For some people, booking a vacation this far out seems kind of crazy but if you’re using points and miles, it’s important to book ahead to have the best chance of getting the flights you want. Even when you have a plan in place, sometimes you have to come up with a plan B. For our honeymoon, I wanted to fly direct from Boston to Tokyo on Japan Airlines, but unfortunately, someone beat me to. Here’s what I came up with instead.
My Original Plan
I opened three Alaska Airlines credit cards (two personal, one business) over the past year to save up enough points for two business class seats from Boston direct to Tokyo on Japan Airlines. Booking Japan Airlines with Alaska miles presents a great value, but you are at a slight disadvantage for accessing award space. Japan Airlines award seats become available on their website and on other partner sites 330 days out. However, Alaska can’t access them until about 325 days out. For example, today (January 20th) I could book a Japan Airlines flight using British Airways Avios for next December 16, but that flight won’t become available to book with Alaska miles until after 7am EST on January 24th.
Despite this limitation, I decided to book with Alaska Airlines rather than Japan Airlines (I could have transferred Starpoints) since I planned on making Tokyo our free stopover before continuing on to Singapore (more on that here). With this plan, I needed 130,000 miles which I easily earned from the three credit cards and Alaska Airlines’ shopping portal.
I’d been stalking the availability on Alaska Airlines for a few months. There were usually two business class seats available when I checked at 7am the day they were released. Unfortunately, someone booked the two business class seats from Boston the day we needed them before they were available on Alaska Airlines.
Time for Plan B
JFK has two direct flights to Tokyo so I figured this would be a good backup plan. We’re lucky to be close enough to New York that flying in or out of JFK is not out of the question like we have to do to fly Singapore Suites. Even though Logan is only 15 minutes from my apartment, I’d rather drive to New York the night before to fly business class then spend 14 hours in economy.
I was aiming for the flight to Haneda since it’s a quicker trip into the city versus from Narita. I checked British Airways all week to make sure no one took my seats and it looked like we were in business.
The Booking Process
I woke up at 6:45 am on New Year’s Day to make sure I booked the seats when they became available on Alaska Airlines. Slightly hungover, I rolled out of bed and grabbed my computer. Everything looked good until I submitted my credit card information and got this error.
I guess this was the first test of my New Year’s resolution to not freak out when things don’t go as planned. Calmly, I called Alaska Airlines to see what was going on. Of course, they couldn’t see the seats. The agent said that they have problems with Japan Airlines flights when they’re first released and they would show up eventually, possibly later that day.
I checked Japan Airlines and British Airways in the meantime and the business class seats for both New York flights were gone so I figured someone beat me to it. Apparently the 1620 error shows up as a result of phantom award space. I booked two economy seats from Boston to Narita to make sure we had something. What a start to 2018…
I was pretty bitter about not getting to fly business class for my honeymoon. Instead of clinking champagne glasses as we reclined and ate too much food, we’d be scrunched up in economy, fighting over the armrest. I figured I’d just have to check Alaska Airlines incessantly for the next year in case anything opened up from Boston or JFK.
Lo and behold that same day, all four business class flights (two on each JFK flight) showed up! The Alaska Airlines agent was right! I called immediately and switched us to JFK to Haneda in business class. The flight cost us 120,000 miles and $36.20 but is valued at just under $9,000.
Since we’ll be flying out of JFK on Thanksgiving, I think it’s too risky to book a flight from Boston to JFK the night before or the day of since it’s one of the busiest times for travel. Instead, we’ll rent a car and will leave really late or really early in the morning to avoid Thanksgiving traffic. If we go the night before, I plan on using IHG points for a nearby hotel.
In the meantime, I plan on checking Alaska Airlines to see if business class from Boston becomes available. I still have some Alaska miles left so I also plan to keep checking our New York flight so I can upgrade to first class if more seats become available. Any changes I make will have to be 60 days or more before departure to avoid the $125 change fee per ticket.
Points spent: 855,000
Out-of-pocket cost: $1357.93
Total value: $30,545.06