Well, friends, it looks like my 2020 trip to Japan may materialize after all. I’ve booked all of our award tickets, yay! Well, almost (more on that later). The itinerary has undergone many changes over the last six months. In fact, the last time I’ve mentioned this whole crazy idea, I was actually planning to add a three-night stop in Beijing, China. Not anymore.
There are several reasons for dropping China. The main one is that I felt we would be biting off more than I can “chew”. The longer I’ve researched Beijing, the more I thought it would be too much of a culture shock. I don’t mind squat toilets (I grew up with them), but my daughter does. Also, there are numerous warnings on how you can’t eat at food stalls, can’t drink the tap water and so on.
China is a place I absolutely intend to visit. Someday. Just not this time. I feel like Japan would be enough of a culture shock for my young kids. Instead, we are stopping in Oahu on our way to Japan and plan to spend four nights on the island. It’s a bit out of the way, but not terribly so. I simply couldn’t resist “swinging” by Hawaii.
Another reason is that my in-laws plan to come with us after all. My father-in-law almost died a few weeks ago. However, he is recovering from his surgery and will need a follow-up procedure in a few months. That will determine if they can indeed join us in Japan. Fingers crossed. We decided to roll the dice and book their award tickets now. Obviously, my sister-in-law plans to purchase travel insurance.
So, the final itinerary for my family will look like this:
- Fly to Oahu, with an overnight stop on the West coast. I used 50k Alaska miles+50k Merrill points for four one-way tickets.
Spend four nights in Oahu.
Fly to Osaka and transfer to Kyoto. I burned 100k Asia Miles on JAL flight from Honolulu to Osaka (25k miles per person). I also paid $240 in taxes and fuel surcharges.
Spend three nights in Kyoto in a 110-year-old machiya house.
Take a train to Hiroshima, and spend two nights in an onsen on a nearby island of Miyajima. This will be a getaway for just me and my husband because my in-laws plan to keep the kids until we meet up in Tokyo. As a side note, I highly recommend Japanese anime In this corner of the world that deals with life in Hiroshima prefecture before and after the atomic bomb. Stunning piece of art, and I’m not usually into anime.
Fly to Tokyo and spend two nights in the city. I used 10k United miles on two one-way ANA tickets from Iwakuni airport to Tokyo Haneda.
Fly to LAX and overnight there. I used 103k British Airways Avios on a flight from Tokyo to LAX, operated by American Airlines. There was no fuel surcharge, just a tax of $50 per person.
Fly from LAX to Orlando. This one I’m still debating on, see the subheading at the end of the post.
263k miles and 50k Merrill points (so far). I also paid a total of around $485 in award fees, plus $245 to combine Alaska miles between accounts in order to book two award tickets from Orlando to Oahu. Of course, I also have lodging, tour and train costs I will have to cover. Bottom line: it’s a VERY expensive trip, but miles and points will make it significantly less so.
My in-laws’ itinerary:
They have decided against stopping in Hawaii, so we will meet them in Japan.
- They will fly from Orlando to Osaka, with a short layover in San Francisco. Personally, I think it’s insane to put my elderly in-laws through something like that, but my sister-in-law decided to do it that way. I was able to utilize my leftover Avianca miles for two of their tickets, and she used cash+miles option (1.55 cents per mile) to book the third seat. I did transfer some of my Membership Rewards points to top off the accounts (instant). The cost was 35k Avianca miles per person, plus $29 in fees. The process wasn’t too bad, but Avianca website gave me a mild heart attack by not showing award availability for the flights that just appeared few minutes prior. But all was well in the end. Avianca is just being Avianca, enough said.
They plan to stay in Kobe for five nights and use it as a base to tour Kyoto as well as Hiroshima prefecture. This will minimize moving and potential stress that comes with it. They plan to meet us in Kyoto and Hiroshima and take the kids with them to Tokyo afterwards.
After a two-night stay in Tokyo, we will all be flying to LAX together. That’s why I used my 77,250 Avios for their three tickets on the same AA flight.
All flights will be in coach, though we may pay extra for seats with additional legroom, so my elderly in-laws will be more comfortable.
This whole thing required a ton of planning, not to mention, a sizable stash of miles. I’ve spent sleepless nights thinking about the logistics and Plan B/C in case the award seats didn’t open up like I hoped they would. I was booking one leg at a time, so everything had to fit together like pieces in a puzzle.
But all award seats did open up and I was able to pull it off. Now, I didn’t get exactly what I wanted. For example, originally, I wanted to spend three nights on Oahu instead of four, but due to limited award availability, I had to add an extra night. Hey, another day in paradise? I ain’t complaining!
I also didn’t expect to use Alaska miles for our tickets to Hawaii, but that’s what ended up happening. So, things didn’t go exactly the way I’ve envisioned them, but pretty darn close. There is no question that redeeming miles requires work and tons of research. But to me the payoff is 100% worth it. I’m planning to write follow-up posts, breaking everything down in more detail. Feel free to hit me up with questions in the meantime.
The biggest variable at this point is my father-in-law’s health. We can book the most convenient first-class award tickets, but none of it will matter if his health deteriorates further. But he wants to go, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Our plans are not tied to theirs, so if my in-laws cancel, we can still go as a family, assuming there is no emergency situation right before our flight. Another issue is surviving each other, and I’m not only talking about the trip itself. Just planning it has put a tremendous strain on me. Any time there is an issue between the two households, people (not naming any names) threaten to cancel. Come on! It’s a little late for that. We really are a dysfunctional bunch, but I still love my in-laws to death.
What to do with our flight from LAX to MCO?
This is the only leg I haven’t booked yet. I currently have our AAdvantage award tickets on free 5-day hold, and need to decide very soon. So, we are supposed to fly from LAX to Orlando on a weekend, and saver tickets are non-existent. I also insist on having a non-stop daytime flight, which complicates matters further. Long story short, the best rate I have found so far is 22k AAdvantage miles per person.
The idea of burning 22k miles one-way on a domestic economy flight that is not heading to Hawaii is downright painful. However, we will have two kids, two elderly persons, and one grumpy husband. I need to make it as simple as possible. I don’t want any connections and I don’t want us to fly at night. I also don’t want to pay cash. This flight will be at the tail end of an already exhausting trip, and my husband will have to resume his stressful job soon afterwards.
I could hold out and see if AAdvantage or another domestic program opens up saver-level seats in the future. But I doubt it will happen. Like I said, we have zero flexibility on dates, and I insist on having the simplest routing possible. Who knows, AAdvantage may raise the rate to 30k miles and I will be kicking myself for not booking it when it was 22k miles per person. I also have a $200 credit towards AA.com purchases through my Citi AAdvantage credit card, so this will reduce the price of one ticket.
That said, miles aren’t that easy to come by these days. Citi has just instituted a 48-month restriction on AAdvantage card bonuses, and most other banks don’t really want me as a customer. But I’m not super worried because the hardest part is booked. Getting to Japan via Hawaii and back on miles was my main concern. LAX to MCO is a piece of cake by comparison. But it’s looking to be a very expensive piece of cake.
Readers, what would you do in my situation?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.