Finding Awesome Award Seats to Japan and Our Delayed Positioning Flight (Trip Report)

Southwest, Trip Reports

As you know, I was on vacation a couple weeks ago, but what you might not know is that this was the first time my wife and I had taken a vacation together outside the country in six years. The kids are old enough that we could leave them with the grandparents, so we decided to do something fun and special. When we started considering options, Japan quickly floated to the top of the list. Neither of us had been, and we both really wanted to go.

Hello Kitty Narita

This is going to be a three-part post. Today I’ll focus on the hunt for the right flights and then our delayed flight on Southwest to San Jose. That was our positioning flight to get to the awesomeness, so you’ll have to wait for that in parts 2 and 3. Now, on with the story.

The first order of business, naturally, was to figure out our flight plan. I have a ton of Amex points and my wife had some United points lying around. We started searching last July and had tremendous flexibility, so I knew we’d find something. Just before the hunt began, my wife said she really wanted to fly a 787 one way and an A380 the other. Uh, ok, that was going to make things a little tougher, but I was ready for the challenge. And we found something awesome.

On the way out, a good 787 option immediately popped up on ANA from San Jose to Tokyo in Business Class. ANA puts a really nice staggered business class seat on those airplanes, so it seemed like a great plan. I put 75,000 Amex points into an Aeroplan account and then used those plus $317.50 to reserve my ticket. My wife used 75,000 miles from her United account plus tax and we were good. Oh, but there was one problem. I forgot that United dropped LA to San Jose (still surprises me) so we couldn’t easily get to San Jose. That was a bummer, but we opted to just buy a ticket on Southwest with a good buffer so that we’d have no trouble. We paid $77 for my wife’s ticket and I used 4,096 Rapid Rewards points I had earned plus $5.60.

Then came the return. This was tougher since it meant we needed to find an A380. And there aren’t a lot of options. I thought about backtracking through Korea since both Korean and Asiana use the A380 multiple times a day to LA, but what I really wanted was business class on the Singapore A380 that flies Tokyo to LA nonstop. I searched over a several week date-span and found nothing. I was about to give up when, on a whim, I decided to search for Suites. Holy crap, there were 2 seats available on one of the days we wanted. This was the best deal of all. For only 74,375 Amex points per person transferred into Singapore’s program along with JPY 21,450 ($217.21 at the time), we were set. Then we just had to wait 10 more months before we’d be ready to go….

In the meantime, we put together one heck of a trip, but this is an airline industry blog so I won’t talk much about it. Let me just say that I can’t thank Boutique Japan enough for helping us put together something fantastic. After 10 months of planning, the time had come to finally get on an airplane.

For our first flight, we only cared about one thing: an on-time hop up to San Jose. That didn’t happen. We booked Southwest because it left a 3 hour and 45 minute connection in San Jose, figuring we’d have plenty of time. That was really important since we had to claim our bags and re-check them. Plus Southwest has multiple flights if things really got ugly.

I made the mistake of turning off my work urgent alerts the night before the trip began, so it was only when I checked email in the car on the way to LAX that I realized our airplane was late from Dallas. Our flight was running more than an hour behind schedule. There was no point in turning around; we figured we’d just wait it out at the airport.

Southwest Terminal 1 Construction

At LAX, the Southwest counter was strangely empty, so it took us no time to each check a bag. We then went through security and quickly wished we had brought our battle armor. Terminal 1 is under mega-renovation. Several gates are closed as are most of the eateries. That central area has a low hanging net blocking exposed ceiling-work. When we got to the bulk of the gates at the end, we saw madness. There are nowhere near enough seats for the swelling crowd, and random temporary replacement shop locations make it more crowded. Then there’s the line for Starbucks, which was probably 30+ people deep and blocked gates on its own. It was madness, and we were going to be there for awhile.

We waited until we saw a couple get up and then we pounced on their seats. Victory! Then we waited more. The deafening roar of announcements from all the surrounding gates was overwhelming. Finally our airplane arrived and they had us get in line. Naturally our gate (16B, which like all other gates in Terminal 1 has been renumbered) was right next to a flight to Oakland on one side and the next San Jose flight on the other, which left just a couple minutes after us. There was a fair bit of confusion but eventually it all settled out and we boarded.

May 22, 2015
Southwest 4370 Lv Los Angeles 755a Arr San Jose 9a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 16B, Runway 24L, Depart 1h24m Late
San Jose (SJC): Gate 19, Runway 30L, Arrive 1h23m Late
N422WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue colors, 92% Full
Seat 6F, Coach
Flight Time 49m

We had A52 and A55 on our boarding passes, so that was enough to get a window and middle in row 6. After everyone boarded, we took off and it was a perfectly normal flight into San Jose. The only thing of note is that after several previous attempts, this was the first time I’ve ever been able to get the Live TV to work on my phone.

