A Japanese First Class Bonanza
When the new Aeroplan came out in November 2020, one redemption stood out: ANA flights from Vancouver to Haneda at only 55 thousand points in business class.
I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, and despite the situation, I booked a flight to Tokyo in October 2020.
Undoubtedly, Japan would open soon…
After many schedule changes, this ticket would become Air Canada operated and be pushed two years to Canada Day 2022. Even if I didn’t put this flight to use, I told myself I’d be going to Asia.
Booking these flights was one of the most time-consuming processes yet. Hopefully, this story and some information found in conclusion can help others with these bookings.
My third international trip in 2022 will take me to Thailand and Singapore, in the world’s most exclusive first-class cabins, renowned business classes, and luxurious hotels.
To say I’m excited is a massive understatement.
Let’s dive in.
As with most trips planned for this time, it ended up completely different from how it was intended. Unfortunately, Japan is closed for tourism for the foreseeable future, so I needed a backup.
Korea was a natural choice, seeing as it’s a short, two-hour flight away from the current flight I had booked. I was keen to avoid taking yet another test, so when I read that all pandemic entry requirements were abolished in Korea on June 1, I planned for it. Two things stood in my way.
I was wrong - Korea still requires a PCR test, conducted on Day 3, and seeing as I was recently recovering from the virus, I didn’t want any prior exposures to give me a residual positive. In Korea, a positive result ends up in solitary confinement for a week and a fee in the thousands of dollars to match.
Secondly, I misunderstood the transit requirements in Tokyo. You can transit on separate tickets, but when I realized I could do this, it was too late to make any more changes.
Using Current Flights
I spent a long time trying to figure out how to piece together a one-ticket itinerary to Korea. Under Aeroplan rules, tickets are repriced when making a voluntary itinerary change. Given my flight was booked for 55 thousand points, two years prior, I was sad to hear Air Canada ask for another 400 thousand points to add on a flight to Korea - dynamic pricing at work. With this outbound journey now pushing into the unreasonable category, I realized I needed to look for other options. I began setting seat availability alerts on all other possible routings.
When I received an alert for an ANA First class seat from Narita to Los Angeles, I knew I had to make this work. I immediately booked it, tacking on an Air Canada flight home from Los Angeles. To admit that the flights influenced a large part of this trip is something I feel ashamed to say, but how can you say no to ANA First - especially when it’s in The Suite?
Now, I needed to find a country, I want to visit, that satisfy the following Japanese transit criteria:
Same-day transits at NRT
Overnighting at HND is acceptable but layovers must be less than 24 hours.
Same airport transfers (NRT and NRT, HND and HND, no swapping)
Separate tickets are OK, but this comes with the usual risks and requires the ability to receive your onward boarding pass in transit - some carriers don’t have airside transit counters.
I began to set more seat alerts.
Adding on Thailand
The next day, I woke up to another email. Narita to Bangkok in JAL business class has been released. The timing worked well, a three-hour layover, and I could use it in conjunction with my current Air Canada flight as a self-connection. Always wanting to visit Thailand, I booked this quickly with Alaska miles.
Finding Aeroplan Space To Return
With the strict transit regulations in place in Japan, I needed to find a same-day flight to Narita on Star Alliance, bookable with Aeroplan that would get me there for my 5PM flight to Los Angeles.
There were two options, each with one seat only.
The first left Bangkok just after midnight, was in economy, and created an eight-hour layover in Narita. The second would leave Singapore at six in the morning, and have me in Narita for only a two-hour layover. I was not keen to have another eight-hour layover, so I booked the Singapore flight.
Singapore Airlines releases many intra-Asia awards for their business class. At 20 thousand Aeroplan points, this would be fine. Ideally, I would have this added on to my returning journey as a stopover, but I couldn’t get it to price out correctly due to one Air Canada flight that skewed the price up due to dynamic pricing.
I had it. In my opinion, a good itinerary, but that 8-hour journey in economy class didn’t look all that fun to me and the self-connection on the outbound was making me nervous.
What’s The Deal With Having “One Ticket”?
Having one ticket, where all your segments are on one ticket, is preferred to having them on separate tickets. This is sometimes called a self-transfer, and comes with the annoyance of having to check-in twice and sometimes collect bags. Critically, however, on separate tickets, onward flights are not “protected”. If your inbound flight is delayed or canceled, for whatever reason, the airline is under no obligation to rebook or refund you.
Self-transfers in Japan are acceptable, but they come with all the regular drawbacks. Complicating matters further, was an unknown airport to me, a terminal change with an “on-demand” bus that I’d have to request on arrival, and additional security checks. After looking at Air Canada’s poor on-time performance on this route, I knew I had to look at other options.
If I want to keep my Narita to Bangkok flight, I’d need a carrier that can be booked with Alaska miles, and be amended on the existing itinerary to have one ticket. That left only one option: another JAL flight.
San Francisco Departure
To keep my Bangkok flight, I had to leave North America on June 30. All of JAL’s flights eastbound to Japan are hub-banked - meaning that inbound flights connect at an appropriate time for onward connections.
This meant the departure city in North America didn’t matter, only that it left on June 30.
Out of JAL’s eight operating North American destinations, nothing was available one week before departure.
One thing gave me hope: Alaska Airlines has very nice cancellation policies, and members can cancel their flights for free. Last year, many people booked up precious premium space to Japan, hoping that the country would open up in the Summer of 2022. And people began canceling frequently.
I set alerts for all routes searched often whenever I had a free minute during the day.
Three days into searching daily, I saw it—the flight I wanted, leaving San Francisco. After a painful 45-minutes on hold, Alaska was able to add this segment. In First class.
This all happened on the same day my Singapore departing flight received business class space to upgrade to for free.
Putting It All Together
It's not that complex of a routing. The challenge came from finding routes that would satisfy current Asia travel rules and then waiting on availability.
I’ll hop on Air Canada’s standard 737 Max business class to San Francisco, overnighting in the airport, before jumping on Japan’s flag carrier in First-class to Narita. From there, after a short layover, I’ll be off to Bangkok on JAL’s business class in their renowned Sky Suites. I’m in Bangkok for a few days before hopping on Air Asia to Chiang Mai and then Singapore’s A350 international business class layout to Singapore for the weekend.
I’ll head back to Changi, jumping on ANA’s 787 business class back to Narita, before boarding their First Class in their new The Suite layout to Los Angeles. From there, it’s back to Vancouver on Air Canada after a day of lounging in Los Angeles.
YVR - SFO
18 thousand Aeroplan
SFO - NRT - BKK
First / Business
75 thousand Alaska
BKK - SIN
20 thousand Aeroplan
SIN - NRT - LAX - YVR
ANA / Air Canada
"The Suite" First Class / Business
128 thousand Aeroplan
What To Keep In Mind
Countries have different arriving rules, but they also might have different transit requirements. Ensure you’re on top of this - it is always changing, too.
Look at Other Destinations
If your original plans don’t work out, you can always find another destination nearby, and might even be able to change your current plans at a very minimal cost.
Consider Options To Book
Consider all possible options to book flights. Remember, sometimes it makes sense to book a stopover, sometimes it doesn't make sense and only you can decide if it's worth it. Consider all possible programs, routing rules, and stopover allowances to see if it makes sense.
Take Advantage of Free Changes
Airlines are offering very generous free chance and free cancel policies, but these are coming to an end. Book before deadlines to ensure you have at least one free change before new rules come into effect.