How I Booked a $90,000 Trip to Singapore, Bali, and Hong Kong for Less Than $1,500 Out of Pocket

I’ve wanted to take my family on a trip to Singapore, Bali, and Hong Kong for several years now but it never worked out until this summer. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to book the trip for five people, in a mixture of business and first class, for less than $1,500 out of pocket. Thanks to a large stash of Arrival Miles, I managed to off-set most of our expenses. The only exception were tips, incidentals, and the (partial) annual fees on the Citi Executive AAdvantage card, which I had used to earn some of the miles for the flights.

Cathay Pacific Business Class: San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific Business Class

Cathay Pacific Business Class

I kept an eye out on award availability and in January, I managed to snag five seats in Cathay Pacific Business Class. Ideally, I would have redeemed Alaska miles for the following routes: SFO – HKG – SIN – DPS one way (with a stopover in Singapore), then DPS – HKG – SFO for the return (with a stopover in Hong Kong). This would have been perfect since Alaska Airlines allows a stopover on one-way awards, which would have been a bargain at 50,000 miles in Business Class or 70,000 in First. However, due to a lack of award space, that didn’t work out. I was nervous about my stash of 600,000+ American AAdvantage miles devaluing, so I decided to redeem 55,000 miles per person when seats opened up on Cathay Pacific from San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong.

Grand Hyatt Singapore 

Grand Corporate Suite at the Grand Hyatt Singapore

Grand Corporate Suite at the Grand Hyatt Singapore

I booked four nights at the Grand Hyatt Singapore and redeemed a Diamond Suite Upgrade Award. Since my Diamond status was expiring in February, booking a suite meant I would still have access to some valuable elite benefits like free breakfast, club lounge access and a better room. The standard suite upgrade at this hotel is to a 2-level Duplex Suite, though occasionally the hotel upgrades people further to a Grand Corporate Suite (which was going for over $1,300 per night).

I decided to sign my brother up for the Hyatt Diamond Challenge, since it made more sense than booking the breakfast rate at each hotel. A week before our stay, my brother wrapped up his Hyatt Diamond Challenge and I booked a second room at the Grand Hyatt Singapore using Points + Cash (12,500 points + $100).

Garuda Indonesia Economy Class Singapore to Bali

Airplane View Garuda Indonesia SIN - DPS

Enroute to Bali

Cathay Pacific never opened up any award space to Bali on our preferred dates, so the best option for the 2.5 hour flight was to book five one-way economy class tickets on Garuda Indonesia. The total cost came to $572.79, which I was able to off-set with just under 52,000 Arrival Miles. At check-in I was told I needed a return ticket to enter Bali, so I booked five refundable tickets at the nearby ticketing desk and then cancelled them when I got to Bali (though that was a whole other adventure in itself).

Bali Villa Rental and Hotel

Villa Bulung Daya in Antap, Bali

Villa Bulung Daya in Antap, Bali

Based on all of the rants about how touristy and awful Bali’s developed areas were, I decided to book an oceanfront villa in northwest Bali for part of the trip. It came to $625 per night and since Airbnb rentals are classified as travel purchases by Barclay, I was able to redeem Arrival Miles for the stay. The villa was only available for three nights, so I needed to book a hotel for the remaining three. I had a hard time deciding between the Intercontinental JimbaranW Retreat Seminyak, Grand Hyatt, Banyan Tree Ungasan, The Laguna Resort or the Conrad Bali.  

I knew I wanted a small resort that offered pool villas, and while the Laguna had the cheapest option ($375 per night for a Hibiscus Villa), the Conrad eventually won out for several reasons:

  • As a Hilton HHonors Diamond member, I would be entitled to some valuable benefits, including a room upgrade upon availability, breakfast, club lounge access, free laundry and a 15 – 25% discount on spa treatments and dining. My brother was a Hilton Gold member, so he would receive most of these benefits as well. 
  • Hilton’s Double Points promotion would make this stay very lucrative in terms of earning points (44,000 to be exact).
  • The Conrad Bali had a pool villa available for around $500 per night, which looked much nicer than the one at The Laguna. The Conrad Suites section is often described as a “resort within a resort,” which met my criteria for a smaller property.
  • Through the Discover Asia promotion, rates during our travel dates were as low as $150 per night. I was hoping to book this rate for at least one room and then get upgraded to the Suites section. The rate increased by the time I decided to book, so I instead redeemed 106,000 Hilton points along with 18,000 Ultimate Rewards points for a total of three nights. I later tacked on a Points + Cash stay for 24,000 + $100 cash.
Conrad Bali Penthouse Suite

Conrad Bali Penthouse Suite

My expectations were pretty low based on some of the negative feedback I’d heard about the Conrad, but it ended up being a great choice. We got upgraded several times (eventually to the Penthouse Suite) and had the best time thanks to the amazing staff and great amenities offered by the resort. 

Cathay Pacific: Bali to Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific Economy Class Bali to Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific Economy Class Bali to Hong Kong

Upon checking in at the Conrad Bali, award space opened up to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific: Two Business Class seats and three in economy. Since I also found two Cathay Pacific First Class seats to San Francisco, this meant I could redeem 70,000 Alaska miles for each award, including the stopover in Hong Kong. Since my sister had to be home by August 3, she had to travel on that particular flight. My parents were considering extending their stay in Hong Kong to meet up with my uncles who were in mainland China, so it was decided that my brother would take the second First Class seat that opened up.

