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Last Minute First Class Trip – Was It Worth It?

A couple of weeks ago I faced a bit of a conundrum. I had some time to visit somewhere, but not a lot. Due to the time constraints of my businesses, I will be at home for much of the second half of the year, so I admit the idea of traveling when I have even a little bit of time is definitely appealing. And so I did what any good travel hacker does. I booked a First Class adventure to Asia.

Flights

Last Minute First Class Trip
Courtesy Great Circle Mapper

Over the course of just under seven days I flew: LAS-LAX-HKG-TPE-ICN-SFO-LAX-LAS. Let’s take a look at how that broke down and how much each leg cost me. 

LAS-LAX-HKG-TPE

This portion which ultimately took me from my home in Las Vegas to Taipei was booked with AAdvantage miles. Here is each segment and the product I flew:

  • LAS-LAX – American Airlines Boeing 737-800 in Economy Class
  • LAX-HKG – Cathay Pacific 777-300 ER in First Class
  • HKG-TPE – Cathay Pacific 777-300 ER in Business Class

Cost: 110,000 AAdvantage miles + $122

Last Minute First Class Trip
Can’t beat caviar at 40,000 feet. Cathay Pacific First Class LAX-HKG
Trip Notes

As I mentioned before, I used AAdvantage miles instead of Alaska miles because Alaska couldn’t see the space.  Unfortunately my Hong Kong to Taipei flight was supposed to be on an A350 but I got swapped to a 777 at the last minute which was a bummer. I had only scheduled that overnight layover the way I did so I could fly the A350. Oh well.

Other than the unfortunate equipment swap and a LONG night lounge hopping in Hong Kong (post to come soon) my flights on Cathay were good. The service on the First Class segment was decent although probably the least refined of any of my five Cathay First flights. Still really good though and light years ahead of American carriers.

TPE-ICN-SFO

Since this was a quick trip, I scheduled just over a day in Taipei before I technically began my flight back. Korean Air SKYPASS is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and that is how I booked this trip. One great feature of the program is it allows a free stopover on one-way awards. Here is what I flew.

  • TPE-ICN – Korean Air 747-400 First Class (downgraded from 777-300 ER)
  • ICN-SFO – Korean Air 747-8 First Class

Cost: 80,000 Korean Air SKYPASS miles + $128

Last Minute First Class Trip
The most comfortable First Class bed I have experienced. Korean Air First Class ICN-SFO
Trip Notes

I was excited for this return because the 747-8 has Korean’s best First Class product plus it was a new plane for me. I really loved it. As I wrote about the other day, the first segment from TPE-ICN was downgraded to an old crappy 747-400, but it was actually a pleasant surprise! This was my first Korean Air experience and I really enjoyed the service and the product on the 747-8.

One quirk about booking this trip was the transfer from Chase. In the past these transfers had been instant. About two weeks ago though Korean Air implemented a review period and transfers now take 2-7 business days. Thankfully Korean Air will hold awards up until the night before travel and I was able to call in and get this itinerary put on hold until the miles hit my account two days later. I was then able to pay and ticket everything online.

SFO-LAX-LAS

After flying to/from Asia over the course of less than a week I wanted nothing more than to fly directly home, however for some reason tickets from SFO-LAS direct were crazy expensive. I settled instead for a connection, but one that gave me a chance to fly a dying product.

  • SFO-LAX – Alaska Airlines (Virgin America) A320 Premium Class
  • LAX-LAS – Alaska Airlines (Virgin America) A320 First Class

Cost: 7,354 Ultimate Rewards ($110)

Last Minute First Class Trip
Virgin America First Class.
Trip Notes

Since I booked this rather last minute I was able to see that a ton of First Class seats were open on my flight LAX-LAS and gambled that I would get the upgrade as a lowly MVP elite member. That worked out plus I got the third row bulkhead down to LAX so it was a comfortable trip. Getting to experience Virgin America’s First Class was awesome too. I also was able to successfully connect in one hour from SFO’s International terminal to this flight which took some hustle but is completely doable.

