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Our family just completed a 3-week trip to Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong (plus an overnight in Detroit) mostly with points and miles. A little background of our family so you can better understand the trip report. First of all, we love to travel and see the world. This passion has developed strongly because of our ability to travel worldwide thanks to miles and points. Over the years the more we have traveled we find ourselves thirsty to discover more and see the world. Since many of our trips have been with our children, they too (especially the older ones) have developed a strong interest, desire and appreciation for travel. We have 4 children ages (19, 16, 10 and 7) with the older two being boys. My husband has the ability to work remotely during the less busy times of the year, which includes the summer and thankfully that allows us to travel over a longer period of time. My children have traveled a lot over the years and are real frequent flyers in that sense. They are very accustomed to the airport routine (baggage check, TSA/security, customs, lounges, boarding etc.) which makes flying a breeze with them. They all have Global entry/ TSA Pre check as well, which further assists in reducing stress and saves lots of time. The children have experienced First/ Business class travel in the past and know a lot about many types of planes and airlines.

I have been an avid miles and points geek for many years now. I know this is not typical of a woman, however this is truly one of my hobbies. Since I enjoy numbers and math, I have been doing our family finances exclusively for close to 15 years. This has allowed me to be fully involved in all aspects of credit card spending and furthermore strategic spending in order to maximize our miles/points earning potential. Being organized is key in this process and I love every minute of it. I also enjoy trip planning and have planned every single one of our trips (awards and activities) on my own. My husband is very supportive in this process however focuses on his business and does not really play the “points and miles game”.
This is my first ever trip report that I am writing here on DDF. I have gained so much over the years from this website and the DDF community that I would like to give back whatever I can…I have a lot to share. Thank God, everything worked out better than planned. I hope you enjoy following along.

The Planning Process

Travel during the summer works out really well for our family for many reasons. We have concluded that a three-week trip is about the maximum amount of time we can be away. I try to plan it over one half of the summer this way my children can be enrolled in camp for the other half. Between the pre-trip excitement and packing and the post trip jetlag / enjoyment of just being back home, we are all set for one month in the summer.

Generally we have a travel bucket list (one as a couple and one for our family), however some of our travel ended up as a result of an award sale or price glitch ( a big one was a family trip to Australia where we flew Business First to Melbourne with miles and returned from Sydney with Virgin Australia tickets that were approx. $100 in the summer of 2016 – the deal was posted on DDMS back in winter of 2016). Since we have 3 weeks to enjoy traveling, it is ideal for us to travel farther and/or combine multiple destinations in one area which we wouldn’t be able to do in a shorter trip. We also “splurge” on award travel in first or business class when we take long flights. Splitting our family between economy/business/ first does not work for us and we all fly the same class.

I have accumulated and spent lots of miles/points over the years. However, since I work hard to accumulate a large volume of points (without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year) I tend to be “stingy” with them and try to maximize its value and make them go farther and work for us longer (kind of the same way we look at our finances). Since we are a family of 6, award travel in J or F round trip adds up to a hefty sum. Keep in mind that we need 2 hotel rooms at a minimum and are aiming for suites as much as possible (we do Vrbo/Airbnb as well when it makes sense) so lots of points are needed to make a 3-week trip to anywhere far.
Thailand has always been on my radar being that it’s a beautiful country, with Chabad restaurant/s- and Shabbos meals in all major tourist areas, the USD goes really far there and there are lots of unique cool attractions/sightseeing to do. However, my greatest concern was safety for my family. (I have read/heard too many stories in the news and the risk wasn’t worth it.) I kind of felt that would be a destination I would visit one day without the children. Long story short…Amex MR was having a 30% bonus for points transferred to Virgin Atlantic. There are some sweet spots to Asia (with Delta and ANA). The sweet spots are to Japan. To be honest Japan was never on my bucket list, perhaps I would have wanted to visit during the cherry blossom season but that was never a good time for me to travel. So, I quickly did some travel research about family travel to Japan… and I concluded that it’s a great safe place to visit and it would be our gateway city to Asia. I realized that since we are pretty close to Thailand it would be an amazing opportunity to take our family there. I needed to research practical ways to make Thailand work for us. In the end I concluded that we would only stay in 5-star hotels/ resorts (with brands that we are familiar with in the States) because of the security and international hotel standards. Since we weren’t renting a car, we would book trips through a travel agency with local travel guides with lots of references. Also being that we don’t have real little kids and we are 4 adults (2 adults and 2 older children) with 2 children ages 7 & 10 that are accustomed to traveling, I would be comfortable with the idea of traveling to Thailand.

