More Than Miles: Vacation Costs For A Family In Thailand

Filed Under: Travel

One of the best things about miles and points is how they’ve allowed me to expand my travel. Some people like to use points to travel as cheaply as possible, though my approach has always been more to travel further, or more, or even just better, for about the same money I was going to spend anyway.

The first response anyone outside of miles/points circles has had upon hearing we were planning to take a family of seven to Thailand for ten days has been along the lines of “I’d love to do that, but it must be so expensive.”

It’s generally nigh-impossible to explain these things to outsiders, but I thought it would be worth trying in this case. Because it really costs much less than you’d think.

A survey a while ago determined Americans were spending an average of $1,145 per person for a family vacation, while Hipmunk guesstimates a Disney vacation to cost between $500-$1000 per person per day when all is said and done.

Our baseline for this trip was “what would it have cost in Maui?” which is something that many families try to do over the holidays, and seemed like a good comparison. We’d considered going to Hawaii rather than Thailand ourselves, and had penciled out an average cost of $2000 per person for a week long trip if we used no points at all.

As long as we got some time at a beach, basically

Keep in mind those are normal-people prices, not miles-and-points-junkie prices.

So we figured if we could go to Thailand for the same price or less, then there was even less reason not to.

We tracked every dime we spent over the ten days we were traveling, and while everyone travels a bit differently, this will hopefully give folks a good basis for comparison.

Once all was said and done, our “cash” costs were as follows:

ExpenseCost in USD
Food | including all meals, snacks, and beverages$643.10
Lodging | out-of-pocket costs for all hotels and airbnb nights$707.37
Flights | award ticket taxes & fees$1,380
Transportation | car, driver, & fuel for 8 days$656.44
Transportation | misc. taxis in Bangkok & Hong Kong$104
Internet | SIM card for WiFi$44.80
Attractions | Elephant World$462
Attractions | Bangkok Food Tour$196
Attractions | Ngong Ping cable car$154.55
Other | including night markets, massages, laundry, train ride, museum admissions, etc.$170.52

So our total out of pocket for seven people over ten days was $4,518.95, or ~$65 per person per day.

And we could certainly have spent less! Cutting out the food tour or the cable car wouldn’t be huge sacrifices, and if we’d been a bit more organized we could have saved on our ground transportation in Thailand as well. But I think these are reasonable averages for the realities of family travel — you’re just not going to have 10 baht noodles at every meal, and might have to make a stop at KFC for french fries to avoid a road trip meltdown.

Additionally, we spent the following in miles and points:

Seven first class tickets to Bangkok, and five first class tickets on the return 810,000 American AAdvantage miles
Three rooms for three nights in Hua Hin (one booked as Points+Cash)112,500 Hyatt Gold Passport points
Two rooms for one night in Hong Kong60,000 Marriott Rewards points
Two business class tickets from Bangkok to Male via Hong Kong45,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles
Two first class tickets from Male to San Diego180,000 American AAdvantage miles

This obviously assumes hefty mileage balances, but again, we’re talking pricing for seven. And I know many business travelers have similar quantities of miles that they’d like to spend on a family trip.

If we hadn’t had the miles to play with, we obviously would have spent more, and certainly wouldn’t have traveled as luxuriously. I definitely wouldn’t have gone home via the Maldives!

But economy tickets over our dates were ~$950 per person, so we could still have come in under our $2000 per person budget (with three extra vacation days compared to Maui).

Bottom line

It’s twofold, really:

International travel doesn’t have to be expensive, and it’s entirely possible to spend less on an overseas trip than you’d spend at a popular domestic destination.

And miles and points have allowed me to travel much more frequently, and far beyond my means. This trip is the perfect example.

Have you found great value on a trip using miles and points? Where to?

  1. Thanks Tiffany – I have enjoyed reading the whole trip report over the Real Housewives soap opera that this site now regularly descends to.

    Please keep contributing.

  2. @Tiffany

    Points cost for the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa?

    Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa is the part of the review i have been waiting for.

  3. Nice write up. You’re the only one here whose posts are worth reading anymore. Your writing is more mature, and more than anything you display some cultural sensitivity which is really lacking in Lucky’s posts and hence incenses so many of his readers. Your posts are what traveling is all about, not hopping from aircraft to hotel room to aircraft while ridiculing people from other cultures who may be encountered along the way.

  4. Very cool…. I appreciate the breakdown of costs that you incurred while in Thailand. It gives me a great baseline to plan by for when we go.

