Globetrotting: Using Our Points and Miles


(This is part 1 of the series I’m writing on about our Globetrotting for 4 weeks using Miles & Points, from Oct.12 to Nov. 6, 2015. Destinations included on this trip: Madrid, Abu Dhabi & Dubai, Maldive, Hong Kong & Macau, India’s Golden Triangle (New Delhi, Jaipur & Agra).

Have miles will travel

Etihad A380 jetliner

Etihad A380 jetliner

Last year we took our very 1st big trip using miles & points, a 3-week Tour of Asia and visited Japan, Hong Kong, Bali and Singapore. It was also our first taste of flying in 1st class and business class. I never thought it was possible, but we did it. It was certainly an awesome experience, and now we are addicted to travel hacking (the art of collecting points and miles to get free or at lowest cost for flights, hotels, tours)..

We just came back from a 4-week globetrotting half way round the world trip, and stopped for few days in Madrid, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Maldive, Hong Kong, Macau, Golden Triangle in India (New Delhi, Jaipur & Agra). To get more bang for our points & miles, we prefer to travel in luxury choosing to fly either 1st or business class and stay at 4 or 5* hotels.

Planning where to go

I wanted to experience flying on Etihad’s A380 jet , and designed our itinerary based on where we can fly from on this jet. Currently, Etihad does not have A380 jet flying from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi, but it does from London to Abu Dhabi. From London, I worked backward and forward to see where else we can fly to..

Madrid had been on my radar, so it made sense to start our itinerary by flying to Madrid from Los Angeles.

bullfighting[1]

After few days we left Madrid for London (LHR} to catch our flight on Etihad’s A380 to Abu Dhabi, (AUH). Dubai was only about an hour and a half by taxi. We saw Dubai featured on a Travel TV show, and added it to our bucket list.

Camel Racing in Dubai

Camel Racing in Dubai

My hubby has Hyatt 2 nights award certificate after completing the minimum spend requirement of $1,000 on their credit card within 90 days. The two most expensive Hyatt properties are in Paris ($800-$900 per night) and Park Hyatt Maldive ($1200- $1300 per night). From AUH, it’s only about 4-hour flight to Maldive, and we’ll get the most return for his award certificates.

Park Hyatt Maldive

Park Hyatt Maldive

Last year, we flew 1st class on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, had an amazing time and had wanted to do it again. I booked our flight from Maldive to Hong Kong, but could not find  1st class award seats on Cathay Pacific to LAX. . Uhmm, let’s see where else can we go?  I chose Korea, for we could fly from Hong Kong and have a free stopover in Korea for several days before flying to Los Angeles…all for 80,000 Skyvisa miles per person one way. I applied for Skymiles Visa card to help us reached the required miles for 1st class, and was going to transfer more points from Chase UR. I reserved  2 1st class seats, and Korean airlines will hold our reservations until a week before departure date. I did not need to transfer UR pts right away, which worked out to our advantage as my miles would have been stuck with them. I ended up cancelling our plan for Korea due to increasing incidence of MERS (a deadly type of flu).

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Taj Mahal has been a popular tourist attraction, and unofficially been considered the 8th wonder of the world. It was recently officially declared as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. We could fly 1st class on Etihad’s Boeing 77-300L from New Delhi , to LAX connecting in AUH, giving us the chance to travel in luxury for 16 hours, so the choice to go to India and do the Golden Triangle tour(New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur) became easy. There you have it, the reasons or logic behind in choosing the itinerary for this grand trip.

The majestic Taj Mahal in Agra

The majestic Taj Mahal in Agra

Breakdown of  Cost

Airfare:  We used American Airlines AA points, British Airways BA Avios, Chase Ultimate Reward UR points and SPG points. Best use of BA Avios points are for inter Europe flights/regional flights, since number of Avios required for award booking is distance based and much less compared to using other frequent flyer miles. Chase UR points are very useful for its flexibility allowing us to transfer to certain airlines (BA) and hotel (Hyatt) as needed. Starwood SPG points allowed us to transfer points to AA at increments of 20,000, converted to 25,000 AA points to meet required number of AA points for our 1st class flight from New Delhi to LAX.

Cost as shown below was the total for two people.

