A few weeks ago, I was considering dental tourism to Thailand to address some expensive dental work that I need to get done. I calculated that I could get the work done for almost 50% less than the equivalent treatments in the US, including all travel and hotel costs.
I’ve decided to go forward with that plan. Next month, I’ll be traveling to Bangkok for nine days. The feedback I have gotten from other patients of the clinic has been excellent, emails to the dentists have addressed my concerns, the prices are quoted up-front and in a clear way, and I think I have a few ways to further minimize the costs of travel. The goal is to find affordable dentistry without compromising on quality.
After emailing several of the highly-regarded clinics frequented by expats and medical tourists, I have decided to have my treatment done at the Bangkok Smile Dental Clinic. If you can look past the 1990s-style web site, there’s a ton of information, testimonials, and clear pricing information there. I have corresponded with a few patients who all reported excellent experiences, read through most of the Google, Yelp, TravelAdvisor, and other online reviews, and found them to be almost universally positive. I am encouraged by the fact that most of the dentists have advanced diplomas from respected US or UK institutions.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I’m also relieved to read so many reviews that mention the gentle, non-judgmental experience they had at Bangkok Smile. My primary complaint with US dental care is the unpleasant (and unexpectedly emotional) experience of having dentists express actual annoyance and disapproval when I’m seeking help for painful issues. I’m hopeful that I won’t experience that this time.
Affordable Dentistry: The Costs So Far
I think the most honest thing to do is publicize all costs I incur, including travel, lodging, food, drink, and entertainment. If it somehow ends up being most expensive than getting the work done at home, I’ll own up to that. I don’t anticipate that will happen, but transparency is the name of the game.
Here’s what I’ve spent to date:
I’ve booked my airfare and hotels already. For the flight, I wasn’t able to find awards bookings this close to the date I wanted to leave, but I was able to find extremely inexpensive roundtrip tickets from SFO to BKK.
I decided to use my Starwood Preferred Guest points to book my lodging. I earned those points through credit card signups on the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card, and through regular personal and business spending. There are three SPG hotels very close to the clinic: The Aloft Bangkok Suhkumvit, the Four Points Sheraton Bangkok, and the Westin Grande Sukhumvit.
The Aloft hotel is within walking distance of the clinic, but it’s a little further, and I was concerned about walking that far after being anesthetized, so I removed that one from consideration. The Four Points is closer, and the Westin is the closest of all.
SPG works on a system of categories from 1 to 7, where category 1 hotels cost the fewest points per night, and category 7 cost the most. The Four Points is a category 2 (starting at 3,000 points per night) and the Westin is a category 3 (starting at 7,000 points per night). At Starwood properties, the fifth night is free after four nights on points. I’ll be honest, I really wanted to be at the Westin both because of the location, and because the reviews of the Four Points suggest it has very thin walls and it’s easy to hear your neighbors (I’m a very light sleeper).
I had 75,000 points to start with, and needed to book nine nights (eight nights after getting one night free). I wasn’t able to book either of the hotels closest to the clinic online, so I called customer service. The first person I spoke to clearly wasn’t looking for ways to help me reduce my points redemption. I explained that I was hoping to stay at the Westin for the minimum possible points. The customer service agent put me on hold, then came back to let me know that it would cost me at least 70,000 points, as all of the 7,000 point-per-night rooms were booked. The Four Points had also only had upgraded rooms available for 42,750 for nine nights (averaging 5,343 per night, still too high!).
I was mildly annoyed, so I let the agent know I would call back if I decided to book. I started doing some investigation using the calendar on the Starwood web site, limiting results only to nights where points redemption was available. I found that only one of the nights I was staying (the third night) was blocking me from getting the cheapest point redemption at the Westin. This is something that, in my opinion, the customer service agents should help you to determine, rather than immediately giving you only the option of the upgraded room.
I called customer service back and booked three nights at the Four Points (10,000 points total) and six nights at the Westin Grande (35,000 points total, the minimum Category 3 price of 7,000 points after the free night). The total points cost for all nine nights (three in a Category 2, six in a category 3) was 45,000 SPG points, or only 2,250 more than spending the entire time in the Category 2 hotel. I’ll spend most of the time in a luxury hotel (though I am sure the value-oriented Four Points will be fine) and it won’t have cost me any cash. It also leaves me with at least enough points left over for the followup trip next year.
Some hardcore travel hackers would likely scoff at me opting for the Category 3 hotel, and I get it– normally, I probably would just stick it out at the Category 2 hotel, too. I just figure if I’m in any sort of pain or just coming out of dental surgery, a few hundred foot walk is going to sound a lot nicer than a half mile walk.
I’m looking forward to the experience more than you would expect of a trip to the dentist. Most likely, it’s because I’m being incentivized by something I love: travel. It’s hard to get as excited about it as I normally would, as my fiancé won’t be coming this time, and I haven’t traveled without her in a long time. Still, it’ll be interesting to visit a place I’ve never been to, and we’re planning to make the second trip together, which will make it a lot more fun.
I’ll probably write regularly from Thailand in a few weeks. Stay tuned!