This is Andy, and this will be the first in a series of reviews from me and my family’s recent trip to Vietnam! Here is what I will be reviewing over the next several weeks:

 

Intercontinental Hanoi  

Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort part 1 and 2

Park Hyatt Saigon

Conrad Hong Kong

 

I realized some time in December last year that I had some free hotel nights expiring, as well as some Citi Thank You points expiring. As a head’s up, points transferred in to your Citi Thank you account associated with your Prestige or Premier, such as from your grandfathered Citi Forward card, expire after only 90 days. TY points earned primarily on the account don’t expire as long as you hold the card. (On a side note, the Citi Forward will no longer earn 5x TY points on bonus categories as of June 1st, 2016).

 

I also had three IHG free nights (two from Into the Nights promotion, and one from my Chase IHG card), and two free Hilton nights (from my Citi Reserve) expiring. Finally, I had a Hyatt Diamond suite upgrade left that would expire at the end of Feb as well, so I figured what better time to visit Vietnam on a family vacation than January, when temps are mild.

 

Little did I know that when we were there we’d be going during the coldest weather that North Vietnam had experienced in 30 years!

 

To start off with, I had a little over 50k Citi TY points expiring, so I wanted to use them for our flights to and from Vietnam. I considered all their transfer partners, which include Cathay Pacific (Oneworld and based in Hong Kong), EVA Airlines (Star Alliance and based in Taiwan), Malaysia (Oneworld), Garuda Indonesia (Skyteam), Singapore (Star Alliance), Thai Airways (Star Alliance), and finally Air France (Skyteam). (There are a couple other transfer partners like Qatar, Etihad, Virgin Atlantic and America, but not with a huge presence in SE Asia where I live.

 

I ruled out Cathay, EVA, Malaysia, Garuda, and Thai Airways direct transfers, as I have no experience booking award flights through them and/or I’ve heard it’s difficult. Note, most of these airlines are easy to book, but through partner websites; the ones I use are United or Aeroplan for Star Alliance awards (except for Singapore), American, Qantas or British Airways for Oneworld awards, and Air France for Skyteam awards. It’s much easier to book awards when thinking about them in their alliance, and not just the individual airlines. There are some exceptions, and Singapore is one of them. For their flights, it’s cheaper to book through their own website than other Star Alliance partners, and it’s a transfer partner of all of the 4 major flexible currencies (Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi Thank You points, and SPG points).

 

So that left me with Singapore and Air France; note, Air France doesn’t have any flights in that region. I use their site to search for Skyteam availability, on the numerous area carriers such as Vietnam Air, China Eastern, China Southern, China Air, Garuda, and Korean Air. I searched the Air France site first, which is super user friendly, because I didn’t necessarily want to fly all the way from Okinawa to Singapore then backtrack to Vietnam. Luckily, I found a ton of availability in Skyteam.

 

It was 20k Air France miles per person one way between Oki and Vietnam, but only 10k from Taiwan, which is right next to Oki. As a consequence, I decided to fly us for cheap on Peach Airlines to TPE, then begin our award travel. We’d go Taipei – Hanoi on Vietnam Air, which would be 10k x 3 people = 30k miles. Then between Hanoi – Danang, and Danang – Saigon, we’d fly cheaply on Vietjet. Saigon – Hong Kong was for some reason really expensive during that time using money, but only 10k points per person one way, then we’d fly a cheap flight on Peach from Hong Kong – Okinawa. I transferred 60k TY points in, and by the next morning, they were in my account, and once I had them, booking was easy. BTW, to find all the cheap flights, especially on lesser known carriers, I think that Skyscanner is the best tool there is.

 

Once in TPE, we had about a 1.5 hour layover, so we decided to hit a lounge with the Citi Prestige Priority Pass. I’ve got too many Priority Passes to count, from different cards, but this is probably the best one, as it lets you AND a companion into their lounges for free, whereas with most Priority Passes associated with credit cards, you have to pay for the companion to get in.

 

I searched among the four included lounges using Loungebuddy, and the best rated lounge was the Transasia VIP lounge, so we settled there. Of note, we’ve visited the EVA Royal Laurel Lounge before, which was way nicer than this one, but you can’t access that one with Priority Pass. This lounge was moderately sized, with comfortable seats, a pretty decent food selection including soup bar, a good selection of libations, and, curiously, an Oxygen bar. This is the only lounge I’ve been to that had an oxygen bar.

lounge2

Lounge1

I tried the Oxygen bar in the egg-shaped chairs, but didn’t really feel any different!

Overall, a really nice lounge with a good food selection, decent coffee, and a decent whiskey selection. We will definitely repeat when we transit through TPE again.

There weren’t any issues boarding our Vietnam Airlines flight from Taipei – Hanoi. Once we got there, we were greeted with 42 degree weather! To be continued…

 

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