That Time We Flew 24,000 Miles in Business… for 40k UA Miles

One trip that I’ve been referencing a lot lately, was the time we did the Pacific Hopper, and flew from Guam to Asia, then to Polynesia via New Zealand.

I wanted to do a post thinking back on that trip now 4.5 years later. Since I reference it all the time, I thought I would go into details because it was such a great trip.

I know the trip looks crazy on paper… actually, it is crazy. But it was one of the best experiences of my life.

The best part is that 40,000 United miles isn’t hard to earn. We either earned it from signing up for the United card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred (before the Reserve) – which transfers to United.

So we earned more than enough from one card bonus, and I’d say this is about the most flying you could do with one card… and in business.

 

The Trip Overview

Originally, I had noticed how cheap it was to go from Oceania to Oceania, and the region of “Oceania” seemed to include a heck of a large area – Micronesia close to China/Japan and all the way to Polynesia in the south Pacific (not quite bookable anymore, as I’ll mention in a minute).

So for 12.5k/20k miles each way, we could go from one to the other… and it let us book a stopover in New Zealand. So we flew business class.

 

The route

We started in Saipan, as we got an Avios flight from Japan to Guam, and then after two weeks on Guam got a super cheap flight to Saipan.

Here’ s the trip:

  1. Start Guam/Saipan
  2. A day (17.5 hour) layover in Singapore
  3. 2 weeks in New Zealand
    1. 8 days spent in Fiji
  4. 2 weeks in Rarotonga
  5. A night in Sydney
  6. Layover in Tokyo… where we just got off the plane

Pretty good for 25k/40k, right?

Although the ticket kind of started and ended in Japan.

 

Guam

Highlights I’ll discuss:

  • Snorkeling and losing our boat in Guam
  • Queenstown, New Zealand
  • InterContinental Fiji on PointBreaks
  • Seeing a moray eel in Rarotonga
  • The lounges

It was our first time flying business class. It was my gateway. After all it was only 15,000 miles more to do the entire thing in business. Yet, it was like, a billion hours of flying. A no-brainer.

 

 

Let me set this up with two things – one miles related, and one personal.

A personal note:

At that point in life, our travel was more like a gap year. We had a totally different mentality, and were probably the most frugal people (at that point) I think I’d ever met. I mean, we were traveling indefinitely with no income, burning through little savings.

So in Guam, we were car camping… in a beater car. Until we made friends with a stranger who ended up hosting us for the second week.

In Saipan we coachsurfed.

In Rarotonga a hitched ride led to an opportunity to stay in a stranger’s rental house, which was in between tenants.

 

But we’re also flying business class all over the place. I can’t imagine what people would have thought. Hippy trust fund kids? It would’ve been hard to place us.

But anyways. The Singapore Airlines lounge was about the most glorious thing I’d ever seen. So much food… and so much good food.

Oh, and the Thai lounge gave us each 30 minute massages.

It was otherly.

 

A note about the miles:

The exact ticket we flew is not bookable, butvery similar one is.

We went from Oceania to Oceania for 20,000 miles.

Today you’d have to go from a different region to Oceania.

Oneway examples:

  • Japan – Oceania = 12.5k/30k
  • North Asia – Oceania = 15k/30k
  • South Asia – Oceania = 22.5k/40k
  • Australia / New Zealand – Oceania = 22.5k/40k

 

If you’re going all the way to Polynesia, know that it is very hard to get Air New Zealand award availability in general, but especially so to Pacific islands.

See my latest post 5 Crazier United Mile Stopover Tickets.

 

 

1) Start in Guam / Saipan

We had some certs to use with Marriott and stayed at the Marriott and Hilton for the first few days.

I hear Guam sometimes gets a bad wrap for the touristy bay area… but it wasn’t that touristy. I mean come on, compared to Cancun or something? Not even close. It’s legit full of coral and is stunningly beautiful.

Look at the pictures:

The above is on the east side of the main Tumon bay.

& the below is from the center of the bay looking west.

But neither picture does justice to how clear the water was.

 

Car camping –> Being hosted

Since there were no accommodations in our budget, I found a local car rental place and we decided to car camp for our stay.

