***This post is part 1 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***
Planning for this trip started more than a year ago, when I decided I
wanted to visit Cambodia and Laos. I already had two long vacations
planned for 2011 (Tokyo/Vietnam and New Zealand),
so of course, this trip had to be pushed back to spring of 2012. One of
the benefits of committing almost a year in advance is that award
availability is often wide open - and that's exactly what I saw when I
started to do some preliminary searches online. I decided I wanted to
try out Cathay Pacific's business class going there, and a variety of
first class flights on Star Alliance airlines coming back.
had miles on both American Airlines as well as British Airways
(pre-devaluation), but it made more sense for me to use AA since it only cost 5,000 more miles in business class one-way,
and I could save hundreds in fuel surcharges that were imposed by BA. In addition, as I described in my trip report on Zion National Park,
I was able to tack on a LAS-(LAX)-SFO leg months in advance of my
actual departure date due to American Airline's
one-stopover-at-a-North-American-gateway rule. In the end, my itinerary
looked like LAS-(LAX)-SFO-(HKG)-PNH, with a five month "stopover"
in San Francisco. Total cost was 55,000 AAdvantage miles and $32.50 in taxes and fees. SFO-HKG was on Cathay Pacific
business class, and HKG-PNH on Dragonair business class.
Curiously though, despite the nearly universal rule that no
changes are allowed after travel has already begun on an award ticket, I
was not only able to change my SFO-(HKG)-PNH departure date after I had already flown the LAS-(LAX)-SFO leg,
but the routing as well! In late January, I realized that I would have
to push back my departure date from San Francisco as well as cancel the
entire Laos portion of my trip due to crazy deadlines at work. I called
up American Airlines hoping and praying that they would let me change
the dates, but I was pretty much prepared to just cancel the entire
vacation. Amazingly, the agent I got happily pushed my departure date
back by a month, and even allowed me to change the routing to SFO-(LAX)-(HKG)-PNH
(since no direct SFO-HKG flights were available)! I was floored at how
flexible she was, and best of all, I realized I would be able to try out
Cathay Pacific's new business class on the LAX-HKG flight! I
definitely think I lucked out with this particular phone agent, but it really speaks to how important it is to simply hang up and call back if you ever get an uncooperative customer service representative.
For my return flights, I had originally booked
VTE-BKK-(HKG)-ICN-LAX-SFO using United Airlines miles in first class
(with some business class segments). The total cost was
72,500 MileagePlus miles (pre-award chart changes in June 2011) plus $79.60 in taxes and fees. However, due to the work commitments I
mentioned, I had to cancel the VTE-BKK leg and push all the dates back
by a month as well. Again, I got lucky with the phone agent because usually, changing the origin/destination incurs an
additional $75 fee for non-elites. However, I was able to convince her that I was
simply removing one segment from my itinerary. After getting approval
from her supervisor, she agreed to make the changes without any fees! In
the end, I had a BKK-(HKG)-ICN-LAX-SFO itinerary, with BKK-HKG on Thai
Airways first class, HKG-ICN-LAX on Asiana Airlines business and first
class, and LAX-SFO on United Airlines first class.
In early 2012, Cambodia Angkor Air finally fixed their website
and I was able to book a one-way PNH-REP flight very easily, for a total
cost of $88.00. Although this is only a 45-minute flight gate-to-gate,
they can pretty much charge whatever they want since flights are almost
always full of tourists. Similarly, for REP-BKK, Bangkok Airways has a
complete monopoly over this route, so the one-hour, one-way flight ended
up costing a whopping $276.68! Luckily, I was able to use 20,751 ThankYou points to offset the cost.
So with all the flight dates finally set, I was able to start
planning for hotel stays and places I wanted to visit during the
week I would be in Cambodia. In addition, I had stopovers in Bangkok and
a very long overnight layover in Seoul which I had to plan for. It just
so happened during this time that Starwood Preferred Guest announced
category changes for their hotels, and I noticed that both the Le
Meridien Angkor and the Aloft Bangkok were going down one category (3 to
2 and 2 to 1, respectively). I quickly took advantage of these changes
and booked my cash and points stay for both hotels. In the end, the Le Meridien Angkor only cost 1,600 Starpoints + $30 per night, and the Aloft Bangkok only cost 1,200 Starpoints + $25 per night!
For my stay in Phnom Penh, there was actually an
InterContinental in town, but the location wasn't convenient and the reviews
were just ok. So I went with The Pavilion Hotel, a smaller local chain
that was reasonably priced and very close to the Royal Palace and
National Museum. For Seoul, I had a 23-hour layover, which gave me
plenty of time to go into the city and visit a friend of mine. I had a
category 1-4 free night e-cert from my Chase Marriott Visa that was
expiring in May, so it worked out perfectly. I booked one night at the
Courtyard Seoul Times Square, which was in a good location... although
location really matters very little in Seoul since the metro system is
so vast and efficient.
Total amount spent out of pocket
for all airfare (including taxes and fees) and hotels ended up being $480.10, in addition to 55,000 AAdvantage miles, 72,500 MileagePlus miles, 20,751 ThankYou points, and 8,800 SPG points. There would be some adjustments later on, however, after my interesting stay at the Le Meridien Angkor!