Cleared for Takeoff: How to book a 10-night trip for two to Thailand with points and miles
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Cleared for Takeoff is a weekly series showing readers like you the best ways to book post-pandemic adventures using points and miles. If you’d like tips on booking your own trip using miles, please email us with your preferred itinerary and current mileage balance.
Beaches, temples and street food are three reasons tourists flock to Thailand. I planned a trip to Thailand last summer, but border closures required me to cancel my trip. However, planning that trip puts me in an excellent position to answer today’s Cleared for Takeoff request. This week, I’ll look into TPG reader Dan Howe’s request for help planning a trip to Thailand:
Looking to travel to Thailand in Feb/Mar 2022 with my girlfriend. We would be leaving from Washington DC preferably. We would like to spend a couple nights in Chiang Mai possibly with the rest of the time in a beach location(s). Total of approximately 10 nights in country. I would like to travel there in business or first, but home can be economy. Have Star Alliance Gold status if it matters. I would add that I will have 4th night free benefit available and would pay cash for a non-chain hotel if it were the best option.
Dan has a stash of Citi ThankYou points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, United MileagePlus miles, Marriott Bonvoy points and Hilton Honors points he is willing to use on this trip. So, come with me as I recommend how I’d plan a trip for two to Thailand using points and miles.
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Current points stash
Dan has enough points and miles to book a trip to Thailand. In particular, he currently has:
- 180,000 Citi ThankYou Rewards points
- 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- 550,000 Hilton Honors points
- 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points
- 60,000 United MileagePlus miles
Plus, his desired trip is still eight or nine months away. So, he has enough time to earn more points and miles if needed.
One-way airfare from Washington, D.C. to Bangkok, Thailand
Route: IAD-ZRH-BKK on United and Swiss in business class.
Miles needed: 99,000 United Airlines miles + $25 per person.
Dan wants to fly business or first class from Washington IAD to Thailand. I first considered redeeming 50,000 Alaska miles plus minimal taxes and fees per person to fly Cathay Pacific business class one way. But, availability is scarce and Dan can’t transfer any of the points and miles he currently has (besides Marriott Bonvoy, which I typically like to reserve for hotel stays) to Alaska.
Next, I considered transferring Citi ThankYou Rewards points to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles to book Qatar Airways business class for 90,000 miles per person one way. I even found availability for two passengers on several dates. But, the taxes and fees on this award would be $1,019 for two people, so I moved on to other options.
In the end, redeeming United miles looks to be the best option considering the points and miles Dan currently has in his stash. Dan could redeem 99,000 United miles plus between $7.20 and $40.40 for a one-way business class award from Washington IAD to Bangkok BKK on multiple Star Alliance partners. For example, the following routes are available on various dates in business class using United miles:
- 99,000 miles plus $7.20 per person: Washington IAD to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Boeing 777-300ER and Addis Ababa to Bangkok on Ethiopian Boeing 787-8
- 99,000 miles plus $13.10 per person: Washington IAD to Cairo on Egyptair Boeing 787-9 and Cairo to Bangkok on Egyptair Airbus A330-300
- 99,000 miles plus $25 per person: Washington IAD to Zurich on United Boeing 767-300 and Zurich to Bangkok on Swiss Boeing 777-300ER
- 99,000 miles plus $40.40 per person: Washington IAD to Vienna on Austrian Boeing 767-300 and Vienna to Bangkok on Austrian Boeing 777-200
I’d choose the third option, so that’s the one I’ll show you how to book.
How to book this award with miles
Let’s assume you want to depart Washington IAD in Feb. 2022. Go to United.com and enter the information to start your search. Be sure to check Book with miles and Flexible dates.
On the next screen, you’ll see a two-month calendar showing saver award availability. If you click on a date, you’ll see results for that date. I clicked on Feb. 26, 2022, and got the following results.
Then, click on Select under the option you want to book. You’ll see the flight details and total cost — as well as a message if you don’t have enough points in your account.
At this point, you’d need to earn more United miles if you don’t have enough. So, let’s consider how to earn enough miles for this award now.
How to earn enough United miles for this award
Dan only has 60,000 United MileagePlus miles in his account currently. But, he needs 198,000 United miles to book the one-way business class awards discussed above. Luckily, he could transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio or Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1.1 ratio.
These transfers would deplete his balances. But, he could earn more Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Marriott Bonvoy points by applying for a new Marriott Bonvoy card or Chase Ultimate Rewards card. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card currently offers a massive sign-up bonus of 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
But, if he wants to save his transferrable points for other redemptions, he could sign up for a United MileagePlus card. For example, United MileagePlus cards currently offer the following sign-up bonuses:
- New United Quest Card: Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open.
