantage, I enrolled for it. The challenge was, to stay 12 nights at any Hyatt properties within 60 days and after completion you get awarded the elite Diamond status for almost two years. It normally requires a 50 night stay to earn the Diamond status. For our stays to qualify. I must either pay all cash or cash & points. This was a no brainer, the benefits outweighed the cost of converting our hotel stays from award night (free) to cash & points. Best of all, during the challenge I’ll be recognized as a Diamond Hyatt Gold passport member and enjoy its perks: free suite upgrade or better rooms, access to Club Lounge for breakfast & evening cocktail hours with appetizers (enough for dinner); guaranteed late check out at 4:00pm, free  wi-fi. Well, I met the challenge and will keep my Diamond status until February of 2016.

  • 3 nights Hyatt Regency Tokyo 6,000 points plus US$75.00 per night
  • 1 night Hakone Hyatt Resort & Spa US$225 all cash (Elite rate for Hyatt Gold Passport member, 20% discount)
  • 3 nights Hyatt Regency Kyoto award night used 12,000 Hyatt points per night
  • 3 nights Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Tsim Tsa Tsui 6,000 Hyatt points plus  $75.00 US per night
  • 1 night Kamuela Suite & Villa Resort in Sanur , US $105 all cash booked directly at their website to get 2 free 15 min foot massage
  • 2 night Komaneka Bisma in Ubud , US$630 all cash booked directly at their website to get 5 or 7% discount
  • 1 night St Regis Bali in Nusa Dua, US$290 plus 15,500 Starwood points; then paid addt’l $100 for a pool suite

Our stay alone at Hyatt properties for 12 nights would have cost $3,360, but ended up costing us $1,105 a whopping savings of about 70%.

We enjoyed our stay at Hyatt properties and would rate all of them 4 to 5 stars. They are beautiful properties with great amenities We even got upgraded to rooms with spectacular views, and to a suite in Singapore. The free access to Club Lounge for breakfast and cocktail & appetizers saved a great deal of money.

Outside of Hyatt properties, we had the best of times at Komaneka Bisma in Ubud.  Excellent in every way, luxurious accommodation, great ambience, VIP treatment, extremely friendly and helpful staff. They thought of and anticipated all our needs. Absolutely loved and highly recommend staying here.

Our suite at Komaneka Bisma in Ubud, Bali.

Our suite at Komaneka Bisma in Ubud, Bali.

Infinity pool at Komaneka Bisma in Ubud, Bali.

Infinity pool at Komaneka Bisma in Ubud, Bali.

St. Regis Bali in Nusa Dua topped it for absolute luxury and beauty. Our suite has its own plunge pool, a big cabana, lounge chairs…what’s not to like? Gorgeous property, beautiful surroundings, inviting pools. And most of all, their beach that was simply splendid and breathtaking. Our pool suite would have cost us 1,000 per night, but with help of Starwood points paid only $420 for the night. Oh, to experience how to be rich (forget being famous) even for just one day. was truly a day to cherish!

Our suite at St Regis Bali in Nusa Dua.

Our suite at St Regis Bali in Nusa Dua.

Our own plunge pool at our suite in St. Regis Bali.

Our own plunge pool at our suite in St. Regis Bali.

Our big private cabana inside our pool suite at St Regis Bali.

Our big private cabana inside our pool suite at St Regis Bali.

Lagoon Pool at St Regis Bali.

Lagoon Pool at St Regis Bali.

The beach at St Regis Bali.

The beach at St Regis Bali.

Flying in Class, for next to nothing

This was our very 1st time to fly in Business and First class cabins. Just as exciting was I DID IT! I never thought it would be possible, but  our trip was a perfect example of anything, and everything is possible if you’re willing to learn, and worked diligently to make it happened. “Success comes to those who seek and work hard for it”.

One of the perks of flying business and 1st class was having access to Airport lounge before our flight departure. We’ve never used airport lounge before, and enjoyed having a quiet room with free wi-fi, free beverage (soda, water, wine, beer). You can also pay $25 to $50 per person to gain access to some of them.   We used three Club lounges on this trip, SJC Club in San Jose California, Skyview lounge in Changi (Singapore) and The Wing in Hong Kong.

