Using Miles and Points for a Family Trip to Japan (My 4th Attempt!)

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It’s July, so it’s time for my annual tradition: Booking next year’s flights to Japan via miles and points. Countless hours will be spent on research and tracking down the award seats, possibly in vain. Am I a masochist? Perhaps. But I prefer the term “optimist.” Maybe this time things will go as planned. Maybe.

Since 2019, I’ve booked and cancelled a trip to Japan three times, for obvious reasons. I keep thinking that there is no way Japan will stay closed another year, and they keep proving me wrong. But my daughter is really into “kawaii” culture (not to be confused with Kauai) and anything Japanese. So, I keep trying…

My goal this time around was to retain as much flexibility as possible, so I don’t get hit with huge cancellation fees in the event of a deja vu.

Redeeming AA miles on business class to Japan

AAdvantage program is a relative bargain when it comes to business-class redemptions on JAL airlines. They don’t impose fuel surcharges, and the cost is 60k miles per person. I had more than enough miles for four people, so decided to go for it.

My in-laws plan to join us, and I redeemed some of my miles for their economy tickets. My plan is to switch my son’s business-class seat with grandma. He is a little guy, and won’t benefit from a lie-flat seat like she would. Instead, he will stay with his aunt in “peasant” class.

I booked their tickets for 35k miles apiece, and they included a flight from Orlando to LAX, with an overnight. From LAX we plan to fly to Osaka, which will take 12.5 hours or so. That’s why I figured if I’m ever going to splurge on a business class, this is it.

Unfortunately, I had to book our tickets from Orlando to LAX separately. At first I used AA miles on the same flight as my in-laws’, since the cost was only 12.5k miles per person. But then I found availability via Avios for 13k points. So, I cancelled my AA tickets. I would much rather have 12.5k AA miles compared to 13k Avios. Plus, with the latter, I will only lose about $22 in the event of cancellation.

If things don’t work out, AA tickets to Japan can be cancelled at no cost. That’s a huge perk, especially with all the uncertainty surrounding Covid pandemic. Btw, when I was in Europe last month, I got an email saying that my flight from Japan to USA is just around the corner. Say what?!

Turns out, I forgot to cancel one of our award tickets and almost lost 35k AA miles. It’s a good thing I checked my emails that day, so I could cancel the award and get a re-deposit of miles at no cost.

Anyway, with these tickets, I only have $22 on the line.

Transferring Capital One points to Virgin Atlantic for our return tickets

Originally, I planned to use my Avianca miles, since I really want to get rid of them once and for all. However, Avianca charges $200 per person to re-deposit miles, and that’s nothing to sneeze at for a family of four. Sometimes they will wave the penalty, but it’s not a guarantee.

I do have over 200k Avios and would love to burn some of that stash. Unfortunately, Avios imposes fuel surcharges on all flights from Japan to US (including those operated by American). And that’s $300 per person in extra fees. No thanks.

I started looking  into other options. Delta’s rates for direct flights from Tokyo to US were insane. Take a look:

That’s one-way per person. Yikes!

Fortunately, I remembered that Virgin Atlantic is a good option for booking Delta flights (at least sometimes). Well, take a look at this:

As you can see, this is the exact same flight on the same day. Except, instead of 88k miles it costs 27.5k points. Virgin Atlantic program is one of the most underrated ones out there, at least in my opinion. Since they are not part of the alliance, they have an interesting medley of partners, like Air France, Delta, ANA and Air New Zealand.

Anyway, I went ahead and transferred 110k Capital One points to Virgin Red, their program that merges all things “Virgin” under its umbrella. You have to link your Virgin Atlantic number in your profile, and the points will show up there automatically. The transfer (1:1) was instant. A reminder that you can still apply for 75k bonus on Capital One Venture Rewards with $95 annual fee.

Some of you may wonder why I didn’t book business class on ANA, since Virgin Atlantic now allows one-way redemptions on that airline. I would love to if I could find availability. As it is, my dates are set, and it’s very unlikely that ANA will open the award floodgates on my exact flight. So economy it is. Plus, it’s a daytime flight that’s 8.5 hours long. We’ll survive. I’ve heard that Delta gives free alcohol in economy, so you better believe I will take advantage of it.

I always urge folks to think of the worst-case (or in my case, realistic) scenario. If we can’t go to Japan next year, will I be ok having 110k points in Virgin Atlantic? The answer is Yes. We will simply burn them on flights to/from London in 2024. I’ve already promised my mom that we would try to meet in Turkey in two years, and will  have to cross the pond in order to do that. Plus, my son really wants to visit London, so we will likely add it as a stopover.

Despite fuel surcharges Virgin Atlantic imposes on its own flights, it’s a fairly good deal for Floridians. I can fly to London for 12.5k miles one-way per person, plus around $155 in fees. That surely beats 30k United miles+$10 in taxes. Not to mention, with the former, the flight is direct. Miles are not free, especially if you acquire them via transfer from flexible points programs.

Virgin Atlantic miles never expire, so that’s one less thing to worry about. And cancelation fee is a reasonable $50 per person. Obviously, I wish it was free, but you can’t have everything.

Last piece of the puzzle

I still needed to book a flight from Seattle to Florida, and that’s where my Delta miles came in handy. I found award seats to Orlando for 17k miles per person. Naturally, in economy. If something better comes along, I’ll simply cancel the tickets. It’s free to do so, since the flight leaves from a US airport.

It’s not the best deal, but its not awful either. I really wanted to break up the journey from Japan, and Seattle is the closest airport, which means the least amount of flying time. The grand total comes out to 44.5k miles per person for both flights.

Btw, my sister-in-law used United miles she already had in her account for her return leg. Their itinerary is atrocious, and not something I would personally tackle. They are flying from Tokyo to Newark (12.5 hours) and after a long layover, continue to Orlando (set to arrive at midnight). Oh, and did I mention that my MIL will be 78 years old next year? But that’s what they decided to do. Well, at least their tickets cost 35k miles per person. A relative bargain… if she survives the journey.

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