After bailing on my Machu Pichu trip, I decided to go back to Japan and Korea for the 2017 cherry blossom season. My wife has always wanted to go to DC to see the cherry blossoms, and so seeing it in Japan will be even better than that. The problem of course is that we don’t know when the cherry blossoms will bloom, so we figure we’ll just get over there and then have a flexible schedule after that.
Premium Seat Options to Asia
To get to Asia, especially from Seattle and in premium seats, Star Alliance is the best. You have United, ANA, Eva, and Asiana flying out of 3 big hubs – Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. There is also Korean Air with Skymiles and Alaska, and also JAL with AA or Alaska miles. Let’s run through those options:
- JAL metal (using either AA or Alaska) – You can probably book 2 business class seats if you book far enough out in advance. However, getting first class is VERY HARD. They seem to hold the seats and open availability a few weeks out. So the best option if you want to go this route is to secure the business class seats and then keep monitoring availability daily when you are a month out, and cross your fingers F space opens. Once it does, call to change/upgrade to F and just eat the change fees.
- ANA metal (using United, ANA, or Virgin Atlantic) – I had always wanted to try ANA first, so that’s why I flew to Chicago to try it out. They seem to have decent availability, especially out of Chicago. If you’re flying purely on ANA, then the Virgin Atlantic miles is your cheapest route. Then ANA miles (depends on distance) and lastly United (110K one-way.)
- Asiana metal (using United or ANA) – Similar to ANA although a bit better availability, especially on their A380 LAX route. United is 110K one-way and ANA will hit you with fuel surcharges which I’ll go into below.
- Korean metal (using KE miles) – This is definitely a solid option since availability is pretty open. You’ll need to transfer Chase UR over, but it should cost you 80K in F to get to ICN. I didn’t go this route because I wanted to try ANA, but in the future, I’ll go this route since it’s one of the few F’s (if not the only) out of Seattle to Asia.
- Eva Air (using United miles) – Arguably the best business class in the industry. Pretty good availability far out as well. However, I didn’t go this route just because I wanted an F experience and didn’t want to connect in Taipei on the way to Japan.
- Cathay Pacific (using AA or AS miles) – Similar to Eva. I just didn’t want to connect in HK en route to Japan so ruled it out.
Note I didn’t list any American carriers like Delta (ridiculous redemption rates), United, or American. Mostly because I only make ~2 big international trips per year and I want to fly the best when I do make the trip. I also didn’t pick any Middle East carriers just because I didn’t want the longer route to Asia.
Choosing ANA miles
I went ahead and chose ANA miles because United was a bit more in miles, but more importantly, ANA gives you more flexibility when booking awards. This is what it would have cost using United:
What I wound up paying using ANA miles – 180,000 and 36,500 Yen which is about $300.
The reason I couldn’t book this using United was that this was my itinerary – SEA-ORD-NRT // KIX-GMP // ICN-LAX. Because I wasn’t ending back in LAX, I couldn’t book it since I have to end my award in the same city. There was only 1 United flight from LAX-SEA and it was full in both coach and first SEVEN MONTHS OUT. Thus, I couldn’t use United to book my flight.
I wound up playing with the ANA multi city option and I was surprised that they let me end my trip in LAX. I got hit with the fuel surcharges because I flew Asiana to and out of Incheon. Now I could have flown back to Japan and then back to the US, but it was more convenient to fly straight from Korea to the US on Asiana. I still would have done that, but I just wanted to fly Asiana A380 F.
The next time I’m flying to Japan, I’ll be skipping out on trying ANA and Asiana F. I’ll probably just take the ANA Dreamliner business class direct out of Seattle. If I wanted to go to Korea, take Korean Air F direct to Seoul.