A lot of people who write about aspirational travel talk about getting big sign-up bonuses for credit cards — okay if you’re that kind of person, but I have a mix of cards I like. I also don’t necessarily like to be beholden to any given chain. In the last year, I made two changes: I changed my Hilton American Express card to the Surpass version, which has an annual fee and offers me Gold status for one year. Additionally, I upgraded my American Express Green card to a Gold Rewards card before going to Bermuda. Those were the only two rewards cards I used on this trip.
Thus, I felt I had the flexibility to stay where I wanted to: Conrad Hong Kong for the best Hilton value, then I booked the Park Hyatt Dubai through American Express, giving me double Membership Rewards points, and I’d booked the Eden Au Lac in Zurich directly as American Express didn’t have availability for my dates.
|San Francisco to Hong Kong||Cathay Pacific: 35,000 British Airways Avios + $150.40 in taxes and fees. Coach. Approximate cash cost of this ticket: $772|
|Hong Kong to Dubai||Cathay Pacific: 40,000 British Airways Avios + $142.17. Business class. Typical flight cost: $3388.|
|Dubai to Zurich||Swiss: 27,500 United miles + $21.80. Business class. Typical flight cost: $3340.|
|Zurich to Luxembourg (and back)||Swiss: 32,500 United miles + $47.95. Business class one way (all I could get), economy the other. Typical flight cost: $888.|
|Zurich to San Francisco via New York||Swiss and United: 50,000 United Miles plus $65.10. Business class on Swiss, First on United. Typical flight costs: $5863 for the Swiss flight, $1722 for the United flight.|
All told, $15,973 of flights for $427.42 + 185,000 frequent flyer miles. Good deal. Because I used two programs, I booked them segment-by-segment due to stopover rules.
I left San Francisco on June 10, my first day of travel.
Hong Kong (June 11- very early on the 14)
- Cash taken with and converted: $100, which was partly used for airport express train, taxis, and one lunch at the Macau ferry terminal
- Conrad Hong Kong (3 nights at Points + cash rate of $85 a night + 25,000 points, plus one dinner): $347.32
- Spaghetti 360: lunch on Victoria Peak: $17.92
- Macau ferry: $37.51 round trip
Since there’s only one Hilton property in Hong Kong and I had lots of Hilton points, the choice of place to stay was super-easy. Due to my Hilton status, I was upgraded to an Executive Peak View room, which was amazing. Also, the exec room offered free breakfast and light snacks later in the day, so this helped save on my budget.
Dubai (June 14-18)
- Cash withdrawn from ATM: $136.13 (500 dirham)
- Brunch: $72.74 Park Hyatt Dubai: $816.88 (three nights, one half night for coming in very early, breakfast daily and one dinner) — this was booked as a regular summer special; the base hotel rate was ~170/night.
- Ski Dubai: $59.90 At the Top (Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building): 28.73
Initially, I’d booked at the Hilton Dubai Creek, but most everyone was staying at the Park Hyatt, so I went with the flow even though the room was more expensive. In the long run, not having to take my own taxis saved some money.
Zurich and Luxembourg (June 18-20)
Note: I changed my remaining currency from Hong Kong and Dubai into Euros
- Hotel Eden au Lac: 863.48 (two nights, two breakfasts, one dinner, base hotel rate ~355/night)
- Zurich Transit and museum pass: $41.94
- Luxembourg airport lunch: $18.03
- Hot chocolate at Sprungli: $8.44
- Gogo wifi for flight home on United p.s.: $12.70
Zurich hotels, especially in summer, are extremely expensive, and I picked a boutique hotel that I knew was good with a great location. It was less than all the major chains, but not incredibly outrageous. The view was phenomenal, though the view from my room was what we’d call “adjacent office building view.”
Total for everything — 11 (well, really, 11-1/2) days of travel — $2989.14.
I had a working budget of $2300 during my trip; I had prepaid several items (including flights), so I actually came out almost $200 under budget. All told, my expenses ran $271.74 a day — not bad for business class (save for one leg in economy and one in first) and staying at some of the nicest places in the world for a week and a half. Part of this is the long flights, though: I traveled for 11-1/2 days, but paid for 8-1/2 days of hotels.