I’m usually one to plan major trips well in advance, so I had dropped the ball somewhat when it came to our end-of-year trip for 2018. I’m not sure exactly why, but whenever I thought about planning this trip, I just kept pushing it off and telling myself I’d do it later.
There came a point in October when I said to Jessica, “Do you wanna just stay home over the holidays?” And as soon as I heard the words come out of my mouth, I knew it was time to get my act together and start planning the trip properly 😉
We both agreed that we had enjoyed last year’s South East Asia getaway so much that we simply had to return for another round, and that this time we’d seek to explore more of the region.
Having watched Crazy Rich Asians recently, we knew we had to spend some quality time in Singapore. I last visited Singapore in 2012 and it would be Jessica’s first time there, so we’re looking forward to immersing ourselves in the city’s incredible food scene.
A return to Bali was always going to be on the cards, and we also decided to check out a new island this time around – Langkawi, a beautiful tropical archipelago in northwestern Malaysia.
Both islands have their fair share of luxury hotels and resorts, and with the post-merger Marriott sweet spot currently in place that allows you to book some amazing hotels for only 60,000 points a night, there would be no better opportunity to try them out.
Nevertheless, the process of building the trip was not straightforward, since I was taking on the ambitious goal of finding award availability for peak travel season only two months in advance (I’ll expand on all the details of this struggle below).
In the end, the best option was to break up the trip with a stopover in Europe, so we’ll be spending New Year’s Eve in Paris. I’ve always wanted to experience the New Year’s Eve celebrations in different major cities around the world, so this will be a great start to that particular bucket list – and another opportunity to take advantage of Marriott’s luxury hotel sweet spot.
Without further ado, let’s get into the meat of the trip-planning process.
I wrote a post titled When You Can’t Book the “Perfect” Award… a few months ago, which was based on my experience trying to put together this trip. Essentially, trying to book a business class trip for two people over peak winter travel dates with two months in advance is a thankless task to say the least.
Piecing together the flights was therefore the ultimate exercise in flexibility. The “good stuff” – JAL First Class, ANA First Class, EVA Air business class, etc. – had long been booked up by other travellers, so unless I was willing to wait for last-minute award space, I could relinquish any hopes of a seamless or luxurious flight itinerary.
In fact, I’d say I was lucky to find any business class space at all to cross the oceans. We’re looking to spend Christmas here in Toronto with Jessica’s family before heading out, so I was focusing on December 26-28 for our outbound. To my surprise, there was still some space in Asiana Airlines business class from the US West Coast to Seoul.
I figured I could add on flights from Toronto and to Singapore on either end pretty easily, but I couldn’t have been more wrong: there were zero trans-continental flights within North America, business or economy, during those dates.
In addition, the only way to connect from Seoul to Singapore consisted of a 12-hour layover followed by a late-night departure in economy class to Shenzhen, another 12-hour layover, then a redeye to Singapore. I shuddered at the thought.
Okay, so flying across the Pacific wouldn’t work out, but what about going via Europe? To my delight, I found two seats in business class on TAP Air Portugal from Toronto to Lisbon (which recently no longer comes with fuel surcharges).
To make things even better, the flight seemed to be the only Toronto service within +/- 2 months that featured TAP’s new lie-flat business class seats rather than their old shoddy angled-flat product. Okay, I can work with that…
Nonetheless, finding flights from Lisbon to Singapore proved challenging as well, and the options I found would have us flying non-stop for about 29 hours over the course of four long-haul flights. Even in business class, that’s going to be a gruelling journey, and so I decided to break up the trip with a stopover in Europe.
After mulling over where in Europe we’d like to spend a few days, Jessica and I decided that New Year’s Eve in Paris carries with it a certain romance, so we pencilled in four nights in the City of Light. From Paris to Singapore, I found a decent routing via Istanbul and Hanoi that would also allow me to try out Turkish Airlines business class for the first time.
As an added bonus, it was recently announced that Istanbul’s New Airport wouldn’t commence international operations until March 2019, giving us a chance to savour the incredible Turkish CIP Lounge at Atatürk Airport one last time before it’s gone.
