Don’t Leave Home Without It: Trip Planning

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A trip powered entirely by American Express card benefits? Yes, and here's how it works.

The following post is a collaboration with American Express Singapore. The airlines and hotels featured did not have any prior notice or input into the review process.

I’ve never shied away from a challenge, whether it’s planning a 13 city round-the-world ticket, visiting Tokyo to courier home 132 cups of Michelin-starred instant ramen, or figuring out a way to get from Bangkok to Singapore…via Bahrain. 

So American Express’ request to plan a trip that used AMEX cards exclusively from start to finish seemed rather tame by comparison. But a challenge’s a challenge, and that’s the genesis of Don’t Leave Home Without It, a special trip to Phuket powered entirely by American Express perks and benefits. 

🏠 Don’t Leave Home Without It

American Express is currently offering some attractive sign-up bonuses for the AMEX KrisFlyer Credit Card, AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend and AMEX Platinum Charge. Be sure to check them out below.

New AMEX sign-up bonuses: Up to 36,400 miles or 155,000 MR points

Background

There are two ground rules for this challenge. I’ll be spending a total of three nights in Phuket, and:

  1. Can only use American Express cards to pay for expenses
  2. Can only use benefits extended by American Express cards

(1) means no other card networks, and no cash. That might be an issue if you’re planning to visit a night market or your favourite massage haunt (I won’t ask if you don’t tell), but since I plan to be at the resort most of the time (and when you see it you’ll understand why), I think that’s manageable.

(2) means that any benefit I enjoy, be it lounge access, travel insurance, or hotel perks, must be by virtue of an American Express card. Fortunately, I’m packing the AMEX Platinum Charge, which offers all that and more.

Now, with all that in mind…

Travel to Thailand: Pre-Departure Checklist

Thailand has scrapped all COVID-19 entry restrictions for vaccinated travellers

Travel to Thailand has basically returned to normal ever since 1 July 2022, when the Thailand Pass requirement, representing the last vestige of COVID-era restrictions, was finally scrapped. 

🇹🇭 Thailand Entry Requirements
  • No quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers with approved vaccine 
    • Booster jab not required
    • Age 5-17 must receive at least one dose of approved vaccine unless travelling with fully vaccinated parents
  • Unvaccinated travellers may enter without quarantine, provided they present a negative ART or PCR test result taken within 72 hours of departure
  • No isolation or testing required on arrival
TAT: Thailand Entry Requirements

If you’re a fully vaccinated traveller (a booster jab is not required), no pre-departure or on-arrival testing is required. This also applies to unvaccinated children aged 17 and below, provided they’re travelling with fully vaccinated parents. 

Unvaccinated travellers aged 18 and above must still present a negative pre-departure ART or PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. No further testing or isolation is required upon arrival.

That’s it. There’s no more Thailand Pass, no mandatory travel insurance requirement (though it goes without saying you should still get coverage), no MorChana contact tracing app. Masks are no longer required, indoors or outdoors. 

This means that quick weekend getaways to Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui or Krabi are feasible once more, just like pre-pandemic days. 

Flights

Don’t Leave Home Without It: Flights
SIN-HKTHKT-SIN
SQ726
Depart
: 0830

Arrive: 0935
Cabin: Economy
Cost: 25,000 miles + S$52
SQ735
Depart:
1810
Arrive:
2100
Cabin: Business
Cost: S$593

The Six Senses Yao Noi where I’d be staying (see next section) requires a speedboat transfer from Phuket, with departures at 11 a.m, 2 p.m and 4 p.m daily. I wanted to maximise my time at the resort, so I chose SQ726, which would get me into Phuket at 9.35 a.m. That would leave adequate time for immigration formalities and the 30-minute drive from the airport to the marina. 

Unfortunately, the Business Class cabin had no cash or award space available, and a one-way Economy Class ticket would have cost almost S$600! However, Economy Advantage awards were available, and I redeemed a one-way ticket for 25,000 KrisFlyer miles and S$52 in taxes.

It’s far from the best use of miles, but the alternative would have been to fly on Scoot and land at 11.30 a.m, forcing me to take the 2 p.m speedboat instead and only reaching the resort at 2.45 p.m. At least I got more than 2 cents per mile…

KrisFlyer miles can be earned through American Express credit cards, of course. Miles earned by AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend cardholders will be automatically deposited into their KrisFlyer account once per month, without any transfer fees. 

Alternatively, AMEX Platinum Charge cardholders can opt to transfer Membership Rewards points to KrisFlyer, as well as eight other airline partners. No transfer fees apply. 

✈️ AMEX Airline Transfer Partners
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • China Airlines Dynasty Flyer
  • Emirates Skywards
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • THAI Royal Orchid Plus

I chose an evening departure back to Singapore on SQ735, booked through the American Express International Airline Programme (IAP). The IAP offers special airfares to AMEX Platinum Charge cardholders (both principal and supplementary) travelling in Premium Economy, Business or First Class on participating airlines.

