Booked: From Kia Ora to Konnichiwa | News 4 Social
Greetings from 35,000 feet in the air!
I’ve been off gallivanting for the past five weeks or so on a trip that began in French Polynesia before continuing onward to Oceania and now Japan.
This is an update to, and a continuation of, my previous trip that left off from Bora Bora a short while ago. At the time, the rest of my travels were relatively open-ended, but since I’ve now locked in most of the itinerary, I thought I’d share an update here as to my whereabouts and the trip planning process.
On this part of my trip, I’ve been rediscovering Oceania after a long time away. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit New Zealand, which left a lasting positive impression on me, and it’s a place I’m keen to return to time and time again.
After a few days hopping around New Zealand, I headed over to Australia to explore Sydney for the first time and spent some time with a News 4 Social team member in Melbourne. The weather in Australia this time of year is perfect, as it’s neither painfully hot nor is it chilly by any means.
I’d visited Melbourne a few years ago as well, and I was looking forward to catching up with a team member and exploring the city through the eyes of a digital nomad local.
After sipping on some delicious coffee and checking out some great hotels, I’ll hop over to Northern Japan for some time in Niseko. I’m meeting up with some friends in the travel space – Jarvis from The Luxury Traveller, Immanuel from Flight Hacks, and Albert from JetAlbert – to do some skiing in one of Japan’s best ski areas, which fellow team member T.J. also visited earlier on this year.
Following my time on the slopes, I’ll head back home to Vancouver after what will have been the longest I’ve been away from home for quite some time, at around five weeks!
On this part of my trip, I had the opportunity to try out a nice variety of new airlines that I either haven’t flown in a while or that are completely new to me. To boot, I also found myself in a few classes of service that I may not typically frequent. 😉
After an idyllic time in Bora Bora, my partner Jessy headed back to Canada, while I continued onward to the next part of my trip.
I booked a premium economy flight from Papeete to Auckland with Air Tahiti Nui for 25,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles. I figured it’d be a good opportunity to review this product, and at five and a half hours long, the comfort of a lie-flat bed isn’t absolutely necessary.
I wanted to visit the capital, Wellington, during my stay in New Zealand, so I wound up booking some economy Air New Zealand flights from Auckland to Wellington and back for $200 NZD ($170 CAD).
When it came time to head across the Tasman Sea, I booked a flight in Qantas A330 business class from Auckland to Sydney for 22,000 Avios, which is a good example of the utility of Avios on short-haul regional routes around the world.
After some time spent checking out Sydney, I flew to Melbourne in Virgin Australia economy class, which I booked for 8,000 Aeroplan points. I also had some time to enjoy the Virgin Australia Lounge Sydney, thanks to my Aeroplan Elite Status and Air Canada’s lounge access agreement with Virgin Australia.
The next leg of the journey required getting from Australia to Japan. This one was a little tricky to book in terms of finding a product I hadn’t flown before. I had locked in an ANA 787 business class flight at first, but since I’ve already flown and reviewed ANA several times recently, I kept my eyes open for a last-minute alternative option.
A few days before the departure date, I managed to find some great flights from Melbourne to Sapporo by way of Brisbane and Taipei, with a combination of Virgin Australia and EVA Air business class – both on their flagship Boeing 787-10 and the new regional product on the Airbus A330.
I booked this leg of my trip for 65,000 Aeroplan points, and I was thrilled at the idea of sipping on matcha milk tea while making my way back to the northern hemisphere.
Following my ski trip, I’m looking to try out Gran Class on the Shinkansen bullet train to get from Hakodate back to Tokyo.
This is supposed to be the “true” First Class cabin on Japanese trains, which I booked for about ¥40,000 ($412 CAD) – most likely as a one-time experience, since the regular Shinkansen seats are generally quite comfortable too.
Lastly, after heading back to Taipei on an economy class cash fare with China Airlines, I’ll finish this trip on a high note by flying China Airlines business class from Taipei to Vancouver, which I booked for 84,000 Flying Blue miles plus around $300 (CAD) in taxes and fees.
This is one of the more niche SkyTeam partner redemptions within the Flying Blue loyalty program, but perhaps it shouldn’t be – by all indications, China Airlines business class looks to be a very comfortable way to get home, and I’m looking forward to reviewing the experience and sharing my impressions.
There are plenty of moving parts on this trip, which is summarized in the following map.
In keeping with many of my recent trips, I’ve endeavoured to cover many luxury hotels from different hotel brands on this leg of the trip, in support of our travel agency at News 4 Social.
