On Friday, 16 December 2016, I kicked off what has become a yearly event for me, going back to 2011. The “event”, my primary reason for playing the miles/points game, is a 3- to 4-week personal vacation during which I crisscross the Asian continent, usually N to SE, paying for most of it with loyalty points/miles. Almost as much fun as the “event” itself is planning it. With so many cool places to visit, which ones do I pick? Once I have picked the places to visit, what would be the best way to get from one to the next, and where would I stay, all without dipping too much into hard currency? This ritual is my Annual Year-end Asian Escapade™, and welcome to the dissection of its 2016 Edition! Every year, I pick the locations to visit based on a limited set of “guideposts”. The first two guideposts are almost always where I would be on Christmas day and on New Year’s Eve. Next, I might have a standing invitation from a colleague to visit his/her institution or laboratory in the region, which I can make part of the trip. Each year, I like to add at least one destination where I have never been. Lastly, there are places where I have been many times before and have friends I like to visit. For 2016, I picked Pattaya Beach in the Gulf of Thailand as my New Year’s Eve destination. As for my Christmas destination, it was to be N Asia because I had a standing invitation from a Japanese neurologist who spent a year “interning” in my lab, to visit and give a talk at her institution in Tokushima. I suggested combining the visit with my Year-end Escapade and she said it would be best “just before Christmas”. Because Tokushima is near Osaka and Kyoto, I asked my colleague to meet me in Kyoto for a day of sightseeing. Since my business in Tokushima would conclude on December 22, I still needed to decide where I would be on Christmas day. I took a look at the map and I knew where I wanted to be on Christmas day because it’d be cool to see how they celebrate Xmas and it was just a quick hop from where I would be in Japan: Seoul (ICN), South Korea. With that, things were pretty much set. I would enter the region in N Asia, and then move to the SE Asia as we approached New Year. Having been to Shanghai every year since 2005, I have many friends there so it is one of the places that I usually like to include for a repeat visit. My port of entry and first stop would be Shanghai (PVG). As in the past, my last stop and exit port would be HKG four weeks later. It was time to begin booking the flights. To get in [PVG] and out [HKG] of the region, I would pay hard cash, even though I had plenty of UA miles, because that would allow me to kill a couple of birds with one stone:  I had just gotten the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) visa card and needed to do a minimum spend of $4K to qualify for the huge 100K Chase Ultimate Reward signup bonus points, and  I was also short on PQM and PQD to requalify for 1K. What I needed was a revenue ticket that would cost me around $4K. With that in mind, I went to united.com, searched and I found exactly what I wanted. For $3,826, I would do: LGA-ORD-PVG: GlobalFirst (A fare) [this buy would get me into the new UA POLARIS Lounge at ORD!] HKG-ORD-LGA: Y+ with a W fare GPU waitlisted for BF Next it was just a matter of connecting the dots to get the complete itinerary for my 2016 Year-end Asian Escapade™, which is shown on a map below. The lines with orange “glow” represent the inbound, N to SE portion of the trip until SIN, while the lines with the blue “glow” represent the outbound portion, with stops and side trips along the way, up to HKG and back to the US. The dashed and solid lines represent segments traveled on award or revenue tickets, respectively. After entering N Asia and a brief stop in Shanghai (PVG), I would fly to Osaka (KIX) and then take the train to Kyoto, where my neurologist intern-friend would meet me the next day. We’d visit the temples and shrines that Kyoto is known for, have an early dinner in the historic Gion District of Kyoto and then take the train to Kobe and a bus to Tokushima (TKS). After a couple of days in Tokushima, I would fly to Tokyo (HND) and spend one night there, before flying to Seoul (ICN) a couple of days before Christmas day. From Seoul, it would be on to Singapore (SIN), which, along with Shanghai and Hong Kong, are places where I know people and like to return every chance I get, even very briefly. From SIN, I will make BKK my “base” from where I will (a) take a taxi to Pattaya Beach to celebrate New Year; (b) launch a roundtrip to Phnom Penh (PNH), a new city on this trip along with Tokushima and Pattaya; (c) spend 3 nights in BKK after returning from PNH; (d) do a roundtrip to Siem Reap – fourth time there in as many years; (e) return to BKK for 1 night, and, finally, (f) fly from BKK for a 4-night stop in Hong Kong (HKG) and before flying back to