Some lessons in redeeming miles and points from our Easter trip to Asia

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If all goes to plan, we will be flying to Hong Kong next week for a whistle-stop tour of Asia over Easter.  Whilst there will, at some point, be a slug of flight and hotel reviews published, I thought I would do an introductory piece in advance to explain how I put the trip together and what I learned.

Lesson 1: be flexible

This all started back in November when my wife decided that it might be fun to go to Japan for Easter. She has never been (I’ve been twice) and, as our youngest is almost 6 now, it seemed manageable.

My British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher was already in the bank.  My wife was a few thousand pounds short of triggering hers, but luckily she had to make a major purchase that week which sadly ended up being returned – but we had the voucher regardless.

The first thing we found is that getting 4 premium seats to Tokyo on British Airways over Easter, which coincides with the prime ‘cherry blossom’ period this year, wasn’t going to happen.  We had to be flexible.

The good news is that getting around Asia on Avios is easy due to Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Malaysia and JAL being oneworld members.

We quickly found four Club World seats to Hong Kong.  My wife has never been there either and, for kids, it probably has more options than Tokyo – or at least more options closer together.  That was the outbound sorted.

The return was trickier.  With Tokyo off the radar, Seoul looked like the nearest departure point home which had availability.  However, we also found four seats out of Beijing.  You can now get a 72-hour transit pass for most major Chinese cities so we wouldn’t need a visa.  My wife also has a friend working there, so that settled it.

What was originally meant to be a Japan trip became Hong Kong – Japan – 48 hours in China, booked on British Airways using 2 x 2-4-1 vouchers.

The dates were still not perfect.  I would have preferred to leave one day later (to preserve a day of my wife’s holiday allowance) and come back a day later on Easter Sunday and not Easter Saturday.  Given that we booked in November, fairly late by Avios standards, I am pleased enough.

Kyoto

Lesson 2:  Avios offer excellent value for internal Asian flights

The connecting flights around Asia were easy to book – you can do it on ba.com.

An additional benefit is that some airlines use long-haul aircraft for intra-Asia flights.  I will be taking my first ever Premium Economy flight when we fly on JAL from Hong Kong to Tokyo on a Boeing 777.  This was just 15,000 Avios and £15 taxes each.

From Tokyo to Beijing, I have done even better and got four long-haul Business Class seats on a new JAL Boeing 787 for the four hour flight.  This cost 20,000 Avios plus £16 each.

I was slightly annoyed that I couldn’t get Business Class from Hong Kong to Tokyo.  I expected something to open up but, apart from a Cathay option which required a stop in Taiwan, nothing has.

Hong Kong skyline

Lesson 3:  Pay cash if it means you’ll get a better experience

In Hong Kong, we are booked into the main InterContinental.  There are better hotels in Hong Kong, but none has a better view than the IC, sitting as it does directly on the harbour facing Hong Kong Island.   The view from the harbour-side rooms is roughly what you see in the picture above.

You can redeem IHG Rewards Club points to stay here, but only for street view rooms.  This is utterly pointless.  If you are staying at the InterContinental, you stay for the view.  The hotel will never upgrade you to a room with a better view – if you book city side, all you get is a better room on the city side.

(EDIT: feedback from the comments below is that booking a street view on a reward night and then paying for Club access – which gets you the view from the lounge – is a good compromise.)

Rooms to sleep four were disproportionately expensive so I booked us into two Deluxe Harbour View rooms for cash.  As we are there over a weekend, I am using my InterContinental Ambassador free weekend night voucher to get one night on the house.  We also get a guaranteed upgrade which, in this case, means to a Junior Suite.  I also signed up my wife for Ambassador so she also gets a free night (the $200 Ambassador fee was more than covered by the value of the free night) and Junior Suite upgrade on her room.

Beijing

Lesson 4:  If you need to be somewhere at the peak tourist season, points really come into their own

Once we leave Hong Kong, everything is on points:

In Tokyo, we are the Conrad using Hilton Honors points.  I really wanted  to stay at one of the Hyatt properties – Hyatt has fantastic coverage in Tokyo – but there was no availability.  Cash rates were well over £500 per room per night (peak tourist season, remember) so it was excellent value as a redemption for 95,000 Hilton points per room per night.