✈️ IAP Participating Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • ANA
  • British Airways
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Japan Airlines
  • Qatar Airways
  • United Airlines

As a reminder, all IAP fares must start or end in Singapore, and the Platinum cardholder must be one of the travellers. IAP fares will earn elite status credits or miles with the relevant frequent flyer programme based on their fare bucket, i.e. you can accrue Elite miles and PPS Value when flying with Singapore Airlines. 

A one-way Business Class IAP fare from Phuket to Singapore was pricing at S$593, and I applied my S$400 annual Platinum Air Travel Credit to bring the nett cost down to S$193.

The same itinerary and fare bucket on Singapore Airlines’ website would cost THB 17,010 (~S$645), so I saved about 8% via IAP. It’s relatively modest on this route, but based on my searches I’ve found savings of up to 17% for Tokyo, 15% for London and 10% for New York. Savings depends on carriers, dates and class of travel.

The flight to Phuket will be operated by one of Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 737-8s, equipped with its new narrowbody flatbed Business Class seats. All passengers enjoy seatback inflight entertainment screens and Wi-Fi connectivity, and I’d say it’s the most comfortable narrowbody experience you can have flying out of Changi. 

Singapore Airlines B737-8 Business Class
Singapore Airlines B737-8 Business Class

Hotels

🏨 Don’t Leave Home Without It: Hotels
NightHotelPer Night Cost (Nett)
1-3Six Senses Yao NoiS$884

AMEX Platinum Charge cardholders (both principal and supplementary) have access to two special hotel booking programmes: American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR), and The Hotel Collection (THC).

Stays booked through FHR and THC price the same as the hotel’s best flexible rate, while including the following additional benefits:

 Fine Hotels & ResortsThe Hotel Collection
Room Upgrade
when available

when available
Breakfast
for two adults
 
Early Check-in
12 p.m, when available
 
Late Check-out
4 p.m, guaranteed
 
Wi-Fi 
Hotel Credits
US$100
(or equivalent amenity)

US$100
Min. Stay1 night2 nights

Depending on the property, you may also receive the 3rd, 4th or 5th night free. 

Rosewood Phuket is currently offering the 3rd night free for FHR bookings

Even better, FHR stays are eligible to earn elite status credit and points with hotel loyalty programmes like Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors. This means there’s really no reason not to book through one of these programmes (unless perhaps the hotel is offering a deep discount for non-refundable rates booked directly on its website).

The following Phuket properties are participating in the FHR/THC programmes. As you might expect, FHR and THC is reserved for upscale and luxury 5-Star properties; you won’t find any 3 or 4-Star hotels here. 

Fine Hotels & ResortsThe Hotel Collection
  • AMANPURI Resort
  • Andara Resort Villas
  • Banyan Tree Phuket
  • Keemala
  • Rosewood Phuket
  • Six Senses Yao Noi
  • The Naka Island
  • Trisara Villas & Residences Phuket
  • JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa
  • Twinpalms Phuket

Based on my budget, I narrowed down the options to Banyan Tree Phuket, Rosewood Phuket, Six Senses Yao Noi and The Naka Island. I did a poll of The MileLion community to gauge the relative interest in each, and Banyan Tree Phuket came in first (probably because it’s one of the hotels redeemable with the AMEX Platinum Charge’s annual fee night voucher):

However, I’ve already reviewed several Banyan Trees in Bali, Koh Samui and Lang Co. On the other hand, I’ve yet to review a Six Senses property, and it’s the kind of place I wouldn’t normally consider booking simply due to the price alone (while it’s bookable through IHG One Rewards, I don’t actively collect or buy IHG points).

Six Senses Yao Noi

The FHR rate of S$2,652 for 3 nights was the same as the official website, so I was basically receiving amenities like breakfast, a US$100 hotel credit and 4 p.m check-out for free. Moreover, booking through AMEX allowed me to spend my S$400 Platinum Hotel Credit, knocking a little more off the price.

On a separate note, AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend cardholders receive an annual 1-night Hilton voucher redeemable at a choice of 253 Hilton Hotels & Resorts around Asia Pacific including:

  • Conrad Bali
  • Conrad Bangkok
  • Hilton Hanoi Opera
  • Hilton Da Nang
  • Hilton Tokyo Odaiba

There’s one option in Phuket:  Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa. Set amidst 75 acres of tropical gardens with sweeping views of Karon beach, this 662 room property offers five pools (including a kids pool with a two-level water slide and an adults-only pool), tennis and squash courts, and 15 spa villas.

Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa
Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa

Do note that this hotel will leave the Hilton chain from 1 January 2023, so if you’re planning to redeem your voucher here, better do it sooner rather than later. 

