In a few months my family is planning to finally visit Japan. This trip has been booked and cancelled so many times due to Covid pandemic that I refuse to get too excited until we are actually on the plane to Osaka. You can see all the details on my mileage redemptions in this post.
Originally, we had six people going: my family of four, my elderly MIL and my husband’s sister. I was able to find four seats in business class from LAX to Osaka, so went ahead and splurged on this route. I also used AA miles to book economy seats for my in-laws. The idea was to switch my 12-year old son with my MIL, so she would have a business-class seat.
However, there was a change of plans recently. My SIL is getting married this month and won’t be joining us on this trip. Fortunately, we booked her flights with AA and United miles and were able to cancel everything without penalty. But this did create one issue. We will no longer be able to put my son in economy class, since there would be no-one there to watch him. Personally, I don’t feel comfortable having him sit several rows away from us at this age.
I did suggest to my husband that we put my 15-year old daughter in economy, but he refused. So, I had two options. I could search JAL award availability every day in the hopes that an extra seat for our date would open up. I have some Alaska miles, and the cost is 60k miles for JAL business class (no fuel surcharges). Or I could book a premium economy with my Avios points. But the current rate via that program is eye-watering, to put it mildly:
Yes, JAL premium economy via Avios costs more than business class via Alaska program, plus fuel surcharges. There was also another issue. My MIL’s economy ticket includes a flight from Orlando, with an overnight stopover in Los Angeles, all for only 35k AAdvantage miles. If I were to cancel it, I would have to rebook MCO-LAX leg separately, and it currently runs at 18k AA miles. I’m sure JAL premium economy is nice. But is it nice enough to justify that kind of an upcharge? For me, no.
Still, we are talking about an elderly person here, so the most logical solution would be to simply switch seats with her. I’m willing to suffer for 12 hours in order to save a boatload of miles and cash. Of course, there is always hope that a business class seat will open up closer to our departure date, but I’m not banking on it.
I was listening to this podcast episode on Milenomics, and Robert mentioned that JAL has been stingy with opening up business-class seats last-minute, especially on weekends. And that’s when we are supposed to fly. This has not been the case before, but I’m sure there is so much demand for flights to Japan right now, that the airline has reasonable hope of filling those seats via revenue tickets.
If you book way ahead, this is the current pattern for JAL award flights:
Do keep in mind that programs like Asia Miles and British Airways Avios get access to those seats a few weeks earlier than AAdvantage and Alaska Mileage Plan. However, I imagine that fuel surcharges are a deal-breaker for many. They definitely are for me. In fact, I recently passed on first-class seats on ANA due to huge cash co-pay requirement for 5 of us. And that was before the recent Virgin Atlantic devaluation.
An interesting development
I was talking to my husband about this situation and said that it looks like I will be the one sitting in economy seat on the flight to Osaka. Since he is a gentlemen, he immediately offered to take it instead. Nope. He is 6 feet 4 inches, and fortunately I’m not. Then he goes: “I wish our son didn’t have to be in economy, otherwise, we could put our daughter there.” Wait, what?
Somehow he misunderstood me before and thought that both of the kids would have to sit together in economy, away from us. They are best friends, but simultaneously fight like cats and dogs. Last summer my husband had to separate them in front of the Mona Lisa painting where they kept shoving each other back and forth. Not our proudest moment as parents, but I digress…
Anyway, since it would just be my daughter, he said he didn’t have any issues with leaving her in economy class by herself. She is normally well-behaved, and would be able to put on an oxygen mask without any assistance. And of course, we plan to walk to her seat every few hours or so. I wouldn’t be comfortable doing this a few years ago, but her being 15 is a different story. My husband is adamant that I get to sit in business class since I’m the one who collected the miles and made this splurge possible.
I went to US as an exchange student when I was 16, and it’s crazy to think just how little supervision I had on that trip. Due to bad weather, I even slept in Moscow airport for a couple of nights, all on my own. I surely wasn’t going to use money on a hotel when my parents’ salary was $120 per month combined.
Speaking of, I convinced my husband that we need to give our daughter some money, so she doesn’t feel shafted. It only seemed fair, so we settled on $100. It was time to give my daughter the bad news. She seemed a bit bummed by the idea of slumming it in economy while we luxuriate in business class, but understood the logic of our decision. I did say that I will keep trying to find a business class seat for her. After that I revealed that she would be getting $100 as a sweetener. Talk about excitement! She then countered me with $120, and I agreed. Hey, she was so proud of herself, and it’s only an extra $20 bucks.