In Kyoto, we are at The Ritz-Carlton.  This was selling for a ludicrous £1,100 per room per night including taxes (peak, peak tourist season – and it is now showing as sold out) so using 70,000 Marriott Rewards points per night made sense.  This redemption was only possible due to the acquisition of Starwood by Marriott, which let me transfer my Starwood Preferred Guest points to  Marriott Rewards at the generous 1:3 ratio.

In Beijing, we are at the Waldorf-Astoria.  This was a more marginal ‘cash vs points’ call but I still got a better deal for points (67,000 Hilton Honors per night, this one was booked after the February 2017 changes) than I would from a Hilton redemption in Europe.

(By the way, I fully accept that these are not necessarily the best hotel choices for getting a genuine feel for the real Tokyo / Kyoto / Beijing.  They are good choices for not paying a fortune when travelling at peak periods, however, and good choices if you only have a couple of days in each place.)

So …. it should be fun.  Most of the above will be reviewed on Head for Points during April.  I might even do a bullet train review.  By coincidence, Anika is in Tokyo over Easter reviewing ANA’s business class product, so there will also be a review of that plus the ANA InterContinental Tokyo where she is staying.  If you follow our Instagram feed you will be able to keep track of us.

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Review of the British Airways Terraces Lounge at Newcastle Airport
Bits: new BA flights with Avios seats to LA and Rio, The Westbury on Bond Street joins SPG
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Comments

  1. Cathay usually opens up intra-Asia business and first class redemptions a few days before the departure date which used to be great value for last minute trips. Unfortunately due to high rates of fraud CX is blocking BAEC redemptions up to 9-22 days before departure depending on destination.

    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/british-airways-executive-club/1769383-cx-blocking-award-availability-hkg-tpe-when-s-close-departure.html

    • cysyueb says:

      I am the Op of the post. Just coming here to say it has been like this for over a year and I critically condemn those who take advantage of the system in mainland China so they can earn tiny bit of money when us real flyers (unlike many people I earn 90% of points by actual flying) are punished together because of what they did.

      If you want to know how to get award availability then please pm me on FT.

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      Out of curiosity, do redemptions from Iberia Plus have the same problem?

    • This explains a lot ! I am a frequent traveller from Hong Kong and couldn’t work out why one day there was lots of availability and the next day none !

  2. Aeronaut says:

    Always a good idea to be confident about retailers returns policies when making major purchases, lest something need be returned.

    Have a good trip!

  3. James A says:

    Not premium economy, how will you manage?! 😉 fine I suspect!

    Sounds like a great trip, enjoy!

    • I actually quite like premium economy. I don’t think the difference to CW is worth the difference in price. Same food, CW “bed” is my least favourite seat of all and lounge access you get with status anyway.

  4. Jamie P says:

    We had a similar trip last April which was fantastic.

    LHR – HKG in F using a 2-4-1 voucher. We also stayed in the Intercontintal but I redeemed my IHG points at 50,000 a night; a week before they devalued by 10k/night. I then phoned the hotel and was offered a double upgrade to a Deluxe Harbour View Room for £80 a night as an Ambassador which I took.

    Again I redeemed avios and very small amount of taxes for the internal HKG – PEK flight on Cathay in Business. Unfortunelty there was a late equipment swap and we ended up on a 3 class 777 with Regional business seats in 2-4-2 formation but for the short flight it wasn’t an issue when the cash tickets were very expensive.

    Flew back in F from Beijing to Heathrow in F on a 747 in 1A and 2A. There were only 4 of us in the cabin which was a treat and the day flight was enjoyable.

    Wouldn’t have been able to do it without this website so thank you for your help and advice Rob.

  5. OT but related to flying east. My husband would like to go to Australia next Easter to visit his aunt. There are 4 of us. We live extremely close to EMA so ideally located to start our journey from there rather than London. We have a mixture of Virgin and Avios. Any tips on the best way to get there using miles. His aunt lives in Adelaide but there are not many direct flights so would consider flying to somewhere else and then getting an internal flight.

    • Unless you have a huge amount of avios, and even then it’s not easy, a qatar sale from Oslo, Stockholm or Copenhagen is your best option.

    • Jude, Easter tricky, Oz difficult at the best of times. I mean in J class. Do you have a couple of BA 241s banked? If not, get referrals and spend in quickly. Have you enough FC to get to HKG, and use avios from there? Or use the 241s to Asia, either KUL, HKG, poss SIN, v hard to get, then also jump off on avios on CX or MAS etc or FC. Are you tied to Easter or can you be flexible? You could also for a few £100s more do a QR biz sale trip to Oz from ex EU, the QR sales quite often….l don’t know enough about using FC to help, am afraid.

