Year-end Asian Escapade: Anatomy of a Big-Time Redemption - 2017 Edition

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Travel' started by NYCUA1K, Dec 17, 2017.

  1. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    On Friday, 15 December 2017, 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 2017 Edition!

    In the past, I provided the complete details of the itinerary and costs (award or revenue) of the Escapade up front. This year, I am going to try something new, that might even be cooler or, at least be a change of pace. Rather than providing the details up front, I will this time just provide a map of the region that I will cover as an empty canvas on which I will progressively paint the details of this year's Escapade, as I go from location to location. To avoid advertising to the whole world my CURRENT location and to inject an element of "suspense", I will reveal each successive location only AFTER leaving it. In other words, I will always be one step ahead of the location that is revealed on the map, with my current location remaining hidden until after I leave it. As I reveal each destination, I will also provide the costs for getting to and staying in that location.

    So, here's the empty canvas on which the details of my 2017 YEE will emerge slowly over the next 3-4 weeks. I arrived at my first destination, where I am now, on December 17 and will reveal it after I leave it in a few days to start the 2017 YEE "itinerary painting". Stay tuned!

    upload_2017-12-17_23-47-15.png
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2017
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  2. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    Waiting.... :)
     
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  3. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    First 2017 YEE destination: Singapore (SIN)!

    upload_2017-12-21_1-10-38.jpeg

    This was both a mileage run and mattress run, which I needed in order to requalify my UA 1K status and Hilton Honors Diamond status. I needed at least 18K PQM and $2K PQD for the UA 1K requalification, and just over 5K base points or $500+ for the Hilton Honors Diamond requalification. So, I purchased a ticket to fly:

    LGA -> (F on UA) -> ORD -> (J on a UA B777) -> NRT (J on NH B787) -> SIN

    That itinerary would yield 20,670 PQMs and $3,282 PQDs, which would be more than I needed for 1K requalification. I also booked an advanced purchase (AP) in a King Hilton Executive Plus (just below a suite) at Hilton Singapore that cost me SGD$1,530 (US$1,137) for 4 nights,and I thought would put me in a strong position for an upgrade to the property's limited stash of ONLY Executive Suites (1 per floor). None of the suites were available for my complimentary upgrade, but the room I'd booked had a balcony that the Exec Suites lack so I was still happy.

    Bottom line: Although I checked out of Hilton Singapore barely a day ago, the points for the stay have already posted, as have the UA PQMs/PDQs for my mileage run to SIN, so that I can say with confidence that my mission of requalifying for UA 1K and HH Diamond has been accomplished:

    upload_2017-12-21_2-47-49.png

    On the other hand, when I include the return portion of my UA ticket out of the region 4 weeks later (exit port to be revealed in due time), this mileage run will set me in about a $5K hole at the beginning of 2017 YEE (hole is just slightly deeper than for 2016 YEE). Will work with and provide the exact numbers to see whether I will remain in the hole, breakeven or come out ahead when it is all said and done. However, things already started to look up because my return ticket, a GPUable W fare, had already been upgraded to Polaris Business weeks before I even started on this trip, offsetting the cost of the ticket!
    upload_2017-12-21_3-3-44.png
    Goodbye from SIN and see you at the next mystery destination where I have already been for about a day now.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2018
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  4. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    It would seem that I went AWOL on this thread, but there is a good reason for the silence because you've probably read or heard about it. I just experienced it in a Big Way first-hand: Internet censorship in China!

    My itinerary after leaving Singapore -- a stop I already provided an update on above -- was to head back up to NE Asia, with the intention of celebrating Christmas in Shanghai. But before going to Shanghai, I'd transferred Chase UR points to redeem for a first-class ticket to fly from Singapore to Manila on SQ, something I decided I wanted to do directly by joining KrisFlyer, thereby completely bypassing UA and their shenanigans in regard to SQ awards (now settled). Also, Hilton had just opened a gorgeous Conrad in Manila, right next to the gigantic "Mall of Asia", so I wanted to redeem Hilton points to check it out. The plan then was to go from Singapore to Manila , and then on to Shanghai for Xmas. Remember that my plan was to provide an update about a city I've visited only after I'd already left it. I'd posted my update about Singapore after I arrived in Manila, and I was planning to post an update about my stay in Manila from Shanghai.