I then got an idea. I asked her if she prefers a business class and no money or economy seat+$120. Without any hesitation she chose the latter option. Well, it’s a deal. My husband is on board with the whole idea, so I’m no longer checking award availability for that flight. It’s a win-win situation. I get to save 43k miles in exchange for $120, a stellar deal. And my daughter is young and agile enough that sitting in economy is still a piece of cake for her, which unfortunately can not be said for me. I’m also giving her an assignment to review the seat and food, photos and all. I think it might be helpful to our readers who are thinking about a similar arrangement.
Of course, it’s always my preference for our whole family to sit together. But occasionally, the circumstances may not allow it. Plus, with our kids getting older, I no longer view booking in different classes as a deal breaker. But, as they say, YMMV
It did make me think about the true value of long-haul business class upgrade. For my daughter it’s only $120. That’s definitely not enough for me, and certainly not for my elderly MIL who had several surgeries on her neck and hips. But if someone offered me say, $500 to switch with them from business to economy, would I do it? Probably.
How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.
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.
Leana, I love reading your blog because to me, it’s real. I would definitely do something like this with my kids, too! I know that a lot of people think that how you get there or where you go is the purpose of travel, but with four kids that are growing up way too fast and my parents that are aging too quickly themselves, I think that who you get to spend your time with makes all the difference.
@ArkansasTraveler I really appreciate your kind words!
It’s hard enough to find enough award seats for us, two kids+MIL. I can only imagine what it’s like with four kids. I would love for all of us to fly upfront each and every time, but it’s simply not realistic. So I have to settle for “good enough.” We will all have to sit in economy on the return flight, but 8.5 hours should be doable.
Off topic, but I highly recommend you and your spouse get away by yourselves now and again. I used to feel a bit guilty, but our last anniversary trip to Costa Rica was a game changer. We had such a fun time and were able to focus on each other. My son did say that we abandoned him, haha!
Funny how priorities change as you age. Definitely wouldn’t be worth $120 to me to give up the seat but if she’s happy, it’s a win.
@Jennifer Very true!
I seriously doubt I would have been able to get that last seat via miles anyway. But it makes me feel better that it’s actually her choice.
dad always said everything’s for sale; it’s just a matter of price. : )
@cr Well, not everything! 😉
But it’s an interesting thought exercise for those who brag about getting 20cpm on their award flights.
This leaves such a bad taste in my mouth. So youre the kind of family that fights at the Mona lisa and screw everyone elses experience, but also planned some kind of scam with seat switching with your son, for what to save some money? And you can trust your children to even fly together
The entitlement here that you seem to think is a positive story…
@Ock Thanks for your comment and I mean it 100%! It honestly brought a smile to my face. 😉
And for the record, I never said it was a positive story. It’s *a* story.
@Ock you’re a troll
@Tammie That’s my theory as well. Either way, I seriously chuckled to myself when I read it. Dude, I never claimed it was a blog on successful parenting! It’s more of “travel with your dysfunctional family for pennies on the dollar” kind of site. 😉
Remus Romulus says
“ I imagine that fuel surcharges are a deal-breaker for many. They definitely are for me”
Well, unfortunately it’s that or worse, for many. I had a really hard time finding availability in business class for a single passenger (MIL), for June. I started looking in December and I live in Boston so I have excellent access to a lot of carriers. I also have a lot of flexibility – any time in June would be fine.
The availability being unusually limited, I booked a BA ticket. The fees? $750 for a one way. And, btw, reserving that business class seat costs extra! Awful, I know, but I had no other choice. Eventually I found a Swiss award ticket so I cancelled the BA one. Still, I would have paid that given the lack of alternatives.
@Remus It’s really tough right now to snag these award tickets via AA or Alaska. And I hear you. Everyone has different circumstances and sometimes sitting upfront is a necessity due to medical condition. And even if not a necessity, if you can easily afford the fuel surcharges, why not treat yourself or your loved one. I would never tell someone how they should spend their money. So I’m strictly referring to my own view on it.
Car Hamro says
Great Articles. Thanks for sharing !!!
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