Mother-In-Law’s First Trip to India: Introduction & Planning

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Emily’s mom, Connie, wanted to visit India to visit my family, so we used our miles and points to take her with us in December.  She has briefly visited Canada and a resort in Mexico before, so India was going to be very different.  Emily’s step-dad doesn’t like traveling and didn’t want to come – even in First Class! – so Connie brought along her childhood friend Judi instead.  They’ve been friends for almost 55 years!

Mother-in-Law's First Trip to India

Connie, Emily, and Judi by the Taj Mahal

Trip Report Index

In this post, I’ll explain how Emily, her mom Connie, and her mom’s friend Judi and I visited India using miles & points.  We went to 5 cities in 2 weeks:  Bombay, Pune, Goa, Delhi & Agra.  Later, I’ll post a more detailed account of the different airline, hotel, food, transport, and activity options so you can plan a trip to India.

Keep in mind that the chart below covers only the cost for hotels and airfare, and not for dining, activities and other travel expenses.  And we stayed with family in Bombay and Pune, so we didn’t have to pay for hotels there!

Retail Cost
Our Cash Cost
Miles And Points Required
Sources of Miles & Points
4 First Class one-way tickets from the US to India~$11,700 per person $350 per person in taxes and fees 90,000 American Airlines miles, per person- Citi American Airlines Personal & Business Cards

- Bank Direct Checking Account
4 Business Class one-way tickets from India to the US~$5,700 per person$116 per person in taxes and fees60,000 United miles, per person- United Credit Card

- Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to United
4 one-way tickets from Bombay to Goa$123 per person$123 per person0
4 one-way tickets from Goa to Pune$105 per person$105 per person0
4 one-way tickets from Pune to Delhi$88 per person$88 per person0
3 nights in a suite at the Park Hyatt Goa$600 to $886 per night ($1,800 to $2,658 for 3 nights).$220 per night or $660 for 3 nights6,000 Hyatt Points- Various Chase Ultimate Rewards Cards

- Points Earned from Staying at Hyatt Hotels
3 nights in a regular room at the Park Hyatt Goa$220 per person ($660 for 3 nights)$015,000 Hyatt Points per night (45,000 points total).- Various Chase Ultimate Rewards Cards

- Points Earned from Staying at Hyatt Hotels
2 nights at the Radisson Blu - Agra$180 per night ($360 for 3 nights)$0 or $100 + 5,000 points ($200 + 10,000 points total).28,000 Club Carlson points per night (56,000 points total) OR 5,000 points per night + $100 cash- Club Carlson Promotions
1 night in a Regency suite at the Hyatt Regency - Delhi$364 per night$180 per night 6,000 Hyatt Points- Various Chase Ultimate Rewards Cards

- Points Earned from Staying at Hyatt Hotels

OVERVIEW

Since this was Connie and Judi’s first visit to India, we had to take them to see the Taj Mahal.  And Emily wanted to take them to Goa and Rajasthan.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time, so we cut it out of this trip. We also wanted to visit family in Bombay and Pune (~120 miles east of Bombay) during our 16 days in India!

I’m writing my experience booking the flights in detail, so that you can see first-hand how much time is needed to book the flights and how I initially wasn’t able to get the flights I wanted.  I got lucky and ExpertFlyer helped me find award seats as they opened up.

I initially wanted to use my US Air miles, but I couldn’t find availability for the outbound journey, and since US Air doesn’t allow 1-way awards for half the mileage cost, I decided to book separate 1-way awards with American Airlines and United miles.

FLIGHTS

1-Way Using American Airlines Miles.  Since this was my mother-in-law’s first visit to India and her first long-haul flight, I wanted to make it comfortable for her.  So I booked 4 First Class award seats using American Airlines miles for 90,000 miles per person + $350 in taxes and fees.  The higher-than-usual taxes and fees were because we flew on British Airways from London to Bombay.

I usually like booking tickets as soon as the award booking window opens up (about 11 months before), but I slacked off and booked these tickets in March 2012 (about 9 months away).

