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How We Booked Our Bali Vacation for $350
I just wrote about the amazing trip Taryn and I have planned for Bali. We’re literally flying roundtrip in business/first class from the United States to Bali and staying at a five-star Hilton on the beach… all for $350.
Aaaaand this is why I love travel credit cards because you can literally book award flights and stays at really cheap prices using points. 🍹
Now I’ll breakdown how many points we needed for the award tickets, the monetary value of the award tickets, then (most importantly) how we actually earned the points needed to book the award tickets.
Points Needed for Award Travel
Here’s how many points we needed for the trip:
- Korean Air business class flights: New York (JFK airport) to Seoul, South Korea to Bali, Indonesia
- 75,000 Korean Air frequent flyer miles per person (transferred via Chase Ultimate Rewards points – Note: Korean Air is no longer a Chase partner, but is still a transfer partner with Marriott)
- Singapore Airlines business class flight: Bali, Indonesia to Singapore
- 17,500 Singapore Airlines frequent flyer miles per person (transferred via American Express Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Points, and Chase Ultimate Rewards points)
- Singapore Airlines first-class flight: Singapore to Los Angeles, California
- 118,000 Singapore Airlines frequent flyer miles per person (transferred via American Express Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Points, and Chase Ultimate Rewards points)
- Total miles needed for Taryn and me: 421,000
And for fun, let’s see the dollar value of those credit card points:
- Korean Air miles: 150,000
- Total taxes and surcharges: $273.24
- Cost of actual airfare: $5,448 x 2 = $10,896
- Monetary value of miles: 7.1 cents/mile
- Singapore Airlines miles: 271,000
- Total taxes and surcharges: $76.86
- Cost of actual airfare: $8,614 x 2 = $17,228 (!!!)
- Monetary value of miles: 6.4 cents/mile
Our business/first-class flights would typically cost over $28,000, and we’re only paying $350. Sure beats earning one cent/mile with the Capital One Venture Card.
How We Earned the Points
The Points Guy seems to have an unlimited supply of credit card points that allow him to literally travel the world in first-class as his job (yeah, dude… we’re all jealous). But since none of us are in that position, earning credit card points for crazy redemptions we would never pay for ourselves is a bit more complicated.
Here’s how we used credit card points to book the tickets:
- 102,000 Citi ThankYou points transferred to Singapore Airlines: The Citi ThankYou Premier credit card earns 3x points on all travel expenses including gas, which meant we used this card for almost all flights, hotels, taxis, car rentals, parking, and gas for about 2.5 years. The card also comes with 2x points on entertainment expenses, including theater tickets, sports tickets, and amusement parks.
- 98,000 American Express Membership Rewards points transferred to Singapore Airlines: For this redemption, we mostly used the 60K point sign-up bonus with the American Express Gold Card and another 10K point sign-up bonus with the American Express Everyday credit card. The Amex Gold card comes with 4x points at U.S. restaurants and supermarkets and 3x points when booking directly with airlines. Not bad, but the only category that really stands out from the Citi Premier Card is the 3x at grocery stores. The AMEX Everyday card also offers 2x at grocery stores, but when you make 30 transactions in a billing period, you earn a 20% point bonus, so the 2x becomes 2.4x at grocery stores. Now you’re speaking my language.
- 27,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Singapore Airlines: We are now using Chase cards for our everyday spending, so earning 27,000 points is relatively easy…
- 150,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Korean Air: …especially because Taryn and I both signed up new Chase Sapphire cards last fall (Taryn = Sapphire Preferred, me = Sapphire Reserve). The two cards totaled to 110,000 points. Besides the bonus, we’ve been using the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards to maximize everyday purchases with each card’s unique bonus category (3x travel and 3x dining with the Sapphire Reserve card and 1.5x on ALL purchases with the Freedom Unlimited card).
Free Hotel Redemption
While the airline redemptions can be complicated, using hotel points is much more straightforward. We already had about 50,000 Hilton Honors points, so we signed up for the Amex Hilton Ascend credit card back then. After the signup bonus (100k Hilton points) and spending to meet the spending threshold to earn the signup bonus (an additional 15k in Hilton points), we were quickly able to earn 165,000 Hilton Honors points. However, this was the old offer and the new offer for the American Express Hilton Honors Surpass card is now 130,000 points.
The price for Hilton award nights can fluctuate, but the Conrad Hilton Bali’s standard room was 33k points/night. That means we could book five nights with our 165k points. However, when booking four nights with Hilton Honors points, Hilton gives you the fifth night completely free. So instead of only five nights, our 165k Hilton points allowed us to book six nights at the Conrad Hilton Bali for 165,000. So not only will be we flying in business and first-class to/from Bali, but we’ll also be staying at the Conrad Hilton Bali – all using credit card points!
Hotel points are generally much less lucrative than airline points and have a completely different valuation. For example, the cash value of our six-night stay at the Conrad Hilton Bali is $1453 (just over $242/night) and we don’t have to pay any taxes or fees out of pocket. Considering we earned the vast majority of our Hilton points with a credit card sign up, this is an incredible deal. That breaks down to roughly 0.9 cents/point, which obviously pales in comparison to the valuation from our award flight redemptions, but shows how having 165k hotel points can be deceiving.
As if it needed to be any better, the Amex Hilton Ascend credit card comes with free Hilton gold status, which grants us a complimentary room upgrade and free breakfast for the duration of our stay. I’ve mentioned how much of a sucker I am for a free hotel breakfast, so this is the cherry on top of awesome redemption.
Paying for Positioning Flights/Trains 👎
Our award redemption is pretty crazy. But it’s not quite perfect. While we live in DC, we fly out of New York City. The two train tickets from DC to NYC cost $98, which we would technically need to add to the total cost of our trip. It’s the price we were willing to pay for the chance to fly the Korean Air Airbus A380 with the onboard lounge. Totally worth it.
But we don’t fly back into New York City on the way back home from Bali. Nor do we fly directly DC. The only Singapore Airlines award space we could find was to Los Angeles or San Francisco, which meant we had to separately book airfare across the country home to DC. On a normal weekend, that wouldn’t be too expensive. But on the Sunday after Thanksgiving? One-way flights cost $586 each.
Not only will we be going from one of the nicest first-class seats in the sky to a budget airline, but we’ll be paying more than the entire cost of the rest of the trip. Talk about a buzzkill.
Luckily, since we have the Southwest Companion Pass, we were about to book two tickets for only the cost of one paid ticket, which makes it slightly more bearable. When your schedule doesn’t have much flexibility, it’s what you have to do. And to be honest, such as “add on” positioning flights aren’t out of the ordinary for crazy redemptions like ours.
We had no idea how game-changing earning and redeeming credit card points could be. I thought The Points Guy and other points bloggers were scam artists just looking for mouse clicks (and some are). But after our around-the-world trip, travel to Chile, and upcoming vacation to Bali, it’s clear the points game is for more people than professional bloggers.
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