  • Virgin Atlantic: LAX to London Heathrow (LHR) economy 42,500 miles plus $269.20 for taxes & fees vs. cash price $1308 pp x 2 = $2616. Transferred from Chase Ultimate Reward (UR)
  • British Airways: LHR-to Madrid, business 25,000 BA Avios points plus $80.00 for taxes & fees. vs. cash price $545 pp x 2 = $1,090. Transferred 13,000 UR pts to BA avios. I did not mind flying economy on this short flight (about 2 hrs), but only business class was available for booking award flight.
  • British Airways : Madrid to LHR, economy 13,000 BA avios plus $46.64 vs cash price 273.30 pp x 2 = $546.60
  • Etihad Airways; LHR to Abu Dhabi (AUH) 1st class 80,000 AAdvantage points plus $576 for taxes & fees vs cash price $4,620 pp x 2 = $9,240.
  • Etihad Airways: AUH to Male (Maldive) business class 50,000 AA pts plus $23.60 for taxes & fees vs cash price $1396.68 pp x 2 = $2,793.
  • Cathay Pacific :Male to Hong Kong (HKG) economy 25,000 Avios plus $106.60 for taxes & fees vs cash price average app $500 pp x 2 = $1000
  • Cathay Pacific : HKG to New Delhi (DEL) business 75,000 Avios plus $118.52 for taxes & fees. vs lowest cash price $2,202 pp x 2 = $4,404. Transferred Chase UR points to BA Avios
  • Etihad Airways : DEL to AUH, AUH to LAX; 1st class 180,000 AAdvantage points plus $97.35 for taxes & fees vs cash price $5739 pp x 2 = $11, 478.  Transferred some Starwood points to AA.

Total savings on airfare: The total costs for these flights in cash would have been $33,110 vs  $1,415.26 our actual out-of-pocket cost, combined with 490,500 points from various frequent flyer, as indicated above;  and a whopping savings of $31, 695 or a discount of 95%.

Cost of flying one way is almost same as round trip fares, but we used just 1/2 of   required miles for a round trip. Booking one way award flights gave us flexibility to fly into one place and fly out from a different place; giving us opportunity to visit more places using BA avios points. Of course, if we were paying all cash out of our pockets,, we would have planned our itinerary differently to be more cost-effective.

Review of Etihad A380 jet

Right from the start you are treated like VIP when you fly 1st class or business class. A complimentary chauffeur service is provided for airport transport round trip on a black sedan from your home or hotel. This can be arranged online up to 24 hr before your flight departure. Another perk of flying 1st or business class is having access to their Premier Lounge in Heathrow. The lounge has plenty of comfortable leather chairs & sofas, plenty of food served buffet-style or made to order, free wifi, complimentary 15 min treatment at Six Sense Spa {body massage, facial, shave & cut for men), shower facilities. I arranged an early chauffeur service to get to the airport 3 hours before our flight departure. to take advantage of the amenities at the lounge.

It was finally time to board our plane, and was excited to see our apartment cabin. I’ve seen photos of it, but being on one is something else, “We have arrived”!  There was no way I’d pay out of my pocket at least $8,000 to $9,000 per person for this experience, but certainly worth it using points & miles. There are a total of six apartment cabins separated by a wide aisle and with doors for privacy.

The 6 1st class apartment cabin on Ethihad A380.

The six 1st class apartment cabins on Etihad’s A380.jet.

There is one cabin called the Residence which has a separate living room, bedroom, 2 TV’s and their own shower and a dedicated flight attendant.The rest of us has to share one shower facility. I had wanted to use the shower (just to brag about it) but our flight was only 6 1/2 hours and did not have time to do it.

Our cabin is truly spacious, with a separate long sofa like which converts to a twin-size bed for sleeping, 2 more chairs (one a recliner), a large TV, a mini fridge filled with water & sodas, a large dresser mirror filled with toothbrush, tooth paste, mini bottles of lotions, etc. There’s even a make-up /cosmetic bag included, one suited for a man and a woman. We were also given pajamas, slippers , socks and mask to feel very comfortable and homey for the duration of our flight.

As soon as we were seated, we were offered a drink of our choice. We felt pampered and constantly attended to. Our flight attendant prepared our bed, constantly asked if she could bring us more drinks or would like to order anything from the menu.  Dining was on demand (order & eat when you want), and the Chef will prepare it fresh. Those that enjoy libations, you can drink all you want to your heart’s delight…the finest champagne, wines, liquors, etc.

Fine dining in the air.

Fine dining in the air.

Review of Etihad EY 171 AUH to LAX

Our flight to head home departed from New Delhi, connected in Abu Dhabi, for the final leg flying on Boeing 777-300 for ½ hours flight. I would normally dread such a long flight duration, esp. on economy, But flying in luxury made a world of difference. I must admit, we are getting spoiled and getting addicted to it.

We flew on a Boeing 777-300ERs jetliner. Its configuration and design is totally different from A380.  Our cabin is not as spacious as the apartment on A380 jet, and it does not have a shower facility (not a big deal for me). Nevertheless, our seats are very comfortable, reclined and converts into a flat-bed for sleeping. The 1-2-1 seat configurations makes seating on the middle perfect for couples as you get to see and talk to your companion.  There are sliding doors to our cabin if you want privacy. Amenities are the same; pajamas, socks & mask, cosmetic bags for and dining on demand.

