Drew’s Guide to Southeast Asia on Miles & Points

_DSC2288We’re the type of travelers who want to get to know a place, and the goal isn’t to check off a country and say I’ve seen it when I’ve only seen the airport and the Hyatt. So my experience isn’t a couple layovers in Phuket, but Carrie and I have spent well over 3 months in Thailand alone, probably 6 weeks on the island of Bali, 3+ weeks in Kuala Lumpur, etc…

All that is to say, we know the area well. We’ve never been to Laos (not in my plans either), or the Philippines. But that being said, here’s my “write up” on SE Asia in general.

I’ll go over: why I love SE Asia, my favorite places, the best points hotels in those spots, and then at the end go over the best miles to use to get to SE Asia and how to get around

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Find Your “Booking Class Code”: The Difference Between 0% Miles and 100%

codeNow I’m not one to go around recommending people actually pay for tickets, but when it happens, you need to know how to get the most miles no matter what airline you’re flying on. We’ve got another international mistake fare coming up, or perhaps you’re someone who has to fly for work… Whenever you pay for a flight there are multiple airlines you can credit the miles to.

The question is which is the best airline to credit miles to. Because now American Airlines, for example, doesn’t credit miles flown on all of their partners equally. It’s crazy because Cathay Pacific earns 0% miles, while most OneWorld partners would earn 100% AA miles. The difference here, is obviously huge.

To figure any of this stuff out however, you need to know what your fare basis code is.

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Remembering the Glory Days, and My First Ever Blog Posts

I tried to figure out how old my blog is and have had zero luck. The good news is that I found two old posts that represent the glory days in 2011. Reminisce with me for a minute…

But first, I’ll share why I think it’s so hard to find the original date of the site. Because of two things:

  1. I’ve deleted my first many months of blog posts. I think I was self conscious once people actually started reading the blog (a long time later) that people would think I was some broke kid, and realize that I didn’t splurge out for First Class like the other bloggers did/do.
  2. The only official date I have found is the date I registered the domain name, travelisfree.com on July 11, 2011. Before that it was travelisfree.wordpress.com. And the archive of the internet doesn’t seem to notice my blog exists before then.

Despite all the effort, July 11, 2011 is the oldest date I can find. Whatever. We’ll call that this site’s birth date, even though I think it was before May because I remember blogging before we got married. Either way, we missed the site’s 3rd birthday.

In the process, I was able to find a few awesome gems for flashback friday.

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Best Category 1 & 2 Starwood SPG Hotels

Westin Zagreb for 3,000 – 4,000 a night

If you’re familiar with the Starwood SPG program you know that category 1 & 2 hotels are insanely cheap. We’re talking 2,000 to 4,000 points for a night.  SPG and Hilton seem to have the biggest gap between highest and lowest hotels.

Albeit nearly impossible to redeem only for category 1 weekends, but in theory, a night at a top tier hotel could be 17 nights at a category 1. Huge difference, and there are some even “off the chart” priced hotels in Santorini, Bora Bora, etc…

So what I did here is basically used the Complete Map of Starwood Hotels, and sorted so I could only see Category 1 and 2 hotels.  And trust me when I say, there are some great hotels on the list… especially the Category 2 list.

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Two Bribes (Kind-of) Ruining My Free Trip

Let me be clear about two things. 1) We have never had a Yellow Fever vaccine, ever. And 2) I don’t like lying, at all… but the stakes were pretty high. If we missed our flight the rest of the ticket would have been cancelled.

So let me back up and explain what happened.

We’re late to the airport as usual. Actually, I consider it early if we show up to the gate and have to wait instead of boarding right away. And we’re certainly notorious for not “researching” ahead of time. Visas, reciprocity fees, onward tickets, and now vaccines… they’ve all surprised us at boarding at some point.

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7 Hotel Locations with Downtown at the Front Door

DSC_1168My favorite part of luxury hotels is not the luxury, but the location. Sometimes the hotels are in grand beautiful historic buildings on the main square and I can’t help but think, “only Ritz Carlton could afford to buy that building”.

Also, I love going to cities and I love seeing the city by foot. For me, being in the city’s main square is the best feeling. And there are wonderful locations that aren’t what I’m talking about. I absolutely love the view from the InterContinental Hong Kong (and Grand Hyatt) but it’s my favorite location for the view, not because of location (although, I do walk outside and watch the light show). This is also about city hotels, the InterContinental in Fiji is beautiful but not “downtown”.

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$0 Trip to Latin America: Booking the Flights

A little bit ago I introduced our series on doing completely Free Trips with all travel expenses paid. This is our “first trip” since having the concept of doing trips with the goal of being completely free.

  1. $0 Trip to Latin America: Introduction

The trip consists of 24 nights in Central and South America. Particularly Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala. This was great timing because we had seen 3 of these countries but were thinking of doing a little more of Latin America and sharpening what little spanish speaking skills we have. The flights were the key part, but it was a part decided after seeing the IHG PointBreaks list. The InterContinental in Panama City, Cali, San Jose, and Guatemala City were 5,000 points a night. Seeing new places, hitting South America, staying at IC hotels for 5,000 points and testing my “Latin Hopper with United Miles” concept… it was a win, win, win. Click to Read More…

Best Use of Citi ThankYou Points – Airline Transfers

Citi has some new airline partners, so I thought I’d take a second to explain some of these new partners. If you like the Hidden Gem series I did a while back, or if you have Citi points, check out details on all of these odd partners.

We’ll go over each transfer option, how it works and how it compares to other options. Understand that all of these airlines pass on fuel surcharges. Each one of these airlines used internationally could rack up a ton of fuel surcharges. The exception is always flights within North America and South America (and the Caribbean). Therefore use the Master Chart of Avoiding Fuel Surcharges to see if there’s an airline within an alliance you can redeem points on that doesn’t have fuel surcharges.

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Finishing my Bucket List: To Bora Bora or not to Bora Bora?

For whatever reason, I just remembered this site I used years and years ago to write down my bucket list. The idea of the site was to encourage people to complete their life goals, encourage each other. While I never became part of the community, I did write down a list… and today I found that list.

It’s funny how your priorities change so much over time.

On a number of levels, I nailed it:

  • Take an American (out west) road trip
  • Snorkel in SE Asia
  • Do one of those “Round the World” trips

Truth is, I always wanted to travel. And in that sense, I’ve nailed it. I’ve seen India, I’ve flown around the world, I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and most national parks out west.

But there are a few things that are life goals I’ve never done:

  • Tibet
  • Serengeti Plains
  • French Polynesia

Why is it that I haven’t seen 3 of the places I’ve specifically always wanted to go?

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