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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.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

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. rams1981 says:

    OT but related. Can someone please remind me the value I should look to generate from IHG and Hitlon points when booking a hotel stay for points instead of cash? It’s less than 0.5p per point right?

    • Genghis says:

      Hilton at least 0.3p but pushing 0.4p given current exchange rate.
      IHG 0.4-0.5p – I work with 0.5p.

    • I’d say 0.4p for Hilton/IHG (prev 0.3p but assuming you’re redeeming abroad then you’ll get more like 0.4p value I’d imagine)

    • I’d say if you get better than 0.33p with Hilton and 0.4p with IHG then take it.

      Remember that you can buy points for these prices when they are having a 100% bonus sale, so you shouldn’t value them at more than this even if you can get more for them. So, for eg, even if you can get 0.5p for an IHG point, you should only value the ‘1 point per £1’ from the free IHG credit card at 0.4p when comparing which credit card to get, because you could buy yourself the points for that price.

      • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

        Even at the current exchange rates? The current Honors 100% bonus sale prices points at ~0.4p per point.

      • A sticky on this site would be food for that, sure some of you keen folks have a spreadsheet with formula, don’t forget the points you would of earnt had you paid cash.

        Points bookings are also cancelable FoC 24 hours before the stay. Sale fares often are not refundable at all.

  2. Waribai says:

    Being a veteran of these routes/destinations due to my better half being from Kyushu, just my couple of hapenny’s worth:

    1) Regarding the IC Hong Kong. A top tip someone gave me was to get the hotel to pick you up at the airport. This proved to be excellent advice. Our first visit was late December 2014 and to say check in was busy was an understatement. However, our very efficient IC driver radioed ahead when we were 10 minutes away from the hotel and staff were waiting to escort us straight to our room for an in room check in! Since our daughter was only two at the time being able to go straight to our room and by passing the check in desk was a godsend!

    Also,

    ” 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.”

    Yes, I’ve heard this but we have stayed twice at the IC Hong Kong on points during stopovers and I emailed the manager kindly asking for a harbour view as it was a special occasion (anniversary. Slightly suspect with offspring in tow but hey ho!) Both times we got a harbourview room albeit not a suite and an early anniversary gift!

    2)

    “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.”

    Not the end of the world but….I would always go for the CX Taipei changeover option if no direct flight was available in J. Even with kids in tow, with CX it’s one of the easiest changeovers you can do. The terminal is really small with all the gates on one corridor and the lounge is so close that it is no hassle whatsoever.
    Also not sure if it’s still possible but often the HKG-TPE leg could be on a four class config plane but with 3 class service so effectively you could sit in F but only have to redeem avios for J.

    Anyway, you’re all booked now, so have a great time and look forward to the reviews!

    • Genghis says:

      Going from HKG-TYO via TPE, was that an actual change in aircraft or a fifth freedom route? I remember flying FUK-TPE-HKG and back and just stayed on the plane.

      • 5th Freedom. Same plane, but it seems you have to disembark and reboard and it pushes the flight time from 4 hours to 6 hours.

        • Yes, you will need to disembark and rebound the plane again. However, CX now have a very nice new lounge at TPE.

          • Just want to add- One thing to note is that CX intra-Asia short haul flights usually operate with regional J seats, which of course is still much better than what we normally get on Intra-Europe flights.

        • intra asia flights on CX operate a mix of regional and long haul 777s, they way to tell is whether they are selling a PE cabin (not sold on regional). Its been a few years, but last time i booked KUL – HKG the route had a mix of both available. So i picked the long haul plane, which they day before the flight was changed to a 4 cabin long haul config, and i was able to get 1A in First (biz class food service though).

      • Waribai says:

        Yes, that was the case. I think now for security reasons everyone has to disembark.

    • CX often do last minute aircraft swap, so occasionally you may get lucky, otherwise depends on the aircraft type they do ocassionaly sell 1st class seat between HKG-TPE
      I think the flight between HKG-DPS, they often sells J but have F seat available with J service.

  3. I’ve just completed an awesome (part Asia) trip thanks to HFP!!

    2 days in Berlin, Staying at The Park Inn on Alexanderplatz.

    Then using £40 and 37500 Avios Business Class on Air Berlin to AUH, received cheuffuer service at both ends, Merc S Class and Audi A8 at AUH to the Hilton Duba the Walk for 5 days, we received free executive lounge access due to our Gold status through Amex Plat.

    Flew CX to HKG then to SGN again using Avios and minimum taxes flying business on A330,s. First time using the Cirrus seats which we very much enjoyed along with a lot of champagne.

    CX lounges at HKG are the best we have ever experienced! No competition against BA and AA admirals.

    From SGN we went to Hanoi for 5 days and also Halong Bay where I proposed to my other half, who said yes!!

    We then flew Dragonair back to HKG, experienced the ANA lounge which actually was pretty good, with a lot of hot food offerings.

    Our final destination was the Cordis at Langham Place for 3 days. Very nice hotel, with a lovely Exec lounge. Food and all day alcohol offerings where extremely nice, along with the lovely staff.