    • Availability for Oz is best found on partners via HKG – which you can get to on Virgin – but that means you can’t use a 2-4-1 voucher. Honestly, unless you have a very large Avios balance or are happy to fly in economy you are better off getting cheap ex-EU flights in business class , and then using your Avios for the internal flights.

      I did not heed this advice myself! Have managed to book LHR-HKG using a Lloyd’s upgrade voucher, LHR-AKL on Cathay, then SYD-LHR using the return portion of my voucher, but getting it all sorted out was quite the most ridiculously stressful experience. I had to grab both the BA flights at full Avios price as soon as they went on sale, and then phone the call centre to get the voucher applied – they ended up leaving them as 2 one-ways and just adjusting the Avios amount I’d paid and removing the voucher. It took several phone calls and days to sort out so I could get the Avios refunded to book the Cathay flight to AKL. And that was just for 1 person – I wouldn’t want to be pulling that with multiple people and vouchers.

    • Terence Bartlett says:

      Suggest you may wish to wait for the Annual Qatar Sale Festival Of Flight in January 2018 for flights to OZ up to Dec 2018 if you can before booking.Save your self lots of money on Business Class Return Flights. and earn Avios as well. If not book at will and then in January 18 if you are brave enough see how much you could have saved?
      Rob usually flags thes flights on HFP just after Christmas each year
      Terence

  6. Pascal says:

    I was so annoyed by intercontinental in Melbourne earlier this year. Booked a junior suite and received an upgrade to a Club junior suite. Basically the same room with club access. However due to the policy changes in October they denied us club access, despite us now upgraded into a club room with the app showing that room has club access.
    I complained but nothing changed, at least in the end we got free breakfast. I’m now booking less IC since this kind of fake upgrade.

  7. Duncan says:

    Hi Raffles, interesting post but just thought I’d add that the intercontinental HK does sometimes upgrade a rewards night room to harbour view 🙂

    I booked one last November for my parents last year and it happened to them. I wasn’t even staying and am only an IHG platinum.

    • Nick Burch says:

      We were there in January, 1 night weekend redemption, I’m Spire, got upgraded to a lovely suite with a harbour view 🙂

      I think the combinations of the hotel being busy, a 1 night stay and a weekend all helped. Proved to be an excellent use of a barclaycard voucher!

  8. Beverly says:

    When Anika goes to the ANA Tokyo Intercontinental is she using a reward voucher or points? We used a combination of both for six nights last October and it was an ideal place to stay, however, they don’t honour the Ambassador status upgrade if you aren’t paying for the room. Because of the way the days fell we weren’t able to put the paid-for night first (the ‘free’ night voucher can only be used with a weekend paid-for night), so the room was a real old–fashioned (shower lotion and potions attached to the wall), small and was generally tired. Drearier than a Holiday Inn Express roomHowever, the lounge pass was only something like £80/nt and it was worth every penny! Quite the most luxurious ICH lounge I’ve ever seen.

    Anika, the very first thing you want to do is see if Julian Cole is still on the staff. He and the staff in the lounge could not have done more to make out stay special, so much so I didn’t even moan about the dreary room. The location is perfect!

  9. We are also going next week!

    BRU (midi) CDG-HKG/MACAO/-TPE-HKG-DUS-BRU(midi)
    All on Cathay reward J and PEY
    Stay @ Hilton & Conrad in Honk kong and Conrad in Macao.

    See you in HKG !

    • I’m at the HK IC this weekend followed by the HK Conrad for 3 days after.

      Coincidentally I bumped into another HfP reader in the Conrad exec lounge last time I was there too!!!

  10. Can you get the Chinese 72-hour transit pass when you have different tickets for the inbound and the outbound? Are you allowed by the first carrier to fly into China without a visa?
    A while ago I was tempted to buy a cash open jaw ticket with Iberia, from EU to Shangai and flying back from Tokyo to EU, plus an avios ticket from Shangai to Japan. But we didn’t know for sure wheter Iberia would let us fly or not.

    • Yes you are, I’m currently on a transit visa in shanghai having flown in on Finnair and flying out on a separate Malaysian ticket.

      At boarding finnair wanted to see all my docs for onward travel before I boarded the aircraft so be sure to print everything prior to going to the airport

    • Yes, it appears you can. But I will be ensuring I have a paper print of our onward tickets.