We landed at gate 19 and our connection was at gate 15. Easy enough, right? Ha. Since Southwest doesn’t interline with anyone (as we fully understood beforehand), we had to walk all the way to the south end of Terminal B (not a short walk) where the oddly-placed exit is. Then we went outside security and downstairs to get our bags. Only Southwest and Alaska have their ticket counter in that terminal, however, so we had to then walk outside and go all the way back north to Terminal A before heading back to gate 15. It was one big circle.

The Long Walk in San Jose

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I’ll talk about our ANA 787 experience in the next post. And then, in the third post, I’ll tell you about our A380 adventure on Singapore.

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19 comments on “Finding Awesome Award Seats to Japan and Our Delayed Positioning Flight (Trip Report)

  1. So when your flight is delayed, what happens to the bag drop cutoff time? I guess for Southwest at LAX they can just push that back, since their airport counters are manned throughout the day. But last week I had to escort a visitor to a United flight that was 5 hours late, at an international outstation with just 2 United flights a day. We just had no idea when the United counters would be open — all they had on the web site was a boilerplate announcement that recommended arriving at the airport based on the scheduled flight time since a flight with a posted delay might still leave on time (no way this can happen when the only United aircraft at the airport, a 777, would only arrive 3 hours after the scheduled departure). So what does one do in this situation? Can one trust that the airline would keep check-in counters open after the scheduled departure time?

    (In the end this was a moot point because the long delay meant my visitor would miss his onward connection, so he had to call United anyway to get rebooked on the other daily United flight, which left on time; but the lack of information was still annoying.)

    1. I have missed a flight before at a small airport because of this. Checked online, saw that the AirTran flight was delayed, got to the airport later than most due to the fact that I saw the delay before I got on the road, but still arrived there 60+ minutes before the (revised) departure time. Couldn’t check in at the airport because both airline agents were at the gate on the other side of security, not at the check-in counter. AirTran made me pay the change/standby fee.

        1. This wasn’t a case of making up delays, it was a case of the 3-gate airport only having 2 people working for that airline, and both of them moved to gateside instead of curbside.

          Still, lesson learned.

        2. I can decide for myself what margins I’m comfortable with, but I need the airline to tell me when the airport counter is open. When the flight leaves at noon, I know the bag drop opens at 8 and closes at 11. Now that the flight is delayed until 5pm and the aircraft is already in the air and won’t arrive until 3pm, when can I drop my bags? If I arrive between 8 and 11, will the counter even be open? If I arrive after 11, will it have shut down? Different airlines will have different policies, depending (partly) on the flexibility of their labor contracts. The advice to get to the airport at the scheduled time is useless in an outstation that’s only staffed for a small number of flights. The airline should broadcast when the airport counter is open for this particular delayed flight, otherwise it will have all the passengers calling in to ask the same question.

      1. Well, if the chief concierge doesn’t know these things, then the airlines have a communications problem…

        I’m sure it varies by airline and airport, and even individual flight (I was once on a delayed Allegiant flight where we were told to clear security based on the scheduled departure time because it was the last flight of the day and TSA were about to close shop). But long delays are not uncommon, airlines should have a playbook that covers each situation, and at the very least they should communicate counter opening times to the staff who operate the counters :-) Too bad they don’t communicate this information to the passengers as well.

  2. No way! Suites on the SQ A380!? Fifteen years in Singapore and flying SQ and i haven’t managed to get to Suites!

  3. If I recall correctly, Terminal B is to be extended southward and the entrance will then be in the middle of the terminal. There were also supposed to be moving sidewalks for those long walks from gates 17 – 19 to baggage claim, but they ran out of money ($1B doesn’t buy what it used to). As for the expansion of Terminal B, I don’t see that happening for a long time since the airport currently has unused/underused gates.

    You probably know this, but you didn’t have to walk from Terminal B to A as there is an inter-terminal/rental car shuttle bus that does this already.

  4. Just makes me wonder…… I have well over 300,000 Advantage points, my wife has about 75,000 and I also have well over 100,000 Etihad points. So, where to go…..? A trip like yours certainly sounds appealing! Now, you’ve got me thinking! Thanks CF!

  5. CF, any idea how your Southwest flight got so late so early in the morning? A few minutes seems fine, but given WN’s push to run an ontime operation being an hour late at eight in the morning seems kinda cruddy.

    1. Nick – I think it was weather. The airplane was coming from Dallas/Love on a 6a departure, and I’m pretty sure Texas was flooded every single day that month. But I don’t know the details.

      1. If your flight was on May 22nd, it wasn’t weather. We did have storms out here that day, but not until afternoon. That Friday was actually one of the few mornings last month where it wasn’t pouring down rain!

  6. Glad you had a fun trip to Japan. I’ve had some good conversations with the folks at Boutique Japan. They really know what they’re doing. I may use them myself in the future.

    Next time you go to Japan, I can suggest some things off the beaten path.

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