    After spending 3 wonderful days in Manila, I flew to Shanghai through Taipei on BR (C award ticket on a 2-cabin 773). I got to Shanghai, went around town taking pictures, then I sat down to write my update, first for family and friends on FaceBook, about my stay in Manila, the city I'd just left. That is when everything went "dark", by which I mean that I kept getting an error when I tried to get on FaceBook!!! Perplexed, I asked my friend what was going on, and that is when I learned that access to FaceBook, Google (all my pictures are automatically backed up on Google Photos), the New York Times and other "undesirable western sites" is blocked by the Chinese government! Even sites like this one (InsideFlyer) that I could access are very slow because I am sure that every (land-based) connection is being monitored. In the past, one could use VPN to bypass the censorship, but not anymore! I tried surfing using my university's VPN and fared no better. It really freaked me out! Discouraged to try to upload pictures under such conditions, I decided to delay posting here until after I left Shanghai, which I did yesterday. I am happy to say that I can post again easily from my current location, which I will reveal after leaving it. In the meantime, here's how my updated "itinerary map" looks at this point (I will now be providing both a static map and an animated map), along with "postcards" from cities I have just visited.
    YEE-2017- FINAL ITIN - PVG.jpg


    The details of the latest award redemption:

    Flight from SIN to and stay in Manila:
    • When I initially looked for SIN-MNL awards on the SQ website, I found availability for only C awards for 40K KrisFlyer miles. However, I was also offered the option to waitlist for an F award, which, strangely enough, required 30K miles (10K less than C), so I went ahead waitlisted. About 2 months ago, I was notified that the F award had cleared and that I should contact SQ to pay a fee, just SG$34, to claim the upgrade, which I did promptly.
    • For my stay at Conrad Manila, I redeemed 171,000 HH for 3 nights (57K/night) for a BAY VIEW KING PREMIER ROOM, so this was a premium reward booking. However, when I checked the HH app on my way to the hotel after arriving in Manila, it showed this:
    [​IMG]

    You can see that my ROOM & RATE just above changed to BAY VIEW PREMIER SUITE - LOUNGE ACCESS, meaning that I had been automatically upgraded to a suite before I even got to the hotel. Kool!

    Flight from MNL to and stay in Shanghai:
    • To fly from MNL to PVG in C on BR (2-cabin 773, meaning no F) with connection at TPE required 40K UA miles.
    • For my 3-night stay at Hilton Shanghai, I'd elected to book an EXECUTIVE PANORAMA SUITE outright because the property was running an incredible 40% off sale (China Summer Sale rate of $235/night below), and it would have been criminal to redeem points with rates in cash so low:

    upload_2017-12-27_4-35-20.png

    Postcards:
    SQ 910 F Class SIN-MNL 2.jpg
    Conrad MNL.jpg PVG ON THE BUND.jpg

    See you from my next destination, at which time I will reveal my current location and update the itinerary map!
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2017
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  5. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    Some adventure. The University VPN blocked - That sucks.
     
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  6. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    Yup. No VPN appears immune!

    Back in July of this year, one of the travel blogs did a piece titled:
    Uh Oh: China Will Block All VPNs By February 2018
    I'd largely dismissed it at the time but now I know better!
     
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  7. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    I do not think I can survive without a VPN.
     
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  8. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    I think that if you stay away from China, you should be fine...
     
  9. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    Anyway, here's the next installment for 2017 YEE!

    Although not the way I’d planned it, it was rather fitting that my report about internet censorship in China, the world’s most populous autocracy, had come to you from my next mystery destination: Chennai, India, the world’s most populous democracy!

    As in previous Escapades, I usually like to add at least one new destination where I have never been. This year, I added two new destinations in countries where I have never been. I am right now in the second of those destinations, and, as I already revealed, the first destination was Chennai, India. After Shanghai, I redeemed United miles for a business award ticket on a 2-cabin Thai TG B777-300ER to fly to Chennai, India, with a layover and a connection in BKK. In Chennai (MAA) I redeemed Hyatt points for a 3-night award in a Club Room with free breakfast at Hyatt Regency Chennai. Below are the updated static and animated itinerary maps:

    YEE-2017- FINAL ITIN - CHENNAI.jpg



    Details of the Redemption:
    • Award flight from PVG through BKK to MAA (Chennai) for C on a 2-cabin TG B777-300ER: 60K UA miles.
    • Hyatt Points for a 3-night King Club (free breakfast and Club room access included: 14K points. This was really dirt cheap!
    The Hyatt Regency itself was decent enough inside, but was beat up on the outside like pretty much every building in the city.
    HR-MAA.jpg
    A valid question might be: why pick Chennai for my very first trip to India? Well, because: (a) it was easily accessible on my premium award ticket from Shanghai through BKK on TG; (b) Chennai’s old name was Madras for which some succulent and tangy Indian food dishes I order in New York, like “lamb Madras”, are named, and the city remains the gateway to hot & spicy southern Indian cooking [I can now say that this remains true!]; (c) interestingly, St. Thomas, the apostle of Jesus and the legendary “Doubting Thomas”, is supposed to have traveled to India in AD 52, died there as a martyr in AD 72, was buried in Mylapore (Chennai), and over his tomb the St. Thomas Basilica was built (see postcard below); (d) Chennai’s Marina Beach is the second longest urban beach in the world (see postcard); and (e) based on UA’s new multi-city award ticket rules, visiting Chennai entitled me to a FREE award ticket (“excursionist perk”) to travel to my second new destination nearby, where I am now! A win-win situation...

