I Need Your Help – 2020 Tokyo Olympics Flight Options, Which Would You Take?

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Shinjuku night view.

Looking For Others’ Opinions on “Once in a Lifetime” Flights for a Tokyo Olympics Trip

Decisions, decisions. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics coming up next year, my wife and I are anxiously awaiting ticket sales, looking at flight options, and making plans to go. We are looking at some great luxury flight options but can’t decide on which one to choose.

Going to the Olympics has been a bucket list item for a long time. We want to make a “splurge” trip for the games (which also will be our first time seeing Japan), and then taking something crazy, something “once in a lifetime” for our flights home. I’m looking at options and can’t decide which is best. What would you choose from these options?

Tokyo Olympics flight options

Background info for the trip

You might be wondering “why now?”, since the games are over a year away. Most airlines make award space available 355 days in advance. With big events like the Olympics, when you have a bunch of people trying to travel to the same place at the same time, award space goes fast. I want to be ready on the day options become available. Thus, here is what we’ve narrowed it down to for 2020 Tokyo Olympics flight options.

About us: we live in Brazil, which has some positives and negatives for this trip. For one, we want to avoid routes that will go through the US, mainly because everyone will be clamoring for award space between the US and Japan around the time of the Olympics, but also because clearing US customs/passport control is a headache that we can avoid if not necessary. There aren’t direct flights between Japan and Brazil, so that complicates routing, as well.

We have a lot of AA miles at present and want to use these as part of the equation. Routing through the US would cost more miles with AA than avoiding the US, which seems funny. We also have a decent amount of points in other places (Amex MR, Chase UR, Citi TY) that we could add together, if using an airline that accepts all of these. However, we don’t have enough in one place to book ANA first class or Emirates first class or other options that accept only minimal transfer partners.

When you look at wanting to use AA currency or an airline that accepts all types of transferable points, the choices here for “once in a lifetime” premium cabins look like Etihad Apartments or Singapore Suites.

Tokyo Olympics – Flight Options Going Home to Brazil

Here are the routing options, some relevant details, and associated costs. Help us make our decision!

Etihad Airways flight options

Option 1 – Etihad Apartments and British Airways/LATAM business class

Step 1: Tokyo Narita (NRT) to Seoul Incheon (ICN)

Cash fare: $99 each
Etihad Apartments don’t fly from Tokyo, so we’d need to go to Seoul to get to the starting point. That would mean taking a Korean Air economy flight for around $99 a person to get to Seoul.

At this price, it’s worth the cash fare for a flight that lasts 2:45 and would only save me $65 after the taxes on Delta + 7,500 Delta SkyMiles each, booking onto the same flight.

Step 2: Seoul Incheon (ICN) to Abu Dhabi (AUH) to London Heathrow (LHR) or Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)

90,000 AAdvantage miles + $35.10 taxes, each
Etihad Apartments first class to Abu Dhabi (10:35 flight time), 3.5hr layover, then Abu Dhabi to Paris (7 hours) or London (10 hours).

Step 3: London Heathrow (LHR) or Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to São Paulo Guarulhos (GRU)

87,500 AAdvantage miles + taxes ($287 or $115), each
London offers British Airways or LATAM as options for business class home to Brazil from Europe, while Paris gives only LATAM as a One World Partner. London would have $287 each in taxes, while departing from Paris would require only $115 in taxes. Flight times are roughly the same (11:30-11:50 duration).

Total: 177,500 AAdvantage miles + $249.10 / $421.10 each

Option 2 – Singapore Suites and British Airways/LATAM business class

Step 1: Tokyo Narita (NRT) to Singapore (SIN) to London Heathrow (LHR) or Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)

153,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles + $40.18, each
Singapore Suites first class to Singapore (7:40 flight time), 6hr layover, then Singapore Suites to London or Paris (roughly 13 hours flight time each).

Step 2: London Heathrow (LHR) or Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to São Paulo Guarulhos (GRU)

87,500 AA miles each + taxes ($287 or $115), each
Same options split between London and Paris as the previous option. London would have $287 each in taxes, while departing from Paris would require only $115 in taxes.

Total: 153,000 KrisFlyer miles + 87,500 AAdvantage miles + $155.18 / $327.10 each

Qantas flight options

Option 3 – Singapore Suites and Qantas business class

Step 1: Tokyo Narita (NRT) to Singapore (SIN) to Sydney (SYD)

115,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles + $62.45, each
Singapore Suites first class to Singapore (7:40 flight time), 3hr layover, then Singapore Suites to Sydney, Australia (9 hours flight time)

Step 2: Sydney (SYD) to Santiago (SCL) to São Paulo Guarulhos (GRU)

82,500 AAdvantage miles + $72, each
Qantas business class to Santiago, Chile (12:20 flight time), 1:20 layover, and then LATAM business class to São Paulo (3:55 flight time).

Total: 115,000 KrisFlyer miles + 82,500 AAdvantage miles + $134.45

Weighing the options

All of the options have positives and negatives. Let’s look at them from my perspective.

Negatives

First, they all have the same negative: changing from one booking to another requires claiming luggage and doing a new check-in, which means also going through passport control and airport security during the change-over.

Second, they all take a lot of time, but we are aware of that. This is a “splurge” trip for us, and we know it’s going to take at least a day. We’re looking at this as an experience, rather than something that’s about efficiency.

