This year is shaping up to break all of our travel records up to this point. Miles flown, nights spent away from home, and even countries visited will all have new personal bests if everything goes according to plan and a good chunk of that is thanks to our honeymoon. The destination is Fiji and I previously laid out how we were able to book business class award tickets with a combination of American and Alaska airline miles and even throw in a free stopover in New Zealand! I discussed this booking with a more experienced travel hacker recently and he was amazed we were able to find business class space on Qantas for the trip out there, even called it one of the “unicorns” of award booking but I’m not sure I’d go that far.
Once we locked in the flight itinerary (although those are always subject to change…), it was time to start looking at hotel options. We have 4 nights in Auckland and another 12 nights in Fiji to account for and a good number of options to choose from, several of which allow us to use miles and points. Let’s look at some of those options, what we have booked now, and why a recent natural disaster made us change our plans.
4 Nights in Auckland, New Zealand
Our honeymoon kicks off with 4 nights in New Zealand after over a full day of travel getting from Seattle to Auckland.
This will be our first experience with a premium international cabin flight, so hopefully we’re not too excited to grab some sleep while in the air! The lay-flat seats in the upper level of the plane should make that part easier.
When it comes to booking hotel nights, there are a couple of numbers that can make the process a little cheaper. 5 is the most common as SPG, Hilton, and Marriott all offer the 5th night free with hotel bookings (although some limit it to certain categories of hotels). If you’re staying 7 nights, it might make sense to book one of Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages.
In our case, 4 nights happens to line up with my Citi Prestige‘s 4th night free benefit but this unfortunately cannot be combined with award stays. More on this later.
Most of my hotel searching starts with AwardMapper to see what hotels are available that I might be able to use points on and this was no exception. I found that there are a lot of Choice and a couple Best Western properties, but I don’t have any of those points, nor do I have any plans to accumulate them in the near future. Once I filtered those options out, I was left with a nice Hilton property and a couple IHG locations in the form of a Crown Plaza and an airport Holiday Inn:
- Hilton Auckland – 50,000 points or $289 NZD (~$190 USD) per night
- IHG Crown Plaza Auckland – 25,000 points or $238 NZD (~$157 USD) per night
- IHG Holiday Inn Auckland Airport – 20,000 points or $190 NZD (~$126 USD) per night
It’s always smart to check non-chain hotel rates for the same nights to see what I’d book if I didn’t have any points at all. Plus, with the Prestige’s 4th night free on cash bookings it might make more sense to save the points for a future trip. A quick glance at Kayak revealed a lot of 4 and 5-star properties in the $90-150 USD per night range!
Given the 4th night free would grant us a nightly rate of ~$100 or less, we immediately tossed out the Hilton option of spending 200k points and didn’t have any interest in spending part of our honeymoon at an airport hotel so that removed the Holiday Inn as an option. At this point we were left with spending 100k IHG points (90k after 10% rebate via the IHG credit card) for the Crown Plaza or spending ~$100 per night via the Prestige’s 4th night free benefit for a comparable property.
For now, we decided to go big and booked The Langham which is a well reviewed 5-star property in the downtown area which should come to ~$435 total for the 4 nights after the 4th night rebate, but that will fluctuate a little with the NZD currency’s relation to the US dollar until we actually pay. The trend so far this year is definitely in the US dollar’s favor.
I specified “for now” because I’m still debating whether or not to switch to the Crown Plaza. It’s equally well-reviewed and in roughly the same area, plus we recently obtained quite the surplus of IHG points thanks to a couple promotions (Accelerate and Priceless Surprises). There’s a good chance I switch the booking because I’m strongly of the opinion that redeeming points beats out spending cash in almost all situations, redemption “value” be damned (but it’s actually not too bad in this case).
12 Nights in Fiji
The 4 nights in Auckland is followed up by a 12-day “stopover” in Fiji which also has it’s own selection of hotels that can be booked with award nights.
Checking AwardMapper once again shows us several different SPG properties, a couple Hiltons, and a couple IHG properties on the other sides of the island. Since our number of stays are above the magic 5 number, both SPG and Hilton become interesting choices thanks to the 5th night free rule on award bookings.
