Earning a large number of points and miles is relatively easy. It’s finding available award flights to use those points for that’s usually the hard part. That’s why an entire industry of award booking services has developed for the sole reason of helping people find award flights, for a small fee.
When I’m getting ready to find award flights for our trips, I have to get into the right mindset. This is going to a marathon, not a sprint, so I need to stay patient. Looking for the right flights could take hours or even days. I might need to hold off for now and just keep a lookout for when the flights I want open up.
Imagine my amazement when I was able to book not just one, but both legs of our trip within a few hours. I knew I should have bought that lottery ticket today.
Sometimes things just fall into place and I’m not going to complain about a dose of good karma from the universe.
Here’s what I ended up booking.
Flight To Japan
My first priority was to try and use some of the American AAdvantage miles we have sitting in our accounts. The original plan was to try to fly on Cathay Pacific, but that went away when we decided against adding Hong Kong as a stop on this trip.
I’d love to use the American miles to fly with JAL, but it looks like they only open up award space in business class a few weeks before departure and I don’t have the patience to wait that long.
I wanted to lock something in, so I looked at American’s website to see what they had available. For starters, I’ll always just plug in my starting and ending cities just to see what the computer comes up with. I wasn’t expecting to see this.
Business-class seats were available at 47K to 50K miles. These prices are part of American’s Web Special Fares, and the lower price comes with some restrictions.
Trips that include a Web Special award cannot be changed once ticketed. You can cancel your trip and reinstate miles, but fees may apply.
When I clicked on a fare, I noticed that regular business class tickets were also available for 60K miles. Those tickets can be changed under American’s rather lenient award ticket policy.
I wasn’t planning on flying from Orlando to Tokyo on American but 60,000 miles and $5.60 is too good of a price to pass up. As a bonus, there’s a JAL flight that leaves within an hour of the American flight we’re booked on. If space becomes available closer to the travel date, I can change from the American flight to Japan to JAL and only need to pay any difference in taxes.
Flight From Japan
I figured I’d check for flights home to see if the same prices were available. Unfortunately, the cheapest return flight on American was pricing at over 100K per ticket. That’s way too expensive to book for a placeholder. Time to look at other airlines.
My next search was to look at United’s website. I’m still looking for a way to burn the remaining 40K United miles we have in our account.
I started looking for flights from Tokyo to Orlando, again just to see what happened. Wouldn’t you know it, I got another hit. This time it was an unexpected flight on Air Canada that showed up with a connection in Montreal. Air Canada flies their Rouge planes on routes to Orlando, so I knew the connection would be a flight in economy, but for 80K miles, it wasn’t bad.
I’ve read decent things about Air Canada’s long-haul service so I wasn’t against giving them a try; they just weren’t my first choice. Another problem was that the flight had an eight-hour layover in Montreal. Way more time than I want to spend in an airport when I’m one flight away from home.
I decided to start messing around and trying some different cities. When I looked for Chicago, Washington DC or New York, they all came up with the same connecting flight in Montreal. What about the west coast?
I checked San Francisco and L.A. They both showed flight connections in Vancouver with Air Canada, so I knew the Tokyo-Vancouver flight was available. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to get from there to Orlando. I tried searching from Tokyo to Vancouver and found what I wanted to see, availability on an ANA 787 Dreamliner, but I’d still be in Vancouver.
I remembered my dad and his wife flew home on an ANA plane from Tokyo to Seattle, so I searched for that route. BINGO! The flight from Haneda to Seattle had business class award space for two people. Since we were planning on traveling from Osaka to Tokyo by train for our flight home, I checked if I could add on a domestic flight to the ticket as it would make our travels more comfortable. In minutes I found an Osaka-Tokyo flight on ANA and now had a ticket from ITN-SEA, but how to book it?
The cheapest way would be through ANA directly, but you can only book round trip awards and I already have our flight to Japan. Avianca LifeMiles would be the next cheapest option for 68,350 points, and they are transfer partners with American Express and Citi ThankYou.
I’ve shied away from using Avianca because of problems that can arise if there’s an issue with your tickets. I just don’t want to deal with that, and it’s worth the extra miles for me to avoid dealing with the drama.
I decided to go ahead and book the tickets with United because I could get rid of the miles I had sitting in my account. I needed to transfer points from my Chase account to Sharon’s because it was her United account with the points balance in it. I pulled up the directions I put in this post about how to pool/transfer Chase points and put just enough points into her account to make the booking.
Points transfer from Chase to United almost instantly so all I needed to do was log out of the United account and log back in for the balance to be updated. I booked the tickets immediately for 80,000 United MileagePlus miles and $49.75 each.
While our trip is still months away, I have everything but our positioning flight home booked. I was able to use some of our American miles and all of our remaining United miles. I’m satisfied with our flights on American and thrilled that we’re getting to fly with ANA again, as they’re our favorite airline to get to Japan.
Business Class flights to Asia don’t come cheap but for such a long trip the expense is well worth it if you have the points to spare.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary