Since I moved to the US in 2014, I've made it a point to go home at least once a year to spend time with family and friends, and I'm glad I've been able to do so over the last 3 years. Deciding the timing for this year's home trip was made easy by the following factors:
Besides, traveling in May allowed me to optimize several travel perks:
Using these facts and circumstances, I was able to piece together a home trip relatively cheaply, and optimized the points and miles before they expire.
A lot of people see hotel points and airline miles as a 'bonus', if they can use it, great, if not, they will just let it be forfeited. For a frugal travel enthusiast like me, I treat every points and miles like money, and I try my best not to waste them, which results in the tendency to optimize everything I have. After all, it ain't easy earning them in the first place.
1. Round trip flight from US to Asia
The biggest piece of this trip were the transpacific flights between the US and Asia. I found cheap tickets from New York to Kuala Lumpur, returning from Singapore for $413 roundtrip. These flights usually cost around $700, so this was a pretty good deal. Note that these are just normal discounted fares, not error fares. Better still, 3 out of 4 flights are operated by ANA (I prefer Asian carriers). =P
41 hours of flying for $413 ain't bad at all! I thought about redeeming 33,040 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (1.25 cents/point) through the Ultimate Rewards site. To be honest, it's a pretty good redemption rate for a roundtrip flight between US and Asia (usually cost 80,000 points on United). However, I decided to pay for the tickets out of pocket and save the points for future redemptions.
According to Google flight's price tracker, $413 was the lowest price in the last 3 months.
2. Flight from Huntsville to New York
After getting the ticket for the long flight, I had to find a way to fly from Huntsville to New York. I had 10,190 Krisflyer miles that I earned from my home trip in 2015 and those points will expire in December 2018. In order to redeem a one-way flight within the US, I needed 12,500 miles. Hence, I converted 6,250 of my Hyatt points to 2,500 Krisflyer miles (1:2.5) to top up my Krisflyer miles. That’s probably not a good conversion but I wasn’t planning on using my remaining Hyatt points anyway.
The biggest downside of Krisflyer miles is that they expire 3 years after you earn them (regardless of other activities). So remember to use them or lose them.
3. Flight from Penang to Singapore
As my flight back to US was an open-jaw ticket returning from Singapore, I had to find a way to fly from Penang to Singapore. There are multiple budget airlines that fly this route and they are not expensive. I could have easily paid for the flight out of pocket. However, I knew that one of the budget airlines that flies direct between Penang and Singapore is Scoot, and I could redeem Krisflyer miles for Scoot vouchers. My family members had some Krisflyer miles (less than 5,000 each) that were expiring in October 2018. Those points were too little to redeem for any flights on Silkair or Singapore Airlines, and they weren’t planning on using those miles before they expire. Therefore, I redeemed 3,200 Krisflyer miles each from both mom and bro’s account for SGD 60 (MYR 179) Scoot vouchers.
If you have limited Krisflyer miles that are expiring, redeeming for Scoot may be a good option.
The total cost of the flight was MYR 219 ($56), including 35kg of baggage. Note that the vouchers can only be used for the fare and baggage fee (exclude taxes and processing fee).
4. Flight from New York to Nashville
One mistake I made was that I forgot to look for flights from New York to Huntsville/Nashville earlier, especially since I earned the Platinum medallion status in January (allows free cancellation and changes). By the time I checked in April, the award redemption rate to Huntsville was quite high already. Therefore, I opted to fly to Nashville (further) instead. Besides, I wanted some contingency in case of any delay, and there was one more later flight to Nashville in case I missed the one I booked.
Delta charges an award ticket redeposit fee of $150, which is waived for Diamond and Platinum Medallion members. Took advantage of this perk to save 500 miles by cancelling and rebooking the same flight when I noticed the award redemption rate dropped from 11,000 to 10,500 miles.
5. 1 night hotel in KL
My flight was scheduled to arrive KL at 11.30pm and there were no more flights from KL to Penang after midnight. Therefore, I decided to spend a night in KL and took the opportunity to meet up with friends and relatives. I had a free night certificate from the 2017 Marriott Fall Megabonus that was expiring in June 2018 and this trip was a good time to use it.
List of Marriott hotels to choose from in KL (highest is Cat 3). JW Marriott is the most expensive but I've stayed there previously so I decided to try out Majestic Hotel this time.
Booked the deluxe room with the free night certificate but received a suite upgrade upon check-in.
6. Other FREE Perks
Yes please! =)
Extra baggage allowance and expedited baggage service. The priority baggage service was my saving grace when my flight from Tokyo landed late, leaving me with only an hour get through immigration in New York and re-check in for the Delta flight (separate ticket).
Getting a row of 3 seats to myself for the 14-hour flight from Newark to Tokyo, and 7-hour flight from Singapore to Tokyo was awesome! Turned it into my personal 'economy flat-bed'. =D
Complimentary suite upgrade and free buffet breakfast for 2 at the Majestic Hotel KL.
Complimentary lounge access at Newark airport, Tokyo Narita airport, and Singapore Changi airport thanks to my United Club membership. Having lounge access definitely made the long journeys so much better! And best of all, I spent $0 on food during all the transits/layovers. =)
By finding cheap flights, optimizing frequent flyer miles, and with some planning, I was able to travel 10,000 miles home (in style) for only $450, all-in! And the time spent with family - PRICELESS!!