Hotels

On this trip, I ended up spending a total of 7 nights away from home, but only four nights in a hotel. That’s because I basically spent the equivalent of two nights on airplanes and a third night lounge hopping at Hong Kong airport. I’ll have a detailed post on that later, because I think its definitely worth sharing. Outside of the planes/lounges here is where I spent the rest of my nights:

  • Grand Hyatt Taipei – 15,000 World of Hyatt Points for 1 night – Junior Suite overlooking Taipei 101
  • Grand Hyatt Incheon – 12,000 World of Hyatt Points for 1 night – Grand Suite overlooking Incheon Airport’s Terminal 1.
  • Park Hyatt Seoul – 20,000 World of Hyatt Points for 2 nights – Park Suite with amazing views of Seoul
Last Minute First Class Trip
Amazing “View from the bed” at the Park Hyatt Seoul

As a World of Hyatt Globalist at each of these properties I received suite upgrades without asking or contacting them ahead of time. At the Grand Hyatt Taipei and Park Hyatt Seoul I was given breakfast in the restaurant downstairs while I ate in the lounge in Incheon. All of the rooms were very nice suites and the views from the Park Hyatt Seoul and Grand Hyatt Taipei were fantastic. I plan to review each of these hotels individually but I do want to say that Hyatt properties in Asia have always impressed me and these hotels continued that tradition.

Final Cost

Putting aside the small amount of money I spent on food and transport to/from the airports my costs break down as follows:

  • 110,000 AAdvantage miles
  • 80,000 Korean Air miles (Ultimate Rewards)
  • 7,354 Ultimate Rewards
  • 67,000 World of Hyatt points (Ultimate Rewards)
  • $250 USD (wiped out with travel credits)

While I don’t know of the exact retail cost, I do know the Cathay flight was priced over $9,000 and a couple of airlines fly First Class from ICN-SFO for just over $4K one-way. (KAL seems to charge over $5K.) As for hotels, the Park Hyatt was over $400 per night for my stays while the other hotels were over $200. 

Last Minute First Class Trip
The Grand Hyatt Taipei is dwarfed by the 8th tallest building in the world, Taipei 101.

Was It Worth It

Over the past year I have watched my Ultimate Rewards balance climb into the seven figure range (thanks reselling) and thus I came into this year determined to spend some of those points. I am well aware that each of those points is actually worth $.01 each in cash, but I value travel experiences and thus continue to use them for travel. 

On this trip I got to spend time at very nice hotels, do some sightseeing in cities I have had limited travel to in the past and experience world class First Class products. All of these are things I love to do. While I do wish I was with my family for obvious reasons, that wasn’t possible this time around, but I totally feel like I got my money’s miles/points worth.

Conclusion

Booking last minute travel is a fun and adventurous way to see the world. In this case I was able to take a whirlwind trip to Asia, burn some miles and do what I love to do. In the end we collect miles/points to do these types of things and despite my limited time frame I am so glad i decided to take this trip.

Look for detailed hotel and flight reviews from the trip soon! What do you think? Would you spend this much on a short hop over the Pacific or am I crazy? Let me know in the comments!

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14 COMMENTS

  1. You had a good time and they’re your miles, so for you it was worth it. I’m sitting on much lower balances, so I’d need a longer stay to make it worthwhile. Is the Hyatt Incheon’s lounge still top notch?

  2. as you as much you love to sell Hyatt, Park Hyatt Seoul is in Gangnam, close to Samseong Station, and unless you’re a banker intending to conduct business in the financial district there, it’s a huge pain of multiple subway transfers to get to anywhere remotely interesting for tourism, 90+% of which lies north of the Hangang River

    A truly “fantastic view of seoul” should, at the minimum, include the N Seoul Tower that defines its skyline, not a few glass-n-steel banks that’s a dime a dozen.