- United Explorer Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus, an additional 10,000 bonus miles after spending $6,000 total in the first six months.
- United Business Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn an additional 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $20,000 total in the first six months from account opening.
- United Club Infinite Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
- United Gateway Card: Earn 15,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
One-way airfare within Thailand
Dan said he and his girlfriend want to spend a few nights in Chiang Mai and then the rest of the time in one or more beach destinations. He said he wants to spend about ten nights in Thailand, and he doesn’t seem interested in seeing Bangkok. So, I recommend he visits Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Phuket.
I’d personally consider taking the 11 to 14-hour train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai to enjoy the scenery. But, I’ll assume Dan and his girlfriend want to fly between their Thai destinations.
Several airlines operate domestic flights within Thailand. But, I recommend that Dan and his girlfriend book the following non-stop flights (each of which includes about 44 pounds of checked baggage per person):
- Bangkok BKK to Chiang Mai on Feb. 28, 2022: Thai Smile for $39 per person departing BKK at 3:10 p.m. and arriving Chiang Mai at 4:30 p.m.
- Chiang Mai to Koh Samui on March 3, 2022: Bangkok Airways for $91 per person departing Chiang Mai at 12:50 p.m. and arriving Koh Samui at 2:35 p.m.
- Koh Samui to Phuket on March 8, 2022: Bangkok Airways for $86 per person departing Koh Samui at 3:05 p.m. and arriving Koh Samui at 4:05 p.m.
Since the flights are inexpensive, I recommend using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve card to book directly with each airline. After all, these cards offer excellent travel insurance protections and booking directly with the airlines will be easier than booking through online travel agencies if there are schedule changes to your flights.
If you want to use points to book flights within Thailand, you can book Bangkok Airways flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. However, you’ll pay more for these flights when you book through the Chase travel portal. For example, here’s the Chiang Mai to Koh Samui flight through the Chase travel portal:
And here’s the same flight on the same date through Bangkok Airways:
So, I wouldn’t recommend redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book domestic flights in Thailand. If you want to use points to pay for your flights, consider putting your flights on a card that allows you to redeem points to cover recent travel purchases. For example, you could redeem Capital One miles at a fixed value.
Hotels in Chiang Mai you can book with points
Based on the flights I recommended above, Dan and his girlfriend would stay in Chiang Mai for three nights from Feb. 28 to March 3, 2022. There aren’t many hotels in Chiang Mai bookable with hotel points, especially in the programs that Dan has points or can get points by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points. As such, here are the primary hotels bookable with points in Chiang Mai for this three-night stay:
- Holiday Inn Chiang Mai: 30,000 IHG points or $188.73 (0.63 cents per point)
- Le Méridien Chiang Mai: 100,000 Marriott points or $468.62 (0.47 cents per point)
I’d choose the Holiday Inn Chiang Mai, as I think it provides solid value regardless of whether you plan to book a paid rate or redeem IHG Rewards points. If I decided to stay at the Le Méridien Chiang Mai, I’d pay cash instead of redeeming Marriott points since the paid rates are currently low.
You can also use IHG Rewards points to book several Mr & Mrs Smith hotels. But, these hotels start at 77,500 points per night, which is more than I can recommend paying.
Dan noted he’d be willing to pay cash for a non-chain hotel if it was the best option. The Shangri-La Chiang Mai looks luxurious and well located. Dan could book this through Hotels.com on his dates for $463 for the three-night stay. There are also many well-rated but inexpensive hotels bookable through online travel agencies that may provide excellent value. So, if you’re not set on redeeming points and like a good deal, you may be able to find a gem bookable through your favorite online travel agency rewards program.
However, since this guide focuses on using points and miles for a trip to Thailand, I’ll assume Dan and his girlfriend decide to redeem IHG points to stay at the Holiday Inn Chiang Mai.
Related: Off the beaten path in Chiang Mai
How to book this hotel with points
Booking the Holiday Inn Chiang Mai with points is straightforward. Go to ihg.com and enter your trip details. Be sure to select Rewards Nights if you want to book with points.
After you click Search, you’ll see a list of IHG hotels in Chiang Mai and the nightly cost in points.
Click Select Hotel on the option you want to book. Now, you’ll see various room options for the selected hotel. You’ll also see cash rates, so you can get an idea of whether redeeming points will provide good value.
Click Select Room for the room type you want to book. Now you’ll see all the rates for this room, including award rates if the room is bookable with points.
Click Select Rate for the rate you want to book. You may need to log in to your IHG Rewards account at this point. But then you can check all the stay details, including the cancellation policy, before clicking Book Reservation at the bottom of the page.
