[Disclosure: Emily and I get a commission for links to the cards in this post. You don't have to use our links, but we're grateful when you do!]
What do cherry blossoms, sake, and dumplings have in common?
Instead of doing an internet search, you could find out by taking a springtime trip to Japan. United Airlines has a promotion on round-trip economy award tickets from the US (not including Hawaii) and Canada to Japan in April.
If you book before April 17, 2014, and travel between now and April 30, 2014, you can save 25% off United Saver (low-level) award economy tickets. Usually, round-trip award tickets from North America to Japan cost 70,000 miles. But with this promotion, you can travel round-trip for only 52,500 miles!
That said, it only costs 25,000 American Airlines miles for a 1-way award ticket from the US to Japan, from October 1 to April 30 so that would save you even more miles!
Where Can You Go?
With this deal, you can only fly to cities served directly by United Airlines (not by partner airlines or codeshares). In Japan, United flies to 9 destinations:
Emily and I have always dreamed of visiting Japan in spring to see the cherry blossoms. From late March until early May, Japanese folks throw cherry blossom viewing parties, called hanami. It’s an opportunity for everyone to gather with family and friends, eat dumplings and other traditional foods, drink sake, and enjoy the beautiful blossoms.
How Do You Book It?
You can read my post about how to use the United website to book award travel. Booking an award trip like this is actually quite straightforward, because you’re only searching for United flights, not partner flights.
Step 1 – Log In and Search for Flights
Enter your departure and arrival city, and make sure you check United Airlines flights only. Then click “Search.”
Step 2 – Choose Your Departure Date and Flight
The calendar for April still shows lots of economy Saver Award flight availability (green or yellow).
I chose April 8, 2014, as a departure date. From the continental US, United only flies non-stop to Japan from New York (Newark), Washington (Dulles), Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, and Denver.
There were lots of available seats at the economy Saver Award level. For fun, I selected a connection through Denver, because I haven’t tried the Boeing 787 Dreamliner yet!
Step 3 – Select Your Return Date and Flights
There were far fewer economy Saver Award flight seats open for the return trip (for this route, at least).
But I was still able to find award tickets on the date I chose (April 14, 2014). There weren’t as many return flight options as on the departure date.
Step 4 – Confirm Your Award Flight
This trip costs 52,500 miles with the United Airlines promotion, plus ~$125 taxes and fees (including $75 for booking less than 21 days prior to departure). That’s still a great deal for a round-trip flight to Japan!
Too bad I don’t have enough United miles to actually book it. But wait…
But What If You Don’t Have Enough United Miles?
Because this promotion is so short, it wouldn’t make sense to sign-up for a credit card like the United MileagePlus Explorer just to get the sign-up bonus (you’d never get the miles in time for this trip). The card would come in handy for no foreign exchange fees, priority boarding, and free lounge club passes.
But, if you already have Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned from the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, or Chase Ink Bold cards, you can transfer them instantly to United Airlines at a 1:1 ratio. Remember to 1st combine all your Chase Ultimate Rewards points!
If you have the Chase Freedom, Chase Ink Classic, Chase Ink Cash, and Chase Sapphire, you have to 1st transfer those points to the Chase Ink Bold, Chase Ink Plus, or Chase Sapphire Preferred, before you can transfer them to airlines.
So you can still take advantage of this deal if you have enough Ultimate Rewards points to transfer!
Can You Book 1-Way to Japan on United and Return on American Airlines?
Maybe you only have enough United miles for a 1-way ticket. But if you have some American Airlines miles, you could use them for the return trip! (Or vice-versa).
American Airlines off-peak award tickets to Japan actually cost fewer miles (25,000 each way) than United’s spring sale! And their off-peak season (October 1 to April 30) includes all of April!
I checked American Airlines for the same route and dates and found lots of award seats available (slightly fewer on the return).
I went ahead and made a dummy booking on the same dates as United. It cost 50,000 miles and ~$128 in taxes and fees.
American Airlines also lets you have a domestic stopover, and doesn’t restrict you from flying on partner airlines. You can’t do either with the United promotion!
So before you jump on the United sale, you might want to think about booking with American instead. Or booking a 1-way on each airline if you don’t have enough points for a round-trip on either.
You can book round-trip, economy Saver Award tickets on United from the US to Japan for only 52,500 miles. Normally, it would cost 70,000 miles.
But you have to book before April 17, 2014, and travel between now and April 30, 2014. Only United operated flights (not partner airlines) can be used.
If you don’t have enough United miles, you could instantly transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to United. Or just book a 1-way on United and come back on another airline.
Remember that American Airlines has award tickets to Japan for 50,000 miles until the end of April. And they don’t restrict you from flying partner airlines. So that might be a better deal for some folks.
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