Connie was leaving from Michigan, Judi was leaving from Alabama, and we were leaving from Kansas City, so we had to coordinate the flights.  So I went to the American Airways website and searched for 4 award seats from London to Bombay on British Airways, which I found.

Connie Likes the New American Airlines PJs

Connie Likes the New American Airlines PJs

The next step was to see if we could all be together on an American Airlines flight from the US to London.  I preferred connecting from Chicago since it was the closest hub for all of us.  Unfortunately, American Airlines flight 86, from London to Chicago, didn’t have 4 award seats in First Class.  They only had 2 award seats in First Class and 1 in business.

So I booked 2 award seats in First Class and 1 in Business Class, since I knew that I could change the business class seat to First Class for free if a First Class seat would open up.  That way, at least 3 out of 4 of us would be on the same flights from the US to India.

I booked the 4th ticket on an earlier American Airlines flight which connected to the same British Airways flight.  And I set Expert Flyer seat alerts to let me know if another American Airlines seat opened on AA86 in any class, so that we could all be on the same flight.  I also set an alert for First Class award seats on AA 86 as well.

Expert Flyer alerted me to a First Class opening on AA86 in July, and I immediately called American Airlines and changed the 1 business class seat to First Class.  And in September, Expert Flyer alerted me to a 4th First Class seat on AA 86, so I called and booked it.  Finally 3 months before departure we were all going to be on the same flights from the US to India!

1-Way Using United Miles.  I initially wanted to book a First Class award back from Delhi to the US, but I couldn’t find availability for all 4 of us.

But I did find 4 award seats from Delhi to Vienna on Austrian Airlines, and then Vienna to Frankfurt to Washington, DC on Lufthansa.  And Judi and Connie would have to overnight in Washington and then connect through Chicago to Michigan and Alabama.

This wasn’t ideal, but I have only myself to blame for starting the search so late and insisting on not splitting up.  So I booked 4 business class awards from Delhi to the US for 60,000 United miles per person and $116 in fees.

And here’s where I got extremely lucky!  In August, I got a call from a friendly United agent about a schedule change which meant that we would miss our flight back to the US.  So we bantered and I explained to her how it was my mother-in-law’s first trip to India, and how I wanted to make a good impression.

I lucked out when the agent offered us 4 seats on the non-stop United flight from Delhi to Newark!  These seats weren’t available as award seats (I was checking availability as we chatted), so she must have had special access to them because of the schedule change!

United Flight From Delhi

United Flight From Delhi

Some may scoff at flying on United, but the flight saved us so much time by having fewer connections which meant that we would arrive earlier in the US and wouldn’t need overnight stays in Washington DC!  I much prefer saving my time and flying on non-stop flights than making many connections.  We could also sleep for longer on the ~15 hour flight from Delhi to Newark

Emily and I were both excited about our 1st non-stop flight from India, since we’ve always taken flights with connections before. We had a 1-stop flight back to the US from Delhi to Newark to Kansas City.  And Connie and Judi would go from Newark to Chicago and then to Michigan and Alabama.

HOTELS

1.  Park Hyatt – Goa.  I booked 2 rooms for ~$220 a night at the Park Hyatt in Goa for my family, Connie, and Judi.  I upgraded these rooms to a suite using 6,000 Hyatt points for 1 room and a Diamond suite upgrade for another room.  The suite upgrades were spectacular and our parents loved it!

We got upgraded to a Park suite which sells for $600 per night and a Vista suite which sells for $885 per night!

Park Hyatt Goa Suite

Park Hyatt Goa Suite

Emily and I stayed in a regular room which we got using points (we wanted to save some cash), which was similar to the room which we stayed in the last time.  I could have booked all the rooms using points, but I wanted to save them for future trips.

2.  Radisson Blu – Agra.   I used my Club Carlson points from Club Carlson promotions to book 2 nights at the Radisson Blu in Agra at 28,000 points per night (instead of the cash rate of $180).  And I used 5,000 points and $100 a night for 2 rooms for Connie, Judi, and family.

