When paying more money is the most frugal option

My Hello Kitty-branded ICOCA card. This IC card works as a public transportation card and as electronic money in stores across Japan.
My Hello Kitty-branded ICOCA card. This IC card works as a public transportation card and as electronic money in stores across Japan.

I am back from my epic Asia trip, with the jet lag, farmer’s tan, and ample waistline to prove it. Most of the trip went according to plan, but there were some dramatic changes right at the beginning.

Just after landing in Japan, I learned that a typhoon was threatening the next two flights on my itinerary. The hostel I had booked in Okinawa even emailed saying that they would waive their change fees for the night that I had booked. This was not good news.

Should I call right then to rebook myself away from the path of the typhoon, or should I wait until the typhoon actually hit so that the airlines could accomodate me for free?

I ended up spending about an hour that night on Skype with a call center in Canada and paying change fees and new taxes on one of my airline award tickets. That, I believe, was the more frugal choice, though I could have avoided paying a dime!

My logic was this: do I really want to spend the first few days of my vacation worrying about whether or not I could make the next two flights? Not particularly. I was there to enjoy myself, and enjoy myself I would. Furthermore, if I decided to wait it out, I might have had to stay in the Osaka area on my own dime as the airlines sorted things out. That would definitely have cost me more money than I had planned to spend. In the end, the cost of the change fees was a drop in the bucket compared to the psychological cost of stressing out over this and the potential financial cost of waiting to get on the next flight out.

The story

To recap, my epic Asian itinerary looked like this (as of the time that I landed in Kansai):

epic-asia-map-1

epic-asia-map-2

  • Los Angeles to Kansai in Japan Airlines business class
  • Osaka (Itami) to Naha, Okinawa in All Nippon Airways economy class
  • Naha to Taipei (Taoyuan) in EVA Air business class, connecting to Hong Kong in EVA Air business class
  • Hong Kong to Singapore in Singapore Airlines business class
  • Singapore to Kuala Lumpur on Tigerair
  • Kuala Lumpur to Penang on AirAsia
  • Penang to Singapore on Jetstar Asia
  • Singapore to Taipei (Taoyuan) in Singapore Airlines business class
  • Taipei (Songshan) to Shanghai (Hongqiao) in EVA Air Hello Kitty business class
  • Shanghai (Pudong) to Fukuoka in Air China business class
  • Fukuoka to Osaka (Itami) in All Nippon Airways economy class, operated by Air Ibex
  • Kansai to Los Angeles in Japan Airlines business class

After getting off the Japan Airlines flight at Kansai, I was stuck in the immigration lane for foreigners for two and a half hours (a story for another post). There was no wi-fi in that part of the building, but thankfully my T-Mobile cell phone plan includes free (albeit slow) data roaming overseas.

I checked my e-mail and found that the hostel I had booked in Okinawa had written to warn me about Typhoon Chan-hom, which was going to land on the day of my arrival. They said that they would waive the cancellation fees if I chose to cancel my reservation. I also checked with ANA and EVA, the airlines that would take me from Osaka to Okinawa and from Okinawa to Hong Kong via Taipei. Both said that they were considering cancelling flights to Okinawa that day.

This trip was booked on five separate tickets:

  • Los Angeles to Kansai round-trip: award ticket using American Airlines AAdvantage miles
  • Osaka to Singapore (the long way) round-trip: award ticket using Air Canada’s Aeroplan miles
  • Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur to Penang, and Penang to Singapore: cash tickets on local low-cost airlines

The Okinawa flights were the first few flights on the very complicated Aeroplan ticket. When I got to my hostel in Kyoto several hours later, I decided to give them a call over Skype. It was nearly midnight in Japan, which was definitely business hours in Eastern Canada. The call wouldn’t go through–a problem I had encountered time and time again when I was planning and booking this flight. Bummer. I decided to go to bed, knowing that jet lag would wake me up a few hours later and I could give it another go.

Around 3am Japan time, I woke up and did some more research on the Aeroplan website about possible new flights. I figured that since my plans for a <24 hour layover in Okinawa were dashed, I should try to spend more time in Kyoto, Hong Kong, or both. I found a non-stop Kansai to Hong Kong flight with an available award seat that would allow me to spend an extra day in both places. I noted the flight number, date, and time, and called Aeroplan again.

This time, the call did go through after a few tries. The agent was able to book me on the new Kansai to Hong Kong flight. Aeroplan charged me a CAD 90 change fee (about USD 70 at the time) plus about USD 3 in airport taxes. I tried asking him to waive the change fee because of the typhoon, but the rules were clear: if the airline hasn’t already canceled the flight, they have to charge the change fee.

I did not necessarily want to spend an extra $73 on airline tickets, but it was worth it to me. Lowered anxiety over the next 5 days of my extended trip were worth more than $73. Later on I realized that I actually got quite a deal, because the new itinerary violated a few of Aeroplan’s rules: I wasn’t charged the fuel surcharges that Aeroplan typically levies on international award flights on ANA, and I got a much longer stop in Hong Kong than is typically permitted. Plus, ANA business class for four hours non-stop is much better than a two-hour ANA domestic economy flight connecting to two one-hour EVA business class flights.

I ended up being very happy with my choice. I got to see Kyoto and Hong Kong at a more leisurely pace, and the ANA flight was one of the best of the trip. It was definitely worth the extra spending for me. I know that many other budget travellers would not make the same choice. Would you? What would you have done?

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One thought on “When paying more money is the most frugal option

  1. Pingback: The fancy-frugal way to get to and around Japan | The Itinerant Egghead

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