Haven’t decided whether to keep it, whether to change it, or whether to scrap it altogether and do something else later. But it’s an example of hwat you can do with 120,000 United miles (times two — the award is for two seats, which means two award seats were available on all flights). It features international 3-cabin first class on 5 different carriers, and 11 total flights.
Washington, DC to Tokyo — All Nippon Airways first class
Tokyo to Hong Kong — Air Japan regional 2-cabin business class
Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City — United first class
Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok — Lufthansa first class
Bangkok to Chiang Rai — Thai Airways 2-cabin business class
Chiang Rai to Bangkok — Thai Airways 2-cabin business class
Bangkok to Hong Kong — Thai Airways first class
Hong Kong to Seoul — Asiana first class
Seoul to Los Angeles — Asiana first class
Los Angeles to Denver — United 2-cabin first class
Denver to Washington, DC — United 2-cabin first class
Some of you will think I’m insane, 11 flights in two weeks and — depsite a couple of overnight city visits along the way — ultimately six flights to get back from Chiang Rai.
I didn’t face any Starnet filtering when putting together this itienrary, though I did face a very unhelpful agent on my first call. He told me he was checking routes and dates that he clearly wasn’t checking. In moments he told me he had checked three different routes over a period of seven weeks and found nothing available. When I asked him about specific city pairs and specific flights, he scoffed at me, telling me nothing was available and wasn’t I listening to him? Sometimes the worst Starnet filtering is incompetent and unhelpful agents. I hung up, called back, and found availability on the flights I was interested in. Intra-Asian flights are rarely blocked.
The stops on this itinerary in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Seoul are about 23 hours each, so they don’t count as stopovers but rather connections. There’s enough time to grab some nice dim sum in Hong Kong and enjoy a meal on the river in Bangkok. But the real goal of the trip is to visit Vietnam and the Golden Triangle area of Thailand near the border of Laos and Burma. I’ve never visited Vietnam, and while I’ve spent much time in Thailand I’ve never gone all the way to the North.
Tag flights are fun. There are a number of hidden or unexpected flights operated by carriers foreign to the region, and these are frequently available as awards. They’re sometimes short flights, they burn off extra hours on an aircraft and pick up some incremental revenue for that fixed aircraft (though not fixed fuel or crew) cost. Lufthansa flies routes like Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, as well as Singapore to Jakarta. Swiss flies Bangkok to Singapore, and provides arguably the best first class on that route now that Thai no longer offers 3-class service and thus passengers no longer get the first class ground experience in Bangkok (and Singapore regional first is fine, of course, but given the choice I’d take Swiss long-haul first class configuration).