Mom’s Bali Birthday Bonanza: Introduction

Of the millions of miles I’ve flown and dozens of countries I’ve visited, my most memorable trip ever was probably the one I took with my mom to Australia and New Zealand after I graduated high school. Not only is New Zealand one of the most stunning places on earth, but it was also a great bonding trip.

Since then my mom and I hadn’t really traveled together for any “major” trips. My mom has a small business that she can’t really leave for long periods of time, so taking a longhaul trip has more or less been out of the question. The few international trips she has taken in the past few years have been to Germany to visit family. That being said, in June she was celebrating a “big” birthday, and I decided I wanted to make it special. Really special. But of course I’m a gentleman, so I won’t reveal how old she turned…


In a post several years ago Gary said “people as a whole underinvest in peak experiences,” and that has really stuck with me ever since. I think you’ll almost always get more value out of spending money on an experience than something material.

When it came time to plan the trip I was trying to figure out where to take her. Hands down the single most spectacular hospitality experience I’ve had was at the Aman properties in India. While you have mass luxury like Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, etc., Aman offers a completely different experience. They’re all small properties, typically with just a couple of dozen rooms, and typically there are three to five employees per guest. But it’s not the number of people working there that makes it so special, but rather the emphasis they place on genuine, local, and hospitable hospitality. I know all those terms sound cliche, but Amans are the only place I’ve stayed where you actually feel like you’re someone’s guest and not a number. Every employee knows who you are and what you’ve done all day… it’s borderline creepy (in a good way).

In India a few years ago I had the chance to stay at all three Aman properties, including Aman New Delhi, Aman-i-Khas, and Amanbagh. I have to say the entire experience was just about life changing. And the bad part is that after an Aman it’s tough to go back to anything else.

So after giving it some thought I decided what better combo than a visit to an Aman in Bali, so my mom could experience one of my favorite places on earth and stay at what’s hands down my favorite hospitality “brand” in the world.

Now of course the catch is that Aman properties are expensive. Really, really expensive. And while it’s probably more than I should pay, I decided that in the long term any money spent on mom is a good investment, and of all the things I’ll regret at the end of my life, this trip definitely wouldn’t be one of them.

We booked the Aman Bali Experience, which is a six night package and includes some extras like daily breakfast, airport transfers, transfers between resorts, and one activity per resort. On top of that, my travel agent managed to get Virtuoso benefits thrown in as well, which included a room upgrade and a lunch once during each stay.

We decided to spend the first three nights at Amandari, which is located in Ubud. Ubud is located more of less in the  middle of the island of Bali, and is more active, so I figured that would be the best place to start.



Then we booked the next three nights at Amankila, which is located on the east coast of Bali. A lot of people say Amankila is the most spectacular Aman in Bali, and possibly in the world, so I figured that would be a good place to relax for the next three nights.



Leading up to my stay I’m pretty sure I watched these videos about the two properties at least a hundred times, which I really think cover the essence of what Aman is. Here’s the video about Amandari:

And here’s the video about Amankila:

What I’d give to have such a soothing, British voice!

On the front end of the trip I also decided to do two nights in Hong Kong, since my mom had never been before. We decided to stay at the Conrad, which I booked using the two free night certificates from the sign-up bonus of the Citi Hilton Reserve Card.


In terms of the flights, I used 135,000 American AAdvantage miles per person to book Cathay Pacific first class for the longhaul flights. Since I was originating in Seattle and my mom in Tampa, I figured we’d “meet in the middle” and fly out of Chicago. We were both able to include our “positioning” flights on the award at no extra cost.

The one downside to redeeming American miles is that they don’t allow stopovers on award tickets aside from at the North American international gateway city. As a result, since we wanted to do two nights in Hong Kong, I redeemed 25,000 British Airways Avios per person for the business class ticket from Hong Kong to Bali, since we couldn’t include that unless we continued from Hong Kong to Bali within 24 hours.

Then we flew Cathay Pacific first class on the return to San Francisco. I was hoping Bali to Hong Kong nonstop would open up on Cathay Pacific, though unfortunately it didn’t. Instead we had to fly Malaysia Airlines business class from Bali to Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong.