      • barry Cutters says:

        i did it to shanghai with just the flight booking on my phone . worked fine.
        i had two separate tickets too. in from HKG and out to LAX.
        You can actually get nearly 96h if you time it well.
        I arrived early morning and the 72h doesn’t start till midnight of that day . – from memory so could be wrong.

    • Thank you for your answers and enjoy your trips!

  11. I stayed at the IC in Hong Kong last year, I was coming back from Perth and wanted to fly back on Virgin from there to take advantage of the low taxes. My room was booked with points, I did get the option to upgrade when I checked in to a harbour-side rooms, it wasn’t a complimentary upgrade though, can’t remember how much they were asking for.

    If having a harbour-side room is the main reason for staying making sure you have one at time of booking by using cash makes sense. The pool has nice views the harbour as well.

  12. Rob, what sort of rooms did you book (outside of Hong Kong) -I’m doing a similar trip, 2 adults 2 kids in May. Not much showing up when you enter the above numbers for 1 room.

  13. Stewart says:

    Small query (apologies if asked before, but only started collecting points back in Dec!). Myself and my partner are close to getting a 2-4-1 BA companion voucher and were also looking at Asia late this year in BC (availability dependent).

    I had believed, however, that a restriction of the companion voucher was that it would have to be used on a return flight (paid in Avios, and therefore generating a free “return flight” for the companion voucher? Is this not the case? And if not, what’s the process for essentially booking a different return flight using the same 2-4-1 voucher as the outbound? (Link will be fine, but don’t recall seeing this anywhere on the site)

    Thanks in advance

    • Genghis says:

      You mean booking an open jaw (ie into and out of different airports)? Look for availability first on BAEC then you need to call up to make the booking.

      The 241 essentially means you pay the avios for one person but taxes for both.

    • This is possible. Eg Fly to San Fran, drive to LA, return flight from LA…. did this using 2 x 241s for my family of 4….. Just had to phone BA to make the actual bookings. Not sure it is doable on line….. I searched on line first to make dummy bookings so I knew the relevant redemptions were available on the 2 flights…..

  14. Is there any way to book Sri Lankan and Malaysian intra Asia flights so cheap using Avios ? I find BA add on so many taxes it makes it better to pay cash.

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      My experience with MH domestic/regional is that it’s actually that the cash fares that are so cheap that it’s not worth doing a redemption. Avios is fixed price per distance, so if the cash cost per mile is cheaper then it’s hard to make a redemption go around.

    • Regional flights should not have surcharges attached, unless linked to a connecting BA flight.

      • James A says:

        BA is adding YQ to MH redemptions these days. I got stung for £120 or so of BA YQ on a PER – KUL J redemption.

      • That’s not correct. MH, UL, RJ and others have significantly higher taxes and fees attached to Avios redemptions that CX especially (partly because of HK rules barring fuel surcharges on reward flights). Redemptions on MH in particular, since their pricing has gone quasi-LCC in Asia, are TERRIBLE value with Avios, and the cash element can often be higher than just buying a ticket

        Before MH was integrated into OW, the quid pro quo was that redemption flights booked into a paid fare class, so you at least got some credit and TPs for it, but that stopped quite quickly after MH joined – BA went so far as to reversing several of my credited MH redemption sectors that had legitimately booked into paid fare classes…

        And CX is great value in cash terms, but, as well as the blocking issues for BA redemptions, on many routes, Y and J fill up really quickly, so you have to pay the premium for PE, which, regionally, is basically Y with a marginally larger seat. Given the excellent recognition of OWEs by CX in Y (seat block, better service etc), IMHO PE isn’t worth it…

    • A problem with MAS is they mostly seem to only release one avios redemption seat per cabin per flight.

    • Also forgot to say that intra Asia seriously consider Air Asia (book some food for the flight), great airline and on a recent journey they were far better than MAS.

      • Depends how much you value your time. The flights are fine while you are in the air. AirAsia occupy some pretty grim AirCraft hangers. I’ve done 80 minute flights then 2 hours in a scrum at immigration.

        Avoid the flights that use the low cost terminals especially as there is so much competition from other local carriers.

  15. Colin mackinnon says:

    When we stayed at the IC HK we were on points and offered cash upgrade to harbour view.

    We thought: we sleep with our eyes closed. Let’s spend the money on snacks and cocktails in the fab lounge!

    Staff, drinks, food and view were fantastic!

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