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For today’s Destination of the Week, we asked TPG contributor Nick to cover a recent trip where he headed to the other side of the globe for a vacation spot beloved by bloggers and tourists alike: the island of Bali.
WHAT TO DO
Located in the south central part of the Indonesian archipelago, Bali is a predominantly Hindu island in the most populous Muslim country in the world. With tourism as the top industry, visitors have a plethora of activities to choose from to stay busy during a trip here.
One of the best ways to experience the culture and sights of Bali is to hire a local driver for a tour around the island. Experienced tour guides abound on the island, and a quick Google search for “Bali Driver” brings up numerous options. Prices for a full-day tour range generally start around $50, and many include all expenses throughout the day. My personal recommendation is Wayan Mertha. My wife and I used him this past May on our trip to Bali and thought he was great. Other recommendations are available in this FlyerTalk thread. Many hotels also offer private day trips around the island, so if you’d prefer the peace of mind of booking directly with the concierge upon arrival, that is also an option (albeit generally a more expensive one). You can also hop onto a bus tour or even charter a helicopter or plane for a more unique look at the island.
One of the most popular spots to visit in Bali is the town of Ubud. Made famous by the book (and subsequent Julia Roberts movie) Eat, Pray, Love, the town offers numerous ways for visitors to get a flavor of the artistic side of Bali. Ubud is located just north of Denpasar and provides a great jumping off point to explore the rest of the island. Browse through the local shops for a variety of unique souvenirs. Negotiating on price is acceptable, but be sure to do it in a respectful way. Also beware the “tourist traps” to which some tour guides insist on bringing you. These guides earn commissions that are added into your cost, so the best bet is to explore the town freely. Consider stopping by the local monkey sanctuary as well.
No trip to Bali is complete without visiting a temple, and while Ubud has its fair share, temples abound across the entire island. Any tour will likely include a stop at one; just be prepared to offer a small donation and put on a borrowed sarong to cover your legs. The temples are all open air, and tour guides can offer insight into the various ceremonies typically held in them. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a ceremony in action as you drive around the island.
For the more adventurous, Bali offers many outdoor activities, including whitewater rafting, surfing, and mountain biking. Each hotel includes numerous brochures that highlight the various tour companies and their packages. Most include free pick-up and drop-off at hotels and resorts across the island. My wife and I used Bali Adventure Tours and had a blast on the rapids, and our package included a visit to the Elephant Safari to hang out with some pachyderms.
One sure way to relax on a Bali vacation is to pay a visit to one of the many spas across the island. Most hotels and resorts mentioned below include some type of spa, but consider heading off property for a less pricey (but still terrific) experience. Bali Spa Guide offers a comprehensive look at spas across the island which you can narrow down by location, category, or any special feature you’re looking for. My wife and I enjoyed the Sekar Jagat Spa in Jimbaran (near Nusa Dua). They offer free pick-up and drop-off and even drove us to the airport after a treatment on our way out of the country.
TPG’s Bali, insider, Greg also recommends Ku De Ta Restaurant and Bar located beachfront in Seminyak for great cocktails while watching the sunset and Kafe Warisan in Kerobokan, which is famous for its French-inspired cuisine courtesy of a chef who used to cook for the French ambassador to Indonesia.
One final important note: Bali’s population has exploded over the last couple of decades, and sadly, the transportation infrastructure has not kept pace. Numerous construction projects are underway, but the roads around Denpasar remain very crowded, especially with the incredible amount of local residents that drive scooters. You can rent cars or scooters to tour the island on your own, but I would caution against it.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Ngurah Rai Airport is located in the south part of the island near Bali’s largest city, Denpasar. Upon landing, most visitors are required to obtain a visa-on-arrival (VOA). Details on the requirements and qualifying countries are available on the Indonesian Embassy’s website. The VOA costs US$25 and must be paid in cash, so be sure to have enough money on-hand to cover everyone in your travel party. In addition to the fee, you must have a passport valid for at least six months from the date of entry and have a return flight out of the country (so be sure to bring a printed copy of your itinerary). The VOA is first come, first served, so if multiple flights arrive around the same time, the lines can get quite long…and the airport is not air conditioned! Many companies offer fast-track service for a small fee (around $25/person). They will have a representative meet you just outside the plane and escort you through obtaining the VOA, baggage retrieval, and customs/immigration. While not always necessary, it can definitely offer peace of mind knowing that you won’t have to wait after a long day (or two) of travel.
