Lost in Translation: Introduction

Last September I was made aware of some special business class fares on American between Atlanta and Japan (the fare was the same to both Tokyo and Nagoya). The fare was about $1,800 all-in for discounted business class. If I couldn’t upgrade to first class I wouldn’t have gone for it, but since American lets you use systemwide upgrades to upgrade to the next class of service on any revenue fare, I was basically booking a first class ticket for $1,800. Furthermore, at the time I figured it would be a great way to get a jump start on 2012 elite status since I had no travel planned for the year, so I scheduled the trip for May. The trip would net me over 18,000 elite qualifying miles, over 24,000 elite qualifying points, and over 40,000 redeemable miles.

While in and of itself not a “true” mileage run, it is an excellent premium fare, and all I needed to persuade me to plan a five day vacation in Japan. Two friends decided to join me (one on the same fare, and one on an award ticket around the same dates). While our tickets were booked to Nagoya it was our intention to go to Kyoto for a majority of our stay, and spend a couple of nights in Nagoya on the way back.

In the end our routing looked as follows:

05/21 American 4651 Atlanta to New York LGA 9:05AM-11:20AM
05/21 American 133 New York JFK to Los Angeles 3:35PM-7:05PM
05/22 American 169 Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita 11:40AM-3:20PM (+1 day)
05/23 Japan Airlines 3087 Tokyo Narita to Nagoya 6:25PM-7:35PM
05/28 Japan Airlines 3082 Nagoya to Tokyo Narita 8:25AM-9:35AM
05/28 American 170 Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles 3:25PM-9:20AM
05/28 American 4 Los Angeles to New York JFK 12:30PM-9:10PM
05/29 American 4658 New York LGA to Atlanta 12:05PM-2:25PM

Upgrades immediately cleared to first class for all American segments. As far as the routing goes, as you can see I intentionally routed it through JFK, since this would allow us to fly American’s Flagship Service. Instead of standard domestic first class flights, this route is operated by a three cabin 767-200 featuring international first class style service (for an idea of what the service is like, see my previous trip report about Flagship Service first class between New York and San Francisco). While it meant an airport transfer between LGA and JFK, I figured it was well worth it.

While I’ll have a post shortly about constructing mileage run routings on American, the planning of this was pretty straightforward since the routing was well within the MPM. I just played around with ITA a bit to find the flights, and then went to Orbitz to make the reservation (I find aa.com to be a pain for booking complicated routings).

As far as getting to and from Atlanta goes, I had been monitoring the fares from Tampa to Atlanta for months leading up to the trip, and American’s fares were ridiculous. In the end I needed to be in Seattle a few days before my trip to Japan, and a Tampa to Seattle and Seattle to Atlanta ticket on American actually cost less than a Tampa to Atlanta ticket, so I just booked that. Gotta love airline pricing.

I forgot to book my return ticket from Atlanta to Tampa until my last day in Japan, so after comparing fares I noticed AirTran was the cheapest by far at $80 all-in one way. While they won’t be in this trip report, you can read about my experience on that flight here. šŸ˜‰

As far as the hotels go, the Westin Atlanta Airport received generally good reviews and was an easy way to pick up an SPG night credit on an ~$80 stay.

In Kyoto I’ve heard great things about the Hyatt Regency, so went with that, especially since it’s a Virtuoso hotel (so for booking the Hyatt Daily Rate got a $100 food and beverage credit among other benefits). One of the friends I was traveling with is a luxury travel agent so insisted we stay at Hoshinoya, which is a traditional Japanese ryokan with a modern twist.

Then in Nagoya we stayed at the Westin, which was available on Cash & Points. It was quite a bargain at 2,800 SPG points plus $45 per night.

Anyway, sit back, relax, and get ready to laugh at me. Of all the places I travel to, Japan is the one place where I’ll always feel “lost in translation,” which is part of what makes it so intriguing.

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

Filed Under: American, Hotels
  1. Looking forward to the report, especially the sightseeing in Japan – I appreciate you taking time to talk about your destinations more and share what you did. Oh, and the flight stuff is cool too :). May I ask why the complete switch to AA? Thought you were all gung ho for UA the last few years. If it was covered in a previous post just point me to it.