It wasn’t exactly a luxury car, but it was fine… Until we tried sleeping.

Windows up meant dying of heat. Windows down was death by mosquito.

While checking out a flea market one day, we made friends with a guy who was fresh out of the navy (there’s a big base on Guam), only 38 or so. He invited us to stay in his extra room.

Geez, so many fun memories of taking his jeep into the jungle to go hiking.

 

The great dingy disaster

Then, since he was a retired Navy guy, and since the best snorkeling on the island was on the bases, it was a huge perk.

Plus, he had just bought an inflatable dingy boat at a garage sale… which ended up being a disaster twice over.

 

Long story short, while we were snorkeling somewhere on base, we hadn’t realized the boat came untied from the anchor, and it was drifting out to sea.

I swam as hard as I could chasing it, but after minutes of swimming I realized that the boat was quickly heading away.

Maybe it was an illusion, but I always felt closer to the boat than shore so it made sense to keep chasing it.

It was literally one of the most scary moments of my life. The coral dropped off and I was swimming over nothingness – with flippers and snorkel, so I was moving – and I just couldn’t quite catch it.

Adrenaline kept me going and I eventually caught it.

The story continues… but perhaps you get the point. Which is mostly fear.

That was me making it back.

 

Saipan

Saipan was great too. We couchsurfed with an awesome family who showed us around the island. But it’s a much smaller island, and we spent less time there.

 

 

2) Flying to NZ

We had quite a route to get to New Zealand, a layover in Seoul, Singapore, and Melbourne.

The Singapore layover got in really early in their morning, and we were there for nearly 18 hours.

In hindsight, we certainly should have checked our bags all the way to New Zealand. Instead we ended up carrying them around all day and all over Singapore.

Eventually we decided to head back to the airport early since the lounge was so heavenly.

 

Then we woke up in Melbourne… where we found out you need a visa for transit in Australia.

Oops.

Turned out fine because their laid back culture meant a staff member just led us around the ropes, and walked us to the terminal we needed. Domestic flight? Or just all flights into Australia have to go through security, even when transiting? I don’t remember now, but we got the transit visa for 4 weeks later when we’d pass through again.

 

3) New Zealand & Fiji

Fiji

We were originally going to stay in New Zealand the whole 2.5 weeks, but the InterContinental Fiji went on PointBreaks and right before leaving for our first flight we booked 8 nights and got a flight to Fiji.

The InterContinental Fiji is in the middle of nowhere on the west side of the main island, where you fly into (NAN).

It was expensive to get out, but worth it for 8 nights at a super nice resort for only 40,000 points. Amazing.

However, everything was super expensive on the resort and there wasn’t much around.

A trip to a local store (still miles away) allowed us to stock up on junk, which served us a couple meals.

 

Boat to the Yasawas

&

Octopus Island

And the snorkeling wasn’t great in this part, compared to our mini tour of the Yasawa islands, because the water was choppy.

But there was a tiny island you could walk to in low-tide that was super fun.

No one else was there and it was insanely beautiful.

It’s where we got these pics:

I mean, that’s with a cheap camera. I mean… Amazing.

&

 

New Zealand

Photo we took near the Hilton

Then we headed back to New Zealand and spent one night in Auckland, and then spent the rest of the time in Queenstown.

There was a giftcard promo that allowed us to basically stay at the Crowne Plaza for free, and we also stayed at what now Hilton calls the DoubleTree (I believe). It was beautiful… although a little chilly in late May / early June.

 

4) Rarotonga

You may have heard this story before… but the short version is that I didn’t book any hotels, we got there and the hostel was $90 a night.

So I decided we would hitchhike to the other side of the island.

On that island, by the way, locals pick you up instantly.

Anyways, this lady picked us up and she asked where we were going, and I told her that I wanted to go to the other side of the island to look for some cheaper hotels.

She laughed and said we were coming from the cheapest place.

Bummer. Right?

 

Then she asked how long we were staying on the island.

“A little over two weeks.”

She quickly made a phone call (which I couldn’t understand) and told us that she had a property in between tenants, and she would rent it to us for $200.

