I wrote in January, before COVID-19 was a pandemic, about trips that I had planned. One of those was a wonderful trip to Japan that I booked with frequent flyer miles – I managed to find two seats in Japan Airlines First Class from Chicago to Tokyo, and then we were going to fly from Nagoya to Detroit on Delta’s A330, which I loved becuase it’s a rather obscure route and it seems that there are almost always business class award seats.

Then I convinced a third friend to come along, and there weren’t any more award seats on Nagoya to Detroit near the date we planned to leave.

So, since the trip back was booked with Virgin Atlantic miles, I started poking around for a way to get three people back on the same flight. COVID-19 has caused there to be a glut of award availability, but it seems that there is not any Delta award availability out of Nagoya, Osaka, or Tokyo near our departure date. So I widened the search a bit and checked out of Seoul. As luck would have it, there are three award seats on Delta’s A350, which has much nicer seats in business class (suites with doors!).

My award search (for 3 people).

We were likely going to have to take a Shinkansen or domestic flight down to Nagoya anyway, since we were planning on exploring northern Japan. Now we will have to take an intra-Asia flight; although intra-Asia flights can actually be quite expensive cash-wise, award ticket rates are usually quite good. For award tickets, it looks like we have the following options for Japan to Korea:

  • Korean Air - Bookable through Delta with 7,500 SkyMiles + $34 per person.
  • Asiana Airlines - Bookable through United for 8,000 miles + $34 per person (and they fly an A380 on this route).
  • Japan Airlines - Bookable through Japan Airlines for 7,500 miles + $42, or British Airways for 9,000 miles + $42 per person.

When paid with cash, most of these tickets are in the $250 range, so it looks like it is possible to get between about 2.3 and 2.9 cents per mile, depending on whose miles you spend. Given that Delta SkyMiles are usually redeemable for about 1.1 cents per point on domestic Delta flights, and in this case I would get 2.88, I probably will book the Korean Air flights through Delta. Asiana’s A380 is quite attractive as well, though I think United miles are generally a bit more valuable than Delta miles.

Returning from Seoul also solves another problem – this flight gets in earlier than our other flight, and we were probably going to get back to Boston or Providence at 10 pm. Now we can book an earlier connecting flight and get back closer to 4 pm.

Bottom Line

Consider widening your search, and know the cost of positioning flights, especially the differences between the cash cost and the miles cost. You might be able to take more people along and be pleasantly surprised with a nicer airplane and a better routing.