It’s funny how Miles & Points changes the way you travel, isn’t it? Before I travelled on points, New Year’s in Paris would’ve been an absolute dream of a trip, but now it’s like “Oh, I guess we’ll have to spend New Year’s Eve in Paris since there are no flights available to South East Asia…” 😉
This was now shaping up to be a full-blown Aeroplan Mini-RTW. I had used up one stopover in Paris, so I could do either another stopover or an open-jaw in South East Asia.
Langkawi isn’t served by any Star Alliance airlines, so I’d need to book separate flights to get in-between Singapore, Langkawi, and Bali. Since I was flexible with the order of these three destinations, I played around with the order to figure out the most cost-effective arrangement.
In the end, it made the most sense to start with two days in Singapore, followed by four days in Langkawi, and then four days in Bali. Bali would be the destination of my Aeroplan Mini-RTW, and I’d place an open-jaw between there and Singapore and use cheap AirAsia flights to fill in the gap.
Now, to get ourselves back to Toronto in mid-January, the only transpacific premium cabin I found was with Air China business class from Beijing, which I’ve never flown before. I snagged the open availability on the Beijing–Montreal Dreamliner route, after which a quick turboprop flight would bring us back to Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport.
Alas, I still had to find a way between Singapore and Beijing, and this proved to be the choke-point of the entire itinerary. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to find any business class availability, so I had to call upon yet another principle of flexibility and “settle” for two seats in economy class on the Singapore Airlines red-eye flight.
Fortunately, a few weeks later, one seat in business class opened up on the exact same flight, so I was able to upgrade Jessica for no cost. I myself remain in economy class for the time being, but I’ve set up an ExpertFlyer alert and the flight loads are looking pretty favourable. Fingers crossed that I can get the upgrade as well.
Lastly, as an added perk, the six-hour layover in Beijing would give me the unexpected opportunity to grab breakfast with my parents, which they’re quite happy about!
The final Aeroplan itinerary looked as follows, all booked for 155,000 Aeroplan miles plus $316 in taxes and fees per person. While I won’t be paying any fuel surcharges, a large portion of those taxes comes from France’s exorbitant departure tax, which is annoying but unavoidable.
All in business class, unless otherwise noted:
Toronto Pearson to Lisbon on TAP Air Portugal, departing 10:55pm and arriving 10:50am the next day
Lisbon to Paris Orly on TAP Air Portugal, departing 1:25pm and arriving 4:55pm
Paris CDG to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, departing 11:20am and arriving 4:40pm
Istanbul to Hanoi on Turkish Airlines, departing 2:55am and arriving 4:15pm
Hanoi to Singapore on Singapore Airlines, departing 6:25pm and arriving 11:05pm
Singapore to Langkawi on AirAsia, departing 12:45pm and arriving 2:10pm, economy class
Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia, departing 12:40pm and arriving 1:55pm, economy class
Kuala Lumpur to Denpasar–Bali on AirAsia, departing 6:15pm and arriving 9:25pm, economy class
Denpasar–Bali to Singapore on Singapore Airlines, departing 9:45pm and arriving 12:20am the next day
Singapore to Beijing on Singapore Airlines, departing 1:10am and arriving 7:15am, business/economy class
Beijing to Montreal on Air China, departing 1:30pm and arriving 1:15pm
Montreal to Toronto City on Air Canada, departing 2:30pm and arriving 3:40pm, economy class
The business class cabins on TAP Air Portugal and Air China don’t exactly have a reputation of being among the world’s most luxurious, but alas that’s what happens when you leave the flight bookings to the last minute!
The hotels and resorts would certainly have to make up for that, and with access to some of the world’s top hotels through the Marriott loyalty program, I was spoilt for choice.
Naturally, I gravitated towards hotels that would be rising to Category 8 later in 2019, because those could be booked at the lower Category 7 price of 60,000 points per night for the time being. However, that’s not to say that every such hotel would be a good deal – I still had to compare the cash rates to make sure I was getting good value.
