Asia 2017: Introduction

For the longest time, we wanted to explore Southeast Asia and so for the past two years, we have taken an extended trip to the other side of the planet.  In 2017, we chose Malaysia as our primary destination, though we made a few (aka a lot of) stops along the way to keep things interesting. Most people think we are crazy for some of the itineraries we plan, and they would be partially correct, however, it’s our way of seeing as many places as possible given that we both have full-time jobs. We wanted to provide a bit of insight on how this one came to be and how we booked it!


Kyle and Bettina in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building


To start things off, we were fortunate to have a 7 day Marriott Category 1-5 Certificate to use. Trying to maximize value for these free nights, we scoured the world looking for the best Category 5 hotels we could find which still had award night availability for the dates we were looking for. We had found a few good options in Southeast Asia and were particularly smitten with the JW Marriott Kuala Lumpur, but first needed to be sure we could actually get there first, before booking. Since flights to Asia are on the long side from Chicago, we try to fly business class when we can. We had just enough Alaska Mileage Plan miles to make the journey there and back, obtained through a combination of credit card sign-ups, Bettina spending too much on shopping, and purchasing some miles just for this trip.


In-flight view of snowy countryside out of the Hainan Airlines plane window.


We both like trying new airlines, and so the goal was to fly a different carrier there and back. We easily found award availability (meaning flights we could book using miles) leaving Chicago through Beijing on Hainan, but there was nothing available directly to Kuala Lumpur. For those who are not familiar with the miles and points redemption world, finding flights you can redeem your points or miles for on specific dates and to specific destinations can be quite difficult. The seat availability is usually very limited and for holiday periods, you want to make sure you book way in advance. (Think booking in January or February for a Thanksgiving trip.) So when we couldn’t find what we were looking for, we had to change it up! There was availability to Phuket, Thailand, which is kind of close enough, so we booked it! Oh, and we scheduled a 23 hour 10 minute layover in Beijing for good measure.


Hainan Airlines plane at the gate at Chicago O'Hare.


The way to Kuala Lumpur was more or less booked, now to get home. Availability was particularly scant the day we wanted to leave, with only a rather dreadful looking 3-stopover route available. However, by leaving a day earlier and with a bit of ingenuity on the flight times we could make something of it. We could fly from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo overnight, spend 12 hours and 5 minutes in Tokyo, then fly to Vancouver, spend 3 hours 21 minutes, then Seattle for an additional 3 hours before finally arriving back in Chicago. In short, 31 hours, 4 countries, 2 overnight flights, and 1 long way home to end the trip. Of course, these stopovers were carefully planned so that we could enjoy a sushi lunch with friends in Tokyo, catch up with family over coffee in Vancouver, and fill our faces in the lounge in Seattle.


In summary, this is what we ended up booking:


Summary of flights booked from Chicago to Beijing, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Vancouver, Seattle, and back to Chicago.


For those who think that pictures speak louder than words, this is what our trip looked like.


Travel route on a world map, from Chicago to Beijing, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Vancouver, Seattle, back to Chicago.


With the flights booked and our hotel reserved in Kuala Lumpur, we set off getting the rest of the trip sorted. This was one of the rare incidences where we really only had flights and hotels booked prior to the trip, with no idea what we were going to do to fill the days. This may be a normal occurrence for some, but we generally like to have some idea of what to expect and what to do before arriving. We had an amazing time and look forward to sharing what we did in each location on this trip over the coming weeks!


Luggage tag from Kuala Lumpur to Chicago O'hare with 3 layovers.


Look out for the following posts from this trip:


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