Planning the Trip: “Burn Avios, Burn” Cathay Pacific First Class and Amazing Conrad Suites


  • Planning the trip
  • US Airways Shuttle to New York and the Sheraton JFK
  • Cathay Pacific First Class, New York – Hong Kong
  • The Pier Lounge and Cathay Pacific Business Class, Hong Kong – Bangkok
  • Conrad Bangkok Deluxe Suite
  • Bangkok Airways Business Class, Bangkok – Koh Samui
  • Conrad Koh Samui, 2 Bedroom Ocean Pool Villa
  • Conrad Koh Samui, Resort
  • Bangkok Airways Business Class, Koh Samui – Bangkok
  • Cathay Pacific Business Class, Bangkok – Hong Kong and Marriott SkyCity Hong Kong
  • Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong – Chicago
  • United Airlines Back Home

Hopefully this trip will be useful to some readers, as I believe two of the very best aspirational uses of points are Cathay Pacific First Class (because it’s an outstanding product, and one that’s reasonably possible to redeem for) and the Conrad Koh Samui (because every room is special, and even at 50,000 HHonors points per night it’s a good value compared to paid rates). I’m just back from the trip, and thought I’d share some of my thinking and experiences along the way.

Back in the spring I first started hearing rumblings about a British Airways mileage devaluation, I mentioned my prediction of a devaluation here on this blog back at the beginning of May. I decided to top off my British Airways Executive Club account using a 50% transfer bonus from Diners Club and then clean it out – a devaluation made some sense, it had been several years since the last one BA did and they had been printing miles like mad, moreover they were now awarding full mileage on discount fares to come into parity with American Airlines as part of their joint business venture. So I figured that my miles would certainly not be worth more in the future than they were at that moment, it was time to book a trip.

Problem was that I needed to find a time to do it, I wasn’t really interested in a LAN business class award to Easter Island with stopovers in South America, that’s on my list but not at the top of it. I didn’t have anything booked for Thanksgiving yet, and I decided on a Cathay Pacific first class award at 150,000 miles per person.

Now, British Airways awards get expensive when you include more than one partner on an award since you get pushed onto their distance-based award chart. (Heh, now they’re expensive even if you stick to just one partner.)

What that meant is that my award wouldn’t start and end in my home city. I found a departure from New York, and a return to Chicago, but I was going to be responsible for getting myself to and from my international gateway cities. That plus fuel surcharges meant that it wasn’t going to be an inexpensive redemption. But it seemed worthwhile, especially given the likely future prospects for British Airways miles (an assumption which proved to be correct).

When I first booked the award it was four segments, all Cathay Pacific first class, New York JFK – Hong Kong – Bangkok – Hong Kong – Chicago. In the end there were several schedule changes to my Hong Kong – Bangkok – Hong Kong flights, in part because of Bangkok flooding which reduced travel demand and led to some flight cancellations and also downgauged equipment. So the short intra-Asia segments wound up in business class.

Still, I was happy with what I got and glad to have cleaned out my BA account.

Then it was a decision of ‘what to do in Thailand?’

I decided upon a couple of nights in Bangkok and five nights at the soon-to-open Conrad Koh Samui resort.

For Bangkok, I toyed with the idea of staying at the new St. Regis. But the Conrad published all of its room types except for the Presidential Suite as ‘cash & points’ awards – cash and points were new to Hilton HHonors and they seemed to have loaded the rate plan incorrectly. I booked the suite one category below the Presidential at the basic cash and points price.

I booked the Conrad Koh Samui on points, but I went through several iterations with the reservation. Initially it was a category 6 hotel, 40,000 points per night but just 160,000 points for a 5-night stay with elite multi-night discounts. I was thrilled with this, given that the entry level room at the property is a standalone ocean villa with private pool.

Shortly after making my booking, and before the hotel opened, it moved up to category 7 – a whopping 25% increase in points (to 50,000 per night). Of course, my booking was secure. Meanwhile, a little birdie at Hilton HHonors suggested to me that the hotel would likely go on PointStretchers when it opened, meaning just 30,000 points per night. I could save 10,000 points over my 5 night stay if I cancelled and rebooked.

