How We Booked Our Flights
This was the girls first international trip so my wife and I were little bit worried about how they would behave. We were more worried about Maya, our two year old since she doesn’t sit still so trapping her on a 11 hour flight seemed a bit daunting. I wanted to book something with a good amount of leg room so we weren’t confined especially with a lap infant. There were only three airlines that has direct flights from SFO to Tokyo: ANA, United and Japan Airlines (JAL). I picked the airline that the best point redemption availability which was JAL.
Fortunately I was able to secure Premium Economy seats for us on our outbound flight on Japan Airlines (JAL). I already had 30,000 Avios points laying around so I then proceeded to transfer another 120,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points to British Airways (BA). I then booked 3 Premium Economy seats for 155,000 points and $249.70 in taxes and for Maya as a lap infant. If I had paid cash for these one way tickets, it would have cost about $1700 per ticket. I was able to get 3.2 cents per point out of it. During the time of booking, Chase points were valued at 2.2 cents per point so I came out on top.
JAL has probably one of the roomiest Premium Economy seats that we’ve seen. The seats semi reclined and there was more than enough leg room for all of us. We decided to set up a “bed” for Maya using pillows and blankets on the floor at the foot of Amelia’s seat. This worked out perfectly as Maya ended up taking a 3 hour nap. Amelia was too focused on her movies to sleep. During traveling is probably the most screen time she gets but whatever works to keep them calm.
The service was also very good. Upon boarding, they provided Maya with a set of diapers and baby snacks and food. They confirmed at check in that Amelia will have the toddler meal. Her food was pretty decent consisting of pasta, bread, fruit and a toy. They even provided plastic reusable utensils that we could take with us.
The return flight home was even more comfortable as I was able to procure 3 business class seats on JAL. JAL Sky Suites on their 777 fully recline into lie flat seats. Amelia and Maya shared a center seat and we were finally able to rest until Maya had one of her night terrors. Despite the kids not sleeping too well, the food and service was exceptional!
JAL occasionally has point redemption promotions throughout the year. At the time of booking they had a 20% point discount for booking flights. Normally a business class ticket costs about $5000 one way or 50,000 JAL points. With the 20% discount it only costs 40,000 points.
JAL is not a partner to any of the major banks with the exception of Amex SPG (Now AMEX Bonvoy). SPG offered 5,000 points for every 20,000 points transferred to any airline. I’ve been hoarding my points for the past few years for such a redemption. Back then I transferred 100,000 SPG points and received 120,000 JAL points. In the end, I was able to book each business seat for only 33,300 SPG points. That puts each SPG point at 15 cents (regular value 2.4 cents/point). I did however have to pay for Maya’s lap seat (10% of the actual cost of the business ticket). I paid about $750 for the four of us. I was still able to save over $14,000.
Summary for 4 Travelers
Points Used: 100,000 SPG and 155,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points
Money spent: ~$1000 on taxes and fees
Money saved: ~$20,000
Transportation Once Arriving at Haneda
Upon arriving in Haneda airport in Tokyo we had many choices to get to our hotel which ranges from high speed train, limousine bus, taxi or Uber. Our first option was the limousine bus since it was the cheapest but the times did not work out for us. For time tables please refer to this site for the limousine bus.
The next option was taxi but we were worried about the language so we chose not to do it. We didn’t choose the train because we had two 25″ luggages, a stroller, one 20″ carry-on and the two kids in tow. On top of that we just through an 11 hour flight so we really didn’t have the energy or were in the right mind set to figure out the train system at 8 pm! We opted out for the most familiar option, Uber. We paid about $53 for the ride to Park Hyatt. There was a special 20% off promotion for using Uber from Haneda airport so we ended up saving money and time. The ride took 35 minutes half the time it would have taken by train or limousine buss. Without the discount it would have cost $76. I also want to note that all the Ubers in Tokyo are Black Cars or Black Vans which have a premium but with a discount it wasn’t too bad. For Uber price estimates click here.
So it doesn’t hurt to look into various options to see if there were any discounts. Despite Japan having one of the world’s best train networks, it doesn’t mean it is the best option. Do what works for your family and take into consideration all the luggage. I think it was just Noelle and I we would have caught the train. Please refer to the Haneda Airport website for all forms of transportation.