"The Journey the Destination"
I was looking at a rather slow upcoming business travel schedule, and a lot of vacation time banked, plus a growing balance of United Mileage Plus miles. My wife didn't have as much vacation time, and she was very gracious to give me a free pass for a leisure trip without her. Since she wasn't there, that allowed me to get crazy on some of the arrangements, since when we travel together, she brings a heavy dose of sanity to the planning process. As you can see below, that may have been lacking on this trip.
I was gone 9 days total. I was on planes for 2 nights on the outbound, and stayed in 7 different hotels along the way. I got to spend some time in Japan, where I've been before, but never for more than 24 hours. I also went back to Thailand, and crossed over briefly into Myanmar and Laos. The #avgeek in me got a lot of cool experiences, with my first flights on the Boeing 748i and Airbus 380 in Lufthansa First Class, and 2 flights on the Boeing 787 in ANA Economy. I also had 2 legs in Thai Royal First Class on flights using the leased Jet Airways 777-300ER. I had 2 trips to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal and a visit to the Thai Royal First Spa in Bangkok.
I started looking for flights on united.com and the ANA tool to find availability. Once I mentally committed to this trip, I was determined to try to maximize it as much as possible. To me, than means getting on Star Alliance partners whenever possible. I really wanted to get on the Airbus 380, and Lufthansa seemed like the best way to do that. Unfortunately Lufthansa first class award space only opens up to Star Alliance partners inside 2 weeks. I did a lot of research before that time, to figure out routings, etc. Once my preferred dates were approaching, I started looking for availability. I did change this a few times, but I bulked most of these flights once I had the whole outbound set. The last leg was changed while en route, and actually confirmed while sitting in the First Class Terminal before departure.
I had a basic idea of where I was going. I wanted to get on the FRA-NRT flight on the A380 since it seemed to have much more availability than other 380 flights from Frankfurt. Once that opened up, I filled in the flights around it. I eventually decided on tagging Thailand to the trip, since spending a while week in Japan would get pretty expensive. In addition I could explore cheaply and go on a passport stamp hunt that my wife would just roll her eyes at. Thai Airways First Class availability helped this decision as well. I had intended to take redeyes for as many long haul segments as I could to save time so I could explore, but that didn't exactly work out as planned. I was able to get on some pretty ideal long haul flight products, so I figured that was worth it, despite the crazy agenda. I love to fly, and I certainly did a lot of it on this trip.
This was actually 2 separate awards, one a Star Alliance First Class award ticket from North America to South Asia for 140,000 and $145 in taxes. I also booked a domestic Japan award in economy for 12,000 miles and $4.28 in taxes for the ANA 787 flights.
Here was the itinerary I flew (all segments in First Class unless otherwise noted):
7/11 United 360 O'Hare to Dulles 11:22am - 2:12pm A320
7/11 Lufthansa 419 Dulles to Frankfurt 5:55pm - 8:05am (+1 day) 748i
7/12 Lufthansa 710 Frankfurt to Narita 1:50pm - 7:55am (+1 day) A380
7/14 ANA 677 Haneda to Hiroshima 12:00pm - 1:20pm (Economy) 787
7/15 ANA 676 Hiroshima to Haneda 10:40am - 12:05pm (Economy) 787
7/16 Thai 677 Narita to Bangkok 4:55pm - 9:25pm 77W
7/17 Thai 130 Bangkok to Chiang Rai 8:15am - 9:35am (Business) A300
7/18 Thai 141 Chiang Rai to Bangkok 8:25pm - 9:45pm (Business) A300
7/19 Thai 922 Bangkok to Frankfurt 12:45pm - 7:00pm 77W
7/20 Lufthansa 430 Frankfurt to O'Hare 10:40am - 12:40pm 744
I tried to be somewhat frugal with my lodging, and since I was alone I didn't mind too much. I also had my first stay at a hotel I've long wanted to visit, the Park Hyatt Tokyo. I was also able to work on some some hotel promos, including the Park Plaza Ultimate Night Giveaway from Club Carlson. I also got a few nights toward platinum requalification with Starwood. Here are the hotels I stayed at:
Tokyu Stay Tsukiji - blocks to fish market
Chisun Hotel Hiroshima - easy walk or tram ride to Peace Park
Park Hyatt Tokyo - award booking, but got free 2 category upgrade!
Park Plaza Soi 18 Bangkok - 50,000 Club Carlson points for stay
Le Meridien Chiang Rai - a great value for a gem in northern Thailand
Royal Orchid Sheraton Bangkok
Sheraton Frankfurt Airport
Next up will be my review of the United Global First Lounge at O'Hare prior to my flight to Dulles. It was a nice change of pace from my typical routine at ORD.
I owe some gratitude to several people who helped me in the planning process. Matthew, Seth, and Ben, all provided useful advice as I was trying to put this together. Thanks a lot for the assistance guys!