A Mile Here, a Point There Got Us to Bali for a Birthday

A Mile Here, a Point There Got Us to Bali for a Birthday

Cathay Pacific’s team of first class cabin stewardesses couldn’t believe that I was able to get my husband onboard this flight for a special 40th birthday vacation and he still didn’t know our final destination.

We’d left Newark earlier in the day and headed for Toronto, where I used a small number of Starwood Preferred Guest points—earned by way of a nice credit card sign-up bonus—to spend a few hours at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel, the only hotel located right inside Pearson International Airport. We then boarded a long-haul, night flight to Hong Kong where we’d continue on to Denpasar, Bali in Indonesia.

First class pods on Cathay Pacific (all photos: Leonard Hospidor)
First class pods on Cathay Pacific (all photos: Leonard Hospidor)

I was especially pleased that I’d been able to book first class pods on the Cathay Pacific flights by using my American Airlines AAdvantage miles. The first class cabin on the flight from Toronto to Hong Kong was limited to just six suite-like pods that are complete with a spacious seat that converts into a lie-flat bed, a personal entertainment system, a wall-mounted vase filled with live orchids, and even a guest chair so your traveling companion can enjoy a multi-course meal with you. The stewardesses made quite a fuss over us as they set out a linen tablecloth and silverware on our table. The champagne flowed freely and my husband commented that this was the most amazing trip he’d ever gone on—and we hadn’t even gotten to our destination yet! I felt so lucky to be able to give him this experience because of my knowledge of the miles and points game.

Once in Indonesia, we stayed at the InterContinental Bali Resort  in Jimbaran Bay—where we were upgraded to a Club Duplex Suite. (It never hurts to contact the hotel manager in advance of your trip to let him or her know if you’re celebrating a special event during your vacation.) We enjoyed the gorgeous hotel grounds and the incredible pools as well as the beach. We also traveled extensively across the island to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud and the Hindu temple Tanah Lot, and we even took a fantastic cooking class with sweeping views of lush rice terraces. On the return trip we enjoyed an overnight stay at the InterContinental Hong Kong on Salisbury Road in an executive suite overlooking Kowloon’s waterfront, Victoria Harbour, and Hong Kong Island.

Credit: Leonard Hospidor
A suite at the Intercontinental in Hong Kong

I used miles and points to book the airline tickets and hotel rooms for this trip. Our only out of pocket expenses included the taxes and fees on the airline tickets, meals, and touring expenses (like the private guide we hired to properly introduce us to Bali). When I tell people that this exotic trip was practically free, they assume that I either fly constantly for business or I’m one of those crazy credit-card churners who are always signing up for new cards in exchange for hefty amounts of bonus miles. The truth is, I built up the miles and points slowly and steadily in small increments.

For example, I really need to thank Coca-Cola for the free nights at the InterContinental hotels. MyCokeRewards is a program in which you save bottle caps and case cartons that have codes printed on them. You enter the codes at the program website and earn points that you can turn in for a variety of merchandise. One frequent redemption offer is Priority Club points and with those points you can book award nights at any InterContinental hotel or resort. I enlisted friends and family to help me save up enough bottle caps. My local deli owner was even kind enough to set aside caps for me so I could redeem the points for this special trip.

When it came to booking airline tickets using my frequent flyer miles, I immediately reviewed the balance of my American Airlines AAdvantage account. American is part of the oneworld alliance so I could use my American miles to book free flights on any oneworld carrier.

My AAdvantage balance is usually quite high since I fly American frequently, have a Citi AAdvantage credit card that earns miles for each purchase I make anywhere, shop via the AAdvantage eShopping online portal in order to earn bonus miles for everyday purchases, and I watch for special promotions to help bump up my account.

Duplex in the Intercontinental in Bali
A duplex at the Intercontinental in Bali

While I was planning for this trip, the search engine Bing was running a promotion in which you played certain online word games to collect points that could be cashed in for frequent flyer miles on a variety of airlines, including American. I set aside time each day to play the games and earn those coveted miles. The airline had also run a promotion that offered bonus points on commuter flights between New York City and Boston.

I leveraged that promotion to earn valuable miles while visiting my family in Boston over a series of weekends. It was win-win.

If you watch for special bonus promotions, focus your credit card spending, and take advantage of programs like MyCokeRewards, you can slowly and steadily build up a frequent flyer account that will take you around the world. We loved our experience in Indonesia so much that we used more AAdvantage miles the following year to visit Borneo before heading to Singapore. I can’t wait to see where frequent flyer miles take us in the future!

  • RewardExpert

    Thank you for your comment, JA!

    The thing is that Cathay Pacific airlines are offline partners of American Airlines Aadvantage program and this means that tickets can be booked by phone only, you cannot find routes with Cathay Pacific online via Aadvantage website. And as Cathay Pacific is the only partner that can fly from HKG to DPS, Aadvantage website will not show you routes to that direction at all.

    This makes it more difficult to find a good route by your own but nothing is impossible.

    You could look closer at the route: SAT > JFK > HKG > DPS.

    JFK > HKG > DPS will cost you 37,500 Aadvantage Miles + approximately $40 in taxes for one way economy and the good thing about it is that connecting stop in Hong Kong will be no longer than 5 hours.

    Now after we found the most difficult part of your trip, it is much easier to get tickets for SAT > JFK. Of course, price in miles can vary depending on dates, so it would be good if you could “play” with your dates and compare the price between your Aadvantage and Executive Club programs. Also make sure to pay attention to cost per mile between a dollar and miles price of tickets for your dates (sometimes it is better to go with a regular ticket on domestic flights and save your miles for later if the miles deal isn’t good).
    Your option SAT>DFW>HKG>DPS could work too but it would be more difficult to find a good connection in Hong Kong and it looks like you would have to either be very flexible with dates or spend more miles in this case.

    If you have further questions or need further assistance, you can use our free Concierge Service.