Part One: I am going to Hong Kong and Cambodia this week–How I put this trip together
This is part 1 of a multi-part series detailing my trip to Hong Kong and Cambodia, flying First Class and attempting to stay within a $350 budget for ALL expenses (although, I went slightly over budget, it ended up being around $500). Please check out all 11 parts:
Part Four: Cathay Pacific 777 First Class Review
Part Eight: An Amazing Tour of the Angkor Temples
Part Nine: Hotel Review: Le Meridien, Siem Reap
I was sitting on the couch after dinner last week sipping on a Devil’s Backbone Eight Point IPA, which is a very good IPA out of Lexington, Virginia, when on a whim I decided to search for some airline award ticket availability. Believe it or not, this is something I do fairly frequently and find somewhat relaxing. It also allows me to learn about different ways to search and piece together award trips so I can make better recommendations on this blog and to those who contact me for advice.
I really want to fly Cathay Pacific International First Class so…
I decided to search for Cathay Pacific First Class availability out of New York to see what, if anything, was available to book prior to the American Airlines Mileage devaluation on March 22. Cathay Pacific is a One World Alliance partner of American Airlines, so you can redeem AA miles for flights on Cathay, once you find availability.
Cathay Pacific opens up a decent amount of economy and business award tickets to its partners, which is typically bookable months in advance. However, they normally do not open First Class redemptions up to One World Partners until one or two weeks out from the flight–and even then you can normally expect to see only one seat available on any given flight.
I planned to use AAdvantage miles, but searched for availability on BritishAirways.com
Somewhat confusingly for beginners is that you cannot search for Cathay Pacific award availability using American Airlines miles on the American website. You actually have to search for availability on British Airways site, another One World partner. Once you find availability you then need to call American to book the award. More on how to actually book an award like this in a future post very soon.
I got the AAdvantage miles for this award by signing up for the following 2 credit cards (although they previously had higher sign up bonuses and will likely go back up again in the future):
- Citi AAdvantage Executive Card: Currently offering a 50,000 mile bonus
- Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Card: Currently offering a 30,000 mile bonus
Most reviews peg Cathay Pacific’s First Class as one of the top 5 First Class products in the world (arguably in this order: Emirates A380, Etihad A380, Cathay Pacific 777, Singapore A380 Suites, and Lufthansa), and tickets on the JFK to HKG regularly sell for upwards of $11,000 for a one-way ticket.
Flying Cathay Pacific 777 International First Class has been on my short list since I got seriously involved in the points and miles hobby, primarily because the AA charges only 67,500 miles to fly this amazing product (until March 22), which equates to an outstanding value of over 16 cents per mile! Bookings made after March 22 jump to 110,000 miles for the same one-way ticket, dropping your redemption value significantly.
And…I found availability…
On the evening that I was searching for availability there was only one first class award seat available from JFK to Hong Kong (HKG) within the next several weeks. Once I found that seat was available I decided to see if I could connect in Hong Kong to a flight that could take me to Cambodia so that I could check another item off of my travel bucket list and see Angkor Wat. Frequent readers of this blog may remember that traveling to Angkor Wat was one of my 2016 Travel Goals. The more searching I did, the more I realized that this trip was actually a possibility.
I was able to find Cathay First Class availability from JFK to HKG, layover for an evening in Hong Kong to get a small taste of that city, then connect to Dragon Air (also a One World partner owned by Cathay Pacific), and fly business class to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia the following morning. The journey from Phnom Pehn to Angkor Wat (located outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia) in a 5-6 hour bus ride or a short 40 minute commuter flight. The entire journey from JFK to Phnom Pehn would only cost 67,500 American Airlines miles plus $49.30 in taxes and fees and an unavoidable $75 close in ticketing fee charged by American Airlines since I was within 21 days of the flight. This fee is waived if you are an AAdvantage Elite member.
A plan was coming together…
However, it does no good to get all the way to Cambodia without a way to get back home. I had a pretty solid idea on the first half of an awesome trip–but now I needed to see if I could find availability to get back to the US and miss a minimal amount of time at work. The outbound flight on Cathay left on a Thursday morning, so I knew that I would have to get permission to miss Thursday and Friday from work, but I didn’t want to miss more than one day the following week. Could I figure out a way to get back to Washington DC by Monday night so that I could be at work normal time on Tuesday morning?
Luckily American Airlines allows you to put award tickets on hold for up to 72 hours. In this case, since the award ticket was within a 2-week window they would only let me put it on hold for 24 hours. This gave me some time to start seeing what else was possible.
Cathay Pacific First Class is truly an aspirational Award Redemption–and when combined with a trip to one of my travel “bucket list” destinations, Angkor Wat, this becomes a once in a life time opportunity! The first half of this trip was possible because I had collected American Airlines AAdvantage miles via credit card sign-ups and usage. I needed only 67,500 miles to book this First Class one-way trip (but this price will increase on March 22–book before then if you can!). I searched for Cathay award availability on BritishAirways.com, which I will show you how to do in a post in the near future. Once I found availability I called American to put the award on hold while I searched for a return flight and hotel options.
The flight was on hold for less than 24 hours, and in the next post of this series I will detail how I put the rest of the trip together. Also stay tuned for reviews of the flight, lounge, etc.
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