 

We had a three bedroom house – yes, the two of us – for $100 a week, on Rarotonga. It doesn’t get better than that.

 

There is a cheap bus that goes around the circular island, although hitchhiking worked fine. And one time we hiked over the mountain.

But the highlight was the snorkeling. Again, we saw a huge moray eel.

 

Although this one glass bottom boat came by and attracted a group of people-crazy fish. A giant school of fish followed our every move. Like, I couldn’t see, there were so many. So that was incredibly weird and annoying. But other than that spot… it was fantastic snorkeling. Just lots of weird things.

 

5) Flight back

Our returning journey gave us a layover in Sydney, where we stayed at the Radisson Blu. It wasn’t until our most recent visit to Sydney, (eating all the cheap food in Sydney), when I fell in love with the city. But it was still a lot of fun, walking around on a Sat / Sat night.

The flight continued to Bangkok, which is where we got the massage for flying Thai.

Then we continued to Tokyo, to continue back to Guam.

 

However, we decided to just get off the plane in Tokyo, and get a flight back to the US using AA miles from Japan.

 

Conclusion

We saw a lot of the world with 40,000 miles… and it was business class. It’s hard to imagine a better deal (maybe the Africa hopper I wrote about in the 5 Crazier United Mile Stopover Tickets?).

I loved every minute of it.

It feels as though we lived the adventures of many lifetimes that month, from that one ticket.

 

Pacific islands are beautiful, and we saw Guam, Saipan, Fiji, New Zealand, Rarotonga, and Japan in one trip.

I also, think this could be topped by doing a similar Pacific Hopper with Yap and Palau. I also talk about this in the 5 Crazier United Mile Stopover Tickets post.

 

Japan to Oceania, the shorter way.

Actually, this could be a simple flight with not that crazy amount of flying.

You could do Japan to Yap and back for 25,000 miles.

  • Start in Tokyo
  • Stopover in Yap
  • Destination in Palau (ROR)
  • Return to Osaka

That would be an amazing trip, and you could get the Alaska miles off-peak to/from Tokyo at least, on AA miles. The entire trip to  and from the US would be 50k Alaska and 25k United. That would be quite a trip.

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10 Comments

  1. Nice story. Drew, are you going to write up the cost breakdown for recent Balkans ( Albania) trip?

    Reply
  2. Is that Octopus island or Octopus resort on Waya island?

    Reply
    • Wow, this was a great trip.
      I have done SEA-SFO-KIX-GUM-United hopper with all 5 stops-HNL-LAX-EWR for 25k Avianca life miles bought them with a 120% Bonus campaign:))
      Now this 24 of November I start my 30k United miles AwardTicket from:
      CAN-ICN-SYD-RAR-AKL-PVG-ICN-CAN with Asiana and Air Newzealand Flights in Economy.
      And in April I make an incredible Across Africa Journey for 35k United miles.
      Yes we all like this kind of travel.
      Cheers from Austria

      Reply
    • That’s an amazing itinerary! Where are your stops in this November trip?

      Reply
  3. How could you book these routes on united.com website? I don’t think it is possible. So I guess the agent had to manually book for you? And how could they override the new routing rules that united just implemented?

    Reply
    • I booked this route in Abril this year online on the United website and then there was a total of 3 flight changes which the agent could rebooked me.

      Reply
  4. I think maybe it was this article that got me super stoked about travel hacking. And that there were other cheapskate nutjobs like me. I didn’t manage as good as you guys, I managed to do Japan-New Caledonia-Vanuatu-Fiji-Japan tho. Got me interested in Pacific island countries for sure, I thought they were not ever going to be in a backpacker’s budget.

    I’m excited to get to Rarotonga in the spring on my ship…sounds like you weren’t in the town so much but if you have any suggestions for a day there love to hear them. PS- I’m not coordinated enough for snorkeling tho.

    Reply
  5. Pretty cool, thanks for the article. It’s amazing what you can achieve with clever redemption!

    Reply
  6. That’s amazing and super fun. I wish I had the time now to explore like that. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  7. Love reading your adventure and appreciate your sharing!

    Reply

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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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