Olympics Planning 101: Olympics Flights
Planning an Olympics trip is not easy, but don’t worry we are here to help. With our Tokyo 2020 Olympics Planning Series, we will walk you through every step of the planning process. We started with buying tickets to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Now that you have your tickets, how are you going to get to Tokyo? When should you book your flights? Should you use cash? Points? Olympics 101: Flight covers all of these topics and more.
When to Book your Olympics Flights
While event ticket demand may be at an all time Olympics high, there seems plenty of flight availability to Tokyo for the games. Well at least for cash bookings. Given this, put your initial focus on getting event tickets. Given the Tokyo 2020 craze, unlike past Olympics, you may not be able to get event tickets in country. Even if you can get tickets, they will likely be at scalped prices. So, it does not make a lot of sense to put your wallet through the major expense of booking hotels and flights when there is no guarantee you will be able see any events.
Most airlines put flights up to purchase somewhere between 330 to 365 days from the date of departure. While we are well inside this window, if you are planning for 2022, you should start tracking prices at this time. So now that we are inside this purchase window when is the best time to buy? There is no good answer to this. There are many myths about when to buy tickets. Some say to always buy on Tuesday. While, others say you should always book 76 days out. Or maybe you should always book last minute. These are myths with little data to back them up. The best way to know when to book your flight is to track your flights (I like to use Google Flights) and book when you see a price you are comfortable with.
Sites like google flights and hopper are able to help you, letting you know what the typical price is for your trip. Just be aware that these algorithms do not always take into account the increased demand for Olympics flights, but they are at least a good baseline.
What Airport Should I Fly Into?
There are two main international airports in Tokyo: Haneda (HND) and Narita (NRT). Narita is the larger of the two airports, but Haneda is rapidly growing. The reason for this growth is location. Haneda is about 30 minutes from the center of Tokyo by public transportation and only about 15-20 minutes by car. While Narita is about an hour and a half from Tokyo by public transportation and about an hour by car with good traffic. This has left airlines fighting over any available landing/departure slots at Haneda.
Ideally you should book a flight into Haneda. Jet-lagged and tired upon your landing in Tokyo you really are not going to want to try to manage a long subway journey or sit in traffic. However, as Narita is the larger airport, you may have more options flying into Narita. So track both airports using the airport code TYO (it will give you results for all Tokyo Airports). While I would rather land at Haneda, I did end up booking my flight into Narita because that is where I found the best value for my points.
Booking Olympics Flights With Cash
The vast majority of people will book their flights with cash. This is something that is done every day, so I will not bore you with the process. I will, however, provide you with some basic tips for finding the best flights from your home location to Tokyo:
Use Google Flights to track prices for your Olympics flights.
Before booking search your flights on SkyScanner and/or Momondo to see if you can get a better fare through a Third Party
If you do book through a third-party keep in mind if you need to change your flight or there is an issue with your flight you are subject to the mercy of the third-party’s customer service.
Constantly monitor your flights and don’t just limit yourself to your track there are lots of flight booking sites that might find something you cant.Lately I have been finding the best rates on Skiplagged that are not hidden city ticketing, but I can’t find anywhere else.
Don’t be afraid of layovers. Even long ones.
I understand the allure of a direct flight, but remember this is your Olympics adventure. Layovers can sometimes cut your price in half and a long layover could leave you time to explore a new city. Some cities even offer free tours for those on long layovers.
Be Creative with your routing and track prices from major airports and use positioning flights.
This is a big one. I have seen people on Olympics message boards lament about how expensive their flights are because they are based in a smaller market. If you happen to be one of those people, track prices out of major cities like Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), New York (EWR and JFK), and Chicago (ORD). Often flights out of major cities are a fraction of the price of the major airports.
If you find a cheap price from a major airport determine how much a positioning flight to that airport would cost. Often it is cheaper than booking everything in one itinerary. If you use this strategy, make sure you give yourself extra time on your layover. If your positioning flight is late and you miss your connection the airline may not help you out. This strategy saved people hundreds if not thousands of dollars when Singapore Airlines offered $600 round trip flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo.
What if the Price Drops After I book?
Most people think once you book your flight you are locked into the price you paid. While this is basically true, there are circumstances where you may be able to get money back in the even of a price drop.