    My first trip on BAa380 CW using a Lloyds upgrade voucher for myself and partner 70,000 Avios and £55 ish each!!! Great flight and left with a bottle of chambers from the lovely CC.

    Great trip, which would never had been possible thanks to HFP and it’s readers!!! Cheers Rob

    • mark1980 says:

      Hi Mick, we came back from Dubai 10 days ago after doing the Berlin – AUH business class redemption and 5 nights at the Hilton Dubai the Walk. How did you find the Hilto? We thought it was fantastic and were upgraded to a 2 bedroom apartment courtesy of my Diamond status (which I got via a status match from IHG thanks to this site). The location was perfect and the exec lounge was brilliant and really helped keep F&B costs down especially as we’re not exactly cash rich. Without this site, I would never have been able to afford such a trip.

      Cheers, Mark

      • Mark we where there 12-16 March, The Walk was excellent! We also got upgraded to a 2 bed suite. Location was perfect and the lounge staff where really nice. The cost of alcohol was rediculous, the lounge certainly helped to keep the cost down. Location was excellent, would definitely return. Air Berlin hard product I thought was far superior to BA CW.

        • Mark1980 says:

          Sorry Mick, only just seen this. We were there 14th – 18th so we had a crossover – could have even shared an elevator and never known lol. Agree with everything you say regarding the Walk including the lounge etc. We made full use of Breakfast and Afternoon tea but having a toddler in tow meant that I only made it in for happy hour once. Enjoyed Air Berlin J product but having never flown business before I dont have anything to compare to. Glad you enjoyed your holiday mate and congrats on the engagement!

    • Genghis says:

      Congratulations on your engagement, Mick. A proposal in Halong Bay would have been very special indeed.

      • Halong Bay was one of the most spectacular places I have ever visited. We went on a 3 day cruise with Lavella premium cruises. Excellent.

    • Congratulations…you’ve set the bar very high now!

    • Which leg did you go on the 380 – I can’t work it out?!

  4. Hi Rob and all
    My colleague flies Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong frequently to see his family, I note that CP are One World partners- does that mean he can trade in BA Avios as well as his CP air miles when flying with Cathay?
    Thanks
    :Leo

    • Genghis says:

      Yes. But CX flights using avios as the currency should be booked at BAEC.

    • No, you can’t trade them in but you can earn Avios when flying Cathay, or conversely earn Asia Miles when flying BA – they just have to decide where they want to credit them.

      • (same applies to redemptions BTW – you can redeem for both airlines but you have to do so from the scheme that you’ve got the points in!)

  5. I am prepping another trip back to Japan but my old favourite of the Park Hyatt is ruinously expensive given the appreciating JPY and the declining GBP. Suite upgrades via Hyatt points are good but alas, too few points in the bag at present.

    Oh for the days of 250 JYP for £1 !

    • RussellH says:

      I suspect that those days have gone for ever.

      I read (Sunday Times I think) that UK banks are now being stress-tested for a worst possible case of £1 = US$ 0.85!

      • hmmmmm….Glad we went when the Yen was trading at 180 to the £. Correct if I have just made that up? Oct 15.

        And wowza re. stress test!! That would make the Amex dollar card useless among many other more important things!

        Happy days.

  6. Stayed at the HKG IC about 10 years ago, before I seriously got into this game.

    Was great sitting in the infinity jacuzzi pools on an evening with a drink looking at the lights over the harbour and up at the stars.

    Morning view enjoying a fabulous breakfast looking over Victoria harbour was pretty cool too.

    Thought it was an awesome place. Think I paid £260) night for a Deluxe.

    • We also had a harbour view room, pretty impressive.

      Anyone else here been to Felix’s bar at the top of the Pen? Thought it was a great place.

      http://m.hongkong.peninsula.com/en/fine-dining/felix

      • Yeah great bar and also home to one of my favourite urinals in the world (im not beimg weird… google it)

        • So they are still there, was bit surreal when I used them 10 years ago. Do they still have the padded champagne room?

          Rob – its really worth a visit, one of the coolest bars I’ve been too.

          • Well i went 4 years ago so not sure if they are still there now! As for the champagne room i’m not sure… i was a student at the beginning of a 10 week trip so only had a couple cocktails.

            But yeah great bar. Ozone at the Ritz-Carlton was also cool, mainly for being the worlds highest bar.

  7. Funny, we are going on a very similar trip- leaving Friday. Just wanted to add to some of your points. We already used our companion voucher in January on flights in and out of HK to do a tour of SE Asia and then stay a night with a friend in HK on the way back. I check HK quite a lot and it can have good availability at times on both BA and Cathay (although cannot use CV with CX). I agree points per pound our short haul redemptions on Cathay Dragon may have been ever better value than the BA one. HK to Hanoi on the only ‘connecting’ flight that worked with BA was £400 and we got these for 9000 Avios each. Similarly, at the other end Siem Reap to HK was only 8 to 9k Avois each and was selling for c£250 cash when we went.