Let’s begin in Paris. The Prince de Galles is traditionally the best Marriott/Starwood property in town, and indeed it’s going to be a New Category 8. However, the Hôtel de Berri recently opened its doors this year under the Luxury Collection umbrella, and would also be rising to Category 8 next year.
I liked the boutique look of the Hôtel de Berri a little better, so I secured four nights there at the reduced rate of 60,000 points per night. I did so with no hesitation given that cash rates over New Year’s Eve were understandably upwards of 650 EUR per night.
Singapore was a different story. The city-state is kind of an awkward hotel market, since the hotel prices are a little too high to justify paying cash, but also not quite high enough to justify paying the rather exorbitant amount of points they charge.
I wanted to stay somewhere close to Clarke Quay in the heart of the city, so that ruled out the St. Regis Singapore and the W Singapore Sentosa Cove, which were both far out of the way. After much deliberation, the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach felt like the best candidate.
I’ve stayed at a handful of JW Marriotts around the world now, and I always know what I’m getting: well-appointed rooms, extremely good service, and – at least in Asia – a mind-blowing Executive Lounge. I’m looking forward to seeing how the JW Marriott Singapore stacks up against the ones I’ve tried in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Seoul.
I could either book a cash rate at 860 SGD ($280) per night, or pay 50,000 points per night. To me, the cash rate clearly offered better value, so I went ahead and booked it on my Cobalt Card with the intention of using MR Select points to offset against it. The cash booking would also help me snag some bonus points from Marriott’s MegaBonus promotion.
Then it was time to look at resorts in Langkawi and Bali. The former has a St. Regis, a Ritz-Carlton, and a Luxury Collection resort known as the Andaman. After digging into some reviews, I decided to split our four-night stay across the Ritz-Carlton at 50,000 points a night, and the Andaman at 35,000 points a night.
The Ritz-Carlton is a brand-new hotel that just opened last year (pictured in the banner image of this article), so I reckon it’ll be a fantastic stay despite the rather frustrating lack of elite benefits offered at Ritz-Carltons. Meanwhile, the Andaman sits on a tiny private beach nestled in the middle of a huge rainforest on the northern shores of Langkawi, so I imagine it’ll be quite the unique experience.
Lastly, Bali is a place where I have past experience to guide me, having stayed at Bambu Indah in Ubud and The Ritz-Carlton, Bali in Nusa Dua during my trip last year. In particular, the magical atmosphere of Bambu Indah had left a deep, deep impression on us, so it was almost by instinct that we decided to return for another two-night stay. The nightly rate for the resort’s Kuning House was US$270 – a bit of a splurge for sure, but worthwhile nonetheless given how special of a place it is to us.
Then, for the remaining two nights, the St. Regis Bali was the clear victor, because there’d be no better opportunity to stay at the New Category 8 hotel than while it’s bookable for the Category 7 price of 60,000 points per night.
Having recently gotten a taste of a St. Regis property for the very first time, I’m looking forward to seeing what the hotel can deliver when marrying the brand’s personalized service principles with the world-renowned Balinese hospitality. I’m expecting great things!
Adding it all up, my total out-of-pocket costs for this trip came to the below, per person:
Aeroplan taxes and fees, YTO–LIS–PAR–IST–HAN–SIN;DPS–SIN–PEK–YUL–YTO: $316
AirAsia flight, SIN–LGK: $65
AirAsia flight, LGK–KUL–DPS: $68
Two nights at Bambu Indah: $364
What a way to sign off on 2018 and ring in the new year! I’ve paid the price for planning this trip with only two months to spare, since my preferred airline products were no longer within reach; instead, it’s going to be a trip in which the six luxury hotels and resorts I’ve lined up will be taking centre stage.
Throw in a romantic New Year’s Eve in Paris, the mouthwatering gastronomy of Singapore, and the plethora of beach and island activities in Langkawi and Bali, and I really can’t contain my excitement before embarking on the trip next week!