Unfortunately, this meant my brother and sister would be flying Business Class to Hong Kong while my parents and I were stuck in coach. My parents were totally ok with it, but I was embarrassed and frustrated about putting them in coach while my siblings sat up front. At least I was with them and the seat during the 4.5 hour flight ended up being quite comfortable. This segment set us back 12,500 Avios per person.

Grand Hyatt Hong Kong

Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Grand Suite

Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Grand Suite

The Grand Hyatt Hong Kong was going for over $400 per night during our stay – before selling out altogether. I opted to book one room using Points + Cash (12,500 + $150) and the other just points. It was steep at 25,000 points, but I wanted to keep the final bill as low as possible since I was burning through my Arrival Miles at that point. On our second night, I transferred both reservations to my brother’s name and upgraded one room to a Grand Suite. This became necessary since the rooms at this hotel were quite small and the front desk agent informed me as a Platinum member I’d have to pay an extra $180 per night for club lounge access. 

Cathay Pacific First Class: Hong Kong to San Francisco

Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco

Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco

Just two days before my brother and sister were departing Hong Kong, another First Class seat opened on their flight. My parents preferred to travel together, so I booked myself on the flight, using 67,500 AAdvantage miles. Shortly after, two First Class seats opened up on the HKG – LAX route, so I booked that along with a connecting flight to San Francisco for my parents. These segments were also booked using AAdvantage miles, with the taxes covered with Arrival miles from my account as well as my dad’s.  

This was an amazing trip and, more than anything, I’m glad I got to experience it with my parents and siblings in tow. I wanted everything about the trip to be amazing, so whether it was flying in a premium cabin or having a superior hotel experience, I think I managed to do just that. Even my brother, who is pretty laid back and nonchalant about most things was impressed. At the end, he suggested we stay at a Motel 6 to keep our standards for future trips in check, because nothing would top this (we’ll see about that ;). 

I did a final tally of what this trip would have cost cash: Well over $90,000 or a minimum of $10,000 if we’d done it in coach and booked nothing but standard rooms at every hotel. Meanwhile, I redeemed around one million points and miles. I get asked often whether all of the hassles associated with credit card churning and manufactured spending are worth it. Based on this trip alone, I would say it paid off in spades.

I’ll have a trip report detailing the flights and hotel stays, but in the mean time you can get a snapshot of my trip by checking out my Twitter feed and Instagram.

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Ariana Arghandewal


    • I did this once and it nearly drove me crazy. Not sure how you’ve managed it all these years – perhaps TBB should take on a new angle (extreme award booking)?

  1. So, you left the US with one-way tickets and hoped award tickets would open up for the return? Singapore did not required a ticket that continued on? Also, when you had tickets in economy, then first class space opened up on Cathay, what happened to the economy tickets?

    • Yes, it was pretty much my only option since award space didn’t open up 7 months ahead of time. The only place where I encountered problems was at the Garuda Indonesia desk at Singapore Airport. I guess Indonesia is a bit more strict than Singapore and Hong Kong.

      I had booked 5 refundable economy tickets from Bali to Hong Kong, which I cancelled when I arrived in Bali. The tickets were way too expensive, so there was no way I was going to keep them even if award space didn’t open up. Eventually two CX first and 3 economy award seats opened up and I booked those using points.

      • Hi! Thanks so much for sharing your adventures!

        It would make me nervous waiting for international award space to open up while on an international trip. Were you checking daily on the computer, or calling CX daily?

        What was your backup plan if no award space opened up for your return flights? Did you have refundable tickets for the returns just in case?

        • CX is pretty reliable about opening up award space close to departure, so I wasn’t too worried. The week before our desired flight, I began monitoring space more closely. I didn’t really have a back-up plan – maybe route via Japan on CX/JAL and I did have 100k UR points set aside in case United opened up space. Worst case scenario, I would have to book an economy award on points or buy a ticket with Arrival miles.

  2. Out of curiosity… how did you book the award tickets abroad without incurring massive roaming charges on the cell phone? We are headed over to bali in December with return in business, but would love to move to first if it opens, just don’t want to incur a $100 phone bill while on hold.

    • I used my laptop for the Avios bookings and Viber to call AA/Alaska customer service. I also have T-mobile, which offers unlimited data and texting abroad. This was massively helpful in Singapore and Hong Kong. We could text each other, make calls via Viber, look up places to eat, use the maps on our phones – all without having to worry about finding free wifi first.

  3. my wife and I just stayed in conrad bali during March this year, i used cash / pts for the stay , did the guranteed upgrade for lagoon access room with pts ,wasn’t sure if they will upgrade upon arrival , stay was great , terrific breakfast buffet, but the beach was totally disappointing .

  4. Wait, so how many Arrival miles did you redeem for this trip?

    Nice trip though. I think these trips with 5 or more people will be almost impossible soon (at least in premium cabins.)

        • About a year and a half of ms across three Arrival cards – up until a year ago Barclay Rewardsboost was offering 4 miles per $1 on Amex gift cards (total of 6 miles), which helped me accrue a huge stash. Aside from that, it’s been mostly Amex gc – visa gc – Redbird loads.

  5. I agree with the value of Arrival card but after one year I fail to understand the logic of keeping this card with the annual fee while you can have a free Fidelity Amex card.

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