Bali is served by all the major airline alliances, offering points aficionados many opportunities to get there.
One of the most popular ways to get to Bali from the U.S. using miles is on Cathay Pacific through Hong Kong, with daily 747 service from there to Bali. North American gateways include Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York-JFK. For anyone with a cache of American AAdvantage miles from any earlier credit card sign-up bonuses, one-way awards are available for 35,000 miles in economy, 55,000 miles in business, or 67,500 miles in first. JetStar/Qantas also flies to Bali from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Darwin, and Malaysia Airlines (scheduled to join OneWorld at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013) offers another option from Kuala-Lumpur.
Anyone with a large balance of Delta SkyMiles can get to Bali in a variety of ways. Korean Air offers daily flights from Seoul, and China Airlines has daily service from Taipei. KLM also offers direct service from Amsterdam with a stop in Singapore. Since Delta doesn’t offer one-way awards (and since partner flights always price at the low level), a round-trip economy flight from the U.S. to Bali would set you back 80,000 SkyMiles, while a round-trip business class flight comes in at 120,000 miles.
For those wishing to use US Airways, United, or miles from another Star Alliance carrier, you can either fly Singapore (with daily service from Changi Airport) or Thai (with daily service from Bangkok). Both US Airways and United classify Indonesia as “South Asia” for award ticket purposes with seats going for 80,000, 120,000 and 160,000 in for economy, business and first class respectively.
While not officially part of an alliance, Alaska Airlines does partner with many of the above airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Korean, and KLM. In addition, many low-cost carriers offer regular service from Kuala-Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta, so if your preferred airlines/dates have no availability all the way to Bali, be sure to check one of these gateways.
One final thing to note: Indonesia does require a departure tax, currently 150,000 Indonesia Rupiahs (approximately $20) per person. This must also be paid in cash before you depart, so be sure to save at least that amount of local currency to avoid last minute ATM withdrawals at the airport.
Bali’s population growth has been accompanied by a significant expansion of hotels, many of which offer valuable redemption opportunities for your hard-earned points & miles. The majority of name-brand properties are located in the more touristy southern part of the island near the airport, but many other boutique offerings (including some Visa Signature and American Express resorts) are away from the hustle and bustle of Denpasar and provide travelers an array of options when visiting Bali.
Conrad Bali Resort & Spa: This full-service property is located in Nusa Dua on the south part of the island. The resort offers 353 rooms and suites spread across expansive grounds filled with tropical plants and rock formations. Rooms include a private balcony or patio with views of the gardens or the ocean. The main pool is located in the center of the resort, and smaller lagoons are spread throughout the property. While the beach isn’t postcard-worthy, the property has other activities including beach soccer, volleyball, bike rentals, tennis courts, a wellness studio, and a 24-hour fitness center. The Jiwa Spa offers many treatment options and includes a sauna, Jacuzzi, and its own pool. The hotel also boasts a separate “Conrad Suites” section, with large two-room suites where the amenities include free laundry, an adults-only pool, and access to the executive lounge, which serves afternoon tea from 3-5pm and cocktails & canapés from 5-7pm each night. Rates in November start at $198 per night. This is a Category 5 hotel and thus would require 35,000 points for a free night. The hotel has ample Points + Money Reward availability, which would cost 17,500 points + $90. This hotel is also a member of the Visa Signature Hotel collection.