    We decided to pay cash for our Easter trip to Japan; we ended up booking via HK in the Cathay sale for several reasons, including that I have never flown Cathay business LH but also because BA’s flights over to Tokyo look like they are at pretty terrible times for jet lag so we are having one night in HK on the way over, so maybe that will suit you better as well. I noticed that in Cathay’s sales some destinations like Bali and Tokyo may be slightly dearer or actually cheaper at times than just going to HK itself. I wish I could stay In the RC in Kyoto but even when I looked 9 months ago it was £700 a night, maybe I should look more carefully at it hotel chain rewards (I tend to use Hotels.com)… Anyway enjoy the cherry blossoms.

  8. Nice plan!!
    Flying out of Haneda Rob? Recommend CX lounge over JAL diamond premier. amazing airport views and much quieter (the CX flight had just left mind you…)

    I went out to Japan for 1st time in Feb, with help of HFP I had an awesome time. BA gold, IHG plat and Hilton Diamond were put to solid use. My mate thinks I must travel for work non-stop!

    LHR to HEL on Avios – CX first lounge in T3 is brilliant
    HEL overnight at Hilton airport on points
    HEL to TOK with JAL 878 – business 75k avios and £13(!)
    2 x night intercon Tokyo bay on points
    JAL flight Haneda to Sapporo – 9,000 avios and £3.80 for a rtn flight. Bargain! The JAL diamond lounge in Chitose airport is gorgeous. Curry breads and beer machines, amazing
    Hilton Niseko – 2 nights for 60,000 points. Ski-in ski-out hotel. Service ambassador couldn’t do enough (it got a little creepy at times!)
    Crowne Plaza Nagoya – 3 nights 60,000 points
    Haneda to EDI economy with JAL/BA – 30,000 avios and £60

    Bullet train was a massive highlight. now back to the delights of Scotrail…..

    • Calz, great trip! Huge fan of Japan. Have been fortunate to fly BA F using 241 and QR in J (effectively the same)

      May I ask though, how was flying home in Y? When I’m flying such long haul I always go for ‘a walk’ around the whole plane – principally to stretch my legs – but at the same time it always makes me appreciate being up front.

      • the real harry1 says:

        everyone should do this to avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis
        http://www.traveldoctor.co.uk/flights.htm

      • Thanks John, I’m also now a huge fan of Japan and will go back one day. Qatar J is brilliant and puts BA CW to shame. Not tried BA F yet. Worth the extra Avios?

        Haha, yeah Y was actually pretty good. JAL 777 and I had a bulkhead seat so unlimited legroom. I noticed pitch in the regular seats was better than BA world traveller. They served two hearty meals (second was a delicious Tai Pi En), had snack boxes in the galley and cabin crew really friendly with plenty of drink runs. Yeah I got up and walked the cabin as you do get a bit stiff. Like you said, it defo makes you appreciate J and F. Now I have BA gold/ Emerald, I think flying Y can be great value as you still get all the perks of the airport (fast track, lounge, priority boarding, extra luggage) and i’m happy to fall back to BA silver in 2018 so not bothered about the TP.

        • IMO, its worth the extra avios if using a 241….

          Also, (and again only my opinion) the WW BA crew are much better than the MF crew – an unfair comparison possibly, but is borne out through experience. Thus NRT better than HND. Of course such choice has disadvantages, HND much easier/quicker to get to, albeit worse flight time.

          I’d love to go back more often, if it was a bit cheaper! the current exchange rate of course doesn’t help. And I’d love to fly JAL (much better flight time also)…I had the chance previously and I fluffed it!

    • Sorry, another quick query if I may – is there an easy way to locate specific reward availability on the JAL HND-LHR flight? When I perform a regular search on ba.com I only seem to find the BA flights, not the JAL one.

      At 30k avios + £60 tax it sounds amazing (especially if it includes EDI taxes??), BA would cost A LOT more, so I’d love to see how its priced up.

      Thanks!

      • Hi John
        So my JAL flight from HND-LHR-EDI was hard to find. Got it on Ba.com – just checked – flew on JL0043
        Just had a look on Ba.com – found one on 29th Jan – 30,000 avios plus £87 tax (its gone up then, still a bargain though)
        Found more availability (4 seats) on 6th Feb
        Think JAL only load OW reward flights 330 days in advance

  9. I love hearing about other HfP readers’ travel experiences and plans, even though I’m only an enthusiastic 2/3 times per year leisure traveller! Much more helpful and relevant to me than travel magazines which seem to be paid to advertise mainly jaw-droppingly over priced holiday packages.
    Keep sharing!

    • RussellH says:

      I know what you mean, but while Sunday Times Travel Magazine IS full of glossy stuff that reads like an advert, it also told me about HfP, so it cannot be all bad.

      🙂

      • Yes and ironically my 2nd subscription to Travel was because of the offer highlighted on HfP!

  10. I love that Cathay use long haul aircraft for regional flights. I got to try Cathay In F from Singapore to Hong Kong for 4 hours on a 777 and loved every minute of it. I went for the payment option of 20,000 Avios and £200 and it was worth every penny/point.

  11. “but luckily she had to make a major purchase that week which sadly ended up being returned – but we had the voucher regardless.”

    As the kids say these days LOLZ

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