Radisson Blu Agra

Radisson Blu Agra

The hotel was close to the Taj Mahal and was somewhat cheap, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with the hotel.  But it was adequate as a base for a 2 day visit in Agra.

3.  Hyatt Regency – Delhi.  We were in Delhi for only 1.5 days, so I booked 3 rooms at the Hyatt Regency – Delhi for $180 and then spent 6,000 points per room to upgrade them to a Regency suite (~ $364).  We checked out of 2 rooms in the morning the next day, and I negotiated keeping our room until 9:00 pm (for no extra fee) since we had late flights.

Using 6,000 points to upgrade to a suite is a terrific deal because it gets you free breakfast, access to the lounge, and free airport transfers at the Hyatt Regency in Delhi.

Our Suite at the Hyatt Regency Delhi

Our Suite at the Hyatt Regency Delhi

The lounge was excellent (as a Hyatt Diamond member we got access to the lounge regardless of the suite upgrade) and we didn’t really need to spend money on breakfast and dinner.  But we did eat outside the restaurant as well.

Bottom Line

Getting 4 seats on the same flights is tough, but it worked out for us with a bit of luck and using the right tools.  Using 6,000 Hyatt points to upgrade a paid reservation at Hyatt to a suite was perhaps one of the best uses of 6,000 Hyatt points!

But more importantly, we were able to use our miles and points to have a wonderful trip with Connie and Judi!

* If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 9,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in a RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another trip report!

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66 responses to “Mother-In-Law’s First Trip to India: Introduction & Planning

  1. Cool! Looking forward to the Park Hyatt Goa review.

    By the way, the Hyatt on Nagar Rd in Pune has some pretty favorable rates, so if you need to requalify for Diamond … there’s also a Grand Hyatt and 2 Hyatt Places under construction, so it’ll soon be a great city to hotel hop (if you can get past the traffic!).

  2. Sweet trip!! Thanks for the great post.

  3. What a great read. Can I go along with Emily and you on your next trip?

  4. I agree. It makes me want to go there. :)

  5. You used your points on your mother in law! You’re a good man.

  6. Nice report. Thanks.

  7. @Amol (@PointsToPointB) – It was a great stay and the 6,000 points for the 3 day upgrade was a fantastic upgrade. My family will throw a fit if we stay there instead of with them, but perhaps I can convince them to take a staycation at the Hyatts in Pune!

    @trip to india @Temo @Jack
    – Thanks for reading!

    @Lively @Kathy (Will Run For Miles) - We’ll be back in December, so you can join in!

    @Scott – And she’s a great MIL!

  8. First it was your pre-marriage honey moon, then it was your post marriage never ending honey moooons one after the other and now your mother in law is in. I wonder where is this going to end. Any way I am soooo jealous.

  9. I have a daughter graduating from college in May (no debt!) and I would like to help her get a credit card to start her on track for creating a credit score etc. What is the best way to start for a student and what is the best card? She received an Amex/Delta Gold mailing, but was declined. Thanks for your help.

  10. Hey I assumed you were Iranian by your first name, but seems like you are from India? I was in Kerala in 2008 and there were a ton of tourists there who preferred it to Delhi and Agra. I got scammed a few times in the latter mentioned places, since I had not been to India in 20 years and was not ready! Loved Mumbai, especially the cab ride from the airport to our hotel.

  11. Very nice, Emily and Daraius! Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip!

  12. I don’t know — it seems like an astonishingly high number of miles you needed for this trip. I guess if you have them, use them, but it’s not easy for anybody to accumulate this number of loyalty points.

    I’m taking my family to India for the first time this spring. We’re going economy plus on AF/KLM. Simple coach redemption plus an upgrade with our elite status (which we got as a status match). We’ll then redeem points from SPG, Hilton and Carlson for free/cheap 4 star hotels.

    I think that is enough comfort for most folks, and will leave enough loyalty points in our accounts for the next trip, which will undoubtedly be a few months later.

  13. Darius, your strategy of looking and booking 11 or 12 months out but when I put out to a booking service among blogger community, the trip is for this summer in June and the service couldnt find any good seats for me and wife. The service also advice me its too soon and need to wait for close in date before good seats open up. is this true ? the trip is in 5 plus months from now, is it too soon ?