SJC (San Jose California Club Lounge

SJC (San Jose California Club Lounge

Undoubtedly, my favorite pick as the best is the Wing, the flagship lounge of Cathay Pacific airline in Hong Kong., with regards to amenities, facility and ambience. The Wing has 1st class and business class lounge separated. The 1st class section offers private cabana (don’t know how many for sure), with showers & tub, toilet, and amenities such as towels, hair dryer, shampoo, hair conditioner, body lotion. A very comfortable leather sofa if you want to take a nap. However, they asked passengers to stay no more than two hours in the private cabana to allow other passengers to use them.

The private cabana at The Wing, a Cathay Pacific lounge in Hong Kong.

The private cabana at The Wing, a Cathay Pacific lounge in Hong Kong.

The waiting lounge furnished with leather seats has a definite modern ambience. There is a main dining room that served buffet, and a Chef’s special to order from the kitchen. Another section, Noodle Bar, serves few types of noodle soups, dim sum and a small buffet area with Asian courses.

The Bar at The Wing  lounge of Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong.

The Bar at The Wing lounge of Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong.

Special seats for privacy at the Wing lounge

Special seats for privacy at the Wing lounge

ANA Dreamliner Business Class cabin

The ANA Dreamliner jet only has Business class cabins. Its seat converts to a flat bed, very comfortable for sleeping during our flight. Fine dining experience (choice of Asian or Western cuisine) on the air, table covered with white linen, gourmet food served on China and silverware, unlimited alcoholic drinks (too bad we can only handle a glass or two). Plenty of room and leg space, big TV monitor. The 11 hour flight was over before we knew it. Time did fly fast when you’re relaxed, well fed and very comfortable.

Business Class seat on the Dreamliner jet of ANA.

Business Class seat on the Dreamliner jet of ANA.

Souvenir shot of our very 1st Business class flight.

Souvenir shot of our very 1st Business class flight.

We opted for Japanese cuisine

We opted for Japanese cuisine

Cathay Pacific 1st Class

Now, most bloggers claimed Cathay Pacific First Class is the 2nd best when flying to Asia, Singapore airlines holds 1st place. I just take their word for it for I have no comparison. CX Pacific only has 6 seats on 1st class, only five seats occupied during our flight and had two stewardess took care of us. Both of them were very friendly and took good care of us, constantly asked and offered something to drink or eat.  Our cabin I thought was much more spacious compared to the ANA business class cabin. There’s a seat on the other end and a dining table with extension so we were able to eat our meals together.

Our 1st class seat (1K) on Cathay Pacific.

Our 1st class seat (1K) on Cathay Pacific.

The extra seat on the other end if you want to visit & dine together.

The extra seat on the other end if you want to visit & dine together.

As soon as we were seated, they right away offerred champagne and lobster salad.

Champagne and lobster appetizers.

Champagne and lobster appetizers.

Caviar served with blintz for appetizer, went real well with the red Italian wine.

Caviar served with blintz for appetizer, went real well with the red Italian wine.

 

Mon had fresh mixed berries with whipped cream & honey, and I had cake with sorbet for dessert.

Mon had fresh mixed berries with whipped cream & honey, and I had cake with sorbet for dessert.

When it was time for our meal, we had caviar served blintz for appetizers, followed by soup m and sea bass for our main course served with fine red Italian wine. The other choice was an Asian inspired menu.

We were also handed a bag with pajama and our own amenity bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, face cleansing cream, moisturizer.

Our very own PJ and amenities.

Our very own PJ and amenities.

Wow, as in WOW, it felt good to be treated like VIP’s  during our flight. All this experience would have cost about $16,000 to $18,000  just for the airfares alone for  business & 1st class flights. When you add hotel accommodations, our Tour of Asia was the biggest bargain of our life.

Here to stay

Our new hobby of collecting points and miles, certainly proved to be challenging, exciting and most of all, very rewarding and well-compensated for the time and efforts spent. We love and look forward to more travel hacking. In fact, I’m deciding where to go next as we have enough points & miles for another trip.

 

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4 thoughts on “Our Trip to Asia: Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

  1. Wow!!!!!!!what a memorable trip! Am trying to gather the points for all the credit cards that you have suggested. I hope I’ll be as good as you in planning our next trip.Thanks for sharing your beautiful experience. You’re not only a good” trip hacker” but an excellent photographer as well!

    Like

  2. Hi Claire, hope my blog helps you in venturing into travel hacking. I find it challenging and keeps me mentally active to hopefully reduce occurrence of “senior moments”. You know I’m always available for consultation, anytime my friend.

    Like

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