Part 2: Finding a way home from Cambodia and my goal of keeping the total cost of this trip under $350
This is Part 2 of a multi-part series on my upcoming trip to Hong Kong and Cambodia that I decided to book a little over a week ago. If you have not yet read Part One, you can do so via this link.
I had an award ticket on hold, now I needed a way home…
After spending about an hour searching BritishAirways.com, I had found availability on Cathay Pacific First Class from JFK to Hong Kong with a connection to Phnom Penh. The connection was ideal, since it allowed me time to spend the afternoon and evening taking in the sights and sounds of Hong Kong—a city I have never had the opportunity to experience—and then continue on to my ultimate destination of Angkor Wat the following morning. However, I had not yet searched to see if there was any chance of a return flight. If I could not get back to the US from Cambodia within a workable timeframe, this trip would simply not be doable.
I did not have a lot of time available to miss work, so I targeted missing only a long weekend from work. In other words, if I left on Thursday I wanted to be back no later than Monday night so that I could return to work on Tuesday. Since I was already on the British Airways site, searching for One World availability, I did a quick search to see what was available for the return. Unfortunately, not a lot of flights were showing availability from Siem Reap (I wanted to leave from Siem Reap since it is only a few miles from Angkor Wat, as opposed to back-tracking to Phnom Pehn) unless I wanted to fly economy. I did not.
My search results looked like this (First column is economy, second column is business, third column is first):
Once I determined that there was not much One World availability on Dragonair/Cathay back to JFK, I started searching different options. Cathay flies into other US airports, including LAX and San Fran, but I really wanted to fly to the East coast to save time. In fact, I realized that DC would be my best option to get to work at the Pentagon on time on Tuesday morning.
Searching for other options
Thus, I used Wikipedia to determine which other airlines flew out Siem Reap. This is a great tool to add to your arsenal. Simply search for the airport you are flying from, anywhere in the world, and Wikipedia will provide you a list of all the airlines and destinations that are possible from that airport.
This is what my options were from Siem Reap:
I was excited when I saw that Korean Air (a SkyTeam member) offered flights from Siem Reap, since they offer a very nice international product and Seoul offers several different connections back to the USA. Korean is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and SPG, which means that I could easily transfer miles to them at a 1:1 ratio to book flights. Unfortunately, I could not find anything that met the tight timeframe I was searching for.
My next stop was United.com, where I could search for most Star Alliance award availability (the major exception is Singapore Airlines). This includes Air China and Thai Airways, both of which fly out of Siem Reap. In this case, I entered Siem Reap as my starting point and Washington, Dulles as my destination–the ideal itinerary to see what results would show up. Normally, I recommend searching segment by segment, for the best options and availability, but in this case United.com returned a red-eye Air China flight out of Siem Reap with a connection in Beijing to United direct back to D.C. The red-eye flight meant that I could tour Angkor Wat all day, have dinner, and then head to the airport without having to spend money on a hotel that night. It also gave me an added bonus (?)–a 12 hour layover in Beijing so I could fit in a little more touring, then check out United’s First Class product for the 13 hour flight back to Washington. Because of the International Dateline, the United flight would take off on Monday evening from China and still get me back to D.C. on Monday evening so I would be able to meet my goal of going to work normal time on Tuesday morning (albeit a bit jet-lagged, perhaps). The first class ticket priced out at 80,000 United miles, which I had in my account mostly from flying (unlike most of the miles I earn).
What if you don’t have enough United Miles?
If I had not had enough United Miles, I could have easily transferred miles from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account, which is why the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is one of my absolute favorite credit cards, and easily my recommendation for the best card for anyone new to this hobby to get immediately. The Sapphire card earns 2x points on all dining and travel expenses and 1x point on all other purchases, and the points are transferrable to 11 airline and hotel partners including:
British Airways Executive Club, Korean Air SKYPASS, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Hyatt Gold Passport, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-CarltonRewards.
Currently the Sapphire Preferred card is offering a 50,000 point bonus if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of having the card. The annual fee is waived the first year, then $95 after the first year. It is very easy to get excellent value from Chase Ultimate Rewards points since they are so flexible! Even if you only use them for travel where Chase books for you these points are worth a minimum of $625–but can be much higher if you transfer them to the partners for high-value redemptions.
I booked the ticket via the United website for 80,000 miles plus $55.26 in taxes/fees, and now I had my flights all planned out. United isn’t exactly an aspirational First Class award, but the timing worked great, I was able to book the most convenient airports for me, and United First Class still isn’t bad! This trip was really going to happen!
My $350 Budget
This blog focuses on how to get outsized value for your points/miles while minimizing cash out of pocket. Traveling to exotic locations in business or first class is not out of reach for most people as long as your know the right travel hacks and can maximize the value of your miles. My goal on this particular trip is to fly First Class to Cambodia and back, eat well, stay in nice hotels, and meet my travel goal of touring Angkor Wat without spending more than $350 out of pocket. I certainly think its possible. Moving forward I will keep a running total of costs as I write about the trip on the road! Join me on this adventure!
Running total of Expenses so far:
Cathay Pacific First Class Award Redemption using American Airlines Miles:
- 67,500 AAdvantage Miles
- Taxes/Fees: $49.30
- Close-In Ticketing Fee: $75
United First Class Award Redemption:
- 80,000 United Miles
- Taxes/Fees: $55.26
Total for all flights: $179.56 plus miles
However, I paid for these taxes and fees with my Citi Prestige Card, which gives me an annual calendar year credit of $250 for flight related expenses like ticketing fees, baggage fees, upgrade fees, etc. Basically any charges I make that credit on my statement from an airline will be reimbursed up to $250 per year. Since I got this card in September of 2015, I got a $250 credit for 2015 which I used–and also a $250 credit for 2016, which I am in the process of using. The card does have a $450 annual fee, but as you can see, I will receive $500 in credit before the next annual fee is due in Sept 2016–which is like them paying me $50 to use the card for a year–not to mention all the other benefits like American Admirals Club Lounge Access and Priority Pass Lounge Access plus the 50,000 Citi Thank you reward points I got for spending $3,000 within 3 months after opening the card. Look for a future post where I review this card in detail.
Total out of pocket cost for booking First Class Airfare after Citi Statement Credit: $0.00 ($350 left to spend on the trip!)
I leave tomorrow morning and I am excited to share my trip experiences with everyone!
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