In Auckland, I booked two separate stays before heading off to Wellington. When I arrived from Bora Bora, I stayed at the Park Hyatt Auckland, which I booked for 20,000 World of Hyatt points.
I then redeemed 60,000 Hilton Honors points for a stay at the Hilton Auckland. Cash rates were relatively high at this time, which led me to a points redemption instead.
My stay in Wellington was a bit more modest, as I stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Wellington, booked with cash for $250 NZD ($213 CAD).
Upon arrival in Sydney, I checked in at the Shangri-La Sydney, which I booked on an industry rate. After very pleasant stays in Toronto, Vancouver, and Hong Kong, I was excited to check out this property during my first visit to the city.
From there, I made my way down to Circular Quay and to the Park Hyatt Sydney, widely considered to be one of the best Hyatt properties in the world. I booked my stay at this Category 8 property for 40,000 World of Hyatt points, which was an excellent deal compared to the cash rate.
Prior to leaving the city, I stopped by the Four Seasons Sydney to get another taste of the Four Seasons brand, which I booked on an industry rate.
I had a total of three nights in Melbourne. Having stayed at the Grand Hyatt on my last visit, I thought I’d compare it to the Park Hyatt Melbourne this time, which I booked on a cash rate of $280 AUD ($260 CAD).
For the second night, I redeemed a Free Night Award worth 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, and then topped it up with another 12,000 points, for a night at the W Melbourne.
It’s never difficult to find a reason to stay at a W, and with the brand’s recent Australian expansion in Brisbane and soon Sydney, I thought I’d check the Melbourne location off my list.
I wrapped up my visit to Australia with a stay at the Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street, which I booked for $280 AUD ($255 CAD).
For the last leg of my trip, I put my IHG Diamond status, which I earned via a short-lived status match opportunity last year, to good use with a stay at the ANA Crowne Plaza Sapporo for ¥14,400 ($150).
There aren’t too many other good hotel options in Sapporo, and since my time in the city was relatively short, I figured I may as well take my under-utilized IHG Diamond status for a spin.
That brings us to Niseko, where I’ll be splitting my four nights across a double-header between the top two luxury properties in the area, both of which opened quite recently.
I’ll spend the first two nights at the Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, for which I redeemed 35,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
This hotel looks absolutely stunning and offers an opulent ski-in ski-out experience, so I’m thrilled to be visiting with some friends and reviewing the property.
From there, I’ll head across to Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, for the next two nights. Higashiyama looks to be a much smaller property than the Park Hyatt at only 50 rooms, though no less luxurious.
While this came at a steep cost of 95,000 Bonvoy points per night, I’m looking forward to my first-ever stay with the Ritz-Carlton Reserve brand and finding out about what sets it apart from regular Ritz-Carltons.
The last hotel I’ve booked for this trip is a bit more modest. With one night in Tokyo before heading home, and peak cherry blossom season approaching resulting in sky-high cash rates, I booked the AC Hotel Tokyo Ginza – which was going for upwards of ¥100,000 ($1,000)! – for 42,000 Bonvoy points.
I appreciated the AC Hotel’s central location in Ginza, which would allow me to hit up a few eateries within walking distance, as well as get my Rimowa suitcase repaired at the nearby boutique after one of the wheels broke in Brisbane Airport a week or so earlier.
Plus, having toured many of Tokyo’s top hotels during my first post-pandemic trip to Japan last September, I thought there’d be some value in starting to review some of the more budget-friendly accommodations, as the city promises to remain an extremely popular tourist hotspot for many years to come.
Following my “pre-honeymoon” trip to Bora Bora, I’ve been busy rediscovering some old favourites in Oceania and skiing in Hokkaido.
This trip has been a very fulfilling mixture of work, connecting with friends and team members, and getting in some exercise in some of my favourite destinations around the world.
As with most of my trips, I’ve also had the opportunity to sample some airlines and hotels that are either new to me or that I’ve been excited to revisit after many years. In fact, I’ll have redeemed points for flights in all three of the major airline alliances – including a head-to-head comparison of the Taipei-based EVA Air and China Airlines – by the end of this trip.
Having said that, at about five weeks’ duration in total, this also happens to be the longest time I’ve been away from home in quite a while.
Writing this summary towards the tail end of the journey, I must say I’m nearing the point of complete exhaustion. I’m looking forward to spending an extended period at home through the upcoming months, and I probably won’t be planning too many more five-week trips in the future!