Last week, I’ve mentioned that I applied for Chase Hyatt credit card with an elaborate plan in mind. So, it’s time to come clean. First, a disclaimer. Guys and gals, don’t try this at home. Not if you are a normal middle-class family with a gazillion bills each month.
So, next year we were planning on doing a road trip out West. You know, the kind normal families in US do. It appears that next summer we are still heading west (sort of)… all the way to Australia! But not just Australia. We plan on adding stopovers in Tahiti and New Zealand. This is the trip I drooled over for years before we had kids, and it just never materialized. So, “carpe diem”, I guess.
But why now? Well, my sister-in-law and I discussed doing this type of trip sometime in the future, way in the future. But she brought up something that I couldn’t argue with. Her parents are getting old. My father-in-law is in his mid-seventies and has heart problems. She really doesn’t want to put off this adventure any longer. After all, visiting Land Down Under has been a dream of theirs since they got married. In fact, at one point, they even considered moving to Australia.
I told her that she should indeed take her parents there, but we probably would not be able to join them. This is absolutely not a good time for us to even attempt a trip of this magnitude. Car payment, teeth braces, a need to replace the carpet and so on. Another issue is the fact that my husband can’t take off more than two weeks consecutively. And my SIL wants to spend at least three weeks. It wasn’t going to work, but she would’t take no for an answer.
Then my father-in-law mentioned that he really wants us to come, and my husband started seriously thinking about it. So, we came up with a plan. My in-laws will take the kids with them, and my husband and I will join them for two weeks, having an adventure of our own along the way. My husband said his main condition is that we don’t have another major trip for at least two years. Also, our anniversary trip to Costa Rica is off. We have a deal, sir.
Frankly, I don’t think we’ll be able to afford anything other than beach getaways in our state of Florida for quite some time. In order to pull this thing off, I’m cashing in all of my miles and points. Everything must go in order to cut out-of-pocket costs. Getting less than 1 cent per mile in value? Bring it. So, let me outline our tentative plans and points I plan to utilize. Warning! The post is long and highly detailed. All quoted flight redemptions are for economy class.
My in-laws’ itinerary
As I’ve mentioned, they will be taking the kids with them. The plan is to fly on Air Fiji from LAX to Auckland, and return from Sydney to LAX, with a 2-night stopover in Nadi (Fiji) on the way. We’ll have to simply pay cash for all five tickets. Kids’ fares should get a sizable discount, so that will help. Based on current prices, I’ll have to cough up around $1,900 total for two tickets. Hopefully, this will be the biggest out-of-pocket expense for us. My sister-in-law said she will cover all the other costs (lodging, food etc.) for kids while they are with her.
My in-laws plan to burn Rapid Rewards for roundtrip flights from Orlando to LAX, so this portion will be covered. We’ll also use some hotel points on overnight stays, but I we’ll figure out that part later. They first plan to fly to Auckland and spend 2 nights in the area. They will then fly to Christchurch (South island) and spend 1 night, before driving or flying to Queenstown.
After two nights in Queenstown, they will fly to Melbourne (Australia), Cairns and Sydney. From Sydney, it’s on to Nadi, and back to LAX. This is the gist of it, and the exact itinerary may change. Flights within New Zealand are cheap (about $80), so we plan to just pay cash for those. We may use Avianca miles for flight from Queenstown to Melbourne on Air New Zealand. It runs at 21,000 Avianca miles, not cheap.
But it appears that they have the best schedule, and it’s an important consideration when you have kids. Cash fares seem to run at $268 per person ($54 is tax portion), so it means getting 1 cent per Avianca mile in value. I’ll take it. My sister-in-law applied for Avianca 60K miles offer with the idea of getting three award tickets out of it. My in-laws absolutely wouldn’t consider anything that had a sizable minimum spending attached, so this was the only logical choice. Avianca lets you copay with cash if you are short on miles.
I’ve mentioned before that my SIL is an avid buyer of IHG points. Fortunately, it looks like she will be able to use them in New Zealand and Fiji. The stays in Australia will involve vacation rentals. I hope to redeem my stash of Avios for their 5 one-way flights from Cairns to Sydney or Melbourne to Cairns, whichever is more expensive. The cost for either route is 10,000 Avios (plus $20 tax) per person on BA partner Qantas. I should have some leftover AAdvantage miles (same price as Avios), so I plan to utilize those as well. Like I said, everything goes.
Here is how our portion of the trip should look like on the map, if things go according to the plan:
Map is provided courtesy of Great Circle Mapper
Yes, that’s a lot of travel to fit into a two-week span.
Flights to and from LAX
I have plenty of Southwest points, so this part won’t be an issue. I also have 12,500 Alaska miles and about 7,500 Delta miles (partner of Alaska). Delta will let you co-pay with cash (5,000 miles for around $95). So, assuming I find low-level availability, I may be able to cover two Delta tickets to/from LAX for $100 all-in. I would certainly do it in order to preserve Rapid Rewards points. Update: reader Stephanie has reminded me that Alaska/Delta partnership has been terminated. Oops! I totally forgot it. But I’ll figure out something regardless.
Covering overnight stays in Los Angeles shouldn’t be too hard either. I have a weekend certificate from (now expired) offer on Amex Hilton Surpass that will hit my account around April or May. If there is standard availability, I’ll reserve a room at Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills that goes for 95K points per night. For the night on the way back from Australia, I may burn Wyndham points for a basic hotel near LAX airport since I’m sure we’ll be exhausted beyond belief.
