This is a really tough article for me to write because it brings back a lot of happy memories on a day that my world was completely shattered. You’re going to get to see a very personal side of me in this post so if that’s not your jam, feel free to skip this one.
Today, my cousin, Billy Loh, passed away at the very young (and wholly unfair) age of 41. He had a prolonged battle with cancer and passed gently into the night in the wee hours of the morning.
Billy was so very special to me and we were as close as brothers. Even though I grew up in a town almost 200 kilometres from his home in Edmonton, we saw each other all the time. We had a lot of the same challenges growing up as kids and shared most weekends and every holiday together. I don’t think anyone in the world knew me as well as Billy did, which is why this is such a difficult post to write.
About a year and a half ago in September of 2018, I decided to take Billy on a trip to New York. In my heart of hearts, I knew that there was a chance that something like this could happen so I wanted to splurge and show him a trip of a lifetime before it became too hard to travel. I gathered my collective knowledge of the miles and points game and started constructing something that I hoped would be special.
I haven’t written about Marriott Moments on the blog but I have leveraged them for a couple of pretty special experiences. For those unfamiliar with Marriott Moments, it’s an auction site where you can use Marriott Points as currency towards unique experiences like being on the red carpet during the Oscars, private dining at Michelin Star restaurants, etc.
On a different trip to New York (November 2018), I had bid on and won tickets backstage passes to Aladdin on Broadway. My daughter and I were able to see how a Broadway musical was run from behind the scenes and got to meet Adam Jacobs, the talented actor that plays Aladdin.
I knew that I wanted a special experience for Bill so I started trolling around for trips we could take together. Bill was a big gambler and lover of sports. He loved basketball and the Golden State Warriors as well as the NFL but growing up as kids, we played tennis and watched a lot of it on TV. We both liked Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Michael Chang. Admittedly, Michael Chang couldn’t hang with Pistol Pete and Andre but comeon … the guy looked kinda like us.
Throughout the years we both watched tennis on and off and never lost the love of the game. With that in mind, I bid and won a package for two to the 2018 US Open Men’s Finals.
You may notice that this experience was won on SPG Moments, the sister site to Marriott Moments when SPG still existed. The tickets cost me 97,000 SPG Points which was equivalent to 291,000 Marriott Points.
With that sorted, I needed to worry about flights and accommodations.
I’ve stayed in New York a bunch of times and while most hotels are nice, none had the wow factor I was after. After much research, I settled on the JW Marriott Essex House, located across from the south entrance of Central Park. I logged into my Marriott account and redeemed 135,000 Marriott Points for a 3-night stay in their standard room, the Essex Room.
I then used the Suite Upgrade certificates I had earned as part of my Marriott Ambassador Status and put in a request for the Manhattan Suite, which cleared on September 2nd, 5 days before the stay was scheduled to begin.
The room was gigantic for Manhattan and the hotel was perfectly situated in Midtown Manhattan, right next to the world-famous Carnegie Hall.
Not wanting to provide Billy with anything but the best, I redeemed 100,000 Alaska Miles for two round-trip tickets on Cathay Pacific’s Fifth Freedom flight from Vancouver (YVR) to New York (JFK) in Business Class. Unfortunately, First Class wasn’t available for redemption as I would have loved to have given him the First Class experience that Cathay had to offer.
As part of the Cathay Business Class experience, we were able to take in the gorgeous Cathay Pacific Lounge at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR). In my opinion, the Cathay Lounge is the best lounge in North America due to the elegance and ambiance of the lounge itself as well as the spectacular noodle bar on offer.
The flight itself was a red-eye flight that departed at 10:15 pm PST, so having eaten in the lounge, I headed straight to bed as soon as we took off. Bill, on the other hand, didn’t sleep much and enjoyed all the benefits of flying Business Class.
The New York Experience
I obviously wish that we had more time together but the time we shared in New York was special. We focused mostly on food, hitting up a LOT of ramen places throughout New York and explored many of the sights in Manhattan. We even took in a Mets game even though it was a cold and blustery evening.
If you knew Billy, you would know that he was always witty and hilarious. He was never shy about talking to anyone and was generally a fun-loving guy that people gravitated towards.
While at the Freedom Tower, we ran into a couple of models wearing balloon dresses (yah … dresses made of balloons) so, of course, Billy went up and asked for a picture and then proceeded to chat up the designer for a few minutes … just standard Billy.
The US Open Men’s Final
If I’m honest, the US Open was a bit of a let down because both Roger Federer and Canadian, Milos Raonic lost in the 4th round and Rafa Nadal lost in the semis so we had a Novak Djokovic (6) v Juan Martin del Potro (3) final. I’m not a fan of either player but Billy liked Djokovic so he was still excited for the match.
del Potro v Djokovic was a one-sided affair with Novak taking home his 3rd US Open Grand Slam title in straight sets (6-3, 7-6, 6-3). But even without a very compelling final, it was still a great experience to share with my cousin.
Marriott spared no expense when it came to the suite with food aplenty and great hosts to make sure everyone was comfortable.
I know I write a lot about premium travel redemptions and how to best leverage your miles and points but what sometimes gets lost in the noise is that it’s not the luxury that’s important, it’s the people you get to spend it with. I’ve earned and spent millions of miles and points in my life but this was the best redemption I have ever made because it afforded me a unique experience and a chance to make memories that are going to be very difficult to top.
Very rarely in life do you have someone that completely understands you. Someone that knows what to say when you’re down to make you crack up in laughter. Bill was that guy and the centre of many people’s lives. He was a fantastic friend, a loving father, a devoted husband, and the best
cousin brother that anyone could ever ask for. We always got along, never fought and had the same dry sense of humour that many people just don’t understand. He was smart, charming and someone that always got the better of me in chess and when it came to trading hockey cards. We talked often through chat, laughed together and shared an unbreakable bond. He loved Snoopy, his family and was a natural leader.
I miss him dearly and I’m at a loss as to how to express my grief.
Rest in Peace Bill. I love you.