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As the famous ancient Greek historian Herodotus said: “Circumstances rule men; men do not rule circumstances.” This phrase certainly applies to our pandemic-travel era. Things change constantly, so it’s impossible to predict which countries will or won’t even be open to visitors next summer. I don’t think there is such thing as going back to normal, at least not for awhile.
So, with that realization in mind, for my third attempt at booking a trip to Japan, I’ve decided that I need to make fully refundable mileage reservations. I was burned by Asia Miles recently and wasn’t looking for a repeat. I’ve also decided to hold off on making any lodging reservations until Japan officially opens borders to visitors.
Flight from Orlando to Osaka via LAX
I’ve decided to use AAdvantage miles for this flight, just like I did last time. The price in economy was 35k miles per person, and included an overnight layover in LAX, which was perfect. I had 146k AA miles at my disposal, and my husband had 60K miles. So, we technically had enough for two tickets in economy and two tickets in business class (60k miles one-way).
I’ve tried to convince my husband to let us split up, so he and my daughter could have more room upfront. But he refused. He said we either all sit in business class, or none at all. I had no choice but to book seats in economy, which was fine.
My sister-in-law is supposed to come with us, but fly on a separate day. So I used 35k miles out of my husband’s account to book her a ticket. She did mention that she had some Marriott points if I needed them, but I told her it wouldn’t be necessary.
Fast forward two weeks, and I get approved for AAdvantage Aviator credit card, which will hopefully give me an extra 60k miles in a month or so. Nancy also publishes her post on scoring five seats in business class for her trip to Europe.
After reading it, as well as all the comments from readers, I got inspired to try pulling off something like that for my family. It’s hard to put value on business class, but in this case, I think it’s quite compelling.
For 25k extra miles per person, we would get lie-flat seats for 17 hours, including MCO-LAX leg. I once splurged on a 6-hour business-class on Air Tahiti Nui flight from Papeete to Auckland and paid 15k miles extra per person. My husband (who is not a small man) was grateful, though you can’t tell by this photo.
Unfortunately, I would have to wait at least a month and hope that the business seats would still be available on our specific day. Hmm. So, I’ve decided to do some begging. I’ve reached out to my cousin-in-law and asked if she happens to have 60k AA miles that she won’t need for a month or so. She could book me one business-class ticket and I would give her my login to use my miles once they hit the account. I told her there is no pressure since it’s a pretty big ask.
Within literally minutes, she sent me her AA login and credit card info. I jokingly asked her for SSN, so I could apply for a credit card while I’m at it. To be clear, we are good friends, and it’s not something I would feel comfortable asking if we were just hobby acquaintances. Our kids play together, and we occasionally take mutual vacations. Plus, her parents live across the street from us. If I were to steal her AA miles, who would I ask to feed my cat when I’m gone on vacations?
This was a huge favor to ask, and I’m extremely grateful for her help. Maybe these business seats would still be there in a month, but it made me feel better to lock them in now. So, I used her miles to book me a ticket, and my husband’s miles for his.
After canceling my original award flight to Japan, I was back to having 146k miles. Since my kids are both minors, I had to call AA in order to book business class for them. This is where I had a minor heart attack.
The clueless rep told me since JAL is a foreign carrier, they could not book them on separate tickets even though she could see my record locator on the same flight. She was adamant about this policy, but I pushed back and asked to speak to a supervisor. All of a sudden, her tone changed and she put me on hold. She came back ten minutes later and told me everything was taken care of.
Even then, the saga wasn’t over because their reservation wouldn’t ticket for several days. I’ve reached out to AA Twitter team, and they helped me with this issue. I caught myself thinking how much it will stink if all of this work is for nothing. But that’s the way the pandemic “cookie” crumbles.
I was now down to 26k AA miles and needed to rebook my SIL’s flight. So, I’ve reached out to her and said that I will happily accept her Marriott points transfer (free). She did have to call in, but it only took 15 minutes.
I’ve then converted 21k Marriott points to 7k AA miles. She also had 2k AA miles and transferred them to my account for a $30 fee. I actually offered to reimburse her, but she refused since I was gifting her my 26k miles. Fortunately, AAdvantage still lets you put award tickets on hold for five days, so we had plenty of time to take care of everything.
Flight from Tokyo to Florida via San Francisco
Originally, I was planning to use Avianca LifeMiles for Tokyo-San Francisco portion operated by United. Avianca program actually charges 22.5k miles for this route, a relative bargain. However, if we were to cancel, I would potentially be on the hook for $800 re-deposit penalties. I do have travel insurance, but I would rather transfer it to another year if possible. Plus, my husband has a major IT project scheduled for next year, so we may have to shorten the trip or even cancel it regardless of pandemic.
So, I felt it would be better to book this flight via United program, which lets you cancel this type of ticket for free as long as you do it more than 30 days in advance. I did have some United miles, but not enough to cover four economy tickets at 35k miles each. Fortunately, my husband recently got bonus on Chase Sapphire Preferred( my personal referral link), so I just transferred UR points to his United account. Just a reminder, the amazing 100k points offer is still available, and you can see Nancy’s post for more details. Update: Public offer has expired. See the latest best credit card deals here.
Since I plan to meet my family in Europe in 2022 or 2023, I know that these United miles definitely won’t go to waste. Even if the program devalues, I will utilize them eventually. Your situation may differ, so think twice before speculatively converting flexible points to miles. I’m hoping to eventually switch to Lifemiles booking and cancel my United reservation. But if it doesn’t work out, c’est la vie. I simply don’t feel like rolling the dice with Lifemiles, considering how fragile covid situation is at the moment.
I will still have to figure out a way to get from San Francisco to Florida, and for now used Jet Blue points for a flight to Fort Lauderdale. It’s a bit far from our house, but our in-laws will pick us up. If something more suitable turns up later on, I’ll simply cancel our Jet Blue tickets and get all the points back.
Hopefully, third time is the charm, and we will finally be eating sushi in Tokyo next summer!
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.