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Deborah writes:

Goal: I want to start planning for a trip to Japan. My home airport is Washington-Dulles. Assuming I am starting from scratch, for which airline does it make most sense to start collecting miles?

So which program is best from the east coast to Japan? My advice and reasoning after the jump.

I would definitely focus on United miles if I were Deborah. The reasons are manifold:

1) There are two direct flights from Washington-Dulles to Tokyo-Narita daily that you can use United miles to fly–one on United and one on partner ANA.

They both have incredible award availability. Here’s the March-April 2014 availability on direct flights. Green days have award space in economy and a premium cabin that day. Yellow days have award space only in economy.

You might think that connecting on the west coast wouldn’t add much flying time, but connecting in Los Angeles actually would add at least 2:30 of flying time plus layovers to your trip because the direct path from DC to Tokyo isn’t west. It’s north.

from gcmap.com

If space isn’t available on the direct flight, you can also connect in Newark on a United flight or New York-JFK on an ANA flight. Both of these routings are more convenient than connecting west of Washington DC.
2) United has a world class business class product. I think this fact is under-reported because United doesn’t have an aspirational first class product.

United business class isn’t fancy, but the bed is a very comfortable flat bed that will let you arrive refreshed. Most beds that are this comfortable have far worse award space. Here are two reviews of United BusinessFirst as it’s called–one from the perspective of someone who has flown competing products and one from a first timer in a premium cabin.

3) United-parnter ANA has an extensive intra-Japan network with plenty of award space.

4) United roundtrip awards allow a stopover anywhere en route if you want to see somewhere else or break up the trip.

If not, take that stopover at your home airport thereby creating the opportunity for a free oneway!

5) Thai Airways (a United partner) just started flying from Osaka to LAX several times a week with amazing award availability and an incredible flat bed business class.

This route presents a great opportunity to try a premium business class, use an open jaw to return from Osaka or fly via the west coast for a stopover one direction.

How Many Miles Do You Need

United charges 32.5k/60k/70k each way per person in economy/business/first to Japan.

That means two people will need between 130k and 280k total miles depending on the cabin they want to fly. And you can mix-and-match cabins freely, for instance going one direction in economy and one in business for 92.5k miles each or 185k miles total.

Recap

For east coasters looking to get to Japan, I strongly recommend accruing United miles for the better routings, great business class product, excellent availability, and ease of accruing the miles.

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