Time to move on to my next blog boondoggle, this one a long weekend trip to Japan last month. No, this wasn’t to pick up rubber ducks for my son, like my last trip. Instead, I set out to plan my first real “premium” trip using exclusively points and miles. The inspiration: Chase ending its Ultimate Rewards transfer partnership with Korean Air last summer. And so, that had me plan a junket involving Korean Air’s First Class, perhaps the one and only time.
So why head to Japan, rather than stay in Korea? I’d actually love to visit, but I’m avoiding visiting new countries until my son’s old enough for he and my wife to tag along. He’s getting pretty good at the flying thing, so perhaps that’s not too far off. Anyway, I’m currently planning the following posts in this series; titles and order may change:
- Hyatt Regency DFW
- Delta SkyClub, Atlanta Concourse F
- Korean Air B747-8 First Class, Atlanta to Seoul
- Sky Hub Lounge, Seoul Incheon Terminal 1
- Asiana Airlines A321 Economy Class, Seoul Incheon to Tokyo Narita
- A Day Trip to the Fuji Five Lakes Region
- Ritz-Carlton Tokyo
- ANA First Class Suite, Tokyo Narita
- ANA B777-300ER First Class, Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles
- American Airlines B789 Main Cabin Extra, Los Angeles to Dallas
The Flight Plan
The boondoggle began, of course, with selecting a Korean Air First Class flight. Korean Air offers one of the better First Class redemption values out there, just 80,000 miles one way off-peak. Off-peak from the US to Korea begins the second week of July; with tax season ramping up in August, that only gave me about a month to squeeze something in. Luckily, Korean Air maintains pretty good award availability in premium cabins. I’m trying to fly as many 747s as I can before they fly off into the sunset; a quick search found a seat on the Atlanta to Seoul flight on July 13th. And so, the first leg of the trip was set. The cost: 80,000 SkyPass miles transferred from Chase, plus just $23.90 in fees.
Since I selected Japan as my final destination, I then thought of ways to get home. The Japanese carriers’ First Class cabins rank high on any AvGeek bucket list, so I looked at JAL and ANA. JAL, unfortunately, offered no First Class availability around that time, but ANA did. I eventually settled on a flight to Los Angeles on July 16th. While I had several programs to choose from to book, I decided to use Avianca LifeMiles. Why? A sometimes lucrative “LifeMiles + Money” option to help stretch your points. (Sadly, I don’t have an unlimited supply of credit card points, and wanted to save some for later.) Despite a few hiccups, I successfully booked the flight using 45,000 LifeMiles transferred from Citi ThankYou, $675 to buy the remaining 45,000 miles, and $43 in taxes and fees.
To fill out the flight plan, I added positioning flights from Dallas to Atlanta on Delta, Seoul to Narita on Asiana, and Los Angeles to Dallas on American. I won’t review the Delta flight, as I’ve reviewed Delta Main Cabin previously. I do plan on reviewing Asiana Economy and American Main Cabin Extra, though. Why the American flight? It’s an internationally-configured Boeing 787-9 that some of you might find relevant. I paid $121 for the Delta flight, and $202 for the Asiana flight. Meanwhile, I used 10,000 British Airways Avios (transferred from American Express) for my American flight; the Main Cabin Extra seat cost an extra $49.
In the end, the flights looked like this:
- 07/13 DL 1890 Depart Dallas – Ft Worth (DFW) 05:50 Arrive Atlanta (ATL) 08:59
- 07/13 KE 36 Depart ATL 12:30 Arrive Seoul Incheon (ICN) 16:20 (+1)
- 07/14 OZ 108 Depart ICN 18:50 Arrive Tokyo Narita (NRT) 21:10
- 07/16 NH 176 Depart NRT 16:05 Arrive Los Angeles (LAX) 10:25 (same day)
- 07/16 AA 2543 Depart LAX 13:36 Arrive DFW 18:43
The Hotel Plan
For this trip, I needed two nights in Tokyo – and had a perfect miles and points opportunity for them. I earned a fair number of bonus Starpoints through the old SPG (now Bonvoy) Amex card. Those converted to Marriott Bonvoy points at a rate of 3 for each Starpoint. Meanwhile, a limited-time opportunity during the SPG/Bonvoy integration allowed you to book top-tier hotels for just 60,000 points/night. And I just happened to have a bit more than 120,000 after the conversion. That’s all the convincing I needed to book two nights at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo. This was probably my first true “aspirational” hotel redemption, and my first stay in a Ritz in nearly 30 years.
Exploring the Fuji Five Lakes Region
Rather than just stay in Tokyo, I decided to plan a day trip to the “Fuji Five Lakes” region. A couple of hours west of Tokyo, it’s famous for iconic views of Fuji-san across the lakes. Unfortunately, cloudy weather kept the big mountain hidden all day. But it was still fun to look around the Lake Kawaguchiko area.
The Food Plan
Like my March trip to Germany, I had only one food item on the agenda this trip. The Yamanashi Prefecture, where Lake Kawaguchiko sits, is known for houtou noodles. While somewhat similar to udon noodles, houtou noodles are wider and flatter, typically cooked in a miso broth with vegetables. After arriving in Lake Kawaguchiko around lunchtime, I found a non-busy spot on the north side of the lake. I actually ended up ordering a sukiyaki set with houtou noodles. I had no idea that sukiyaki involved cooking your own food fondue style, but I enjoyed the tasty lunch.
Later, after arriving back in Tokyo after 9 pm, I just wanted something quick and cheap. So I stopped at a food stall in Tokyo Station for a simple dish of tempura shrimp.
I plan on starting this series within the next 10 days, though with many parts, it’ll take a while to finish up. Hope you enjoy!