Turn your frequent flyer points and status into a special weekend

By Chris Chamberlin , March 13 2015
Turn your frequent flyer points and status into a special weekend

Frequent flyer points and lofty loyalty tiers go hand-in-hand with solo business travel, but they also pair well to create dream getaways in your downtime.

Whether that’s a quick getaway with your spouse or several weeks away sunbathing and working on your respective tans, here’s just one way to parlay your frequent flyer points and those shiny loyalty cards into an unforgettable adventure with your significant other.

Planning your journey: the basics

We’ll leave the destination at your discretion, instead using a real-life example: this author’s five-day trip to Asia to mark a special occasion.

I’d decided this voyage would follow three main rules

  1. to treat my partner to cities she’d never visited before – Singapore and neighbouring Kuala Lumpur
  2. to not fly there in economy, and enjoy great five-star hotels along the way
  3. and to do all that as a surprise and without breaking the bank.

A healthy mix of Qantas Frequent Flyer points, United MileagePlus miles and Hilton HHonors points would do much to keeping costs down, and as the itinerary came together piece by piece, you’ll be surprised how far even a modest points balance can go.

Step one: fly from Brisbane to Singapore (via Melbourne)

When booking a frequent flyer ticket, Qantas doesn’t collect extra points for same-day domestic stopovers – and with Emirates’ Melbourne-Singapore flights departing at 7pm, it was the perfect opportunity to take an early domestic flight from Brisbane and sneak in lunch at Rosetta.

Fettucini with ragu Bolognese: a favourite at Rosetta and in the Qantas First Lounge
Fettucini with ragu Bolognese: a favourite at Rosetta and in the Qantas First Lounge

I quickly snapped up two business class tickets: Brisbane to Melbourne with Qantas and Melbourne to Singapore with Emirates on the same itinerary for 120,000 Qantas Points and $691 in taxes, fees and surcharges, which also comes with Emirates’ free Chauffeur Drive service at each end.

Diligently clawing back 200 of those 120,000 points, I used the Qantas Restaurants website to book the table at Rosetta, at which my partner’s personal loyalty status was dutifully upgraded from girlfriend to fiancé.

Unbeknown to the future missus, I’d also secretly used Qantas Points to swap our confirmed business class tickets for adjoining couples’ first class suites when frequent flyer award seats became available with Emirates: just 60,000 points more plus 7,000 points in change fees.

Almost like clockwork, that meant an invitation to the superb Qantas First Lounge in Melbourne where we each snuck in a massage at the Aurora day spa before settling back to an endless supply of celebratory Dom Pérignon 2004 en route to Singapore.

What you’d normally pay: $10,164 ($1,898 Qantas + $8,266 Emirates)

What the flights actually cost: $691 + 187,000 Qantas Points

Step two: book a hotel in Singapore

Armed with a Hilton HHonors Gold card that guarantees free breakfast, in-room Internet access and bottled water, I went with the Conrad Centennial Singapore and its ongoing 48,000 Hilton HHonors points + S$299 (A$283) deal for a two-night ‘points and money reward’.

Given that a totally-free night sets you back 60,000 HHonors points and that basic rooms retail for around S$350/night, getting two nights from fewer points and less cash seemed a no-brainer.

Having booked only a basic King Classic room, my Gold status also procured us a free upgrade to a (A$445/night) King Business room on a higher floor with better views, a confirmed 3pm late check-out, a S$20 daily laundry allowance and what became several boxes of pralines throughout the stay.

Oh, and His and Hers rubber ducks and teddy bears to take home...
Oh, and His and Hers rubber ducks and teddy bears to take home...

What you’d normally pay: A$946 ($890 Business room + $56 Wi-Fi)

What the stay actually cost: A$283 + 48,000 Hilton HHonors points

Step three: fly from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur

At just 55 minutes from gate to gate, I was happy to disregard my ‘no economy’ rule on the short hop from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur: locking in stellar fares on Malaysia Airlines for just A$70 each, plus a A$19 premium to secure extra-legroom seats.

Through Malaysia’s Oneworld membership, my Qantas Gold/Oneworld Sapphire frequent flyer card also guaranteed us access to the Qantas Singapore Lounge, where the staff thoughtfully whipped together a scrumptious congratulatory dessert on hearing our news:

As icing on the proverbial brownie cake, the airline also accepted an offer of S$45 (A$42) per passenger for business class upgrades via its online bidding system which provided a chance to sample those legendary Malaysia Airlines satay skewers. Yum!

What you’d normally pay: A$790 (business class)

What the flights actually cost: A$262 (incl. fees paid for extra legroom)

Step four: book a Kuala Lumpur hotel

Served will full lounge privileges atop the regular HHonors Gold perks, an Executive Room for just A$225/night at the Hilton Kuala Lumpur hotel was too good to ignore – not to mention the points earned for future cut-price stays.

There’s a good chance we’d have been upgraded to the next room category at no charge, but as it was near-identical but with a lake view, I used Hilton’s ‘eStandby Upgrade’ system to tease a A$65 offer for a Grand Executive Suite: otherwise selling for A$375/night during our visit.

With a dash of luck and a sprinkle of confidence, my upgrade offer was accepted to a palatial suite with a dedicated living and dining room…

… plus an office space, two walk-in closets, a private bedroom with those lake views and two bathrooms – one with an oversized bath and a separate shower.

What you’d normally pay: A$399 (A$375 suite + A$24 Wi-Fi)

What the stay actually cost: A$290

Final step: fly from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane

Having stocked up on United miles in September last year amidst a strong Aussie dollar and a sweet 2-for-1 deal from United, 60,000 miles was enough for two business class tickets home on Thai Airways.

