Your first thought is "yeah right", but before you finish that thought, let me tell you that this really happened and actually it really happens all the time. It's not even remarkable. The catch? It takes serious planning. These things don't happen overnight, but with a little bit of work, anyone can take a ridiculous over the top vacation, saving thousands and thousands while doing things they may have not ever considered possible. $25,560 sound off? You're right, it was more like $30,000...
Planning + Background
Vacation time is precious and we aimed to pack in the best of Asia on a nine night trip starting in the US. In short, the best way to save major money is to book flights and hotels using points and miles. There are tons of ways to earn points and miles without leaving home, meaning you don't even have to be a frequent traveler to earn them, though it helps. We'll get to the details below...
We're flying New York to Tokyo, Tokyo to Hanoi, Hanoi to Bangkok, Bangkok to Hong Kong and then home to New York. For those keeping score, that's two open jaw round trip flights, and a one way ticket booked separately. We booked New York to Tokyo, Hong Kong to New York as one open jaw round trip and Tokyo to Hanoi, Hanoi to Bangkok as the second open jaw. We added on one flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong to break up the trip, allowing a stopover in Bangkok.
New York to Tokyo, Hong Kong to New York In Japan Airlines + Cathay Pacific Business Class
How We Booked: Before British Airways devalued, almost three years ago, we signed up for three credit cards per person. We got the British Airways Visa card with 50,000 point bonus, Amex Gold with 50,000 transferrable point bonus and Chase Sapphire Preferred with 50,000 point bonus. We were able to take advantage of some bonus promotions, which let us earn a bonus when we transferred our Amex points to British Airways.
Our Cost: 140,000 miles + $112 per person. New York to Tokyo: 70,000 p/p. Hong Kong to New York: 70,000 p/p.
Cost Using Cash: $7,500-15,000 per person. Minimum $15,000 total.
Savings: Minimum savings of $7388 per person.
What YOU Can Do: You can take these flights for less miles than we paid by earning American Airlines or Alaska Airlines miles. You can earn them from credit card spending, flying, online shopping and even buying the miles needed immediately from American or Alaska for flights on Cathay at a large discount in their current sales.
Tokyo to Hanoi, Hanoi To Bangkok In Japan Airlines + Qatar Airlines Business Class
How We Booked: British Airways calculates the amount of miles you need for a free flight on distance. The shorter the distance, the less miles and the better the value. Over the course of a year we did a couple of easy things to earn more miles. We referred friends to our Chase Sapphire Preferred cards. Meaning, we sent an email to a few people who we knew wanted to get a good travel card and in exchange, we got 5,000-10,000 points per sign up. We also signed up for promotional emails, and when American, British Airways and Iberia offered 25,000 bonus miles for every business class ticket purchased, we each earned a whopping 25,000 miles each on tickets that only cost $686 in an amazing sale. Noticing a pattern? Pay attention to deals and promotions (which of course you can find here).
Our Cost: 46,500 miles + $56 per person. Tokyo to Hanoi: 37,500 p/p. Hanoi to Bangkok: 9,000 p/p.
Cost Using Cash: $3,230 per person. Minimum $6,560 total.
Savings: Minimum savings of $3,186 per person.
What YOU Can Do: Fly, get a credit card that can earn British Airways miles or just use the British Airways online shopping portal "Gate 365" to get miles for everything you buy online from your favorite stores. One laptop can net you as much as 25,000 miles, more than half way to a free ticket on one essential purchase.
Bangkok to Hong Kong In Cathay Pacific Business Class
How We Booked: Every day spending adds up. Aside from nights out, clothes and all that stuff, we put our phone bills, car lease payments, cable bill and every daily grocery purchase on our credit cards. By doing so, we earn a minimum of one mile per dollar spent, sometimes more than five per dollar spent. From every day spending we were able to rack up an additional 25,000 points per person, making these luxurious flights a breeze, without spending a dime we didn't need to anyway.
Our Cost: 15,000 miles + $15 per person.
Cost Using Cash: $604 per person. Minimum $1208 total.
Savings: $589 per person.
What YOU Can Do: Never spend money without earning points. If you earn miles on every dollar you spend, free flights add up. Also, never fly without earning miles, even if you don't think you'll fly that airline again.
Two Nights Ritz Carlton Tokyo
How We Booked: The Ritz in Tokyo is as good as it gets. To score two free nights there, we grabbed the Ritz Carlton Rewards Card, which offered a 140,000 point sign up bonus, enough for two free nights. The card also comes with Club Level access three times annually on all paid stays, which will come in handy later in the trip...
Cost Using Cash: $529 per night. $1058 total.
What YOU Can Do: You can stay at Ritz Carlton hotels for free using Marriott points. There's a Marriott Rewards credit card and a Ritz Carlton card which each offer at least one free night and elite perks. You'll earn hotel points on all purchases, enabling you to earn future free nights all the time. You can also buy Marriott points in sales from time to time.
Four Nights In Hanoi
How We Booked: Whoops, we haven't yet. Vietnam unfortunately (for the country) has one of the weakest currencies and many of the nicest five star options that only run about $75-$125 per night. We are still weighing our options, but using the fourth night free on our Citi Prestige card, we will pay for three nights but get four. The card offers fourth night free on all paid hotel stays, anywhere, which is arguably one of the greatest credit card benefits in the world.
Cost Using Cash: Roughly $300
Savings: Roughly $100 (Free 4th Night).
What You Can Do: If you're in the US and travel, the Citi Prestige is one of the best possible cards, offering lounge access for two on almost all flights, fourth night free on an unlimited number of hotel stays (yes, really), a $250 annual airline credit which even counts for the cost of booking a ticket, free Global Entry and more.
One Night Intercontinental Hong Kong
How We Booked: IHG, the chain behind the Intercontinental Hong Kong often sells points in extreme sales. If you know what you'd like to do with them, they can be your ticket to swanky stays without the price tag, we booked the hotel when it was 50,000 points per night for $287 with points purchased in an IHG sale.
Cost Using Cash: $446
What YOU Can Do: You can either wait until the next IHG points sale and buy points for cheap, or you can instantly grab 70,000 points, more than enough for a free night at this hotel, with enough points left over for another free night at another hotel with the IHG Rewards Card. I'd personally just buy the points in a sale, I don't hold the IHG card and don't plan to...
Two Nights Ritz Carlton Hong Kong
How We Booked: Earlier I mentioned that with the Ritz card, you receive three upgrades to club level annually on paid stays. Believe it or not, we paid for this stay, but with the upgrade to club level, where we receive free food and drinks (yes alcoholic drinks too) all day, we'll save a small fortune each day while enjoying a larger room at no additional cost. Expensive? Very, but how often do you plan on taking a 15 hour flight to Asia?
Cost Using Cash: $417 per night. $834 total.
Savings: It depends how much you eat and drink. I say.. $150 per day.
What YOU Can Do: No great tips here, we paid for this, we just got extraordinary benefits which help justify the cost of the stay and having the credit card which got us free nights earlier in the trip. Win win...
BUT Wait, We Could've Done SO MUCH BETTER...
We chose pure luxury, opulence, over the top fashion for this trip, because it's not one we plan to do often. If we had gone for more economical hotels using points we could've pretty much comp'd every nights stay rather than just a couple. If we had used Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points or gone for Marriott's lower end properties, we would've been able to use less points and still stay in nice hotels. Furthermore, if we had collected better types of airline miles for the trip, such as Alaska or American Airlines miles, we could've done all of this for even less. So yeah, we really did this, you could actually do much better and really, you should.