My epic Asia trip, and why I think business class is worth it (this time)

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Over the next few weeks I will be embarking on an epic trip around Asia. It’s epic for a number of reasons:

  • It involves 13 segments (flights) in a bit over three weeks.
  • 8 of those segments (including the longhaul ones) are in business class.
  • The business class segment I’m looking foward to the most is on one of EVA Air’s over-the-top Hello Kitty planes.
  • I only spent $277.67 on airfare in total. Most of this was on taxes and fees for miles bookings; the rest was on short flights on low-cost carriers.

Why this trip?

A few months ago I figured that July would be a good time, both personally and professionally, for a long-ish break. I had a bunch of miles to spend through various airlines and credit card programs (details to follow in later posts) and figured that I should go to Singapore, where I could stay with a friend.

Though I started with just one destination in mind, I eventually ended up with this massive, complex itinerary:

  • Los Angeles to Kansai in Japan Airlines business class
  • Osaka (Itami) to Naha 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

Most of the complexity comes from maximizing award ticket routing rules. For example, the Naha, Taipei, Shanghai, and Fukuoka stops are all less than 24 hours, which were free to add to the itinerary using Air Canada’s Aeroplan miles. The Hong Kong stop was supposed to be one of these <24 hour stops, but I was able to extend it by another day because my original routing through Seoul was canceled due to MERS paranoia.

Business class? But YJ, you’re a grad student! How? Why?

Why would I pay the premium for business class instead of saving the miles for another trip? There were a lot of considerations:

From an economic perspective, it made more sense to fly in business this time around.

  • There’s no point in hoarding points. The airlines decide how much a mile is worth, and they can change the value at whim. A flight from the US to Japan might be 30,000 miles today and 150,000 tomorrow. If you have 50,000 now, you might as well spend it now.
  • A business class ticket generally costs up to twice as many miles as an economy ticket. Sometimes, the premium is even less. For example, one-way business class between the US and Japan is 50,000 American Airlines miles right now, versus 32,500 for economy. The cost in cash for a business class ticket, though, is quite a few times higher than for economy. So if you have the points to afford a business class ticket, then you’d get a better deal by redeeming for business class, in terms of cents per mile.
  • In many cases, the fees and taxes that you’d pay for a business class award ticket are exactly the same as for an economy ticket. Same amount of cash, several times the value.

Flying business also makes sense from a personal perspective.

  • I don’t know when my next big trip will be, and I don’t know what I could get with my miles by the time the next trip opportunity comes along. The graduate school lifestyle is an incredibly unstable one, and it’s hard to plan more than one school term in advance.
  • Having read so much about flying internationally in premium cabins, I figured I should try it out at least once, especially if I don’t have to pay cash for the experience.
  • In some odd ways, this is the more frugal choice. I value food experiences highly, and I expect that the food on all of the business class flights will be excellent, save the short hop on Air China. I will also save on food by being able to eat in the lounges while waiting for my flights. No need to pay for overpriced airport food or stuff convenience store snacks in the carryon!

In the posts to come, I will go into the details of getting the miles, selecting the destinations, and booking the trip. I’ll also review all of the flights and airline lounges and share some tips for saving money and maximizing value while overseas.