Picked up for just A$1,246 and with only A$105 in taxes and surcharges payable when making the booking, it gave the opportunity to break the journey at Thai’s Bangkok hub for a little market shopping, an afternoon boat ride on the Chao Phraya River and dinner by the water.

Back at the airport, complimentary half-hour massages at the airline’s Royal Orchid Spa were also squeezed in before journeying home in Thai’s ‘honeymoon’ seats at the pointy end:

Australian Business Traveller journalist Chris Chamberlin and fiancé Victoria
Australian Business Traveller journalist Chris Chamberlin and fiancé Victoria

The only snag along the way? My luggage decided that an Asian jaunt wasn’t complete without including Japan, but made its way home the following day after a brief visit to Sapporo.

What you’d normally pay: A$3,790

What the flights actually cost: A$1,351 (taxes + buying 60,000 miles)

Frequent flyer points and status: the real savings

Without the aid of frequent flyer points or shiny loyalty cards, a journey this extravagant pushes past the $16,000 mark – and that’s before adding meals, sightseeing, and airport transfers that don't come free.

Looking at our figures above, we booked the same for only $2,877 of real money plus 187,000 Qantas Points and 48,000 Hilton HHonors points, and a flash of each loyalty card for the little extras along the way.

That's just $1439 per person, or about what you'd pay for a simple economy ticket during holidays to just one of those cities – and that certainly doesn't come with five-star hotels or first class caviar included in the price.

So the next time you’re planning a surprise romantic getaway or even just a simple weekend away, see how far your frequent flyer points and miles can take you.

When your partner spots their name on a ‘free’ business or first class boarding pass, how you booked the flight won’t matter in the slightest.

More ways to save on business and luxury travel:

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Congratulations Chris on your engagement! Now you have to start planning your honeymoon trip ;-)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 133

Very nice :)

Virgin Australia - Velocity Frequent Flyer

18 Apr 2013

Total posts 23

Congrats Chris & Victoria :-)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Having just recently travelled from SIN to KUL in J on MH, I was rather impressed too. For such a short hop, you get quite a nice package (and the satay skewers are indeed very tasty). I was rather surprised to get not one but two cold towels on that flight (after take-off and before landing), a rather nice amenity.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2223

It would be nice if the QFi ex-Asia redeyes had them. Perhaps a cold towel after takeoff and a hot towel before landing?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

For a flight of six or seven hours duration, it's sort of de rigueur for at least one freshen up towelette to be provided in J. Generally I get a hot towel at least on Qantas International flights. 

But I think most people would be pleasantly stunned if say Qantas or Virgin Australia started handing out refreshing towelettes on say SYD-MEL or CBR-SYD/MEL which are flights of roughly the same duration (true, technically SIN-KUL is notionally international but really it's a commuter flight given these countries are practically on top of each other).

Agree. We were given towels on a 25 minute flight from Denpasar to Lombok on Garuda.

Mal
Mal

14 Jun 2013

Total posts 360

Awww (sniff!). What a great story!

Congratulations Chris and a great story of how points can be used in practice!

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

Nice story :-)

12 Feb 2015

Total posts 86

Congratulations Chris and Victoria! Good case study Chris on how to put together know-how, research, some points and maybe a little luck to create a great trip.

VA

17 Apr 2014

Total posts 12

Congrats Chris and Victoria!

My trip was a little less romantic, but I took my 10 year old son to Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris last October.  I travel a lot for work and needed to go to a conference and he wanted to come along for the ride.  I'm a HH Diamond and TG *G.

I used my TG 50% "birthday offer" redemption for Mr 10, which was 85k miles and ~1000AUD in T+Cs, I booked myself in S for ~2200AUD and used my GUP to join my son in J.  My son was too young to receive a free massage at the TG lounge in BKK.

To get around Europe we booked non flex train seats. By the time I was booking there was only flex seats in economy, so first was cheaper and more comfortable.  Overall saving compared to economy was 100EUR and it was faster than flying once you factor in security and other lost time at the airport.

We stayed at a Hilton in each city.  In Brussels we only got the free breakfast and nothing else of note. In Amsterdam we were upgraded from a cheapy prepaid room to a nice exec room.  In Paris I burned 120000(?) points for 2 nights at the airport.

Overall I spent around 6kAUD + 85k TG miles + 120k HH points on a trip that should have cost close to 20kAUD if I was paying for it all in cash.  The free breakfasts and lounge access made the whole trip a little more pleasant (and cheaper).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Mar 2015

Total posts 59

I notice you said you were able to upgrade your Qantas business rewards flight to first. How were you able to do this? I thought you were unable to upgrade a rewards flight?

Hi Stuart,

When I booked the flights about six months ago, I could only find business class award seats available on the date I wanted, so I locked those in.

Then a few days before the flight, three award seats opened up in first class (and I only needed two), so I simply 'changed' my booking from a business class award to a first class award and paid an extra 30,000 Qantas Points each for the difference (Australia-Singapore is 60,000 points in business class and 90,000 points in first class with Emirates), plus 3,500 points each as the 'change fee' for amending the award ticket.

So while you can't 'upgrade', you can still 'change' your award ticket to a higher cabin class if seats become available, whether on Qantas, Emirates or any of the airline partners in QFF.

(Granted it would have only been 180,000 points overall if I'd been able to book first class outright or I'd waited until the few days before departure, but booking those business class seats gave us confirmed tickets on the flight that we needed to take, and 3,500 points per person extra is a small price to pay for peace of mind.)

-Chris

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Mar 2015

Total posts 59

Ok thanks for the reply

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 295

The ultimate work/pleasure mix.  It would be complete if you tell us you wrote it all off against your tax!! :-)

Congrats on your engagement! 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jul 2014

Total posts 9

Amazing. I salute your talents with your FF miles.


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