In the end our routing looked as follows:

06/06 CX807 Chicago to Hong Kong departing 3:30PM arriving 8:20PM (+1 day)
06/09 CX785 Hong Kong to Bali departing 10:20AM arriving 3:00PM
06/15 MH850 Bali to Kuala Lumpur departing 4:05PM arriving 7:05PM
06/16 MH72 Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong departing 9:15AM arriving 1:05PM
06/16 CX870 Hong Kong to San Francisco departing 2:10PM arriving 11:40AM


Anyway, I’ll aim to roll out one installment of the trip report per day, at which point I’ll be all caught up on trip reports — woohoo! That’s a good thing, since my “busy” travel season is about to start up again. 😉

As always, if you have any comments, questions, or Aman experiences to share, I’d love to hear them!

Filed Under: American, Awards
  1. “I decided that in the long term any money spent on mom is a good investment, and of all the things I’ll regret at the end of my life, this trip definitely wouldn’t be one of them.”


    Your mom obviously did a lot of things right. She deserved every bit of it 🙂

    PS – Is there hope for my 14 year old son? He is not appreciating me much at the moment…

  2. This might just be inspiring a trip for me and my mom. I think she would be in heaven at Amankila.

    I guess it’s time to start saving up. 🙂

    In your upcoming sections, will you cover costs upon arrival? Like food, drink and any sort of excursions? I’d love to hear all about the actual costs of a trip like this.

  3. Would you mind to share the contact info of your travel agent you use to book Virtuoso benefits for hotels like the Aman?

  4. “Instead we had to fly Malaysia Airlines business class”

    Might have been inconvenient for you and your mother, but good for us. I don’t think you’ve done any Malaysia Airlines business class TRs, so it’ll be interesting to see how their regional product compares to others. And if nothing else, it might be fun to read the occasional knee-jerk Team SQ vs Team MH comments that seem to pop up in trip reports regarding these airlines 😉

  5. I saw the Aman package prices and I nearly fell off my chair. Although, you really can’t put a price on making your mother happy. Your mom is very lucky to have such a generous son.

  6. @ Anita — Hah, thanks! For what it’s worth I don’t think I appreciated my mom as much when I was 14. Time solves everything, I think. 😀

  7. @ Jessica — Absolutely. The cost of the actual package can be found at the above link, but I’ll make references to the cost of food, excursions, etc., beyond that.

  8. @ wwk5d — Yes, that was the one positive of the inconvenient routing of the return. I do love reviewing new products.

  9. @ Simon — And on one hand it is crazy expensive, and I could never imagine dropping that kind of cash for a “mass luxury” property. But the funny thing is that even after my stay I said to myself “wow, what a great value, I have no clue how they make money,” because the experience really is that spectacular.

  10. So excited to read about this one since my wife and I were considering doing the exact same trip next year, including the extra stay in Hong Kong.

  11. One thing I noticed:

    “06/15 MH850 Bali to Kuala Lumpur departing 4:05PM arriving 7:05PM (+1 day)”

    Huh? Is there really that big of a time difference between Bali and Kuala Lumpur?

  12. “We were both able to include our ‘positioning’ flights on the award at no extra cost.”

    How do you do this?

  13. @ DaveWeemz — Well American lets you originate from Tampa or Seattle on an award to Bali, so not really any “trick” there. I flew Seattle to Chicago to Hong Kong, while my mom flew Tampa to Chicago to Hong Kong.

  14. If you don’t mind me asking how much did it cost to stay at Aman Bali for 6 days

    Are we talking 2k or 20k?

  15. I definitely agree with you Lucky regarding “I think you’ll almost always get more value out of spending money on an experience than something material.” A good book to read is called Happy Money (available on Amazon). Several good ideas in there worth reading about.

  16. @Lucky – So when you call American to book the Cathay flights that you found have award space, do you just ask them to add on flights to and from Chicago? I’m hoping to do this myself (from DC) sometime soon and just wanted to know if it was difficult. Thanks!

  17. @ DaveWeemz — I looked up award space before I called and then just gave them the exact flights I wanted. It was a very easy process.