Note that select IHG Rewards cardholders can get a fourth night reward. So, if you have the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card like me, you’ll likely want to add on a fourth night. After all, the cost of your fourth night will be zero points when you redeem IHG points for a stay of four nights or longer.
How to earn IHG Rewards points
The easiest way for Dan to earn IHG Rewards points would be to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. However, especially since you can periodically buy IHG Rewards points with a 100% bonus, I don’t typically recommend transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to IHG.
A better option — which would also unlock the fourth night reward perk — would be to sign up for the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. After all, Dan’s stay is still many months away and the IHG Premier currently offers a sign-up bonus of 150,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. See the full IHG Rewards Club Premier credit card review for more information.
Hotels in Koh Samui you can book with points
Based on the flights I recommended above, Dan and his girlfriend would stay in Koh Samui for three nights from March 3 to March 8, 2022. There are plenty of hotels on this Koh Samui that you can book with hotel points. But, here’s a look at the best options given Dan’s points stash for his five-night stay:
- Conrad Koh Samui: 380,000 Hilton points or $2,268.03 (0.60 cents per point)
- Sheraton Samui Resort: 95,000 Marriott points or $1,250.81 (1.32 cents per point)
- Renaissance Koh Samui Resort & Spa: 145,000 Marriott points or $1,411.95 (0.97 cents per point)
- Hyatt Regency Koh Samui: 75,000 Hyatt points or $1,040.92 (1.39 cents per point)
- InterContinental Hotels Koh Samui Resort: 115,000 IHG points assuming a fourth night reward or $871.97 (0.76 cents per point)
I’d book the InterContinental Hotels Koh Samui Resort since I’ve had my eye on this resort for a few years now. And, I’d likely move one night from Koh Samui to Chiang Mai to maximize the fourth night reward on both IHG stays. But, since Dan doesn’t have any IHG points and does have a large stash of Hilton points, I assume he’d prefer to book the well-rated Conrad Koh Samui. After all, this is one of the best high-end Hilton Honors redemptions and you’ll book into a one-bedroom villa.
How to book this hotel with points
To book this hotel with points, start at Hilton’s website. Enter your destination, guests and dates, and then check “Use points” under special rates.
Once you click “Find a hotel,” you’ll see hotels on a list and map. In this case, you’ll see the Conrad Koh Samui for 95,000 points per night and the Conrad Koh Samui Residences for 511,000 points per night.
Click to view rates for the Conrad Koh Samui. Then you’ll see cash rates and reward night rates for each room type. In this case, only the one-bedroom tropical island pool villa is bookable for 95,000 points per night.
Click on the blue box that says “More rates from…” below the room type you want to book. If you’re going to book with points, you’ll need to sign in at this point. Then click the “Book” button to book with points.
If you don’t have enough points to cover the entire booking, you’ll need to pay a cash copay. However, if you pay entirely with points and have elite status with Hilton, you’ll get a complimentary fifth night on all award stays of five nights or longer.
How to earn Hilton Honors points
However, if you have time before you need to make your redemption, you could also consider applying for a new Hilton Honors card. After all, Hilton Honors cards currently offer the following welcome bonuses:
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Earn 130,000 Hilton bonus points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 8/25/2021.
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 100,000 points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, earn up to $100 in statement credits on eligible purchases made on the Card at any of the Hilton family of hotels in the first 12 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 8/25/2021.
- The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Earn 130,000 points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, earn up to $100 in Statement Credits on eligible purchases made on the Card at any of the Hilton family of hotels in the first 12 months of Card Membership. Offer ends 8/25/2021.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Hotels in Phuket you can book with points
Finally, based on the flights I recommended above, Dan and his girlfriend would stay in Phuket for two nights from March 8 to March 10, 2022. There are plenty of hotels in this popular tourist destination that you can book with hotel points. But, here’s a look at the best options given Dan’s points stash for his two-night stay:
- Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort: 24,000 Hyatt points or $651.82 (2.72 cents per point)
- Le Méridien Phuket Beach Resort: 65,000 Marriott points or $716.76 (1.10 cents per point)
- Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa: 96,000 Hilton points or $388.62 (0.40 cents per point)
- DoubleTree by Hilton Phuket Banthai Resort: 48,000 Hilton points or $194.34 (0.40 cents per point)
I could make an argument for each of these hotels. But, considering Dan specifically mentioned the beach in his request, I think the Le Méridien and Hyatt Regency are the best options for his trip. Since he’ll likely use a sizeable amount of Chase Ultimate Rewards points for this business class flight to Thailand, I suggest he uses Marriott Bonvoy points to stay at the Le Méridien Phuket Beach Resort.