    • Sell Hyatt? Really? Perhaps I should start charging them then? This wasn’t a review of the Park Hyatt, but I can elaborate to say I have been to Seoul before and have done most of the tourist sites. I loved the view from the window which was actually of some cool towers but mostly of busy and energetic street below. Of course I also included a photo so I wasn’t misleading anyone. I mainly wanted to visit the Lotte Tower and spent most of my time in that area so it worked for me. It is a lovely hotel. When I write a full review I will make sure to mention its location relative to most of the popular sites.

  3. If it works for you and you feel satisfied, then go for it. For me, that trip would have been a little too fast paced for me. I’m more of a relax and take your time kind of person. So I would have spent a little more time at each destination (other than the US cities). But, I get it, you were pressed for time.

  4. Good for you buddy! I think it’s certainly worth it. I would have done the same exact thing if I were in your situation. I have friends and family in Asia so I most likely would have stayed with them rather than use hotel points as I prefer to use those at beach resorts rather than city hotels.

  5. Last week I did:

    SJP-CGH-GRU-GIG-MIA-LAX-SLC-SFO-TPE-BKK-SIN-ICN-LAX-SLC-DFW-MIA-GIG-BSB-SJP

    A mixture of a great AA Business class deal out of GIG
    Plus a USA-ASIA r/t with Star Alliance flying Business Class with BR/TG/SQ/OZ
    Three first class USA domestic tickets with AA, UA and AS
    Some domestic Brazilian flights with JJ and G3

    I feel like a zombie but it was worth it 🙂

  6. I don’t know, Shawn… Even by my conservative AA valuation of 0.5c per mile, you splashed out over $2300 (including $1800 in real cash) for maybe 5 days on the ground, although can’t tell about the exact number of days without your trip report.

    Generally I can get really good overseas trips with some pretty luxe eating and activities in for $200 a day per person all in. So $450 a day seems high, but for a last minute situation and you doing well with your business, only you know if its worth it!

    • It’s hard to calculate your $200 a day when considering in first class flights, but you do have valid points. One of the reasons I wrote this was because I knew some people wouldn’t think it worth it. It also does show that travel isn’t “free”. 🙂

      • Definitely agree on the not free! Challenge accepted! This may sound braggy, sorry. 😉

        A first class Japan trip Total: ~$4300 for 9 full days for 2 people, $239 per person per day. ok, so maybe $200-$250, its a slippery slope isn’t it?

        1st class both ways to Tokyo and Kyoto for 2 people. Andaz in Tokyo with Tower view King room with Diamond breakfast, Ritz in Kyoto upgraded to top floor Garden Suite as Marriott Gold (!), ANA IC Tokyo. Lots of great restaurants (inc 5 Michelin starred with 8 stars) & natural sights & temples and onsen.

        Air tickets: $1378. JAL F JFK-NRT-JFK, ANA & JAL for domestic legs. 230K AA miles (62.5K each way and 20K discount for AA cardholders, valued 0.5c each), 24K ANA/BA miles, $108 cash. A bit of cheating given older 1st class pricing used, but its not too different from today. Another $100 each way by my valuation, but Alaska miles are less.

        Hotel: $850. 4 Hyatt free night certs, 1 IHG free night cert. Cash value of spend to get these certs was about $30 each through card apps. 230K Marriott points (70K from Ritz card sign up with no annual fee with spend valued at $40, others from paid stays but lets value at 0.35c each), 10K UR to Marriott (yes really).

        Eating: $1600
        Transit+taxis: $250
        Activities: $200

        • Amazing redemptions. Your trip highlights the true problem we face today though. Devalued programs (JAL F costing more) and reduced credit card benefits (no more Hyatt certs.) Still, an amazing trip! 🙂

  7. Appreciate articles that detail which miles were used. Even better perhaps if you discussed options and why you chose what you did. It wouldn’t be my kind of trip, but you enjoyed it and have large travel balances, so good you went!

  8. Ok for a single but not really doable for two as CX rarely release two F seats on major routes to/from the US

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