  14. Hey there, long time reader. Love your posts. Thanks for everything. We’re planning an India trip for this October and your information is very helpful!

  15. You could have done Etihad F suites via JFK for 90K, Etihad a very nice suite.

  16. Wow, great trip. Any way to use miles and points for Intra India air travel?

  17. I was looking at the BA site and they seem to say a ticket in First Class from SFO to BOM each way per person is 150,000 miles and 483 odd English Pounds. Given that AA charges “only” 90K miles why would anyone use Avios? Even if you had a companion pass, it would seem better to fly F one way and business the other for the 300,000 miles that BA charges and skip the roughly 2000 pounds surcharge. Yet I note that on your first (I think!) honeymoon you used BA to Paris? What have I missed?

  18. Btw, Pune has PrivatAir/Lufthansa service 4 days a week from FRA to PNQ and has award availability. It saves a lot of time and effort rather than driving to BOM. Lands around 4am, leaves around 6am, and connects perfectly to many US departures. It’s recliner business seats on a 737, though, so better for the day flight from PNQ to FRA (but even then, there’s a fuel stopover in Bucharest). STILL better than schlepping over to BOM.

    I’ve only been to the Hyatt lobby in PNQ for drinks, my family would also kill me if I stayed at a hotel instead of with them :D

    @iahphx – points are only as good as how you want to use them. My family travels to India almost yearly (for 4 people last year, we made 9 India trips amongst all of us). Considering how far it is, we always take the best cabin that’s available for our dates. I got into miles because of those long trips to India, so I have no qualms about spending a lot of miles on them. Then again, I limit the amount of miles I use on domestic trips.

    @vijay – points aren’t well-used on domestic Indian carriers because none are in an alliance and availability is poor. Plus, fares are already rather low to begin with.

  19. I book at least 4 award tickets from DFW to DEL/BOM in business every year (we have a clothing business), but don’t have the luxury of booking 11 months out. My first attempt always has been to avoid London at all costs because of the taxes, but since I have most miles on AA, only (good) options are Royal Jordanian or Etihad, with limited availability.

    If I scrounge up enough United miles (Chase Preferred rocks!), DFW-FRA-DEL on LH it is…

  20. @Raj – once Qatar joins OW/becomes a mileage partner with AA, we’ll be able to use them for flights USA-DOH-India.

  21. How are you able to change from Business to First for free on AA?

  22. @caveman – Hopefully, it never ends!

    @Todd – Congrats on the no loans! Here’s a post which may help.

    @WishyAnand - I’m Parsi, so you’re quite close. We were in Kerala in 2008 as well and quite liked it there!

    @Jimmy @TravelByPoints @Doris – Thanks!

    @iahphx – If only 1 person is earning the miles, it is a high amount. But you only need 3 cards for this trip per person – 55K with the Chase United card (plus 4 to 5K more United miles to hit 60K miles) & 1 Citi Biz & personal for 50K miles and you’ve got the miles needed for a 1-way in business and 1-way in First Class. Enjoy your trip! I’m lucky to have a lot of points from Citi and AA from the good ole days, so I might as well spend them.

    @choi - Award availability is usually better in the 2 weeks leading up to the flight (if not sold out), but you should be able to find something now if you’re flexible. Have you reached out to other services?

    @Jason – I thought about that, but didn’t want the hassle of changing from La Guardia to JFK since there was virtually no award flights to JFK.

    @vijay – You can redeem AA miles for flights on Jet, but it is poor use of miles since the prices are so cheap. Which reminds me that I need to update the table with the cost of the 3 flights we took within India! We had the BA Travel together ticket, so for ~$1000 per person and ~150K Avios it was worth it to fly to Paris and back. But it isn’t for everyone since there is a huge opportunity cost for spending $30K to get the Travel Together Ticket and the $1000 in taxes and fees.

    @Amol (@PointsToPointB) – Ha! I’ll actually be trying that out very soon, but it leaves at 05:30 from PNQ which is quite early! You do get an extra night in Pune with the flight, so it does help since you don’t have to go back to BOM.