  5. Very informative. You said “if we’d been a bit more organized we could have saved on our ground transportation in Thailand”. Now that you have been through all this, it is much easier to look back and see what was not done right or perhaps what could have been done even better. So any thoughts on ground transportation in Thailand or may be something else. If you have to do it all over again, what will you not do and what will you do in a better way?

  6. This was a great report – really enjoyed reading it.

    And I agree – if you can afford Maui, you can probably afford Thailand or a number of other places in SE Asia as well. I just think a lot of Americans, with just a week or so off, don’t want to go that far, particularly in economy class. That probably explains why SE Asia is full of Europeans… they make the long trip, but have 3-4 weeks there, and their money goes a lot further once they’re on the ground.

    Thanks again!

  7. Thanks, interesting post. I’m also curious to know whether any points were directly purchased. And if so, how you handled that with the relatives.

    Unless there is availability at the time of purchase, the purchase would be speculative and I’ve had a hard time convincing relatives to spend $$ on miles without a guarantee of flights or even being able to travel all together.

  8. Great report. I think its helpful to show others that far flung international travel does not have to be expensive. The breakdown is excellent.

    I’m not going to knock this site, but it does not really hold my attention like it use to….but I will say this.

    Ben is the Mary J. Blige of travel bloggers hah! :-). When she had no love, her music was amazing…when she found it, well it has sucked forever more. I tell others to just cherish what she put out when she was single, and be happy she found someone 😉

    Give him room to adjust…

  9. I agree with the above commenters. This is great stuff. You should really start writing your own blog.

  10. @ Emily — Well, some of the American miles were previously US Airways miles. I earned those through the US Airways credit card, and purchasing miles when it made sense. So, maybe? But not actively.

  11. @ caveman — The biggest thing is really the driver. Our airbnb hosts helped us find him at the last minute, and while his van was great, he didn’t speak any English, and as I don’t speak any Thai it made communication really difficult.

    I think if we’d taken the time to research and find someone we could have communicated with it would have made a huge difference.

    We also definitely needed a driver in Kanchanaburi, but didn’t need one in Hua Hin. But with the way we booked everything we basically paid for eight days of car service and only used six, and could have probably cut costs by making other arrangements for the long drives and hiring a car just for Kanchanaburi.

  12. @ Flo — Nope, not in this case. My family generally trusts me on these things at this point though, and I try to be careful about managing expectations — I would never guarantee that we could all travel together, or even on certain dates, especially if I was encouraging them to buy points.

  13. Tiffany, thanks for the trip report. It’s been a great read so far, and this post helps add some perspective.

  14. To my way of thinking, this actually overestimates the cost of this trip. When I map out my trip costs, I don’t include food as we generally like to eat no matter where we are, even at home! For my crew of 6, our food costs at home run at least $10/person/day, so your costs on this trip would represent a savings, not an expense for us.
    I keep track of expenses similarly for our travel and so far we have averaged about $66/person/day going to London, Paris, Germany, Costa Rica, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, New York, and upcoming trips to Belize, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Japan, and Beijing. So far, our highest cost was Greece, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey, largely because of all of the private tours that we chose to use.

  15. While I don’t think that you absolutely need to branch out and start your own blog, I do really enjoy your reviews and reports. They provide another perspective that tends to be a bit more in line with many readers, including myself. For instance, you actually talk about something besides the hotel and flight, which is nice, since it gives a better sense of a place. Thanks.

  16. Great trip report! I really appreciated the breakdown of points and cash outlay in a neat little table. Look forward to reading more reports from you!

  17. I agree, the level of research and work you put into your posts/reports really shows Tiffany. Thanks for being so thorough and for all the work. Much appreciated!

  18. Finally a trip report and spending habits I can relate to. Thanks for sharing your realistic family vacation. Reading about the cost of a trip to Maui blew me away. That’s what we spent for a month in Europe. And I guarantee if I took my family to Maui we wouldn’t spend $2K per person. I get the feeling you wouldn’t either.

  19. IMO it’s a big waste or points for anyone under 18 to fly F. They don’t appreciate it or remember it.

  20. In any way, I do not want seems like racist, but where the white man has pay for entry 10 dollars, the local man pay only 1 dollar. Such things, there’s nothing to be done about it, it’s a business, I understand. But my advice to you, for Thailand and not only, rent a vehicle, it is better than using a motor-rickshaw or how they called in Asian country. This will save your money for sure and will be more convenient to move. Being there, I used public transport, and after only 3 days I rented a motorcycle. I realized that I made a mistake, that I did not do it from the beginning, sadly( By the way Catmotors company have not bad motorcycles, as for me, so If you will search where to rent good scooters, you may use them service. I found out routes for me, with these guys. They really good, in this way.

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