But something even better happened. The Conrad Koh Samui RESIDENCES loaded award room availability. It’s the same hotel, but the residences meant 2-bedroom 2000 square foot ocean villas with an even larger pool (and 2.5 baths and a private garden as well). I’d have to rebook at the category 7 price, but that seemed worth it to me, my 5 night stay went up to 200,000 HHonors points.

Except.. that Hilton couldn’t get the darned thing to reserve correctly. And in the meantime they had cancelled out my existing reservation, which couldn’t be restored as award rooms were no longer available for the one-bedroom. And so I escalated matters from one Diamond agent to the next and over the course of three or four days they managed to secure a Diamond Force for the Residences, I assume that means that Hilton HHonors paid the ‘real’ price to get me the room. (I described the booking drama in greater detail back in September.)

Diamond Force used to be one of the really special benefits of Hilton’s Diamond status – most hotel chains offer their top elites guaranteed availability on paid rooms (with a certain amount of notice, and at a high price). Hilton always used to offer this on award reservations. A sold out hotel would make a room available for the Diamond member, and then the reservation would be converted to points.

Since the introduction of premium room rewards (spending what can be a boatload of additional points for a higher room category), the Diamond Force has been much less useful – Hilton tells you to just redeem for the higher level room if any such room is available, even if it’s a million points a night.

But the Conrad Koh Samui resort is a great candidate to use the option still, since the resort offers only a single room type if they’re sold out of award rooms then there won’t be any available at the premium redemption price either. And that’s what it seems they did for me, secured me the two bedroom (‘base room’) at the residences.

Since I was taking the new Hong Kong – Chicago flight home, and it’s an early departure, I’d need a room for an overnight in Hong Kong. And I’d need to book flights to and from Koh Samui. I also decided to head up to New York the night before my JFK – Hong Kong flight since I had the morning Hong Kong departure, and that meant a JFK hotel. So I had a few more arrangements to make, but the guts of the trip were handled.

There’s lots more to this report, as you can see, but if you have any questions please ask away!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @amanda it really wasn’t, i didn’t arrive in Bangkok until late evening on November 18th and the biggest issue I faced was traffic — there were road closures which meant more traffic on the major open arteries. There were certainly significant remnants of flooding — tons of cars left on the side of freeway overpasses to keep them out of water, for instance. And there were folks still being affected. But lots of people getting back to work and cleaning up while I was there mostly.

  2. Gary,
    Would you mind please relaying whether you were informed in advance that the HKG-BKK segment would be in business class? I’m assuming that they waited until the day of to officially change things. I booked a JFK-BKK trip in F via HKG and took an 8-hour layover in order to fly first on the HKG-BKK segment on January 2nd. I’m thinking I chose quite poorly. Thanks

  3. Sounds great Gary. I can’t wait to hear more details. We’re you able to get the HKG-ORD seat(s) when you originally booked? I currently have HKG-YYZ on December 21 connecting to ORD and the direct flight shows empty but they still haven’t released any F award seats. I’m calling AA daily on this. Any suggestions?

  4. @Joediver there were probably award seats on the non-stop much earlier on. Cathay inventory management can be funny sometimes, they’ll likely open seats closer to departure. Just keep checking.

  5. @Brendan I kept tabs on my itinerary and it changed in advance, maybe a week out, not day of departure. I don’t think I’d take an 8 hour connection in order to get first class for the 2 hour flight, honestly, the seat is better of course but by the time you arrive in HKG might as well just get yourself to your destination. Eight hours is a long time to spend in the lounges of HKG, IMHO. Sure, the cabanas are nice but it’s just a shower. Spend 20 minutes on a snack in the dining room. Check your email. A couple or three hours tops I’d say… Whose miles did you use? You may be able to change it for free.

  6. Thanks for the info, Gary. My fear was that they would change equipment at the last moment and that I wouldn’t get a gluten-free special meal in business. I am now less anxious about that but will still monitor the reservation. I couldn’t get a super short connection in the morning on the 9:10AM and childishly decided to take first class, although I could have gotten business 1.75 hours earlier. I used BA miles and believe there would be a change fee under the new rules. Even under the old rules, I’d need to pay because I already altered my dates once on line.

  7. Thanks for the post Gary. Good to read that the situation in Bangkok is slowly improving. The Conrad Koh Samui sounds wonderful. We are looking at the Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa – have you ever stayed here?



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