Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong
Miles and Points

Our Anniversary Trip – where we decided to go and lessons learned

We received a lot of amazing recommendations for where to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, but in the end, we didn’t take any of them. Currently, we’re celebrating our 10 year anniversary (technically 9 year and 8 months due to babysitting needs) in Japan. As I write this I’m flying a 787 for the first time (thanks to Japan Airlines’ good close in availability) which is pretty exciting. How did we get here?

 Well, it took awhile to put the whole trip together and I think we’re past the days where I go through every detail of the trip, but I thought I’d share some lessons learned in the planning process. So let’s get to it.

1. Be persistent about looking for award space

We originally decided to go to Japan in December. We haven’t been back since we climbed Mount Fuji. I’m not sure why I started checking for award space regularly, but we had a very specific time window for travel due to work and babysitting reasons. So I decided to start searching flights to Japan. It took a couple weeks but we got lucky and snagged BOS-JFK-NRT-ORD in first on Japan Airlines on dates that world for us.

One thing I’ve learned in my time playing this game is that persistence pays off. If you have a place you want to go and the miles to do it, persistent searching pays off more than you might think. Of course, if you don’t have the time you can set alerts with a paid Expertflyer subscription or hire someone to help.

2. American Airlines continues to have one of the most customer friendly award change policies

I give American Airlines a lot of flak, but they continue to have one of the most customer friendly award change policies. You can change dates and routings up to a year from your original date of booking as long as your city pairs remain the same. In addition, you can upgrade class of service without a change fee as well. So this works great in conjunction with JAL F close in award availability.

We used these friendly policies to our advantage changing routings and times multiple times. We did end up paying a change fee because we downgraded to J on the direct BOS-NRT flight (the plane does not have a F cabin). Still, it was great to change our flights into times that are more convenient for us and we’ll get to spend more time on the ground in Japan too. Again, persistence matters, keep checking and gardening your reservation to find the flight that works best for you if you’ve booked through American Airlines.

3. Ultimate Rewards present value for hotel stays that can’t be booked with points

As Robert wrote the other day, Ultimate Rewards can give you the opportunity to pay with points for hotel stays that can’t otherwise be booked with points. Due to the beauty of marital compromise, I was tasked with finding a hotel that had to meet some pretty specific parameters, including an onsen. Since most chain hotels don’t offer “free” onsens, that wasn’t an option. (We also were looking in Hokkaido where almost all hotels near hot springs are stand alone).

So what I did was I pulled up Expedia. I knew pretty much any hotel I could find on Expedia would be bookable with Ultimate Rewards points and I found it much snappier to search on Expedia itself. Once I found the hotel I wanted, I went to go book at the Ultimate Rewards portal for 1.5 cents per point with my Chase Sapphire Reserve. The process couldn’t have been easier.

Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong
The Peninsula hotel costs $600 a night but since you can search it on Expedia you can probably book it with 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points (with CSR)

We ended up booking an expensive hotel that I’d probably never have booked with cash. It came out to 40,000 points per night which I’d estimate cost me $350 to earn (conservatively). I’m still not thrilled to have dropped that many points but I do get to go to Tokyo DisneySea (which costs $67 for a ticket), so….winning? I also guess you only get to celebrate nine years and eight months of marriage once. 😛

4. Intra-Japan flights are cheap

We really wanted to get to Hokkaido to catch the end of some of their winter festivals and so we decided to go straight to Haneda after we land. That means we’ll have four hours to catch a flight to Sapporo or risk being stranded in Tokyo. Should be exciting! 

Anyway, turns out intra-Japan flights are super cheap. It cost us 10,000 United miles RT per person and $0.00 in taxes and fees (not sure what’s that about) to fly on ANA. JAL flights on Avios are similarly inexpensive. I know JR rail is normally the way to go, but due to time constraints we decided flying would be better. We’re only carrying on luggage (like the good old, pre-kid days!) to facilitate a fast transfer. Hopefully we make it!

Final Thoughts

We’re pretty excited to be heading to Japan. Sure, we’re going three extra days and flying six hours more than we had originally stipulated, but it should be an amazing time. As always, I’m thankful for miles and points to help us cut the costs down. And like I said in my last post, it’s fun to get to booking again and to learn lessons while doing so.

What are your experiences with using Ultimate Rewards points for hotels or booking flights to Asia? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less

6 thoughts on “Our Anniversary Trip – where we decided to go and lessons learned

  1. Which hotel are you staying at in Hokkaido? I’m looking to travel there someday but I have no idea where to even begin researching.

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