Within 24 Hours After Booking
The USDOT requires a 24-hour free cancellation on flights either departing the US or on US based airlines. If your the price drops within 24 hours you can retook at the lower price and cancel your original ticket. Make Sure you book the new ticket first as your cancellation could cause the fare to jump back up. Cancellation within 24-hours is straight forward; it gets a bit more complicated after 24-hours, but you should still track.
After 24 Hours
Once you are outside of the 24-hour window you are a the mercy of the terms and conditions of your booking. Generally, all flights but basic economy have some sort of cancellation or change fee. Once you are booked you are locked into that cancellation or change policy. So if your price drops outside of this 24-hour window, you will need to follow these steps:
- Call the airline to find out what your change/cancellation fee is.
- If the difference between the original fare and the new fare is more than the change fee have the airline re-book you and refund you the difference.
This especially comes in handy with premium bookings. Premium tickets fluctuate more than economy, and are more likely to have a significant drop. Take Stanley for example. He booked a $1,990 dollar premium economy ticket which dropped $825. He called the airline and was able to get $575 back after the $250 change fee.
Booking Olympics Flights With Points
As a frugal traveler, I always have a bank of points at the ready. Whether it is frequent flyer miles or credit card points, I am prepared should the need arise. Such a need did arise for my Olympics flights. Well not so much a need, but at least a hassle-free desire to lock my flights in early. The first thing you need to do if you want to book with points is consider your options. What airlines to do you have access to? Where can you transfer your credit card points?
Booking Olympics Flights With Points General Tips:
- Be patient. Award availability is constantly in a state of flux. Just because there is no availability today does not mean there won’t be next week.
- Look at the current credit card sign-up bonuses. They change constantly some may cover your entire trip. There is nothing wrong with getting the bonus and cancelling after the first year.
- Remember to think about all your options. Chase transfer partners can be found here, AMEX here, and Citi here. Additionally be aware that not all partners are instant transfer, check the terms and conditions on the points transfer page.
- DO NOT TRANSFER YOUR POINTS UNTIL YOU HAVE CONFIRMED AVAILABILITY
- Remember you can book on partner airlines (ex. you can use BA Avios to book on Japan Airlines)
- Don’t Be a points hoarder. Points are made to be spent and devaluations happen.
Oneworld Alliance Airlines
I am breaking points booking down by alliance. This is because, generally, you can use your miles with one airline to book flights on any alliance member. The Oneworld Alliance consists of:
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- LATAM (unltil Oct. 1)
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airline
- SriLankan Airlines
This is a great alliance to consider for your flights you have access to Japan Airlines to get into Tokyo. there are also several other airlines which also have flights into Tokyo from all over the world. While you can use miles from all of these airlines to book, I am going to focus on American Airlines Miles and British Airways Avios. As these are arguably the two largest Oneworld currencies.
American Airlines Miles
American Airlines recently switched to a Dynamic Award Pricing system. This means you can never know what the price for flights in points is going to be. Really this new system is utter nonsense, but that doesn’t mean there are not good redemptions to be had. When looking for your Olympics Flights, it is best to book American Awards as one way flights. This is because the price for one leg of the trip may be disproportionately high. This is the case for Olympics flights. Flights to Tokyo can be had for as low as 20,000 American Airlines Miles, but flights back start at the absurd rate of 105,000 miles.
If you have a stash of American miles you may want to book a one way, and pay cash or utilize other miles for the way back. It is important to note that there is no way to transfer credit card points to American Airlines. You can, however, transfer Marriott Bonvoy Points, but the transfer rate is 3 Marriott Points to 1 American Airlines mile. At this ratio it is rarely worth it.
British Airway Avios
British Airways Avios bookings are the exact opposite of AA Miles. With BA you know exactly what you are getting because their awards prices are distance-based. With a distance based rewards chart you do not have to worry about Tokyo2020 price gouging. Nerd Wallet has a great usable BA Award Chart. Personally I find BA Award booking process pretty easy to navigate, and from the US you should be able to book flights to Tokyo on American Airlines, Japan Airlines, and Cathay Pacific directly through their website. The biggest downside to British Airways compared to American is you will generally have to pay significantly higher taxes and fees on your award redemption.