This long flight in luxury was a perfect way to end our 4 week-long trip. It gave us time to relax, sleep comfortably, fine dined, wake up, watch TV, listen to music, eat again.

With plenty of time on hand, I can’t help but reflect on the events which transpired during the last 4 weeks.  They were great, enjoyable and have enriched our lives, in many ways. It was humbling and made me think how fortunate we are, when we saw the poverty in India. At the same time, impressed with its culture, history and incredibly beautiful architectures.  .

Accommodation

I really like Hyatt properties and stay with them whenever, as we did  on this trip using cash & points. With my Diamond status, we took advantage of its perks: upgrade to a suite or better room location, complimentary access to Club Lounge for breakfast, snacks & beverages throughout the day, afternoon cocktails & hor’s  d oeuvres, free internet & late checkout. However, Hyatt properties presence worldwide is limited. So in Madrid we stayed at other properties and in India, at Starwood properties using points and cash.

Cost listed does not include taxes & fees which are added whether you paid all cash on listed rate or with cash & points.

  • Holiday Inn LHR T5: IHG hotel breakpoints 5,000 pts total for 1 night (cash price $180). Stayed one night to catch early morning flight to AUH.
  • New Point Apartment, Madrid: paid all cash $196 total for 2 nights
  • Hotel Preciados, Madrid: paid all cash $428.73 total for 2 nights
  • Hyatt Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi: 12000 Hyatt pts plus $172.17 total for 2 nights, Used one of my suite upgrade certificates. (cash price for deluxe room $247.92 x 2 = $495.04)
  • Grand Hyatt Hotel, Dubai : 22,500 Hyatt pts plus $442.45 total for 3 nights. Used a suite upgrade certificate. (cash price for Creekview room $528.19 x3 = $1584)
  • Park Hyatt Maldive (4 nights) used hubby’s award certificate for 2 nights, and 25,000 Hyatt pts per night for the addt’l 2 nights. NOTE: We stayed for 3 nights at a Pool villa which normally costs extra $200 per night; and paid $500 on our last night to be upgraded to water villa, which was worth every penny I might add for we can snorkel right below our villa. (cash price of Pool Villa $1200 per night x 3= $3,600; cash price of water villa $1,448 per night)
  • Hyatt Regency, Tsim Tsa Shui, HKG 15,000 Hyatt pts. plus $219 for 2 nights  (cash price $318 x 2 = $636)
  • Hyatt Regency, Gurgaon India (1 night) 2,500 pts plus $67.85 (cash price $105.65)
  • ITC Rajputana Sheraton : 6,000 Starpoints plus $74 for 2 nights (cash price $169.88 x 2= $339.76) 
  • ITC Sheraton Mughal Agra; paid all cash $146.00 points or cash & pts booking not available
  • Hyatt Regency New Delhi ( 1 night) : 6,000 Hyatt pts plus $124 per night (cash price for Club King room $215)

Total savings on our accommodation: Actual out-of-pocket cost for 21 nights hotel stay using points and cash was $1870.20 vs $9373.76 had we paid all cash, for a whopping savings of $7,503 which translates to 80% savings..

But of course, we ordinarily would not even consider staying at Park Hyatt Maldive for its cost is out of our league.  Our points definitely took us places we normally would just be wishing and dreaming of.                                                                                    

Review of Hotels

Holiday Inn London Heathrow at T5: the hotel itself is nice and clean, but the front desk receptionist (forgot his name) sucks. He did not give detailed instructions on how to use the room key for the elevator and how to use the hot water kettle was tricky. He acknowledged other guests have same problems, yet he did nothing and became very defensive when I tried to make suggestions. I panicked when I thought I was stuck and emergency button did nothing when pressed. It definitely was a hotel from hell because of the incompetent, laisidaisical staff, and my thrill on booking this room for only 5,000 IHG points quickly dissipated.

Madrid Properties

New Point Apartment Hotel: I loved the site of this apartment. It is on a pedestrian street and lined with lots of restaurants and small shops; tapa bars, and walking distance to Puerto Del Sol and bus stops for the Madrid City Bus tour. Room is adequate, with a small bathroom and shower.

This is literally just outside the door of New Point Apartment hotel

This is literally just outside the door of New Point Apartment hotel

Hotel Preciados: A nice modern ,mid-range hotel also on a pedestrian street lined with many restaurants that serve tapas. It near Plaza Callao where you’ll find many shops, cinema theater, and the multi-level Ingles department store that has a 24 hour opened top floor with many choices to eat & drink.

Hyatt Properties

Hyatt Capital gate in Abu Dhabi: the unusual architecture of this hotel is quite striking, esp. from a distance. It is AD’s equivalent to leaning tower of Pisa. It is quite modern, have impressive crystal lighting on the receiving lobby, but real reception desk for checking in is on the 18th I used my suite upgrade certificate for this stay and we stayed on a very spacious, suite with modern decor and wall to wall glass window with sweeping views of the water. The bathroom is huge, with a separate shower and tub. Just have a look at the photos below.

