First Class Cambodia Trip for $350: Getting from D.C. to JFK; Stay at the Holiday Inn Express JFK
This is Part 3 of a multi-part series detailing my trip to Hong Kong and Cambodia, flying First Class and staying within a $350 budget for ALL expenses. If you haven’t read the first 2 parts yet, please check them out:
Flying half-way around the world to see Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the jungles of Cambodia doesn’t exactly sound like a cheap trip. Especially not when you factor in First Class flights each direction. But, with the magic of points and miles, this trip is not only possible–but also able to be completed for very very little actual cash out of pocket. As I sit in Hong Kong International Airport writing this post, waiting for my next flight, I think I am on track to come pretty close to my budget. I am excited to share some of these travel hacks with you so you too can meet your travel goals for very little cash out of pocket, and also share pictures/stories of my experiences on this trip.
The first leg…
A I have mentioned before, I really wanted to fly the Cathay Pacific International First class product on their 777 before American Airlines devalued their miles this month to experience this:
When I found availability from New York JFK to HKG, I jumped at the opportunity. However, since I work in Washington, DC through the week and my flight left JFK at 9am on Thursday morning, I had to find a way to get from DC to NYC on Wed night. Since the goal of this trip is to spend very little cash, I looked to a points redemption on Amtrak.
As I wrote in this article on Amtrak Guest Rewards, Amtrak points are redeemable at at fixed value of about 2.9 cents on non-Acela travel. I searched Amtrak.com for trains from Washington to New York on Wednesday evening and found a train leaving DC at 5:05pm, which arrived in downtown Manhattan at around 8:20pm. The train fare cost $88 for the one-way trip, but I chose to redeem 3,036 Amtrak points for the trip.
Amtrak terminates at New York Penn Station in downtown Manhattan, which means that I was going to have to figure out an economical way to get from there out to JFK. A quick Google search showed me that the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) from New York Penn to their Jamaica station would allow me to catch the AirTrain to the terminal where I could pick up a free hotel shuttle.
I took the Washington DC metro to Union Station, where I could catch the Amtrak. Before I boarded the train, I stopped for a sandwich and chips to go at Pret a Manger, which cost $8.34 including tax. I ate the sandwich and chips with a Victory Hop Devil on the train from the Cafe car which cost for $7.50 plus $1 tip. Not a bad dinner.
I arrived in Manhattan right on schedule and found the LIRR ticket counter. I purchased a one-way to Jamaica for $7.25 cash and hopped on the next train. The ride was smooth an uneventful, other than the fact that the train was full and I was one of the last people to get on, so I was in for standing room only. When I arrived at Jamaica station, I easily saw the signs for the AirTrain and headed up the stairs in that direction. I purchased a $6 ticket ($5 fare plus $1 for the MTA card) and boarded that train to the hotel shuttle stop. I spent a little over 30 minuted on the 2 trains, but only spent $13.25. Compared with a taxi or Uber, this was a great bargain.
The shuttle ride to the hotel was uneventful, and I tipped the driver $2 since it was late and he left pretty quickly after I boarded the bus.
Staying at the Holiday Inn Express JFK
I arrived at the Holiday Inn Express around 9:30pm and checked in uneventfully. I had booked a room using IHG points to save money. The redemption rate for this particular hotel was 35,000 points, but rooms were selling for about $120 per night. This actually equates to a terrible value of .034 cents per point. Normally I can get closer to .08-1 cent per point value from IHG points, like on my upcoming trip to London where I booked the Intercontinental for 50,000 points per night. Read about how I did that, here. In that particular case I am getting about 1 cent per point since the rooms were selling for around $500 per night. As you can see, this is a much better redemption.
Under normal circumstances I recommend that travelers do the math before redeeming any points/miles for awards to make sure you are getting a good value. In this case, since I wanted to remain within a tight budget, I chose to redeem points on a non-high value redemption and save the cash.
The hotel was good for what it was–a convenient hotel to get some sleep prior to a morning flight. I am not going to do a full review of the hotel since it was a pretty standard Holiday Inn Express. The staff was friendly and helpful, the room was clean, and the free shuttle was a perfect way to quickly get to the airport. The hotel does have small rooms, and I noticed an above average amount of noise in the hallways during the evening.
Total Leg 1 Cost:
- 3,036 Amtrak Points
- $8.34 for dinner
- $8.50 for a Beer
- $7.25 for LIRR
- $6.00 for AirTrain
- $2.00 Hotel Shuttle Tip
- 35,000 IHG points
Total Trip Cost after Leg 1:
Stay tuned for my next post, where I will share my experiences on Cathay Pacific, including a review of the British Airways 1st Class Lounge in JFK (which partners with Cathay), and a review of the flight itself including lots of new pictures.
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