    @Raj - United and US Air miles are better for travel to India because they have more options and don’t charge fuel surcharges. But US Air blocks first class on Lufthansa.

    @Char – I had booked a First Class award, but taken a seat in business since that was all that was left. So there wasn’t a fee to change the business seat to first class once a first class award opened up.

  23. Awesome – I have family in Mumbai and Pune also – and am going in a few weeks! Which reminds me … surely you know the name of the city is Mumbai now and not Bombay…

  24. and I thought coordinating a miles and points trip for my family to two island in Hawaii was complicated. Holy cow. You are one patient human (or human computer) I’m not sure which. And I mean that as a compliment, believe me. Really speechless over here. Fantastic recall and planning.

  25. Wow! I mean wow! I know you are very generous. But this is the epitome of generosity. I am not saying this just because you used your miles & points – but the time and effort you have taken to make this ‘once in a lifetime’ trip possible for your mother-in-law and her friend. Wishing you and Emily a lifetime of love, joy and peace – and ofcourse more miles, points and trips!

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  27. the only remaining question is whether the culinary delights consumed included Dhansak with sali…

  28. Great trip report! We stayed in the Radisson Blu – Agra in July, and I quite agree with your take on it–we weren’t particularly impressed either. You can find my TripAdvisor review here:
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g297683-d2248251-Reviews-Radisson_Blu_Agra_Taj_East_Gate-Agra_Uttar_Pradesh.html

  29. Such an awesome planning…do you have any guess about the best award ticket from New York or Washington to Istanbul. Thanks

  30. @Kent C – The email trail of tickets and expertflyer seat alerts also helps me remember what happened!

    @vijay – Of course it did! But not on the flights.

    @Amir – Depends which airline’s miles you’re using, but Turkish is part of the Star Alliance and other Star Alliance partners have good availability to Turkey.

  31. I’ve recently got familiar with collecting miles and points through your blog. I plan to have a trip to Turkey the next year. That’s the reason that I want to find out which credit card to apply that gives me a good signup bonus for this purpose. Thanks.

  32. Timely. What to travel to India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, not idea where to start or what the see. 3 to 4 week trip, departing from LAS. Any itinerary recommendations, must see places?

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  34. @Amir - The Chase United card gets you 55K miles after your 1st purchase and it is 60K in coach or 100K in business. You can also apply for the Chase Ink Bold/Plus card and you’ll have almost enough miles for a business class trip then!

    @Bob - The Taj Mahal in India, forts and camel safari in Rajasthan, if you can. Kerala in South India is nice an peaceful too. I’d google travel blogs or ask Rapid Travel Chai for his thoughts on Bhutan and Myanmar.

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  38. I am looking forward to your epic trip report to India. I was there in 2011. I had a good time. Too bad your father-in-law does not like to travel. I find most Americans to not be interested in world travels.

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  40. Brilliant planning!!!
    Can you please explain about changing business seat to first class for free? What are the prerequisites?

  41. @Jonathan – How long were you there for and where did you go?

    @Julia
    – I had already paid the first class mileage amount, but taken a seat in business since there weren’t any seats in first available when I booked. So there was no fee when a first class seat opened up and I called to switch.

  42. Hi Darius,

    I was there only for one week. Too short in my opinion. I was in Delhi, Varanasi and Jaipur. I will definitely be back to this beautiful and fascinating country.

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  45. U are the whitest Indian I have ever seen! So beautiful. Any tips for me on how I can snag a white chic like ur wife?

  46. @phil: He is half Indian as he said above. Any way funny!

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  48. So…impressed with all your planning. I used to think only a woman can plan like this,ha.ha…You rock kiddo! Keep up the great work and deals. I am working on a trip to Hawaii for myself and spouse. I will keep you informed when I have my plans wrapped up! Get those miles and continue living life to it’s fullest!

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  55. Very nice trip, golden triangle tour also a good option if you are planning India short tour.

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  64. Great information!
    Thanks

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