President’s Day is Two Weeks Away and We Have No Plans

Holiday weekends are a great opportunity to take an extended trip without using any vacation days. With three days off from work even going to East Asia or Western Europe isn’t out of the question. We’ve been monitoring President’s Day 2016 flights (which, this year, falls on Monday Feb 15th) for a while and nothing jumped out at us. A road trip from SF to LA seemed like the best option until we decided to think bigger – a quick weekend in Tokyo or Hong Kong.

 Airline status is a vicious cycle where you must fly thousands of miles every year to maintain top tier status, thus accruing even more redeemable miles; however, you don’t want to use miles for too many award tickets because then you don’t earn any qualifying miles. Confused yet? We’ve broken it down using our specific travel situation as an example:

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In short, we have quite a few AA miles to redeem, particularly considering that all of our planned flights year to date have been paid for in cash. Many people look for quick wins with miles – getting a so called “free” domestic economy flight. The reality is that unless a route is extremely expensive (think $800+) it’s better to pay cash for domestic flights and free up your valuable miles for international business or first class.

American is part of the OneWorld alliance which, although the smallest, offers two great partner airlines – Japan Airlines (JAL) and Cathay Pacific (CX). This past Christmas in Vietnam we flew JAL business class from SFO to Tokyo Haneda (HND) but are anxious to try first class on that same route. Likewise, we flew regional business class from Tokyo Haneda to Hong Kong (HKG) but would love to fly business or first on their transpacific route from SFO to HKG.

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Disclaimer: Searching for OneWorld Award availability is not for the lazy traveler. You can’t book tickets online and there is no one-size-fits-all search engine. The Points Guy wrote a post about Searching For One World Availability so we won’t aim to duplicate this great guide. As people who typically book international flights 10 months out the idea of booking an international trip (and an award ticket nonetheless) two weeks out was a tad out of our comfort zone. Award availability is extremely unpredictable; so much so that different flights/cabin classes were available Saturday night versus the next Sunday morning versus the next Monday afternoon. This is actually one case where booking last minute travel can pay off as partner airline award tickets are priced at a flat rate and more award seats can open closer to the date, depending on how full premium cabins are.

Below is our flight criteria:

  • Cannot take any vacation days off so flight must leave after work on Friday Feb 12th or Sat Feb 13th and return on/by Monday Feb 15th.
  • Direct flights are ideal though we are open to one reasonable connection in LAX.
  • Cathay Pacific or JAL-operated flights are preferred though we’d consider AA-operated flights in first class if it’s on a newer plane.
  • Final destination is either Tokyo (Narita or Haneda) or Hong Kong.

We ended up finding two first class tickets from SFO to Tokyo Narita (NRT) via LAX and two business class tickets from Tokyo Haneda (HAN) to SFO on the return. As Executive Platinums we can ticket these and redeposit the miles back into our account at any time (essentially they are “fully refundable”). This allows us to periodically monitor award availability for different routing.

Let’s take a look at the total cost of these flights:

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While 112,500 miles per person for a weekend trip seems like a lot, at the retail value of the flights ($13,076 pp), we were definitely getting our money’s worth (11.6 CPP aka cents per point). Acknowledging that most people (including ourselves) would never pay for a business or first class cash ticket, here’s how we think of the actual value we’re getting:

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Everyone values premium travel differently; some don’t value it at all, preferring to to take double the amount of trips in economy versus half the amount in business. For us, getting there is half the fun and the level of fun is the same whether it’s a weekend trip or a three week long trip.

Whether your preferred cabin is economy, business, or first award availability is easiest to find when you have a flexible schedule (i.e. you are a full time travel blogger!) and there some routes that we have yet to make work – Europe in the summer being one of them. However, you can find award tickets that work with even a limited amount of time and vacation days, sometimes even on holiday weekends.

As mentioned, our plans are tentative so we’ll do a follow up post in a couple of weeks with our final routing/city and how we maximized time/minimized hotel nights to enjoy a quick weekend away in Asia, all in time to be back at work Tuesday morning. If everything else falls through we can still always drive to LA; we still haven’t figured out how to earn redeemable miles through driving (if anyone knows how to, please let us know!)

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