I mentioned in the previous post that I made a few mistakes when booking my trip to Taipei.
How I Found This Airfare
There are a few methods I use to find airfare. This gets quite technical, so if you just want to hear about me messing up or don’t know that many airport codes off the back of your hand, skip to the next section with the mistakes.
In general, instead of thinking “I want to fly Boston to Tokyo on 1 February and fly back on 15 February,” I think in terms of “I’d like to go to Japan sometime in the Spring if I can find a good fare.” This means that I have to be able to identify what a good fare is. I developed this skill by looking at airfare using Google Flights’ airfare map, doing dummy searches in ITA Matrix’s with multiple cities, and reading travel sites that post “good deals” on airfare. In general, the benchmarks by which I compare airfare is:
- Boston or New York to London costs $500 roundtrip for non-basic Economy, -$100 for basic economy, +$100 in the summer. London is generally the cheapest place to fly in Europe due to heavy competition on the route; connections to other points in Europe usually increase the price.
- US to Asia costs $1000 roundtrip for Economy, though this is not a hard and fast rule. The cheapest places to fly in Asia are usually in China, followed by certain places in South Asia, usually places in Thailand and Vietnam, followed by large westernized cities such as Singapore, Seoul, and Tokyo.
- Under $1500 RT for business class to Europe is a good deal. This will be subjective, but given how short most transatlantic flights are from Boston, it’s hard to justify a significant premium.
- Under $2000 RT for business class to East Asia is a really good deal. This is also subjective; I consider this to be on the very cheap end of valuations for people who buy business class fares with cash.
I have a friend in Taipei, and I was searching ITA Matrix for BOS/NYC/ORD (Boston, New York, and Chicago) to TPE/TSA (both airports in Taipei) using the calendar view, when I found a roughly $2300 roundtrip business class fare from New York to Taipei. I read the fare rules and it required the transpacific segment be on American or JAL; limiting the search in ITA Matrix to American or JAL brought up many more options. At this point, I saw an interesting routing via Los Angeles and Osaka which would let me ride on American’s A321T, which I find very cool.
$2300 is a good fare, but not great. However, one of the ways to bring airfares down on certain airlines is the American Express International Airline Program (IAP). It provides discounts on airfare to people with Amex Platinum credit cards, which cost a $550/yr annual fee to have. The airfare must meet all of the following criteria:
- International airfare
- Beginning in the US.
- On certain airlines.
Until recently, you had to search for and book IAP fares over the phone, but now if you search on amextravel.com when logged in to an account with a Platinum card, it will show you certain IAP itineraries, though the full set is still only available if you call.
Japan Airlines is one of the IAP airlines, and when I searched for the itinerary through Amex it showed up with a new price of $2019. At this point, I decided it was worth it and pulled the trigger, with the following itinerary:
- New York - Kennedy (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) – American Airlines Airbus A321T
- Los Angeles (LAX) to Osaka Kansai (KIX) – Japan Airlines Boeing 787-9
Osaka Kansai (KIX) to Taipei Taoyuan (TPE) – Japan Airlines Boeing 737-800
- Taipei Taoyuan (TPE) to Tokyo Narita (NRT) – Japan Airlines Boeing 737-800
- Tokyo Narita (NRT) to Boston (BOS) – Japan Airlines Boeing 787-9
- Boston (BOS) to New York - Kennedy (JFK) – American Airlines Boeing 737-800
I had the choice of flying American on the transpacific sector, but I loved Japan Airlines the last time I flew with them, and I love the obscurity of the Los Angeles to Osaka flight, and the Tokyo to Boston flight is interesting to me because it was the first regular commercial flight from Boston to Asia, and proved that airlines could fly to Asia profitably from Boston.
Mistake #1: Chinese New Year
At the time I was booking it, I was excited to be in Taiwan for the Chinese New Year celebration. However I had not realized the time change: I was leaving New York 2 days before Chinese New Year, but I arrive at 9 PM on New Year’s Eve. Luckily the Metro runs for extended hours, but I am nervous about crowding and finding my way to my hotel. Additionally, if my flight to Taipei is significantly delayed, I am concerned about finding a cab past midnight.
My friend wanted to travel to Japan during his break from school for the new year. However, I had not realized that everyone in Taiwan travels for lunar new year. Turns out, this makes flights to anywhere really expensive, and means no award availability. Oops.
Mistake #2: Timing and Routing
I had also thought that there would be plenty of time for a side-trip, given that I would be gone from home for two weeks. However, I get closer to 10 days on the ground in Taiwan, and now I would spend 6 or 7 days in Japan, assuming I was able to find good flights.
Had I been much smarter, I would have planned the entire trip at once. This fare allows for stopovers in Japan for $100, so I could have built-in time in Japan with my friend at the beginning or end of the trip and not have had to backtrack, or pay for separate tickets to/from Japan. Oops again.
What did I Learn?
It would have been worth taking the time to do a bit more coordination with my friend and trip planning. Really good airfares tend to disappear shortly after they hit major blog sites and the internet finds out about them. However, airfares that you find independently will probably stay around long enough to do a bit more trip planning, which I should have done.
This airfare is still around and valid for the spring; it would be a very good sakura fare to see cherry blossoms, especially given the inexpensive stopover in Japan.