I kinda want to go to Saipan

Don’t ask me why, but I’ve long been fascinated by obscure travel destinations. Saipan, the largest island in the Northern Mariana chain, is a new intrigue for me. I realize that it may not be the best place to be right now, given North Korea’s threats to that region, but this is more of a speculative post. One day I want to go there, and here are some of the considerations I would take when planning this trip. 

For those of you who don’t know, Saipan is a tiny island located…

Saipan Map
Saipan: Where the closest significant land mass is over 1,000 miles away!

…in the middle of nowhere. Even though it’s more than 7,500 miles away from Washington DC, Saipan, as of 1978, is a commonwealth of the United States. This means that Americans can fly here with only a Driver’s License (in theory — I’d still bring a passport), and the Saipanese people have access to the US Postal Service, a public school system, and other federally provided services.

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Saipan Town!

Like on Guam, which is a little more than 100 miles away, the United States Military has a comparatively large presence on Saipan. The tiny island was the site of a rather significant battle in World War II, in which the United States dealt a crippling blow to the Japanese war effort; Saipan was considered to be one of the last lines of defense. American bombers could reach Tokyo directly from there — which is 1,300 miles away — and dictator Hideki Tojo was forced to resign in the wake of such a defeat.

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An old tank from WWII, just off shore in Saipan

Some Americans never left Saipan following WWII, and it, as well as the other Northern Mariana Islands, became part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1978, they joined together to form the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), with Saipan being the largest, most populated of them.

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Pictured: Bird Island, a wildlife refuge that’s part of Saipan

Nowadays, Saipan relies heavily on tourism to float its economy, and I want to experience what the island has to offer. Obviously my expectations are going to be adjusted — Honolulu this ain’t — but I really want to explore the sheer, seemingly untouched features of the island.

saipan forbidden island
From a bluff overlooking Forbidden Island, Saipan

And of course, take pictures of what I find!

Considering Higher Flyer Factors

Of course, a common problem with these tiny, isolated destinations is that there aren’t a lot of ways to maximize the value of your miles and points. Often times, you have to pay for a lot of things out of pocket with cash, as there aren’t a lot of major chain options. As luck would have it…

hyatt regency saipan
Not the most appealing, but a Hyatt is a Hyatt

…There’s a Hyatt Regency! Now I know the property doesn’t look the most aspirational, but for something so isolated, I’ll take it. Besides, the grounds are nice, especially with the long stretch of beach, some gardens, and pools.

hyatt regency saipan grounds
The “courtyard” of the Hyatt Regency Saipan. The hotel is laid out in a horseshoe shape.
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The pool at the Hyatt Regency Saipan
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The Hyatt Regency in Saipan, as seen from the Pacific Ocean

By many accounts, the property is seldom crowded. I guess that’s to be expected in a place that’s so far off the beaten path. It’s scenic and quiet at this hotel, but the rooms are looking a bit tired.

hyatt regency saipan standard room
A standard room. Not bad, but nothing too memorable either…

The place collectively gives me the vibe of a cruise ship. Then again, it’s a resort on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean — what else should I expect? Prices are kind of high though; paying cash is not a great value.

hyatt regency saipan room rate
$350?!? Ouch.

But thankfully, Hyatt only classifies its property as a Category 2, so redemptions are only 8,000 points per night.

hyatt regency saipan woh rate.jpg
8,000 Points is a much better value!

There are other options on the island too — many of them look quite nice — but you won’t earn any program specific points either.

Now if it were only easier to get to Saipan… If you’re traveling from the continental United States, you’ll have to make at least 2 stops and spend 24 hours in transit. You also only have a choice of four affiliated airlines — United, Asiana, Delta, and China Eastern — plus Hainan (you can credit miles to Alaska!), if you want to earn/redeem miles. Cash fares are really, really expensive though, even in something as mediocre as United Economy.

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Nearly $2,400 for United Economy…no thanks.

The cheapest route looks like this…

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Hell on Earth or just a long trip?

…and the next cheapest route looks like this:

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Ugh that’s a long way to go (let alone in United Y)

All that time in transit wouldn’t be so bad if it were in Business Class. Thankfully, on Star Alliance carriers, there’s decent award availability if you plan far enough advance.

saipan united availability
Lots of saver availability in premium cabins (as noted by the dotted lines).

You’ll have options too most days of the week!

saipan award availability united
Look at all those saver awards!

Some legs even include United’s new Polaris Business Class…

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Polaris Class

Or ANA Business Class…

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ANA Business Class

Or even Asiana Business Class!

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Asiana Business Class

These are some of the ways to get to Saipan, but for the purposes of higher flying, United/Star Alliance certainly is the most appealing. Delta is a lot more expensive and inconvenient.

All that said, I don’t know if I’ll make it to Saipan any time soon. Given the threat of a nuclear attack in nearby Guam, I don’t want to travel within range of North Korea’s crosshairs! In the meantime though, I can hope for peace and see what happens. Certainly the Hyatt Regency and United/Star Alliance look like promising, reliable means to get there!

Have you ever been to Saipan? How was it? Do you have any other weird/obscure/off-the-beaten-path destinations that you want to go to? Where?