Wrapped up ... stock up on silk in Hanoi. Photo: Getty Images
Qantas rewards quandary
Why is it that booking a flight using points (in excess of 40,000) with Qantas, it makes almost no difference to the cost of a ticket? As in less than $40 on a return flight to Melbourne. I can redeem the points on a David Jones card, sell it on eBay and then use the money to buy the flight, saving hundreds, but the points appear to be worthless with the airline that awarded them.
- C. Ellis, Tempe.
I put this to a Qantas spokesperson, who says: "Sydney to Melbourne return on a Classic Award will cost 16,000 points plus taxes [currently $68]. DJs $100 and $50 gift cards [one of each] may be redeemed for a total of 19,200 points, 3200 points more than the points required for your return flight. Again, note that DJs vouchers are being offered with special introductory pricing."
The cheapest Sydney to Melbourne return flight will cost about $130 if you travel with no checked-in luggage and well outside peak flight times.
If you were to redeem those 19,200 points for DJs gift cards and if you were able to sell them at close to face value, you might well conclude it a more effective use of your points. However if you travel at a more popular time with checked-in luggage, the balance could tip in favour of a Qantas points booking.
The Qantas spokesperson also points out that the airline has now streamlined the upgrade process to offer "at the gate" upgrades, which means more frequent flyer members get to use their points to fly at the front end.
She adds that members after more options for their points can look to other categories, with the DJs gift card a good example.
Transit comfort at flexible hotel
My husband and I have a 13-hour transit time, from 8.10am to 9.30pm, at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. Could you please suggest options for hotels we could book into during this very long transit time? We'll be transferring from Cathay Pacific to Qantas, so it'll be possible to check our baggage through, but will we have to collect our checked-in baggage and go through Thai immigration and customs for all options?
- S. Chand, Turramurra.
The best solution by far is the Hotel Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (novotel.com). Just a five-minute stroll from the terminal, this sleek hotel offers restful rooms, a wide choice of dining options and good relaxation and fitness amenities, including a massage centre, an outdoor pool and a gym.
Most attractive of all though, the room rate is charged on a 24-hour basis. Check-in time at most hotels is usually around 2pm. The only way to guarantee a room if you arrive early in the morning is to pay for the previous night's accommodation. At the Novotel, you can arrive at any hour and provided your stay is less than 24 hours, you pay for just a single night.
If your luggage has been checked through, you will not have to collect it when you arrive in Bangkok.
Country retreats ideal for family and friends
I am planning my 40th birthday celebration over the October long weekend. There are in total eight to nine families that will be invited, about 18 adults and 10 kids. Can you suggest a getaway not too far from Sydney that caters to large groups. I would prefer a location where noise would not be a problem so that we don't disturb others or vice versa. I would also prefer a pool and spa as well.
- A. Kulkarni, Baulkham Hills.
I'd suggest you hop down to Kangaroo Valley and hire a couple of houses. Within a two-hour drive of Sydney, this is a luscious part of the country and has a number of substantial houses where you can be assured of privacy and the facilities you need to cater for your birthday bash.
At the top of my list is Melross, which has two beautiful, large houses in gorgeous surroundings on a grazing property about half a kilometre apart. Fully loaded, you could accommodate 18 of your guests here.
Another property I'd recommend is Ellywan, which can accommodate a maximum of 14.
We've enjoyed family reunions at all three of these properties and they're fabulous. If there are any leftovers, contact Lindy Ross and her team at Ray White Real Estate Kangaroo Valley, which manages short-term rental properties in the area.
Silk, sunshine and a little calm in Vietnam
My friend and I are heading to Vietnam for six days in October this year. We are flying into Hanoi and out of Ho Chi Minh City. What do you recommend we do and see?
- T. Gulle, Melbourne, Vic.
You could easily spend the first two days in Hanoi. Apart from its museums, temples and cultural institutions, the shopping scene in Hanoi maintains a strong connection with Vietnamese traditions, with an ever-increasing sophistication in the goods on offer.
These days you can find silk homewares in zappy colours and lacquerware for your next dinner party. Silk wearables are almost a must-buy here, for less than you'd pay for cotton at home. Hanoi's main shopping zone is the narrow, crowded streets of the Old Quarter, close to the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. Hanoi also has an exciting food scene. This is not an easy facet of the city to explore on your own, but Daniel Hoyer operates food tours that take travellers by the hand to sample some of the tongue-tingling delights of Vietnamese street food. Hanoi retains a lingering touch of France, and sitting around in cafes over coffee is as essential to the Hanoi experience as a tour of the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
Since you're at the tail end of a chilly Victorian winter, I'm guessing sunshine might be a great idea, and next stop could be Hoi An. Wrapped around its historic core, the former trading town has become a major resort zone and it's now about as serene and relaxing as Vietnam ever gets. The town has a number of resort-style hotels with all the glossy trimmings and prices are astonishingly low, even if you go for something luxurious such as the Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa. I would suggest three days here.
The final day could be spent in Ho Chi Minh City, with a leisurely walk along Dong Khoi Street, between the river and cafes that surround the Ho Con Rua Fountain, a popular grazing ground for locals. The Caravelle is a good accommodation choice.
Hotel Tonight can find you a hotel room in most major cities in the US at a discount of up to 70 per cent. Locate your city and the app comes back with last-minute deals, usually beating prices from all other search vehicles. One drawback - you can only book a room from noon on the day you plan to stay. While Hotel Tonight offers excellent coverage of American cities, so far only a handful of cities in Britain and two in Canada are covered. Available free for Android, iPad and iPhone.
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