We actually looked at the selection of properties in Fiji when this trip was just an idea over a year ahead of time and made the choice to accumulate SPG points specifically for the trip. The Hilton properties also look great, but I don’t think the DoubleTree property was in the program back then which appears to offer the best value at 40k per night. Even with the 5th night free with either choice, we were looking at either 100k SPG points or 400k Hilton points (or a combination of the two!) which surprisingly are about equally difficult to obtain.
With that in mind, we deliberately started accumulating SPG points via credit card signups and ended up getting 3 SPG cards between the 2 of us (2 personal and a business card) which allowed us to earn over 100k points after the spend requirements were met.
SPG offers 4 different properties in Fiji, a high-end Sheraton for 20k per night, a Sheraton and Westin on the mainland at 10k per night, and a Sheraton off on it’s own island for 12k per night. Our original plan (and booking) was to check out the island property for 5 nights and spend the other 7 on the mainland at one of the 10k properties for a total of 108k SPG points, but a few days ago I received an alarming email!
Sheraton Tokoriki Island hit by Tropical Storm
We had already booked our Fiji hotels, but received the following email a couple days ago on February 28th:
Dear Valued Guest,
As you may have heard, Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island, was evacuated on Saturday 20 February in preparation for Tropical Cyclone Winston.
Due to severe damage of the property, we will not be accepting any arrivals until 30 November 2016. This applies for all bookings, either new or already existing. Please be aware that this time frame is subject to change and could eventually be extended. Due to the property closure, your booking at the resort has to be either deferred to a later date or can be cancelled without any penalty. Please email our reservations team Sheraton.Tokoriki@Sheraton.com, or speak to your travel agent to discuss your options; which are:
- Free modification for deferral of your booking with us to a later date after the 30 November 2016 through to 30 November 2017.
- Moving your stay to one of our sister resorts in Denarau: Sheraton Fiji Resort or The Westin Denarau Resort & Spa. – We will cancel the Tokoriki booking and re-book at the hotel of your choice at the same or lower rate if available.
- Alternatively we can cancel your booking and provide you with a full refund.
We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and hope to welcome you to the resort at a later date.
Due to a tropical storm, the Tokoriki Island property would be closed until well after our honeymoon! As we booked with points, we already had easy access to a full refund but they seem to be very accommodating to anyone who had existing reservations between now and November 30th when they expect to reopen.
SPG makes it really easy to book and cancel reservations online, so it only took me about 5 minutes to cancel the existing Tokoriki Island booking and shift those 5 days to the Westin on the mainland. In the end, we’ll spend less time switching hotels and save 8,000 SPG points, but will unfortunately not be able to experience the secluded island experience of the other hotel. Not a huge deal in our eyes.
In fact, a couple days after the original email (and after I’d already rebooked) we received another email apologizing for the inconvenience and offering the following perk:
Complimentary add-on: re-book today to receive an upgrade to an Ocean View Room.
In addition to an upgrade, we will also throw in a complimentary day trip including lunch and snorkelling for the whole family! This will ensure that you are able to experience the crystal clear waters of the Mamanuca’s during your stay with us in Fiji
Even though we’ve already rebooked our rooms, I’ll be sending them an email to see if we can take advantage of the new offer. It’s nice to see the hotel/brand going above and beyond to accommodate guests, even though the natural disaster was obviously out of their control.
Honeymoon Hotel Breakdown
Everything we’ve booked is subject to change (and probably will) between now and the actual trip, but here’s a breakdown of what’s currently on the books:
- 4 nights at The Langham Auckland (booked with the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit) – $435
- 12 nights at Fiji SPG properties – 100,000 SPG points
Add in the total cost of the flights at 235k miles and $357, and we’re looking at one hell of a honeymoon at less than $1,000 out of pocket cost for flights and hotels!
Now we just have to survive a trip to Vegas, a friend’s wedding in Hawaii, and a wedding of our own before we get to start the biggest trip of our lives! Our 2016 is shaping up to be a kick-ass year and I hope yours is too!