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Jasmin: One of the challenges of traveling as a family is finding and booking award flights for a larger group. Having 3 kids means I need quadruple the number of miles or points compared to flying solo! And finding available award seats for 4 people can be tricky.
Thus far, I’ve only booked coach flights when I’ve traveled with the kids. Business Class seems wasteful, especially on shorter domestic flights. But I just booked an international itinerary that will knock the kids’ socks off!
I’d been searching for award flights from Asia to the US using American Airlines miles for months. So when I finally found 4 Business Class award seats all the way from Manila, Philippines, to New York (JFK), I pulled the trigger. These flights would cost over $18,000 if we paid cash!
I’ll share the award flights we booked and the process for finding available seats. And remind you of how you can do it, too!
My Biggest Miles Splurge Yet
For years, I’ve dreamed of taking the kids to the Philippines, which is where my mom’s side of the family is from. This year, we’re finally doing it – in style!
I’d already gotten a great deal on Etihad coach flights from New York (JFK) to Manila via Abu Dhabi. But I had held off on firming up return flight plans because I really wanted to treat the kids to Business Class flights coming home. They’ve never flown Business Class, and on a long journey like this I figured we’d make the most of it.
I had a substantial chunk of American Airlines miles I’d been squirreling away for several years with the idea that I’d blow them on an epic trip. I earned them from credit card sign-up bonuses and spending on:
- Barclaycard AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
- Barclaycard US Airways Mastercard (no longer offered) – US Airways miles became American Airlines miles after the merger
American Airlines has made it harder and harder to find low-level award seats on their own planes. But because they’re part of the oneworld alliance, you can use American Airlines miles to book partner award flights on airlines like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Qatar.
American Airlines charges 70,000 American Airlines miles one-way in Business Class between the US and Asia (Region 2), plus taxes and fees. And I had more than enough miles.
But I also knew finding 4 Business Class award seats on a multi-segment itinerary from Asia would be difficult. It took a while, but persistence pays off!
1. Finding Award Seats Was Frustrating at First
As a general rule, most airlines release award seats right when they open their schedule (typically ~11 to 12 months in advance) or within a week or 2 of departure. I started planning this trip ~6 months out, and discovered early on that finding Business Class award seats on our travel dates was next to impossible for 1 person – let alone four!
To get from Manila to New York, there aren’t any non-stop oneworld alliance flights. So we had to make at least one connection. The oneworld options between the US and Asia include:
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
British Airways was out of the question, because their fuel surcharges are horrible. And while I like American Airlines, I really wanted the kids to experience Business Class on an international airline they weren’t likely to fly again any time soon. Cathay Pacific was on the top of the list.
And what makes searching for award seats trickier is that American Airlines won’t show certain partners (including Cathay Pacific) when you search using their website. Instead, I searched using the British Airways website, which is a little cumbersome.
My strategy was to search for the over-water segment first. I knew Cathay Pacific flew from Hong Kong to several US destinations, like New York, Chicago, and Boston. So I focused my attention on those award flights, checking almost every day for months. I’d also peek occasionally at flights to New York via Doha on Qatar, or through Japan on Japan Airlines. No luck all around. Ugh.
2. Think Outside the Box, Be Flexible, and Don’t Give Up!
Admittedly, I was starting to get frustrated. But ~6 weeks prior to our travel dates, I started to see Business Class award seats pop up here and there. Not 4 at once, but 1 or 2 at a time.
I also began expanding my search to include routes and airlines I hadn’t checked often, and dates before and after our original planned return. For example, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines fly to Vancouver non-stop from Asia, so I included those routes in my search. And considered flights to the US from airports other than Tokyo or Hong Kong, like Osaka.
I won’t lie, searching segment-by-segment and fiddling around with all the combinations of routes, airlines, and dates was time consuming. But a few days ago award seats magically appeared – at least 4 Business Class seats home – on the exact date I wanted! I blinked a few times to make sure I was seeing it correctly, but there it was:
- Japan Airlines Business Class Manila to Tokyo (~23 hour overnight layover)
- Japan Airlines Business Class Tokyo to Vancouver (~12 hour daytime layover)
- Cathay Pacific Business Class Vancouver to New York (JFK)
This routing hadn’t been on my radar until fairly recently. I’d forgotten that Cathay Pacific flies a 5th Freedom route between New York and Vancouver.
I also hadn’t considered an overnight along the way. But once I found the seats, I realized an overnight in Tokyo would be a tremendous opportunity for our family. And a day in Vancouver meant we could see my dad, who lives a short ferry ride away in Victoria. 🙂
3. What It Costs, and What We’re Getting
Each Business Class ticket cost 70,000 American Airlines miles plus ~$51 in taxes and fees. The total price was 280,000 American Airlines miles and ~$205 for the 4 of us.
Because I currently have the Barclaycard AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard®, I also got a rebate of 10,000 American Airlines miles. With the card, you get 10% of your redeemed miles back, up to a maximum of 10,000 miles per year.
I searched the identical itinerary using ITA Matrix to see the price of a paid ticket. And found our flights would have cost over $18,000!
In this case, we’re getting a value of ~6.6 cents per American Airlines mile (~$18,080 cash price – $205 taxes and fees / 270,000 miles). Sounds pretty good to me!
Both Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines are known for their incredible service, comfortable Business Class seats, and excellent meals. The kids are especially looking forward to “seats that turn into a bed” and the inflight entertainment system. Me, I’m all about the food and airport lounges! 🙂
Emily had a terrific experience flying Japan Airlines Business Class from Osaka to the US. You can check out her review of Cathay Pacific Business Class, which also looks incredible! So we’re really looking forward to our flights.
I also just booked us a night in one of Tokyo’s top luxury hotels for fewer points than you might expect … but more on that in another post!
Finding Business Class award seats for a family of 4 between Asia and the US took a lot of patience and effort. But it eventually paid off! Because I was able to book myself and the kids in Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific Business Class between Manila, Philippines, and New York (JFK).
We’ll spend a night in Tokyo and a day in Vancouver en route. The total cost was 270,000 American Airlines miles (after a 10,000-mile rebate from having the Barclaycard AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard®) and ~$205 in taxes and fees. Had we paid cash, the tickets would have cost over $18,000!
The kids and I are super excited because it’ll be their first Business Class experience. If you’ve flown these routes, or have recommendations for spending ~23 hours in Tokyo with kids, I’d love to hear your comments!
Come back each Wednesday for a new installment in our Family Travel series!