2014 Year-end Asian Escapade or the Anatomy of a Big-Time Redemption

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  1. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    Last Thursday, I kicked off what has been a yearly event for me since 2011 and is my primary reason for playing the mile/point game: to redeem at the end of every year the miles and points that I accumulate during the year for a 3-4 week personal trip across the Asian continent. Part of the fun is, of course, planning the entire trip -- which countries/cities to visit, how to get around from place to place and where to stay, all as inexpensively as possible by relying on the accumulated UA miles and hotel points. This ritual is my annual Year-end Asian Escapade(tm).

    For the 2014 Year-end Escapade, I had established 5 "guideposts", around which I would draw my overall itinerary: (a) I would fly in on a paid ticket to SIN and fly out from HKG just over 3 weeks later; this would also be a mileage run that would get me the PQMs and PQDs needed to requalify for 1K; (b) I would spend Christmas in MNL to keep a promise from the year before; (c) I would visit a friend in CKG and at the same time satisfy my craving for authentic Sichuan "hot pot"; (d) I wanted to usher in the new year partying on Phuket; and (e) after years of a brutal military dictatorship that had isolated it from the rest of the region, Myanmar (Burma) was again declared relatively safe for tourism, with Obama and Clinton traveling there recently, so I wanted to see how it was like. Based on those "guideposts" I got online and searched for *A carriers that would take me sequentially from each main point to the other, and which hotels would be available for redeeming stays with points that I had accumulated (primarily HHonors).

    Based on what I found, I created the following itinerary for my 2014 Year-end Asian Escapade:

    On the map the dashed lines represent segments for which I redeemed UA miles to fly on the indicated *A carriers. The solid lines represent the segments for which I paid cash. The glowing yellow lines are meant to represent the "inbound" portion of the trip, while the glowing blue lines represent the "outbound" portion, with Phuket (HKT) being the turning point.

    As I'd indicated, I flew into SIN on a revenue UA ticket on Thursday. From SIN my next destination would be MNL 4 days later. However, the only *A carrier that had direct daily flights for that segment, SQ, showed no availability for the dates that I wanted to travel. TG had availability but it would require first going to their hub in BKK and then to MNL, turning what is a direct ~3 hr flight into more than 12 hr. So, I decided to pay out of pocket ($312) to fly directly from SIN to MNL on PR. The other revenue segment on this trip will be BKK to REP on Cambodia Angkor Air (K6) for $382, which I decided to do because I very much enjoyed Siem Reap last year and it takes less than 1 hr to get there from BKK.

    With the itinerary completely drawn out and 341,451 UA miles on hand, I got on the phone with a 1K desk agent to do the actual booking of the award tickets, starting in MNL. I provided the agent with the flights that I had found for each segment and she would check to confirm availability of award seats. After every segment was confirmed, the agent said that she'd try to find the best way to ticket the entire trip. Note that I had stopovers at CKG, HKT, RGN, and BKK, with a side trip to REP that the agent knew nothing about. She came back with the trip split into 2 PNRs: (a) MNL to HKT with a stopover at CKG via PEK on CA, connecting at HKG to HKT on TG, and (b) HKT to HKG on TG, with stopovers at RGN and BKK. I am not sure about this but I think that I got a break on the second PNR because I do not think that the two stopovers were "legal" on what was essentially a one-way award redemption, unless I missed what the agent had done. The end result of splitting the itinerary as she did was that it saved me 35K RDMs compared to what I'd estimated by simply combining the miles linearly one segment at a time. The entire trip cost me "just" 130K RDMs (vs. 165K segment-wise) for flying exclusively in premium cabins. I estimate that had I paid for all that flying with cash it would have cost me ~$4,200. Instead, my total out of pocket was "just" $774, excluding the revenue ticket for getting in and out of the region on UA, which cost $2,840.

    Estimated savings: $4,200 - $774 = $3,426, which means (see table below) that I'd saved enough from the redemption to cover even the $2,840 that I paid in cash to get in and out of the region on UA!


    With the cities and how long I would stay in each now set in stone because the tickets had been purchased and confirmed, I was ready to start redeeming points for my stays. On hand I had:

    HHonors points: 704K
    Hyatt GP points: 28K
    Marriott Rewards 102K

    Even with the purported "devaluation" of the HHonors points, I estimated that I probably had enough points to redeem exclusively for stays at Hilton properties if I could find one in every city, which I did except in Siem Reap (REP) and Manila (MNL), where, as I had previously indicated, Hyatt has a presence but there is not a single Hilton property.

    I had one free "anniversary" night from the Hyatt CC so I combined it with C&P to redeem a 3-night stay at Hyatt Regency Hotel and Casino in MNL. For REP, I redeemed a C&P stay at Park Hyatt Siem Reap -- a great property. Even though I had the points and could have redeemed points for a stay at a Hilton property in BKK (e.g. Conrad), I decided to use my Marriott Rewards points to redeem for a stay and a room upgrade at JW Marriott BKK for a change of pace. In all the other cities (see map) I redeemed for free stays at Hilton properties. The following Table provides a summary of where, how many points, what type of redemption and for how long, I ended up with:

    At the bottom of the Table I provide the estimated "savings" realized by redeeming miles/points compared to what it would roughly have cost me if I had paid for this trip out of pocket -- almost $10K USD. However, that is a gross under-estimation because the above does not take into account potential suite upgrades (last column) that I may get, and, in that department, I am off to a great start! I checked in at Hilton Singapore and was upgraded to an Executive suite. And then just yesterday (Dec 23) I checked in at Hyatt Regency Manila, and with nothing to lose, I asked if they would consider giving me a complimentary upgrade to a suite...as a returning customer and GP member? The agent said that if I wanted a suite upgrade I would have to pay for it. I said that if I paid for it then it would not be "complimentary", would it? She said that she could not authorize a suite upgrade; only the manager could. I said there was no one else to check in so I was willing to wait for her to speak with the manager. She reached the manager on the phone and I heard bits like "Platinum member", "stayed here last year"... Then she came and told me that the manager had approved an upgrade but he wanted me to understand that this was not something I should expect and it did NOT include free breakfast. Understood! She then gave me the key to this full suite:

    After trying multiple times in the past to get a complimentary suite upgrade at the various Hyatt properties where I have stayed and failing each time, this was sweet. There's a first time for everything but this might be related to the fact that in about a week, this hotel will stop being a Hyatt property. I am not looking the gift horse in the mouth, however. Being on a roll, I'll try out my luck again at Park Hyatt Siem Reap, where an upgrade to one of their exquisite suites would be nice.

    Suffice it to say that counting just the two suite upgrades that I just got (7 nights total), the monetary value of this Escapade has already greatly exceeded the $10K estimate. I hope the next two and half weeks will be just as rewarding!

    I hope the "anatomy of this big-time redemption" is of some use as well as interest to you...

    Merry Christmas from MNL, dear MilePointers!

    [post will be edited to clean up likely errors, as necessary]
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2015
    vickers, Newscience, pier11 and 5 others like this.

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