Location is midway between the airport and downtown Abu Dhabi. The chauffeur           service was immediately available after my reservation was confirmed and it took           about 15-20 min drive to our hotel. It is about 10 min by taxi to the Grand Mosque and about 30 min drive by taxi to downtown and Emirate Palace, Heritage Village and the     Marina Mall.

Grand Hyatt in Dubai: lives up to its name, it is really grand, in every way. It’s lobby is very impressive, the grounds are huge and have to walk a distance to get to the pool. Our suite is more traditional, with huge bedroom, and bathroom with separate shower & tub, did not even realized we had an extra half bathroom, a walk in closet. We have a nice view overlooking the Dubai Creek. Housekeeping service was outstanding and our request delivered promptly (adaptors & ice). The Asst. Manager of Housekeeping even sent us a lovely bouquet of flowers, made us feel very special!

A lovely bouquet of flowers from the Housekeeping Asst. Mgr

A lovely bouquet of flowers from the Housekeeping Asst. Mgr

Hyatt Place in Gurgaon, India: the hotel is new, very nice and modern which is very different from Hyatt Place we had stayed in California. The restaurant which serves breakfast (included the room rate) is big and offered a variety of foods: hot Indian food items, cook to order eggs, cereals & yogurt, fresh fruit, breads & sweet rolls. The staff was very helpful in describing and making recommendations which Indian food to try that was not too spicy. The same thing goes for the Staff at the reception desk.

Hyatt Regency New Delhi: Not impressed at all, the front desk took a long time to check us in (granted she was trying to give us a room on better floor. Their club lounge served very limited breakfast buffet of mostly yogurt, cereals and rolls. No help yourself counter for coffee, tea and fruit juice, and service a bit slow. No variety of sliced fresh fruits, instead they have a fruit bowl  of pears & apples. Our room was also very small, made to look bigger by one wall of mirror.

Luxury Collection Sheraton Properties

ITC Rajputana in Jaipur: is a very nice hotel and elegant lobby. The staff was friendly. We requested sliced fresh fruits and took advantage of free laundry for 2 garments as part of our room rate, and the free wi-fi in our room.

My only complaint was they made an error on our bill and was overcharged for about $100 for our 2-night stay. I always asked to be billed in local currency as the credit card bank will always give a better exchange rate than the hotel. I knew my rate was points plus $30 per night, but we also ate at their famous Peshawari restaurant which was added to our bill. Our tour driver was late picking us up, so I had the chance to check our bill and discovered the error. I presented a copy of my hotel reservation with confirmation of the rate, so they made the adjustments.

ITC Sheraton Mughal in Agra, India: has an impressive, beautiful lobby with modern look. However, the staff with the exception of doormen seemed unfriendly. They also charged for wi-fi (i think $12 US per 24 hr), unless you are a Gold or Platinum with SPG. I don’t, so ended up using their free internet access using computers at their business center. Breakfast was included in our room, but altho’ the selections were plenty including Indian & Asian hot dishes, the taste did not impress me.

ITC Mughal in Agra, hotel lobby

ITC Mughal in Agra, hotel lobby

Conclusion: Whether you wish to travel to visit family and friends, take a once in a lifetime vacation, take frequent family vacation, or treat yourself to luxury travel, they are doable with your limited budget. You just need to learn about travel hacking, and be willing to learn as much as you can from reading blogs of many experts. Things and opportunities kept changing, so I subscribed to few bloggers to keep in the loop..Some of my favorites are Million Mile Secrets, MileValue, View From The Wing.

This could be a lucrative hobby, but certainly not for everyone. It requires patience, being organized and disciplined so you don’t end up spending more than you do just to earn miles or points. Best strategy is to decide what you want to do or where to go, then work on earning points & miles you need to get there

Good luck and Happy Travels.

 

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5 thoughts on “Globetrotting: Using Our Points and Miles

  1. Wow😳 You did it again! How I wish I have the time to figure out how to use my points! Thanks for sharing! Glad ( and envious) to know how much you and Mon are enjoying life in luxury!👏

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  2. Hi Claire, you just have different priorities at the moment. Or better yet, you don’t need the subsidy of points for your travel plans….you can just passed them on to me so I make good use of them :)…Thanks for your comments.

    Take care.

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  3. Ade! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I would like to do the same…travel in style without the added expenses when Maning is able to. Then I will need your help. Perhaps next year. We will complete our bucket list then.

    When is your next trip? I know you just returned. So much yet to explore.

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  4. So happy to hear you had mostly nice experiences in your recent tour.
    You have proven it……great inspiration, we only have to act on it!
    Regards to Mon.
    Evs and Cris

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