Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bali-Tree: Introduction


After graduating from college several years ago, many of my closest friends have gradually become more geographically dispersed as everyone moved on to do different things.  But for each of the past five years, my friends and I have always made time for an annual weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California.  For the first couple years, we were really into the park itself - going on hikes, climbing every rock in sight, and off-roading while listening to U2's Joshua Tree album.  Over the next couple trips we became more and more sedentary, choosing to simply hang out in the cabin over exploring the park.

Then a funny thing happened.  During our 5-year anniversary trip, we literally only left the cabin to eat and grab supplies.  While we were still just as excited for the annual J-Tree trip, we realized it wasn't as much about the venue but instead really about the reunion and being able to all hang out together in once place.  So at the end of last year's trip, we joked to each other that we should do next year's trip in some exotic location, like Bali.  At the time it sounded like one of those ridiculous things you just say for laughs.  Well as the time came to start planning this year's J-Tree trip, we said to ourselves, why not do this year's trip in Bali?  Add in my recent engagement and the excuse for an upcoming bachelor party, and that was reason enough to just go for it.  So with that, Bali-Tree was born.

I'm typically the planner, but on this particular trip since it'd be my bachelor party the guys handled almost all of the details.  The main thing that I needed to plan was my flight itinerary to Bali, and for me that's where the real fun started. Having been in the points/miles game for a couple years now, I had finally accumulated enough miles and knowledge about how to best spend those miles to splurge on a first class award ticket.  In contrast to my award ticket in December on Singapore Air first class that needed no improving, I got around to booking my award ticket only three months in advance, meaning that I was left with a sub-optimal initial routing:

- SFO-ICN (United First Class), ICN-BKK (TG Biz Class)
- BKK-DPS-BKK (TG Biz Class)
- BKK-ICN (Asiana Biz Class), ICN-SFO (United First Class)

For anyone who's into the points/miles game, they know that a huge perk of booking award tickets is to be able to fly non-domestic airlines within an alliance, which in this case would be the Star Alliance.  So while I wasn't thrilled with my routing, I knew that better routings almost always open up closer to departure, sometimes even up to the day of departure.  Also, with United 1K status I'd be able to make unlimited changes without any fees or penalties.

This is one part of the process that I actually found really fun.  Starting a couple weeks out, each morning I'd wake up and check the stock market, followed by various award routing sites (, Expertflyer, etc.) to see if any new award space had opened up.  If I had a couple minutes between meetings, I'd pop over to check again.  It became a fun little game to continually try to optimize the routing.  By the end of it all and after a handful of changes, I was quite pleased with my final routing since I had reduced the number of United flights to just one, and was able to secure first class seats on all flights that offered it.  My final routing was:

- SFO-NRT (ANA First Class), NRT-BKK (TG First Class)
- BKK-DPS-BKK (TG Biz Class)
- BKK-NRT (TG First Class), NRT-SFO (United First Class)

Final cost of my flights?  140,000 United miles, and $76 in taxes.  Not a bad return for having simply signed up for three credit cards over the past year.  I was particularly excited to try ANA's first class for the Kaiseki menu, and would also have a solid 4-hour layover in Bangkok to visit the first class lounge and spa.  Time to champagne and campaign!

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