Bali Hyatt: Located in Sanur on the eastern coast of Bali, the hotel is a short drive from both Denpasar and the airport. The grounds of the resort are filled with exotic foliage and secluded lily ponds, and numerous local shops & boutiques are easily accessible via the paved sidewalk running along the beach. This resort is of a similar size to the Conrad, with 386 rooms & suites, all of which also have a private balcony with views of the grounds. Complimentary bottled water is provided daily, and guests enjoy access to five different on-site restaurants offering a variety of cuisine and numerous specials. Regency/Club guests also have access to a private lounge serving daily continental breakfast and evening drinks & hors d’oeuvres. The Spa at Bali Hyatt pampers guests with aromatherapy and massage treatments, and two swimming pools, a fitness center, and various water and beach activities allow all guests to find their bliss. Rates in November start at $140 a night. As a Category 1 hotel, free night awards begin at 5,000 points per night for a standard room.
Grand Hyatt Bali: This property is located in Nusa Dua and offers guests a variety of activities and services right on property. Each one of the 636 rooms, suites and villas includes luxurious amenities such as a marble bath, separate shower, private balcony, and a sitting area. The resort boasts 5 swimming pools along with a fitness and health center and a numerous water sports. Guests can dine at one of five restaurants on-site, including Pasar Senggol, an evening market with food, crafts, and cultural performances each night from 7-11pm. Relaxation can be had in the Kriya Spa, with treatments focusing on the four Balinese healing rituals of harmony, purity, energy, and bliss. Rates in November start at $175 per night. As a Category 3 hotel, you’d need 12,000 points for a standard free night award or 15,000 points for a Regency Club room.
The Stones Hotel, Autograph Collection: This new addition to Marriott’s “Autograph Collection” is located on the southwestern coast of Bali in Legian, just north of the airport. The more than 300 contemporary rooms & suites offer 42” LED TV’s, Bose iPod docking stations and free high-speed internet access. Three restaurants on the property offer guests options when dining, and The Stones Gym offers workout equipment and complimentary fitness classes. Guests can visit the large outdoor pool or book a treatment in the on-site spa. Rates in November start at $136 a night ($160 with breakfast). As a Category 5 hotel in the Marriott Rewards program, a free night would set you back 25,000 points (or 20,000 points if you can find a PointSavers Reward).
There is also the Courtyard Bali in Nusa Dua, with November rates starting at $150 per night or 15,000 Marriott Rewards points (or 10,000 for PointSavers redemptions)
InterContinental Bali Resort: The InterContinental is located in Jimbaran, just south of the airport on the western coast. The resort consists of 418 rooms set among tropical gardens and decorated with local artwork and furnishings. Three different levels of accommodations (Resort Classic, Singaraja, and Club InterContinental) offer guests a variety of options from which to choose. All rooms include private terraces, marble bathrooms with a separate tub and shower, and luxurious linens, and guests staying in Singaraja rooms enjoy two private wings of the resort and a separate reception area with complimentary tea, coffee, fruit and cookies plus a library of DVD’s, board games, and reading materials. Club-level guests enjoy 24-hour butler service, complimentary internet access, breakfast, tea, and evening cocktails & canapés, and a host of other privileges. Five restaurants offer a variety of cuisine, and guests can schedule massages or other treatments in the on-site spa or in a secluded villa on the property. Numerous other activities are available on property, including cultural demonstrations, classes, sports, and tours. Rates in November start at just under $200/night. A free night costs 30,000 Priority Club points. This property also belongs to the Visa Signature Hotel collection.
You can also use your Priority Club points at the Holiday Inn Resort Baruna Bali, with rates starting at $110 or 25,000 points per night (Points + Cash Reward Nights are also available for 15,000 points + $70 or 20,000 points + $40).
