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The Trip of a Lifetime?

I’ve had some pretty incredible travels throughout my life, and I was lucky enough to honeymoon in my dream destination more than 5 years ago, Tahiti and Bora Bora. Even though it was an amazing and luxurious honeymoon, it was definitely expensive. I’ve since been learning how to save money by traveling for free or close to free by collecting miles and points. I get to travel further and more frequently (with a good amount of luxury thrown in) and that’s why I do it!

This was where we honeymooned back in 2008.

I am not new to the “frequent flyer”  game, but I am definitely not the expert when it comes to traveling all over the world using miles and points. For one, I am not a business nor a frequent traveler at all. Our travels are limited and it’s usually to visit family or our once-or-twice-a-year trip to Hawaii. For the past five years we’ve traveled to Hawaii 6 times, visiting different islands, and we absolutely love it (obviously), it just works for us.   Despite our love for Hawaii, it occurred to me that there were still a few other places that I’d like to see in this world.

Where will we go to next?

One of those bucket list items was to visit more exotic locales in Asia. Having been born and partly-raised in Singapore and Tokyo, I’ve had a bit of exposure to living in Asia and I do miss it. The culture, the food, the smells, oh and especially the FOOD!  Our recent trips with family to Taiwan and Singapore have definitely re-triggered some inspiration in me to vacation farther away. 🙂 Despite the distance and cost, Asia is definitely someplace we’d like to go more often. Which leads me to our “big” trip that we’ve planned for later this year…to Bali, Indonesia!

Map of Bali island courtesy of lonelyplanet.

Not only will we be traveling to one of my bucket list destinations, we will be traveling for (close to) free in First and Business class premium cabins…what?!?!

Thai Airways first class. Pic from Thai Airways.com

We had saved up a ton of United Airline miles, either from regular spending, traveling in United metal or Star Alliance partners (we flew to Taiwan and Singapore on Eva Air which is a partner) and the main source of our miles, credit card sign up bonuses. It took us a while to get above 100k miles because we are not huge spenders and we don’t travel all that much (and usually for domestic flights we fly Virgin America or JetBlue)…but we finally had accumulated (almost) enough miles to get us to Asia in first/business class. Initially I was saving my miles for a round-the-world trip in first class…that would have taken a but more time to obtain, and I was OK with that…but late last year United announced a major mileage devaluation which would have required us to amass almost double the miles we had saved for the exact same trip. Sigh.

OLD United Award Chart

NEW United Award Chart (valid from Feb 1st 2014 onwards)

We quickly decided we would have to go somewhere before the devaluation hit. We could still book trips at the old mileage chart…but only until the end of January 2014. I hadn’t kept on top of this news and so I was extremely pressed for time after we arrived back from our Asia Trip in mid-January to find a destination and dates that worked for us. I probably only had about 2 weeks to work with the old mileage chart, so every day, I would search and price out itineraries. I thought of returning to Taiwan and Singapore but the flights ourhealthissues were just not good. I wanted to use my miles to travel in first class for at least an entire leg of the trip, and the only flights I could find would have me fly first class for part of the way, and economy for the rest of the time. This wasn’t acceptable to me because that leg would still cost the same amount of miles as first class the entire way. I tried other locations…South Korea, Malaysia, Phuket, Maldives, Tokyo, and it all resulted in the same “mixed cabin” of economy and first but paying for first class. Hmmm….

Finally I found a routing to Bali, which would allow us to fly there mostly in first class (and a portion in business, but it’s a 2-class flight), and the return trip would be entirely in business class. It’s not the prettiest nor most direct route; we’ll be in planes or in airports for more than 60 hours total on this trip! But I’m considering this long journey as part of the adventure (and since it’s in first and business class, I might as well enjoy it!).

Our flights to and from Bali is technically an around-the-world trip! Image created with Great Circle Mapper.

We’d get to try some airlines we’ve never been on, such as Thai Airways, and Asiana. Plus we’ll have access to all the business/first class lounges on our layovers including Thai Airways’ famed first class lounge in in Bangkok, where there are complimentary full-body massages! I cannot wait!

Thai Airways First class lounge in Bangkok includes complimentary massages for first and business class passengers. Image from upgrd.com.

Booking the trip, however, on United.com was a nightmare. It was a feat finding availability for 2 passengers on the same route in first class. When I did find them, I could not book them right away because Steve was a couple of miles short (I was planning to purchase those miles anyways) – but I wasn’t able to hold the reservation for myself while Steve’s itinerary was pending. It took about 2 hours of phone calls with United service reps to book the flight, and it was frustrating to say the least. All in all, I’m happy that the booking process is complete and we can look forward to planning the rest of our week-long trip to Bali.

We signed up for the United Mileage plus card from Chase in order to get thousands of miles to fund our trip, but it wasn’t THAT easy to book.

In total, we used 130,000 miles per person (70k for first class, and 60k for business class return). I believe I only spent about 200 dollars purchasing the extra miles, and then about 80 dollars per person in taxes in fees. Not bad for a flight which originally costs about 16 thousand dollars (seriously?!?!)

Actual flight searched on United.com. Check out the retail price of a first class ticket!

I’m researching places to stay and sights to visit, but overall, I think I’m pretty set on staying a few days in the cultural heart of Bali: Ubud, then moving down to the swanky beach area of Seminyak. There are many resorts and hotels on Bali, each one more luxurious than the next – the choices are almost endless, that I’m having a hard time picking. If you have any recommendations on a nice villa in either Ubud or Seminyak, or other recommendations on things to eat and do, I’d love to hear them!

The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah in Ubud. One of the examples of the resorts we could be staying at. Images from Splendia.com

Please let me know your recommendations in the comments below or by emailing asplashofaloha@gmail.com. Thanks!

 

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