How to book this hotel with points
To book Marriott award nights, go to Marriott’s website and enter your search details. Be sure to check the box to use points before clicking the button to find hotels.
A list of hotel results will show that Marriott has a lot of hotels in Phuket. For this example, let’s assume Dan redeems Marriott points to stay at the Le Méridien Phuket Beach Resort. So, click the button next to this listing to view rates.
Now, you can compare paid and award night rates for various room types. Click Select next to the rate and room type you want to book.
You’ll need to sign in to your Marriott Bonvoy account at this point. After doing so, you’ll get to review the reservation details. Then, you can book the room.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points
The quickest way to earn more Marriott Bonvoy points is to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points or Chase Ultimate Rewards points. However, transferring to Marriott Bonvoy often isn’t the highest-value way to use these transferrable points. So, you may prefer to buy Marriott Bonvoy points during a buy points sale.
If you don’t need more Marriott Bonvoy points immediately, you might consider adding a new Marriott Bonvoy card to your wallet. After all, here are the bonuses currently available on Marriott Bonvoy cards:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after using your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases made on your new card at U.S. restaurants within the first six months of card membership.
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each free night award has a redemption value up to 50,000 bonus points, that’s a value of up to 150,000 total points) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, earn 10X total points on up to $2,500 in combined purchases at grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations within the first 6 months from account opening.
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. Plus, earn up to $150 back in statement credits on eligible purchases made on your new card within the first three months of card membership.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card: Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
One-way airfare from Phuket to Washington, D.C.
My recommendations so far have depleted Dan’s Ultimate Rewards balance and used some of his Marriott Bonvoy balance. So, for his return airfare, I recommend that he redeems Citi ThankYou points. I found economy class availability on Qatar from Phuket to Washington IAD through Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. But taxes and fees on two tickets would be $634.79, so I considered other options.
I found availability from Phuket to Washington IAD for two passengers through Flying Blue. In particular, Dan and his girlfriend could fly Korean Air economy class from Phuket to Seoul on an Airbus A330-300 and then from Seoul to Washington IAD on a Boeing 777-300 for a total of 92,000 miles plus 116.48 euros (about $142).
There are a few downsides to this award. First, it leaves at 1 a.m. on March 10. And second, it’s on a SkyTeam airline, which means Dan won’t be able to use his Star Alliance Gold benefits. But, this award does let Dan redeem some of his Citi ThankYou Rewards points.
How to book this award with miles
Start on the Flying Blue site and then click through to book with either Air France or KLM. I’m using KLM in this section because I found it easier to use when searching for this award. On the KLM site, fill out the information in the Book with Miles tab.
Then, click Search flights. If there’s availability on the date you entered, you’ll see results as well as a calendar of three days on either side of this date. You can click on the alternate dates to check availability on these dates. But in this case, there’s a reasonable award on our desired date.
Click on the green box with the award’s cost, click through to select the package Flying Blue presents and then click the orange button to see the trip summary.
Check your trip summary and then click the orange button to continue to passenger details. You’ll get an error message at this point if you don’t have enough miles in your Flying Blue account to book the award.
How to earn enough miles for this award
One highlight of the Air France/KLM Flying Blue program is that you can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy. As such, you can transfer in points from multiple programs to gather enough miles.
If you need more transferrable points, you could look into welcome offers for just one card with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus. For example, the bonuses for the following cards each provide enough points to book this award:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 125,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your card in the first three months of card membership.
However, I assume Dan will simply transfer 92,000 Citi ThankYou Rewards points to Flying Blue for this award.
In this guide, I laid out my recommendations for Dan’s trip with his girlfriend to Thailand. Based on current pricing and availability, I recommended they redeem points and miles (and use cash for several domestic flights) to book their trip as follows:
- Washington IAD to Bangkok via Zurich in business class for 99,000 United MileagePlus miles plus $25 per person.
- Bangkok to Chiang Mai non-stop in economy class for $39 per person.
- Three nights in a king superior room at the Holiday Inn Chiang Mai for 30,000 IHG Rewards points.
- Chiang Mai to Koh Samui non-stop in economy class for $91 per person.
- Five nights in a one-bedroom tropical island pool villa at the Conrad Koh Samui for 380,000 Hilton points.
- Koh Samui to Phuket non-stop in economy class for $86 per person.
- Two nights in a one-king balcony room at the Le Méridien Phuket Beach Resort for 65,000 Marriott points.
- Phuket to Washington IAD via Seoul in economy class for 46,000 Flying Blue miles plus $71 per person.
If you have a destination in mind and need help figuring out your points strategy, send us an email to be featured in the next installment of Cleared for Takeoff.
Featured image of Lamai Beach in Koh Samui, Thailand by Jon Arnold/Getty Images.
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