The Booking Process

After a week or two of searching, I found award space for 6 from various Midwest cities to Tokyo/Narita in Delta One Suites for the dates I wanted. The price was 60K Virgin Miles (just under 47K Amex transferred) per person in Delta One Suites! I found awards for 6 from MSP and DTW- now I had to choose a departure city. I have never been to either city and would have love to check out that city prior to the flight to Japan. Visiting Mall of America in MSP would have been nice, but I went for DTW. I decided to surprise my husband for this pre-trip to DTW, he had grown up in Detroit and had not been back for 27 years! I would plan the most amazing day for our family there. Delta was also having an award sale from various cities for 6K one-way Delta Miles basic economy (Since we have the Delta credit card, we can choose our seats and get 1 free bag per person). So, I booked the 6 award tickets from DTW- Tokyo/NRT for 60K Virgin x 6= 360K Virgin Atlantic (only 278K AMEX MR) in Delta One Suites. I also booked 6K Delta miles from PHL-DTW. (we live in the tri state area and can chose between PHL/ EWR/JFK). The Tokyo flight was departing mid-day and we booked the PHL- DTW leg the previous morning. Leaving us a full day to discover Detroit.
Now I had to start thinking about return tickets in either J or F. There are many options in that part of the world with so many different alliances with different miles/points. Luckily, I had enough points/miles in different currencies for me to be flexible.  I wanted a direct flight back and I wanted to spend the least number of miles in J or F for our entire family. I went through many options and practical ideas and concluded we would end our trip in Hong Kong and would aim for Cathay Pacific Business return ticket to JFK. (After much research I concluded that realistically I can find 6 J award seats - there are over 30 seats in business on those flights. I would never find awards in F for our entire family). The cost for business class seats are 50K Alaska miles per person (50K x 6= 300K Alaska miles). We were about 2.5 months away from the time we were planning to return. I was flexible with a few return dates however I already had a ticket to Japan and had to work on all other shorter flights as well (Japan to Thailand, inter Thailand flights, Thailand to HKG). This was a daunting task to coordinate it all, find all the awards/ tickets for 6 people, stay the ideal time in each location (plan Shabbos at hotel that is walking distance to Chabad) and of course find 6 Cathay J tickets with dates not on or close to Shabbos. At this point there was zero availability. I would check many times a day on British Airways (Alaska doesn’t show Cathay availability). Occasionally I would see some premium economy for 2 or 3 passengers, but nothing in J. I spent a lot of time researching this particular award route – HKG to JFK in Business and when the awards open up. All the comments/research showed that it will be released slowly 6 weeks out (that meant 3 weeks prior to us departing!) I have to admit I have never had tickets booked for a family trip that last minute but I was confident that I would find the tickets and the 16-hour flight in a lie flat business seat would all be worth it. I had many back up options including economy with stopover booked via Chase. Obviously, I didn’t want to do it and I also knew that no matter what we are all flying on the same flight. There are 3 flights a day to JFK or EWR (all with lots of J seats) I checked BA countless times a day for the next month. Here and there I would find one seat and would speak to Alaska agents from time to time and they all shared with me that they have never seen more than 4 Business seats available at one time. I started to get worried, but I knew it had been done and I would give it my best shot. I devoted all my spare time to working on the other flights, hotels, and activities.
Luckily things started to fall into place. Literally to the day of 6 weeks prior to the departure of that flight I started seeing 1, 2 or 3 seats in J for different flights on a given day (all were < 6 weeks prior to departure). I started having hope and then started actually contemplating which flight time would work best for our family. (I never thought I would have that luxury of choice between different times.) I chose the 6:45 PM flight from HKG to JFK which arrives in JFK 16 hours later at 10:45 PM (hence HKG is 12 hours ahead). I figured that would be amazing for sleeping and arrival into JFK as well, so we can sleep some part of the night at home and function somewhat the next day. I can’t believe I actually did such a thing, but at first, I booked the only 3 seats in J available for that flight. (I booked my husband and 2 younger children first). I had 24 hours to cancel but hoped I would find more space in the interim. Just before the 24 hours were over, I found 1 more seat in J. I booked it for my second son. 24 hours had passed since the original booking and I had faith that since one more opened up recently, hopefully additional seats would open up. In the worst-case scenario, my 19-year-old son and I would fly together (or even separately…) Another day passed, and another seat was booked in J for that same flight. Luckily late that night I found the 6th and final award seat that I needed and we were all booked! What an ordeal.
The other flights were fairly straightforward and I will discuss them throughout the trip report in chronological order. I will also discuss our hotels and the decision-making process related to our family needs. We did lots of activities and learned so much. We took thousands of pictures. I plan on sharing some of them in this report.
I definitely believe that years of travel with and without our children have given us the experience needed to make the many decisions we are faced with when booking such a lengthy family trip around the world. We also learned valuable things along the way that will help us for future trips as well, which I will share.

