Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Planning for a fall trip to Japan

Since our extended-remix trip there last year, we've been yearning to go back to Japan. It's tough accruing much paid time off (PTO) given that we literally went into a PTO-hole to make last year's trip happen. First we thought we'd chain together the "free" Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years work holidays with PTO and a bit of remote working to pull off another 3 month visit. But it's been a rough year for us and we ultimately decided we didn't want to spend all of the winter holidays away from our friends and family. So we're shooting for a 3 week trip in October instead.

The dream, of course, would be to repeat our ANA First experience but using the Virgin Atlantic "trick" to do it for way fewer miles. Unfortunately the big travel bloggers have been flogging this option for the past few months and availability is basically zero now. 😠

What we ended up doing

  • Used the "Combine Points" option on Chase.com to move points from my husband's account to my Chase account
  • Transferred 306,000 Chase points to top off my United account
  • Used United.com to book a partner award for two round-trip tickets on EVA Airlines JFK-Taipei
  • I'm now looking at various fun Sanrio plane options for the short flight on to Tokyo


Here's the breakdown of how we chose that…
 

Buy?

As I've mentioned in my intro guide, you should always check the price before looking at points options. I looked at various dates in Google Flights and all of the direct options in Business were $6500 or higher, most of the one-stops were high $4000s. 

The only thing remotely interesting in the $3000-or-less realm was a Finnair flight connecting in Helsinki on their new A350 plane. I'd go the 'long way round' to try out this new plane, but for the life of me I can't get a cheap seat on the direct NYC-Helinki leg, only a 2 stop itinerary that also stops in London. I tried pricing out an itinerary to Osaka (also an A350) and found a decent 1-stop option that lets us have a 23 hour layover in Helsinki on the way back. I've never been to Finland so having a day to explore is actually a plus.
Finnair A350... I'd use their new partnership to credit this trip to my Alaska Airlines account

To be fair, there are a couple of other options that are in the sub-$3000 range: China Eastern and Air China. I might end up considering these if nothing else comes up. I've read several trip reports and while the lie-flat seats are nice, the onboard experience doesn't sound particularly pleasant. Also, both are 777 flights so no airplane geekery to be had there.


 

Points

My general rule is that I'm always aiming to get above 2¢ per point. Given that the Finnair flight looks like something I'd realistically buy, that means I need to spend 150,000 points or less to hit that 2¢ number. Most Business Saver reward seats are in the 150k-200k range, so I'm barely going to hit my target even if everything goes well.

I like to use AwardHacker so I can see if there's points options I'm forgetting. It's a great tool for seeing all of the mileage options and transferable points for a given itinerary. (It doesn't filter the list for available seats, though).


With that in hand, here's a look at our current mileage balances. It's pretty clear that most of this trip is going to need to come through a Chase Sapphire transfer partner. I really dislike flying on separate tickets for a long list of reasons, so I avoid it unless there's a really big reason.


Sidenote: the lion's share of our Sapphire points came from the 100,000 point Reserve card signup bonuses we got last year

 

EVA

We flew EVA last year and loved it. Plus, we'd love to spend more time in Taiwan en route to Japan. An added plane-geek bonus is that EVA has Sanrio-themed planes flying between Taipei and Japan so we could potentially experience the Gudetama plane, assuming their isn't an operational plane swap like last year.

We could transfer Sapphire points and use 160,000 United points to fly EVA from NYC to Taipei (per person, round-trip).

OR, I could save a whopping 65,000 points and use 95,000 ANA points to take this same flight! But there's a few problems with that plan:
  • ANA isn't a Chase transfer partner, and I only have enough Amex+SPG points for one of us.
  • ANA only does round-trip rewards so I can't book two one-way flights on a single ticket
  • Amex points transfer instantly, but SPG points take a week. Given how quickly I'm seeing the award inventory vanish, I'm almost certain our ideal flight will be gone 7 days from now... *sigh*

 

Korean

We could transfer 125,000 Sapphire points to Korean and fly Korean via Seoul (hopefully on their 747-8i like we did last year). I spot-checked availability and WOW! What used to be a wide-open reward calendar is now pruned back to what we're used to seeing on other SkyTeam carriers. Sigh. I totally blame Chase Sapphire for this – Korean is the only SkyTeam transfer partner for the card. Sadly there are no seats on their amazing 747 on the dates we want to fly.

 

Air China

We could also do a SkyTeam partner redemption on Korean to fly on Taiwan's China Airlines. We've never flown them long-haul (just short haul) and their 777 service gets rave reviews. We've been in their lounge in Taipei and it's one of the nicest lounges I've ever seen. It's pricing out at 155,000 points through the Korean portal. Delta.com wants 190,000 points for this redemption so they're not even under consideration unless all other options fail.

 

United

transfer Sapphire points to United and fly via SFO to try their new Polaris plane (130,000 points per person, round trip). But then again, I'm not really excited enough about Polaris to spend 15 hours on any US-based carrier unless there are literally no other options.

 

Cathay

We could also transfer SPG points to Alaska and fly via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific for 130k, but Alaska's website likes to hide Cathay awards, plus, again, we don't have enough points for two people.


Final thoughts…

While we were both hoping to get a higher redemption rate, there were a couple of things that made us pull the trigger on this option:

  1. While we really would like to try out an A350 on Finnair, we both absolutely loved Taipei and were itching to go back, if for no other reason that to eat more hu jiao bing 😜 
  2. Since we're blowing a year's worth of PTO on this trip, we won't likely have another big trip for a while. Ergo, there will likely be yet another point devaluation before we'd be shopping for those flights.
  3. There's always a fuzzy math to calculating how many cents per point you got - should I calculate it against the flight I would have taken if I'd had no points ($3100 on Finnair = 1.9¢) or the cost of actually buying the flight I'm on ($4700 on EVA = 2.9¢)? There's no objective answer, it's just a helpful exercise to make sure I'm not doing completely foolish with my points
  4. Most importantly: I'm super excited about this trip! I'm also excited that this little hobby means that the lion's share of these $9000 flights was paid for with free Chase signup bonus points. 



No comments:

Post a Comment