Lounges

Coral Executive Lounge Phuket

AMEX Platinum Charge cardholders enjoy access to a wide range of airport lounges, with unlimited visits and 1-2 guests depending on location. 

 Main CardholderSupp. Cardholder
American Express Lounges
Centurion Lounges
Delta SkyClubs
Plaza Premium Lounges
Priority Pass Lounges
(1st supp. cardholder only)

Here’s the lounge options in Singapore and Phuket.

SingaporePhuket
  • Plaza Premium Lounge (T1)*
  • Marhaba Lounge (T1)
  • SATS Premier Lounge (T1)
  • Ambassador Transit Lounge (T3)
  • Marhaba Lounge (T3)
  • SATS Premier Lounge (T3)
  • Coral Premium Departure Lounge
  • Coral Executive Lounge
*Remember: even though Priority Pass no longer offers access to Plaza Premium lounges, AMEX Platinum Charge cardholders can still gain access by showing their physical card

AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend cardholders receive four complimentary vouchers each year for selected lounges in Singapore and worldwide.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an option in Phuket at the moment, but they could take advantage of an accelerated upgrade to KrisFlyer Elite Gold by spending S$15,000 on Singapore Airlines tickets within the first 12 months of approval. This would grant them lounge access whenever flying on Singapore Airlines or its partner airlines. 

Although I’m flying Economy Class out of Singapore, I’d still be able to access the SilverKris Lounge through my Solitaire PPS Club status. But that’s not an AMEX benefit, so my choices in Terminal 3 would be:

I’ve already reviewed all three lounges, which you can read in the links above. 

When flying out of Phuket, I’ll have access to the Coral Executive Lounge by virtue of cabin class, and also through the AMEX Platinum Charge’s Priority Pass membership. I’ll be focusing my review efforts on this one. 

Travel Insurance

While Thailand no longer has a mandatory travel insurance requirement, it’s still a good idea to have coverage nonetheless.

Policy Wording

AMEX Platinum Charge cardholders (both principal and supplementary) who pay for airfares with their card will receive complimentary travel insurance which includes:

  • S$1 million for death or total permanent disability
  • S$1 million of medical expense coverage (including COVID-19)
  • S$4,000 of emergency dental treatment
  • S$150 hospital cash allowance
  • S$10,000 trip cancellation and postponement
  • S$400 for flight or baggage delays

That’s comprehensive enough to be my primary source of coverage, though do note it does not cover rental car damage. If you’re going on a driving holiday, you’ll want to get separate protection. 

❓ Redeeming miles?
Coverage also applies if you redeem a ticket with miles, and use the AMEX Platinum Charge to cover the taxes and surcharges.

In case you’re travelling to a country that requires proof of travel insurance, it’s possible to generate a personalised insurance certificate. Refer to the article below for details.

How to generate a travel insurance certificate for the AMEX Platinum Charge

Policy Wording

Had I paid with my AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend instead, I’d also be eligible for complimentary coverage, albeit with a smaller scope and lower limits:

  • S$1 million for death or total permanent disability
  • S$400 for flight or baggage delays

Since this policy does not cover medical expenses nor evacuation, I’d highly recommend supplementing it with additional coverage.

Conclusion

One final thing: when going to and from Changi Airport, I’ll be able to use the AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend to earn 3.2 mpd on Grab rides, capped at S$200 each month. That forms a nice bookend for a flight with all benefits from start to finish provided through American Express cards. 

Stay tuned for the full set of trip reports, coming your way soon!

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Adam

Does the 3.2 mpd Grab bonus cover non-SG Grab rides? If so you could use it in Phuket.

H D

Strangely, I have had more than one experience (in different Fairmont hotels), where Singapore Amex FHR booking codes as “Expedia” in the hotel reservation system. The hotels are aware the booking is an Amex FHR rate but considers it as third party booking. As a result, no hotel status benefits and no points.

BBBetter

FHR has started using Expedia booking platform, so not surprising. Hope Amex sort out the issue soon.

From experience

Not advisable to choose Pay Now option. When prepaying through Amex, the stay becomes ineligible. However, when booking through AMEX but paying the hotel directly, the stay is eligible. Amex gotta do a better job in explaining the difference.

Jason

Thailand has lifted its mask mandate. Indoors, outdoors, public transport etc all not compulsory. You’ll get announcements that masking is recommended/suggested etc, but masks are optional

Ascendio

Hello! any new sign up offers for amex ascend?

Ascendio

cool, no new milelion promo?

L H

could i just check if we will also qualify for the 40k miles bonus if we are new to krisflyer ascend credit card? currently holding the amex true cashback card

J J

Does AMEX high flyer card travel insurance Coverage also applies if you redeem a ticket with miles, and use the AMEX High Flyer card to cover the taxes and surcharges?

S Lim

I would like to know the Amex PPS card; do you have information on it? Thank you.

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