Obviously, these are going to eat a lot of points, but we don’t splurge like this all the time, so it won’t kill us.

Some of the negatives that are different and need weighed are “more points vs less taxes” and how one rates LATAM against British Airways against Qantas for business class products and whether these differences can be justified or not by points or taxes involved.

There’s also the negative that AA makes Etihad bookable online (and results are easy to search), but LATAM flights require a phone call for booking.

 

AA Makes Changes to Award levels for Canada and Hawaii

Positives

The positives include trying great products, clearly.

I’ve been to Singapore, but my wife hasn’t. We’ve both been to Australia, but neither of us has been to Abu Dhabi. A first time seeing new airports and viewing new cities on take off/landing could be seen as positives. There also are new, premium lounges to try (check our reviews on Abu Dhabi and Singapore airport lounges).

One positives of the Australia route over the Europe route is not needing to jump to Seoul, South Korea to start, since we’ll be starting from Tokyo. This saves some time, cost, and effort.

A positive for using Singapore would be the fact I already have 40,000 points in my account from an award disappearing while I was waiting for points to transfer a few months ago.

luxury flight options

Also in this decision

Other things we’re considering in this scenario: we also want to go to the Qatar World Cup in 2022, so we could use Middle Eastern airlines like Etihad or Emirates at that time. We are flying Qatar Airways QSuites business class home from Maldives next month, so we ideally want to continue trying new products when going to the Middle East for the 2022 World Cup.

Obviously, a lot can change in these next 2 years. Will booking Etihad Apartments with AAdvantage miles still be possible then if we don’t take it now (there have been rumors about this ending in 2019)? Will booking Emirates have new routes or new paths for the best use of points?

Booking Singapore Suites with KrisFlyer miles isn’t going to go away, even if the currencies they accept might change in some ways (or if they devalue awards again). The process of making the booking likely won’t change much, if at all. This is a product we could book later, if we don’t book it now.

However, booking Etihad via American Airlines might go away in 2 years, since things are always changing. Booking with Etihad itself (Amex MR transfer partner) requires significantly more points. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a small part of the decision on “can we book this later?” for us.

Final Thoughts

If this were for you and a partner, which Tokyo Olympics flight options would you choose? Why? Is there a path that I’m missing or a better use of points I’ve overlooked? I’d love to hear pros and cons in making a big choice like this. Thanks!

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10 COMMENTS

  1. “We also want to go to the Qatar World Cup in 2022, so we could use Middle Eastern airlines like Etihad or Emirates at that time.“

    Assuming the current political situation in the region gets resolved and you can actually travel between UAE and Qatar by then…

    • Great point. Right now, we’d have to 3rd leg that trip via another country.
      I imagine FIFA will apply their normal pressure, such as “visa free” during the Cup, pushing for alcohol at the games (Budweiser is a major sponsor), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see movement on this aspect, also, around the time of the games.

  2. Is there any reason why you can’t add HND/NRT(?)-GMP on JL to the AA award with Etihad from ICN?
    Just a thought but $99 fare won’t kill you 😛

    • Jason – whenever I play around with the online booking tool, if I choose departing from Tokyo, it tries to route me through the US and won’t give me the Etihad options. Maybe via phone, this could be possible. This is why getting more opinions is great. I’ll take a look when booking time arrives.

    • Just remember for AAdvantage awards in order to redeem them that route has to have a published fare too. Not sure if there’s a published fare for NRT-GMP/ICN-AUH.

      • I’m not familiar with this rule but after some reading here’s my question: does the routing matter as long as there’s a published fare by trans-region carrier between the origin and destination?
        And can you have a published fare from NRT but not HND? Seems like JL only flies HND-GMP 😉

        GMP and ICN are served by the same railroad line. I’ve never done it but the web is saying 35 minute ride and cost ~3500 won.

        • Jason – here’s the gist:
          “Published fare” basically means you need to be able to buy this ticket. You can’t make up your own route. If an award starts getting too interesting, go online and see if you can find a way to buy that ticket with those flights. If not, 99% chance you can’t book it as an award.

          A good example of this is that many airlines don’t allow mixed cabin bookings from economy to first or from one partner to another if it’s a special partner to another special (rather than the traditional alliance). AA has a bunch of rules on mixing cabins and mixing partners. If the choice is between claiming bags and exiting to change airports or collecting bags to check in for a flight at the same airport, I’ll pay $99 to not have to change airports.

  3. This is awesome! I’ve been going to the Olympics since 2010 and boy, I think you guys should have gone to Rio2016 since you live in Brazil. Tickets were plentiful and cheap compared to Tokyo!
    Anyway, your routings sound great. If Korean Air still had its GRU-LAX flight that would have been a great option since it had a lot of award availability.
    China Southern has tons of award space and is now redeemable on AAdvantage miles so perhaps use that as an option (though I understand it may not be ‘aspirational’.)
    Aeromexico has a MEX-NRT nonstop flight. If you have points that transfer to skyteam then this would be another option to get to/from NRT.
    Good luck! At this point, I say just take whichever route has availability. Getting event tickets may be harder since the last time Olympics was in Asia was back in 1988.

    • The last summer Olympics in Asia was Beijing 2008. If you include winter Olympics, the last one in Asia was PyeongChang 2018.

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