Using a variety of travel resources to design an outstanding trip to Asia at an unbelievable price

By Jann Segal
This article appears on page 30 of the December 2015 issue.
Candi Prambanan, a 9th-century Hindu temple in central Java, Indonesia.

I always told myself I would not write an article about how I effectively combine hotel and airline points to create great trips. I figured that if I did, the travel industry would change how they do things to make it much more difficult. Well, they have started making things difficult anyway, so after creating the most exotic and wonderful Asian trip to celebrate my 61st birthday in the fall of 2014, I figured there was no time like the present to share with travelers in the ITN community how I did it.

I flew out of Los Angeles on Nov. 1, and returned Dec. 4, spending five magnificent weeks in Asia for about $6,000, including air, hotels, tours and accommodations. This included a total of 13 flights. 

There were surprises in the planning and some great surprises on the trip. The travel gods must have been on my side. 

An evolving adventure

The final itinerary for this trip turned out to include Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Taiwan, but that was not my original plan. 

My planning began about 18 months prior, when I was thinking of going to Africa. I have owned and exchanged timeshares for 25 years all over the world and was looking to find my next exchange in Africa using Interval International (intervalworld.
. But during my online searching, Bali jumped out at me. I thought, “Well, I’ve never been there,” so I booked a week (Nov. 7-14) in a one-bedroom unit in Seminyak at a resort owned by the Astana Group (www.astanahospitality.

My cost for the timeshare week maintenance and exchange fees was just under $1,000. (The published nightly room rate is $261, but online specials are available.)

I also had been hearing a lot about a trip to northern India with Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/955-1925, called “Heart of India,” and India was climbing to the top of my travel “to do” list, so I picked up the phone and asked them if their 2014 dates were published yet. Sure enough, they were! 

With my Bali reservation dates in mind, I asked if they had any departures around that time. They confirmed they had a Nov. 15-30 trip with solo availability (no single supplement, which is always great). 

The original trip cost was $3,200, but I received $100 in travel credits and I paid early, saving another 10%, bringing the tour cost down to $2,825.  

Jann Segal feeding an elephant at a sanctuary in Malaysia.

I started looking at airfares and, even though it was too early to book anything, Malaysian Airlines had great prices from LAX to Kuala Lumpur that never seemed to fluctuate no matter the booking or departure date. I discovered I could get one ticket that would get me to all my planned destinations, beginning with a flight from LAX to Kuala Lumpur and continuing to Bali, then Delhi and back home again. At this early stage, it appeared to be $1,800 for a single ticket with all the stops I wanted.

Unexpected savings

In early 2014 it was time to actually start booking flights and hotels, since all my dates were finally available for booking on the reservation systems. 

I had noticed in the intervening months that the Hilton Doubletree at the Intermark (phone +60 3 2172 7272, in Kuala Lumpur was centrally located, and the cost for each night using Hilton HHonors points was a little over 8,000 points — the more nights, the lower the nightly rate. 

I had 50,000 points to spend due to a credit-card promotion, and I was chomping at the bit to use them. Also, the hotel had great reviews on TripAdvisor. I booked a 6-night stay (Nov. 2-7) for about 48,000 points.

The hotel had a great view of the Petronas Towers and was well located, so I was thrilled to be able to book using my points. (The credit card that ran the promotion was even free for the first year.) 

I later applied a free-night certificate that I receive each year from Hilton to my reservation, which brought the amount of points I spent down to 40,000. That is often the cost in points for a single night!

During the time I was waiting to book, a number of things had happened. I was still committed to using Malaysia Airlines, since I liked their routing, but I noticed they had pulled out of LAX and were flying only inter-Asia routes. There was no longer a nonstop to Kuala Lumpur (KUA) as I had hoped. The new routing was on American Airlines via Japan. 

I adore Japan, but if I used the routing through Japan with the code-share flight on American, I was going to want to see more of that country, which would have extended my trip even longer, so I called United Airlines and asked about my mileage balance. 

From what I had seen online, I couldn’t fly into KUA very easily with United, but if I purchased about $400 in miles, I would have enough to fly to KUA using EVA Air, the Taiwanese carrier about which I had heard great things, with only one stop, in Taipei. 