W Retreat & Spa Bali – Seminyak: This luxury hotel is located in Seminyak, on the western side of Denpasar, and combines the trendiness of a contemporary hotel with the verdant gardens of a typical Balinese resort. The smallest rooms still measure almost 700 square feet, and all include luxurious amenities such as flat screen TV’s, private balconies with chaise lounges, and spacious bathrooms with a separate tub and shower. Guests can check out a book or DVD from WORDS, the on-site library, or visit WET, the tropical pool area overlooking Seminyak Beach. Get your heart pounding at SWEAT Fitness Center and then slink away to the AWAY Spa for a variety of treatments to ensure complete relaxation. Three restaurants and three bars on property allow guests to indulge in a variety of food and beverage choices, and the W Oasis in the center of the resort offers an escape into a traditional Balinese setting. Rates in November start at $300 a night or 20,000 SPG points as a Category 6 property. This hotel is also a member of the Visa Signature Hotel collection.
The Westin Resort Nusa Dua: This Starwood property offers a balance between the traditional and modern, seamlessly blending a tropical setting with contemporary features. The 334 newly refurbished guestrooms and suites reflect this balance, including the use of Balinese décor and Westin’s signature Heavenly Bed to create a luxurious retreat for guests. Three pools, two tennis courts, and a variety of water sports allow visitors to keep active, while the on-site spa provides a sanctuary to escape and four restaurants on the property offer an array of dining options. Note: The hotel is currently undergoing renovations that are expected to last until June. Rates in November start at $154 a night, and as a Category 5 hotel, free night redemptions are available for 12,000 – 16,000 points.
The other Starwood option currently open is The Laguna Resort & Spa, with rates starting at $170 or 12,000 – 16,000 points. Starwood also has plans to open four more resorts over the next year and a half: the Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort (opening December 1, 2012), Le Meridien Bali Jimbaran (opening December 22, 2012), The Westin Ubud Resort & Spa (opening March 31, 2013), and The Sarasvati Bali (opening January 1, 2014). Note that only the Sheraton is currently accepting reservations. Two other properties (both Alofts) are tentatively scheduled to open on January 1, 2016.
Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
St. Regis Bali: Even though this hotel technically falls under the umbrella of Starwood Preferred Guest, they have limited participation in the program. However, anyone holding an American Express Platinum card can book a room through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. The hotel, located in Nusa Dua, is the epitome of luxury, with St. Regis’ legendary butler service and an exquisite Balinese setting. The 123 suites & villas start at almost 1,000 square feet and are beautifully decorated with local art while maintaining modern luxuries such as a 42” LCD TV with DVD player, a spacious marble bathroom, and complimentary internet access. Guests can book treatments in the Remede Spa or simply relax by the pool or white sand beach, and multiple dining options will please even the most discerning taste. Rates in November start at $470.
Four Seasons: There are actually two different Four Seasons resorts in Bali: one is in Jimbaran Bay and offers guests many of the same amenities as the aforementioned beachfront resorts, while the other is in Sayan, offering guests an intimate and tranquil riverside setting in the hills near Ubud. Both can be booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts; rates in November start at $649 for the Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay and $460 for the Four Seasons at Sayan.
Other hotel members of Amex Fine Hotesl & Resorts on Bali include the Bulgari Hotel, the Ayana and the Jimbaran Puri.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and Hawaiian Airlines cards,Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah: Nestled among rice paddies in the hills just outside of Ubud, this resort offers guests an incredible array of amenities while maintaining an intimate feel, with just 20 beautifully decorated villas. All guests receive complimentary round-trip airport transportation, daily breakfast, morning yoga, afternoon tea, evening cocktails, and high-speed internet access. The on-site amphitheater hosts Kecak dance performances, one of Bali’s most celebrated art forms. Guests can also pamper themselves in the spa or pool on property, and the restaurant offers uninterrupted views of the surrounding rice paddies and tropical jungle. Rates in November start at $390/night.
There are many other options in the Visa Signature portfolio (18 in total), including those mentioned above as well as the AYANA Resort & Spa in Jimbaran, with 78 free-standing cliff-top villas starting at $299 per night, and The Viceroy Bali in Ubud, a family-owned resort with just 25 private pool villas starting at $574/night. There is also the Spa Village Resort Tembok Bali, a 31-room resort on the north coast of the island that focuses on relaxation and serenity away from the craziness of civilization starting at $265/night. With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.