  18. Lucky, what a lovely thing to do for your mum! I’ve been looking forward to this trip report. P.S – New Zealand is stunning isn’t it, I thoroughly agree. I’d love to see a trip report featuring more/any travel here please!

  19. “get more value out of spending money on an experience than something material” – I completely agree and that’s why I have no qualms about spending money on travel vs possessions.

    “any money spent on mom is a good investment, and of all the things I’ll regret at the end of my life, this trip definitely wouldn’t be one of them.” – nicely put. 🙂 Besides, it’s only money (which at your young age can easily be earned back), but the experiences and time together are much more valuable.

  20. Hi Ben

    Sounds like a great trip & can’t wait to read about it all

    A bit off-topic but a question I’ve been meanng to ask for a while: do you ask permission before taking pics in the airport & hotel lounges & restaurants? If so, is your request ever refused? If not, do you get any grief from staff?

  21. @ Alan — Thanks! Typically I don’t ask for permission when taking pictures while traveling, and in the nearly decade I’ve been doing this before I’ve only gotten weird looks or comments maybe a handful of times.

    The only time I’ll “ask for permission” is if I’m trying to get the crew to get out of the way so I can take pictures. For example, if I’m first on a plane and want to snap some pictures of an empty cabin I’ll often immediately ask “is it okay if I take a couple of pictures quickly?” That way the crew stays out of my way while I take them. 🙂

  22. Hi Lucky,

    I am trying to find the first award space from SFO to Dubai via one stopover in HongKong on the website of Alaska air. But I could not find any available seat through cathay pacific airline from Sep13 to to June14. Am I too late to grab a seat or you cannot find those seat through alaska? You think AA or qantas might show something differently?

    Thanks for your time

  23. @ yang — Alaska’s website sometimes doesn’t show all Cathay Pacific award space. So you’re much better off using British Airways’ website to search award space segment by segment (San Francisco to Hong Kong and then separately Hong Kong to Dubai), and then once you find the space calling Alaska to book (assuming it doesn’t come up on their website).

  24. Thanks for so much for your prompt reply,Lucky.

    May I ask one more question about using AA miles to fly from zurich to san francisco, am I allowed to add a stopover at washington DC (since WAS is not a gateway city for AA)?


  25. @ Yang — You could if and only if you make Washington your transatlantic gateway city. So if you flew British Airways from London to Washington, for example, you could do that. Then you could do an award like Zurich to London to Washington, stopover, then Washington to Chicago to San Francisco, for example.

  26. Lucky, is the 135,000 AA miles for the Cathay Pacific flight roundtrip or one way? Any catches to how to redeem Cathay F using AA miles?

  27. @ Hunter — That’s the standard roundtrip price for first class. You should be able to search award space on and then call American to book.

  28. Thanks Lucky. Do you know if AA/CX alows stopovers on one way or RT awards? Also, is there a rule on how I can route myself/how many segments I can have each way?

  29. Love the line “…spending money on an experience than something material.” just reflects my minimalist lifestyle. Have always found contentment with 2nd hand goods/free hand me downs except for underwear and clothes (out of hygiene, of course). The result is continuous travel experience with still extra cash to spare.

    Cheeky Miss Sixty picture taken in Kuala Lumpur somewhere?

    Mate, keep up the good job! You’re living the life that most people envy. What’s better than sitting in first class and pig out…? You have saved trips to the cinemas, free expensive fanny packs and tasted rich people food… LOL!

  30. Does booking the hkg-dps segment via AA’s 22.5k J get you into F still? Or is that why you booked it via BA for 25k J?

  31. @ E — Whether or not you get first class is dependent on whether it’s part of a first class itinerary or whether you have status with oneworld. It doesn’t matter whether you book via American or British Airways.

  32. Ok thanks, yea it’s part of a cx F award. Are there any other routes like this that sell 2 cabin but has 3? Just curious did you use BA over AA because you have more BA to burn?

  33. @ E — Yes, I used BA because I don’t value their points quite as much so figured it was a better value. There are a few other random routes with two class service operated by three cabin aircraft, but don’t know them off the top of my head.

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