I choose to book our tickets through British Airways because of their transfer partners. You can transfer both Chase Ultimate Rewards Points and American Express Rewards Points to British Airways on a 1:1 basis, and at least twice a year you will find transfer bonuses of up to 40% offered by AMEX or Chase. I transferred a stash of my AMEX points to British Airways during one such bonus period to book my Olympics flights.
In all my flight to Tokyo from Seattle Cost 25,750 British Airways Avios (about 18,000 AMEX Points before the transfer bonus) + $160 in taxes and fees each. The flight was a bit more expensive as we are coming home after visiting Hong Kong, so that flight was 30,000 British Airways Avios + $152 in taxes and fees each.
Star Alliance Consists of:
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- Brussels Airlines
- Croatia Airlines
- Egypt Air
- EVA Air
- Lot Polish Airlines
- Shenzen Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
As you can see the Star Alliance has a plethora of Asian airlines. Aside from ANA which is going to have the most direct routes to Tokyo, you have EVA, Thai, Asiana, and Singapore as big airlines with routes to Japan.
United Airlines Miles
Unfortunately, like American, United changed to a Dynamic Award Pricing Model. Which again means the amount of points you need for your Olympic flights will change by the day. They have, however, provided a chart which tells you the minimum number of points you need for partner awards. Depending on your exact dates it looks like you will need about 35,000 miles for the way there, but between 80-100k for the way back (unless you are looking at a trip that extends past the closing ceremonies then you can get a 35,000 mile return).
With United, if you can find the right prices it is best to book as a multi city round trip, so you can utilize United’s Excursionist Perk. This perk allows you to add a stopover destination (within the region) at no additional cost. United Considers Japan its own region, so you will only be able to get the free connection on flights within Japan. While this is extremely limiting, it does allow you to book a stop in somewhere like Osaka or Nagasaki for free.
United partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 basis.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least briefly mention Avianca LifeMiles. They are another start alliance partner that is very flexible in finding Star Alliance award space. Avianca also has a published award chart and frequently runs sales between specific cities. The most important reason why they should be mentioned is because they are a transfer partner with both AMEX Rewards at a 1:1 basis and Citi ThankYou Points on a 1:1 basis. Additionally they frequently have promotion sales where you can buy their points at about 1.5 cents a piece with an up to 140% bonus. This can be great value for a business or first class Olympic flight.
SkyTeam member airlines include:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Aero Mexico
- Air Europa
- Air France
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- Czech airlines
- Garuda Indonesia
- Kenya Airways
- Vietnam Airlines
- Xiamen Air
While SkyTeam has a decent number of Asian airlines, I feel like they have some of the least impressive options to get yourself to Japan for the Olmypics. Delta, KLM, and Air France arguably the 3 biggest currencies in the alliance use Dynamic Pricing and unless they are running a sale on flights prices will change daily and can become absurdly expensive.
Currently Delta has round-trip Olympic flights starting at 67,000 miles + $139.95 taxes and fees (pretty reasonable) in economy but if you are looking for business you are going to need to shell out about 205,000 +$150.35 Delta points can be transferred on a 1:1 basis from AMEX. While Flying Blue only has availability to get to Tokyo at 46,000 miles + $118.20 taxes and fees, but no way for you to get back.
Alaska Airlines is not part of any alliance and does not fly to Japan, but has options of airline partners to redeem miles for your Olympics flight and is one of the better values for first class bookings. Unlike the other US airlines, Alaska is still on a reward chart with its international partners. The one-way reward costs to Tokyo are as follows:
- Japan Airlines — Economy: 35,000 Miles; Business: 60,000 Miles; First: 70,000 Miles
- American Airlines — Economy: 32,500 Miles; Business: 60,000 Miles; First: 80,000 Miles
- Singapore Airlines — Economy 40,000 Miles; Business: 80,000 Miles; First: 110,000 Miles
One interesting thing to note about Alaska is they allow you to book a free stopover on award tickets. The only catch is all your flights must be on the same airline and your stop over must be in that airlines hub city. Which means you can use Tokyo as your stopover on your way to another country that Japan Airlines flies or your can book a stopover in Singapore if you fly Singapore Airlines
You have countless options to get your Tokyo 2020 Olympics Flights. Whether you book with cash or points, the key is to be patient and embrace your adventurous spirit.