  2. Ohh Japan and Engrish. Where was this sign taken at? My friend will be arriving there this week, maybe I can get her to take the picture for me too. How easy is the immigration process?

  3. @Lucky: What is your view of the after affects of the Fukushima meltdown? You don’t seem to mention it in any of the posts I’ve ever read. I was curious if it ever enters into your mind or not.

    @Zeke: How easy compared to what? So long as you don’t have any drug convictions you should be fine. However, even a relatively minor marijuana possession charge can result in a lifetime ban from a zero-tolerance country like Japan. Same thing for carrying something as benign as the original Sudafed. If you are traveling through Japan over a short stay to/from a country the Japanese government associates with drug smuggling you may be required to submit to a far more invasive (but extremely polite) search of your belongings. So long as they don’t find anything you’ll be on your way soon enough. At one time Japan was THE gateway to Asia for folks traveling from North America, but these days a lot of that traffic has moved elsewhere.

  4. Japanese is a SOV (subject-object-verb) language. English is SVO. Hence, the output is some sort of SOV “English”.

  5. @ JeffISU — American has treated me pretty well, and seeing what a mess the United merger has been I can’t say I miss them.

    @ Zeke — It was taken at Nagoya Castle. Immigration is easy, though the queues can be long during peak times, since there are tons of international flights arriving early morning and late afternoon.

  6. @ Dax — To be perfectly honest it didn’t even cross my mind. I realize it was catastrophic, though everything I’ve seen suggests it’s safe to return to Japan, and I certainly hate seeing how negatively the country was affected not only by the meltdown, but by the huge decrease in tourism.

  7. “However, even a relatively minor marijuana possession charge can result in a lifetime ban from a zero-tolerance country like Japan. ”

    I always find it funny when people expect other countries to have the same laws or tolerances as the USA. You make your choices and live with the consequences, no?

  8. Was hoping you’d fly a segment on ANA, just to see their new First Class product, and compare it to JLA…

  9. Lucky–have you had issues using orbitz or expedia to book complicated routings where the routing was messed up and the airline wouldn’t deal direct with you, but make you go through the booking source? That’s been one of my hangups with using those sites…if a cancel or delay causes re-routing, I’ve heard of some horror stories getting the airlines to deal directly with you and not go through expedia or such to make changes.

  10. Hoping your TR will include some info on the transfer between LGA and JFK, including how much time is best to leave for it, cost, ease, etc. Thanks!

  11. @Dax
    Your personal vendetta against Japan notwithstanding, the vast majority of travelers do not have to worry about the issues you (exaggeratedly) describe.

    Also I suspect the rise of other Asian cities as travel hubs has an awful lot more to do with economic growth than drug/immigration policy as you imply….

  12. @Stephan: Which country would you prefer I compare Japan to on a US-centric site with a US-based author detailing ex-US travel?

    @Chas: Which part of my post is not an accurate portrayal of actual Japanese policy?

  13. @ Brady — It’s definitely a pain and a good reason to book directly with the airline. In this instance I didn’t have much of a choice since aa.com wasn’t pricing the ticket for me, so it was a risk I had to live with. But usually I agree, it’s a reason to stick directly with the airline. Working through schedule changes with third party bookings isn’t impossible, but it certainly complicates things.

    @ Rebecca D. — I’ll include it, though I can say right now we took a cab which took about 30 minutes with REALLY bad traffic and cost about $25.

  14. It seems you do a lot of travelling between the States and Asia. Do you find the value for points on these routes greater than, say flights to Europe or South America?

  15. @ Panda — Will do!

    @ Tyler A — Everything goes further in Asia. Award tickets are typically priced the same to Asia as Europe even though it’s often double as far, and in Southeast Asia everything is so cheap compared to Europe. Of course Japan and South Korea are huge exceptions as they’re very expensive, but other than that…

  16. Lucky, have you flown or reviewed Aeromexico? Have you or would you consider them for any long haul flight to Europe or Asia? Just curious. Not too many reviews for them out there. I have always enjoyed their product.

  17. Hi Lucky,

    You mentioned that you booked via Orbitz? Were you concerned about Orbitz customer service if AA did a schedule change? Since you’d have to take up the schedule changes (and potential re-routing) with Orbitz rather than with AA directly?


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