Basic Itinerary

Tuesday – 7:00 AM / PHL-DTW / Stayed in Embassy Suites DTW
Wednesday- 12:15 PM / DTW- NRT Delta One Suites
Thursday – arrival NRT 2:05 PM / Stayed at Stayed at Sheraton Miyako Hotel
Friday – Sheraton Miyako Hotel
Saturday – Sheraton Miyako Hotel
Sunday- Hyatt Regency Tokyo
Monday- Hyatt Regency Toky0
Tuesday- Hyatt Regency Tokyo
Wednesday- 10:35 AM – 3:05 PM / HND- BKK Thai Airways Economy stayed at Intercontinental Bangkok
Thursday- 9:15 AM -10:45 AM / BKK – USM Bangkok Airways Economy Stayed at Conrad Koh Samui (2-bedroom Villa)
Friday – Conrad Koh Samui
Saturday – Conrad Koh Samui
Sunday – Conrad Koh Samui
Monday – Conrad Koh Samui
Tuesday – 10:00 AM – 11:50 AM / USM- CNX Bangkok Airways Economy stayed at Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Wednesday – Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Thursday - Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Friday- Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Saturday - Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Sunday – 6:05 AM – 9:45 AM / CNX- HKG Air Asia Economy stayed at Intercontinental Hong Kong
Monday - Intercontinental Hong Kong
Tuesday - Intercontinental Hong Kong
Wednesday – 6:45 PM – 10:45 PM / HKG-JFK Cathay Pacific Business

On The Road / Hot! $200 off any Airbnb Booking
« on: December 01, 2017, 01:21:36 PM »

Just tried this and it worked with no strings attached! use Code SINGAPORE

Goods For Sale/Trade / Marriott (Category 1-5) 7 night voucher
« on: April 10, 2016, 09:03:43 PM »
7 night voucher for Marriott (cat 1-5) available for $525. Expires 12/16 . (You can stay <7 nights)

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On The Road / Staying in 2 bedroom villa in Hawaii using points
« on: January 14, 2015, 01:03:18 PM »
I would greatly appreciate any input or experience that someone has had with staying at a villa in either Maui or Kauai using any sort of points or a P+C option. I am aware that there are plenty of great condo/villas for rent on these islands, however I have plenty of available points and prefer not paying much out of pocket. Also the amenities located on either hyatt or starwood properties etc are far better than many other condo rentals. I have never seen 2 bedroom villas available with points online, any ideas?   

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