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My Summer Vacation Planning and Why I Love Being a Delta Diamond

by on February 11, 2011 · 10 comments

in Air France, Delta, Starwood

Sure, I love a nice first class upgrade or “bend over backwards” customer service, but one of my favorite benefits of Delta Diamond (and Platinum) status is the ability to change award tickets for free.

Delta Skymiles are pretty difficult to redeem, but luckily I’ve mastered the system as best I can. I can usually book low level awards, as long as I have some flexibility in routing and time. However, Delta releases more and more award inventory as time goes on, so often I see much better flights open up after I’ve booked an award.

In fact, I’m currently fantasizing about my summer trip and a couple days ago I booked:
JFK-Madrid through Air Europa because I wanted to try something new. Then on to Madrid- Amsterdam-KLM, enjoying a 2 day stop with hotel booking at one of my favorites, the Pullitzer, for 12,000 Starwood points a night. Afterwards I’ll fly Amsterdam-Paris with a 4 day stop staying at the Hyatt Madeleine – Park Hyatt wasn’t available – and then 3 nights in the Mt. St Michel area. I’ve never been outside of Paris, so I’m looking forward to seeing another side of France. Then a Paris- Bangkok  6 day visit to cap it all off ; 2 days at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, 2 nights sleeping at Le Meridien Angkor in Siem Reap, and lastly, 2 days spent in Ho Chi Minh where a reservation at Park Hyatt Saigon awaits me.

The tricky part was that I had to be in Vail Colorado on a Thursday for a Friday summer wedding. If I routed back across the Pacific, Delta would have charged me 280,000 miles for a Round the World award. I had the miles, but I didn’t feel like spending that much, even though I could have worked in a future trip to western South America.

So I decided to do the insane thing and fly from Ho Chi Minh to Paris nonstop, then Paris to Washington Dulles (to experience the Air France A380 even though the business class product is nothing new). I couldn’t get further west than Dulles, so I set expertflyer.com alerts to let me know when LAX/SFO/SEA opens up. I have my fingers crossed that they will. If not, I’ll can always cash in some Continental miles to fly IAD-DEN, DEN-LGA, but I’d rather minimize my mile expenditures as much as possible.

So what was the total cost for my quasi around the world trip? 220,000 miles and $250. I could have used less if Delta allowed one-way awards, but since I rack up over half a million Delta miles a year, I didn’t mind splurging.

And still it manages to get better, which is the reason I’m writing this post. Today I found out that Delta will be running their 767-400 lie-flat bed planes on the JFK-Budapest route, so I decided to check it out. On the JFK-MAD-AMS dates I am currently booked, there just so happens to be two seats available! I’ve never been to Budapest, but hear great things so it made sense to switch. Plus, I get my 24,000 miles back from the Pullitzer and I booked a revenue room corporate rate at Le Meridien Budapest for 129 Euros a night!

Not only did I get 24,000 SPG points back, but when I called the Diamond line to change my tickets to JFK-BUD (2 days), then BUD-CDG in business class, I actually got back $23 because I was cutting out a leg!

So that’s one of the main reasons why I love being a Delta Diamond – the ability to change my award because I wanted to fly a better business class product and then actually getting money back!

Will my trip change again before departure in June? I’m sure. I’m actually not happy that I’ll be doing so much flying on Air France (I flew them last summer to Paris – read my report JFK-CDG, CDG-JFK). Their business class product is satisfactory at best, so I may try to sneak in some China Southern or Korean just to spice things up. But since I only have 6 days in SE Asia, I’m not sure I want to waste more time transiting in airports.

If anyone has any Bangkok/Angkor Wat/ Ho Chi Minh tips/tricks, feel free to comment below or email me. If you can’t already tell, I’m really looking forward to this trip! Is it June yet??

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  • jason

    how do you get so many miles a year?

  • The Points Guy

    Jason- a combo of flying (I get a 125% bonus on all flights so 125,000 flown miles a year = 281,000 miles without any class of service promos), plus promotions and credit card spend.
    I always take every lucrative points challenge I can do, like the US airways grand slam.
    I wont pretend like I get all these miles for free- I spend a good amount of personal money on travel, but since it’s what I love, i dont feel bad at all. Some people spend their money on expensive electronics or drugs- I spend mine on travel

  • Tao

    Reading your posts like this one is really encouraging because I’m a travel enthusiast too. Although I used to do budget traveling a lot, I am just getting into the miles/points travel world. One of the things I’d like to learn more is how you manage the hotel stays on your trip. I only have 20k SPG points and upcoming 50-62.5k Hilton points. It seems hard to get big chunks of hotel points like the way I get those miles.

  • The Points Guy

    Tao- hotel stays are tricky- I wish I had more points. Luckily I have great corporate rates so I can usually bring my costs down and only use points for super expensie stays like Paris.

    I also have the Hyatt visa which is 2 free nights and I “dial for points” quite successfully with hyatt. I usually do cash and points with Starwood, so a medium sized balance gets me far. Overall- maximizing my earning and redemption of hotel points gets me pretty far.

    Also, going places like SE Asia where hotel rates are comparatively cheap helps as well.

  • Mark

    The Le Meridien Bangkok is so much better than the Hyatt. :)

  • D

    We just traveled to Bangkok, Siem Reap, and Hong Kong for the first time last month. The single best piece of advice for this part of the world would be: hire a driver and guide for visiting the widely dispersed Angkor sites. This is a place where even those with a modest travel budget will find it a fantastic bargain. Our driver and guide were $25 each for a day (which in our case was anywhere from 7-10 hours/day) Let me know if you would like a recommendation.

  • Mooper

    Shhh… you’re letting the secret out that SkyMiles have incredible value when combined with status. You cite an international example, but redeeming 25K miles last minute for domestic first class is a superb use, too.

  • http://www.alphanets.com Sam

    What is your “day job” that you get to spend so much and fly so much? Dont mean to pry, but I wish I had the points accumulation you did so that I can travel like this!

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  • zenci

    how do you get 125% bonus on all flights?

    Thanks.

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