If I’m that close to Tahiti, I simply have to add a short stop, even if only for two nights. So, the plan is to fly on Air Tahiti Nui from LAX to Papeete. The cost is 40K AAdvantage miles per person, with minimal taxes. At the moment, I have 63K AA miles, but my husband has signed up for 60K miles offer on Citi AA card (read my post on the topic). If all goes well, the sign-up bonus will be deposited in August.
So, our one-way flights to Tahiti should be covered. But how can I go that far and not see Bora Bora? I can’t. So, as much as it pains me, I have to add flights on Air Tahiti (a different airline) that cost around $430 per person roundtrip. They can’t be covered with miles, unfortunately. My plan is to utilize sign-up bonus from Merrill+ Visa Signature. I currently have 53K points, and they should cover both tickets to Bora Bora.
Another thing that’s non-negotiable is a one-night stay in an overwater bungalow. How did I get to be so fancy? This is a tough one. Even though IHG and Hilton chains are both represented on Bora Bora, award availability is horrendous. Not surprising, because rates run at $1,000 per night. I plan to speculatively make a booking at Conrad Bora Bora Nui that costs 80K points per night.
At the moment I have 94K points, so that should cover one night. When the flights are booked, I’ll reach out and ask if we can get an upgrade to an overwater bungalow (reportedly, an upcharge of $200-$250 per night). As a Gold Hilton member, I should get free breakfast for two people. That will help since food costs in Tahiti are astronomical.
My first choice, however, is Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa The award rate is 60K IHG points (I think). I say that because there is no availability there till the end of schedule, not even for one night. However, occasionally, people cancel, so I plan to set a Hotel Hustle alert. You can use either points or annual IHG card renewal certificates, and book straight into an overwater bungalow.
Another possible option is InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora This is also a tough one when it comes to award availability, and you have to pay extra to get an overwater bungalow. Still, getting a regular room via renewal certificate and paying $200 sure beats spending $1k on one night.
So, my hope is that one of these three award options will work out. If not, I will simply pay $1K. That’s why I plan to make a refundable reservation and check every day until cancellation deadline is upon us.
I know it’s totally insane price-wise, but it’s not every day that I get to go to Bora Bora. Sometimes you have to kill the cheapskate within you, even if just for one day. We’ll have to stay overnight on the main island of Tahiti before the flight to New Zealand, so I will just book a resort on the beach via cash rate or redeem points/certificate at InterContinental Resort Tahiti
I have a feeling that this place is planning to leave IHG chain because there is zero award availability in 2018. There is plenty this year, though. Either way, I just need a room at a decent, reasonably priced beach resort, not an overwater bungalow. Any place for around $250 should suffice.
New Zealand portion
This is an interesting one. Even though Air New Zealand operates flights from Tahiti to Auckland, they are marketed as Air Tahiti Nui. So, strangely, you can redeem AAdvantage miles on this portion of the flight. I saw Drew at Travelisfree mention it once, and Google search confirmed it. The cost is 15K AA miles one-way, quite reasonable. We’ll have to land in Auckland and continue the same day on a separately purchased ticket to Christchurch, skipping North island altogether.
I hope to cover our three nights in Christchurch and Queenstown via IHG points, but for that, I’ll have to cancel some of our existing reservations. Still debating on that one. Obviously, we want to stay with the family, so I’ll either pay cash or redeem points. The rates are not horrible (about $120 per night), and maybe we can hit some IHG promos along the way.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, we plan to fly on Air New Zealand to Melbourne. Unfortunately, it appears that the airline consistently releases 4 award seats in economy per flight. Since there will be seven of us, we’ll need to pay for at least 3 flights. I’m hoping to use my sign-up bonus from US Bank Altitude Reserve card. Since I can get 1.5 cents per point toward flights, the 55K points bonus should cover all three tickets.
After spending three nights in Melbourne (in either vacation rental or a house), my husband and I plan to fly to Sydney for two nights, at a cost of 4,500 Avios per person, while my in-laws continue on to Cairns ( gateway to the Great Barrier Reef). And that’s where I hope to burn my Hyatt certificates. Yes, that would be Park Hyatt Sydney that costs 30,000 points per night.
Few months ago I wrote about using my husband’s Diamond status for one of my readers, and mentioned that I really want to stay in this property if I ever visit Sydney. So, it’s time to put my certificates where my mouth is.
I’m hoping for this view, minus the crib. Nope, pregnancy is not part of the plan. 🙂
If this whole crazy scheme doesn’t materialize, I’ll just use the certificates in Costa Rica, as originally planned. Always have a Plan B for a sign-up offer with an expiration date attached.
I’ll need to redeem Avianca miles for one-way flights from Sydney to either LAX or San Francisco on United Airlines. It appears LAX has better award availability, but I’m really hoping for SFO. The cost is 40K miles per person, and we have 120K Avianca miles between us. If United has a low-level availability to Orlando (12,500 miles one-way) the following day, AND if the layover is less than 24 hours, I should be able to tack on that portion at no additional cost. But it does depend on Avianca program which has a reputation for being buggy.
Is this for real?
It appears that way, otherwise I wouldn’t pull the trigger on the current offer on The Hyatt credit card. But as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men”… and you know the rest. As you can see, miles and points should substantially reduce the out-of-pocket cost, putting it within our reach financially. Of course, there will be lots of additional expenses, but then again, we would have to spend money during our trips to Costa Rica and Western US.
This epic adventure will be a hybrid: part family vacation, part special anniversary getaway. Because, why not? Am I being rational? No way. Am I super excited just thinking about it? You betcha! Now I just hope and pray that everything falls into place.
Readers, please hit me up with suggestions!
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.