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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!