    CHENNAI - ST THOMAS.jpg
    CHENNAI - MARINA BEACH.jpg

    Stay tuned for the revelation of my current mystery location/country from my next location, where I will be on New Year’s Eve!
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2018
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  10. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    Fair enough ! The equivalent would be to fly into BUF in December for one's very first trip to the US :)
     
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  11. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    In the last update, I'd written: "based on UA’s new multi-city award ticket rules, visiting Chennai entitled me to a FREE award ticket (“excursionist perk”) to travel to my second new destination nearby, where I am now". That destination, from which I filed that update, was Colombo, Sri Lanka, and it marked the "turning point" in the Escapade because all the next destinations are places that were part of prior Escapades. Thus, rather than continuing to provide updates city by city, I will now provide the remainder of my itinerary for the 2017 edition of the Year-end Escapade.

    Here is how it went: From Chennai, India, I redeemed my free “excursionist perk” ticket to fly in first class on Air India to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where I redeemed Hilton points (very cheap) for a 3-night stay in a gorgeous "superior suite" at Hilton Colombo Residences shown in the pictures below.
    HILTON CMB RESIDENCES.jpg
    In Colombo, I spent barely a couple of days because I wanted to make it to my "beach" destination on New Year's Eve! However, I did manage to hire a tuk-tuk to see some of Colombo's landmarks, including the Colombo Town Hall, which looks architecturally like a hybrid between the US Capitol Building (the dome) and the White House; the Lotus Tower, which will be the tallest tower in South Asia when completed and will be used for telecommunication and to house leisure venues; Independence Square; and Viharamahadevi Park Buddha, among others. The postcard below shows some of the sites I was able to see:

    CMB - POSTCARD 2.jpg
    From Colombo, I redeemed UA miles to fly in C on TG (B777, 2-cabin) to BKK, where I took a taxi (a 60-min ride) to be “on the beach”, Pattaya Beach, on New Year’s Eve. I'd redeemed Hilton points for 5-night stay at Hilton Pattaya, and got a King Room with a full frontal bayview that would give me unhindered view of the New Year's eve fireworks (I did not get a suite upgrade. I'd already confirmed with a dummy booking on the HH app that there was no availability). Considering recent weather reports of brutally cold temperatures in NYC, I am definitely glad I was in very sunny and warm Pattaya City!

    Postcard from Pattaya City!
    PATTAYA POSTCARD.jpg

    What Remains of the Escapade:
    I am now still in Pattaya and will be here for 5 days to get some R&R, then I will take a taxi back to BKK to catch a Bangkok Airways (PG) flight (very cheap paid ticket) for a quick hop to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where I have now been 5 times in as many years because I find the place irresistible. In Siem Reap, I will stay at Park Hyatt Siem Reap in a standard King room booked with a combination of points-only and my one free night courtesy of the Chase Hyatt Visa card.

    From Siem Reap, I will return to BKK where I will spend a few days staying at the new Park Hyatt Bangkok booked as a C+P award. Lastly, I will fly out in first class on TG (B747-200) to Hong Kong, where I will stay at Conrad Hong Kong, paying cash for the first two nights because the rates were greatly discounted (booked as part of Hilton's "China Summer Sale") and using points for the last two nights of the 4-night stay. I like my chances to score a suite upgrade at this property, where I have not yet failed to score one.

    After the Hong Kong stop, I will catch my flight back to the US on United (W ticket that's already been upgraded with a GPU to Polaris Business), to complete my 2017 Year-end Asian Escapade, as shown in the updated and completed static and animated itinerary maps below [color of the itinerary lines is changed to differentiate inbound from outbound segments].

    YEE-2017- FINAL ITIN - ALL.jpg



    I will provide updates along the way as warranted, but that is essentially my 2017 Year-end Escapade(tm)!

    After I return, I will tie up the loose ends by providing a complete picture of the costs for the entire big-time redemption.

    Happy New Year!
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  12. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    Lovely. Envious as NYC has been below freezing since I was a teenager. I forgot when it was 32F :)

    I agree about Siem Reap - It keeps drawing me back too.
     
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  13. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    The word I got was that recent temperatures in NYC were in the record-low territory...

    I will be sure to send a postcard from the "Temple" in Siem Reap!
     
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  14. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    I presume you are back in NYC by now. JFK ops is in a meltdown, stranded pax, stranded planes on the tarmac.. Your trip ends, mine begins in 39 hours :)
     
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  15. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    Actually, no. I am not back yet. I purposely left the timeline fuzzy but I still have 8 days to go on the Escapade. In fact, I am just leaving Siem Reap today to return to BKK, then on to HKG and to NYC in mid-January. So, if I am lucky, I may just miss that mess due to weather!! However, it sounds like you might have to contend with it...
     
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