I love paying for flights with points and miles and David and I try to maximize the points we earn on nearly every purchase we make. But, as anyone who’s tried to book awards flights knows, those “free” flights are often hard to find. Airlines tend to raise the amounts required for convenient times and schedules, offer less award seats on a flight than you need, or simply don’t offer award flights at all on certain flights. Taxes and fees on some airlines and at certain airports (I’m talking about you, Heathrow!) can turn a “free” flight into an expensive proposition. For flights to Asia from DFW, we think Korean Air is the ticket. (Our opinion holds even with all the saber-rattling currently going on between our government and North Korea, although we’ll definitely keep an eye on developments.)
We love playing the credit card miles and points game and are always on the lookout for an exceptional bonus or a great redemption deal. We charge everything to credit cards–every little bit adds up, but we ALWAYS pay in full at the end of the month. I emphasize the “always” because I encourage everyone to take advantage of the great freebies to be had by using credit cards, but only so long as you never charge more than you can pay at the end of the month. If you can’t afford to pay in cash, don’t charge it to a card. Period. Interest rates eat people alive and can cost way more than any perk you might get from accumulated points. That warning aside, here’s how we paid for two first class flights (one 5 hours long and one 12 hours long) with credit card points.
This will be a quick post, but I thought I’d throw it in. We left Chiang Mai via an AirAsia flight to Krabi, on the southwest coast of Thailand. This was our 3rd AirAsia flight and we felt pretty complacent since the previous two experiences were great.
AirAsia is a budget airline serving much of southeast Asia and has some strict money saving guidelines/rules about pre-printing boarding passes and luggage tags, luggage weight, etc. Since my suitcase was on the edge of the 20 kg checked bag weight limit, I’d taken to buying an extra 5 kg, which really is a lot of extra weight and, happily, can be pooled with tickets on the same booking, i.e., David and I had 45 kg between the two of us. We never came close to going over this, but for an online charge of about $4, it was well worth it not to worry about weight. Also, carry-on is ostensibly limited to 7 kg/bag–not much, but we’ve found they never weigh carry-on luggage, so it’s really a non-issue. The flights are cramped for leg-room, but on our longer (2 hour) flight to Krabi, I “splurged” for exit row and we had plenty of space. Even the pre-booked seats I got for our 2 previous flights (Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, and Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Luang Prabang, Laos) counted as upgraded seats and got us a “meal” (a “hot pocket” on the shorter flights and “assorted sandwiches” on the Krabi flight) and early boarding. Anyway, the airline had been cheap, clean, efficient and punctual.
Korean Air offers a very convenient service (unavailable for code-share flights): You can check-in and check your luggage at Seoul Station before taking an express train to the airport. To do this, you need to arrive 3 hours before your flight. (This isn’t really a big deal since they ask you to arrive at the airport 2 hours early if you’re going to check luggage there, and the direct train from Seoul Station is about 45 minutes.)
The process at Seoul Station is as follows:
1. Arrive 3 hours early. (The location is by Entrance/Exit 3 of Seoul Station, down two floors via escalator and/or elevator.)
2. Buy a train ticket to the airport (either at a machine if you have cash or a local credit card, or at the office just by the machines–to your left as you face the machines–with a foreign credit/debit card). You MUST buy the train ticket first. You’ll need to show it at check-in. Choose a time at least 30 minutes in the future for your train ticket to allow time for check-in and immigration. If you should miss that train departure time, you can exchange your ticket for a later time at the office.
3. Check-in and check your luggage at the Korean Air check-in desk just as you would at the airport.
4. Go to immigration. This is located at a small office just beside the ticket office, at the entrance to the check-in desks. The process was very quick.
5. Take the elevator a short distance away to the train platform. The train is clean, comfortable, air conditioned and (like so many public places in Korea) offers free wi-fi.