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Whenever possible I like to write an introduction to the trips I take to give readers an idea of how much things cost, how I book and when I use points and when I choose to part with some cash. The point of this is to hopefully show just how doable these trips are and how, with a little bit of planning and a little bit of flexibility, these are trip that a lot of people can book.
For this trip I managed to combine a truly fantastic offer from an online travel agency with some Marriott points to book myself a business class flight and three nights in one of my favorite cities in the world.
Booking My Flights
Back in January a UK-based OTA (eBookers) was offering one of the best deals I saw all year…but it didn’t appear to be publicising it – I only noticed it thanks to a thread on FlyerTalk (which I now can’t seem to find).
The deal was offering incredibly cheap Business Class flights between London and Sydney to customers who were prepared to book a “flight + hotel” package though the agency and the deal had one nice little quirk – you didn’t have to book the hotel for the full length of your trip and there was no stipulation in the rules that said that you actually had to turn up at the hotel you booked.
That little quirk was the key to getting a fantastic deal and this is how I exploited it:
I didn’t actually need to book a hotel in Sydney through the OTA as I planned to use points to cover my accommodation but, to get the fantastic airfare deal, I had to make a hotel + flight booking…..so I booked the cheapest possible hotel for a single night.
The booking was for a single bed in a 10-bed dorm!
I found the cheapest possible backpacker hostel in Sydney and booked a single room alongside a return Business Class fare on Malaysia Airlines which fulfilled the need to book a “flight + hotel” package.
The package cost me an amazing £1,499.16 which, when converted to USD by Chase (I paid with my Chase Reserve card to get 3 points/$), came to $1,890.
Here’s confirmation of my reservation….
…and here’s the Malaysia Airlines Business Class itinerary:
$1,890 for a Business Class fare between London and Sydney is as good as it gets…and it wasn’t even a “mistake fare”.
Booking My Hotel
As I’ve already mentioned, I had no intention of checking in to the backpacker hostel I had as part of my booking so I was looking to use some points to get somewhere nice to stay.
When I’m traveling alone my main aim when booking a property is to minimise my out of pocket expenses by getting maximum use out of the various hotel elite statuses I hold. That usually means searching for Marriott, Starwood or Hilton properties as the status I hold with each of those chains entitles me to a complimentary breakfast and, in the case of Marriott and Starwood, it also entitles me to lounge access.
The merits of lounge access in the US can vary significantly from property to property and can sometimes be negligible….but once you’re outside of the US things usually get a lot better. If you take a look at the reviews I wrote on the JW Marriott Hong Kong and the JW Marriott Singapore you’ll see what I mean.
Just some of the food available in the evenings in the lounge at the JW Marriott Hong Kong
I know Sydney reasonably well and on my last two visits I stayed in the Darling Harbour area at, what was then, the Four Points by Sheraton (now a Hyatt Regency). This time I thought I’d check out a more central property.
When I checked the prices for the Starwood options I can’t say I was altogether impressed:
I’ve long thought that Starwood properties are overpriced and this didn’t go any way to changing that view – 16,000 Starpoints to stay at a Westin that I know has quite a few detractors is a joke and $483/night for that property is laughable.
One of the Marriott options was far more sensibly priced (cash-wise)….
…and that also happened to be my Marriott of choice. Luckily, as I didn’t really want to part with any more cash on this trip, there was also plenty of award night availability (although only if I was happy to book 3 or more nights….if I only wanted 2 nights there was an issue which I’ve written about separately).
40,000 Marriott points/night for a hotel as well located as the Sydney Harbour Marriott was a price I was happy to pay….so that’s what I booked.
- The Business Class flights cost me $1,890
- The accommodation cost me 120,000 Marriott Rewards points
- Travel costs while in Sydney (Uber & Trains) came to $80….and they’re only that high because I had two roundtrip train rides to/from the airport thanks to a trip I took on the new Qantas 787 Dreamliner.
Miles & Points Earned
From the Business Class flights credited to American Airlines AAdvantage:
- 32,036 Elite Qualifying Miles (almost a third of the way to top-tier American Airlines status)
- 46,984 Redeemable Miles (almost enough for a roundtrip First Class fare within the 48 or 2 x Economy Class fares within the 48)
- 4,272 Elite Qualifying Dollars (over a third of the number of EQD needed for top-tier American Airlines status)
From my stay at the Marriott:
- 500 Marriott Rewards points from my “Elite Gift” (I didn’t pay to eat at the hotel nor did I charge anything to my room)
Reviews On The Way
Malaysia Airlines A330 Business Class
- Malaysia Airlines A330 Business Class (now live)
- Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay (now live)
- Qantas First Class Lounge Sydney
- Malaysia Airlines A380 Business Class
3 nights is an incredibly short amount of time to spend in a city as fantastic as Sydney….but I travel a lot and I didn’t really want to be away from home for too much longer.
I had a great time in Sydney despite the lightning-quick visit – I managed to catch up with some old friends, I revisited a number of my favorite spots and I had sunshine and blue skies for most of my stay.
Most importantly, however, I got a fantastic deal and, as fortunate as I am to have been in a position to book it, this isn’t a trip that was incredibly expensive or incredibly hard to book – I just happened to be paying attention when it became available and I acted on it.