The reservation agent told me that since I was booking a frequent-flyer ticket, I had the option of a free layover in Taipei if I wanted it. Of course I wanted it! So I scheduled my return from Taipei to LAX for Dec. 4, the day after my birthday, rather than Dec. 1. My round-trip flight to Asia was costing me only $400 and mileage. Perfect!

I knew Malaysian Airlines had the inter-Asia flights I wanted, so I began searching for Web specials to bring the price down further. The reservation agent I called told me she did not know when any Web specials would begin, but she said there were some very good prices available by phone. I went over my itinerary with her and she booked two sets of tickets — from KUA to Bali (DPS) and back, and KUA to Delhi (DEL) and back. 

The cost of the Malaysia Airlines flights was $648. This brought the total for my entire airfare to under $1,100 — less than the $1,800 I was originally prepared to pay. 

A dream takes shape

I had a few holes in my itinerary to fill that were easy to plug. For my 3-night stay in Taipei, I used the last of some leftover American Express points to book a room at the wonderful Hotel Rido (phone +886 2 2706 5600, in downtown Taipei. This charming boutique hotel offered a great Chinese buffet breakfast each morning, included in the rate. 

I also had two nights to fill in Kuala Lumpur, since I was routing myself in and out of the city, so I chose to stay at the Sama-Sama Hotel (phone +603 8787 3333,, which was attached to the airport. The price per night was about $130, but there weren’t a lot of options close to the airport, and it was a 4-star property — another hotel I’d strongly recommend. 

I took day tours in Malaysia and Taiwan that I prepurchased from either Viator ( or City Discovery (Sylvania, OH; 866/988-8687, City Discovery tends to be more affordable for solo travelers, but there is no customer service, if you need it. 

For the Overseas Adventure Travel tour, of course, everything was included. I did, however, want to go to Java for the day and see Borobudur and the temple complexes in Yogyakarta. 

Prices for tours from local companies ranged from the absurd to the astronomical and often included an overnight stay, but I did find one company online, (Denpasar, Bali; phone +62 361 846 3602), which provided a day tour for me for $250. It was a long day, but it included airport transportation, round-trip flights on Lion Air and a full day’s schedule with lunch and a guide and driver in Java. 

Using other companies for excursions and not just depending on my escorted tour, I got to see some amazing highlights in each destination. In Malaysia, it was the elephant orphanage; in Bali, the fire dances at night; in Java, the temple complexes in and around Yogyakarta; in India, the Taj Mahal and experiencing the Ganges on Thanksgiving night, and in Taipei, the National Palace Museum.

A few pleasant surprises 

Using a variety of travel resources, it was shaping up to be a wonderful trip, but more surprises awaited me during my travels. 

When I got to Kuala Lumpur and checked into the Doubletree, they told me they had upgraded me to “diamond” level (I’m still not exactly sure why), and for my entire 6-night stay I would have full use of their Executive Lounge for breakfast and dinner, along with afternoon snacks, for free. In addition, they gave me a voucher to try several of their restaurants at no charge. Since this was a 5-week trip, I decided to take advantage of this every day, even though it was a typical chain-hotel experience. 

The Buddhist Borobudur Temple in central Java.

I had great views of the Petronas Towers for both breakfast and dinner and met some interesting people in the lounge from all over the world. I was eating out each day during my day tours, so this worked out well. Such a treat! 

 In the months between booking and my departure, my timeshare unit in Bali was upgraded for free to a 3-bedroom villa with a private pool, but the location was changed to one of their properties in the Sanur resort area, due to changes in management. I ended up at the Astana Pengembak in Sanur, which, quite frankly, I would not recommend. 

They could not adequately answer my questions before my arrival, and I continued to have communication issues while I was there. My room was cleaned when I didn’t want it to be and wasn’t when I did.

Although I was not happy with the accommodations and the mix-up that had occurred between the resort and the timeshare company, my airport transfers were unexpectedly free, as were all my breakfasts. 

In Taipei, at the Rido Hotel, on the last leg of this wonderful trip, they noticed when I was checking in that I was going to be there on my birthday, so on the last night, staff presented me with a birthday cake! It was magical — a perfect ending to an absolutely perfect and very affordable 5-week trip.