the US (HKG-ORD-LGA), exactly 4 weeks later. With the itinerary completely drawn out and 427,011 UA miles on hand, I went to united.com to search for award tickets, segment-by-segment, that will get me from one place to the next. After I found pretty much everything, I got on the phone with a 1K desk agent to do the actual booking of the award tickets. I would provide the flights I found for each segment and the agent would confirm availability of award seats. After juggling things once or twice, like deleting or inserting segment, we wound up with the finalized itinerary, which is mapped above, and whose costs are detailed in the Table below. The notables: adding a stopover in Tokyo that was not in my original plan required purchasing a revenue ticket from Tokushima (TKS) to HND to keep the trip short and convenient; and the roundtrip from BKK to Siem Reap (REP) has required a revenue ticket every time in 4 tries due to lack *A award availability (PG is always a cheap and reliable alternative). The whole trip required 185K redeemable miles to fly in business (I) or first (O), except for the short PVG-KIX hop that was in economy (X). I estimate that the total costs in cash of all the tickets that I purchased with UA miles would have been $5,120. Out of pocket to pay for 3 revenue tickets and the fees for the award tickets came out to: -$3,826 -$652 = -$4,478. Net on air tickets: $5,120 - $4,478 = $642. Before redeeming for stays, I already came out slightly ahead, which is the point! 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: 960K Hyatt GP points: 126K Marriott Rewards 209K The color-coded Table below shows the properties where I decided to book in each of my stopover cities, as also shown on the itinerary map with the logo of each chain or loyalty program (Yellow = Hilton; Blue = Hyatt; Green = Marriott; Grey: unaffiliated chain): The negative values in the column labeled “Cash Value” represent what I paid out of pocket. The positive “Cash Values” are cash estimates of costs of the awards. For instance, at Hilton Pattaya there were no awards available so I booked at suite outright at huge discount. Adding it all up shows that I using points, I “saved” at least $1,872 relative to what it would have cost me if I had paid for it all with cash. The last column labelled “SUITES” indicates whether (i) I booked a suite outright as an award (A) or as revenue (PD), (ii) I did not request a suite upgrade (NR), (iii) I requested a suite upgrade and was upgraded (R-YES) or denied (R-NO), or (iv) unknown at the time of this writing (?). Notables: I had one free "anniversary" night from the Chase Hyatt visa so I combined it with a 2-night points-only award stay to redeem a 3-night stay at Park Hyatt Siem Reap. Also, I had one free “anniversary” night on the Chase Marriott Premier visa that I redeemed for a free night at Renaissance Bangkok. Even though I had the points and could have redeemed award stays at a Hilton property in BKK (e.g. Conrad), I decided to use my Marriott Rewards points to redeem a 3-night stay in a suite at JW Marriott BKK. Also, I redeemed HGP points for a stay at Hyatt Regency in Kyoto because, incredibly, Hilton has no properties there. In Tokyo, I redeemed HGP points for one night at Hyatt Regency, which is literally across the street from Hilton Tokyo, for a change of pace. Points remaining after redeeming: HHonors points: 307K Hyatt GP points: 42K Marriott Rewards 24K As of this writing, I have completed the N Asia portion of the Escapade, leaving Seoul (ICN) in Business Class on CA the day after Xmas, changing to another CA flight Beijing (PEK) and continuing in Business Class to Singapore (SIN), where I am now. Notables: At Millennium Seoul Hilton I requested a suite upgrade and got a junior suite. I arrived at Hilton Singapore liking my chances to score an upgrade to an EXECUTIVE suite – the property has no standard suites! – because I’d redeemed points for a King Hilton Executive Plus, which is just a level below the EXECUTIVE suite. The upgrade was not automatic but a manager promptly approved my request for a complimentary upgrade to an EXECUTIVE suite from where I am writing this. Out of 13 stays at Hilton properties in 2016, I paid outright for a suite at Conrad Chicago and Hilton Fort Lauderdale; I just redeemed points for a suite at Hilton Shanghai; and I requested but was denied an upgrade right here at Hilton Singapore in back May! Therefore, out of 10 stays for which I did not pay or redeem points for a suite I cleared 9 complimentary suite upgrades (details coming soon)! From here in SIN, it’s on to an Oceanview Suite at Hilton Pattaya and the New Year festivities! I will update the post if anything notable happens. Until then Peace on Earth (pictures below depict the huge Christmas tree and décor garnishing the lobby of Millennium Seoul Hilton -- they do celebrate Christmas...Big Time!).