Video SRQ: Preparing for a Trip During a Time of Political Conflict

by on March 31, 2013 · 7 comments

in Sunday Reader Questions, United, Video Blog Post

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TPG reader Marie will be traveling to Japan this summer and wants to know how she should prepare for possible tensions between the US and North Korea and how it may affect her trip:

“My friends and I are all set to travel to Japan this July.  I personally booked an award ticket via United Airlines for as low as 65,000 miles and $50.50! While proud of my low mileage cost and excited with our plans, I cannot help but think of how our Japan trip will be affected if North Korea continues on with its threat towards the US and the world. (The US has a base in Okinawa after all.)

My question is: Do you have any tips for travelers when impending chaos is about to happen? How do airlines respond to such things?

Hopefully I’m just overreacting but I’d rather be far away from North Korea (Croatia is my second option) when things get heated up.”

I’m not a political scientist, and I’m not going to comment too much on the North Korean situation, but I really wouldn’t let that come into play with your vacation. I went to Japan three years ago right after the earthquake, when technically it was still radioactive, and I’m fine – so I think. But you do have several options.

About five years ago, I actually had an Iberia award ticket to go from Madrid to Tel Aviv. It was right when there was a big skirmish breaking out in the region, and I ended up not being comfortable going. Instead I wanted to go somewhere a little bit more low-key so I decided to go to Amsterdam. Even though Iberia didn’t issue any waivers and the airport never shut down in Tel Aviv, I called up the airline and explained that there was a lot going on in Tel Aviv, and I wasn’t comfortable going and would I be able to switch to Amsterdam. They had no problems doing that and simply changed the ticket for me, but some airlines aren’t as nice as others, so if there’s no actual conflict, you might not be able to change your ticket so easily.

I hope you end up taking your United flight to Japan.

I hope you end up taking your United flight to Japan.

However, if some sort of conflict actually breaks out, such as a natural disaster or if the airport you’re supposed to fly to shuts down, United should work with you to give you your miles back for free or to route you to a different destination. If, for some reason United doesn’t agree to do this, since this is an award ticket you will have more options.

Normally, with a paid ticket, you could be hit with the international change fee of usually $250 plus the fare difference. With award tickets, in the days leading up to departure a lot of saver availability opens up. You may even be able to fly Singapore Airlines because they open up saver availability a lot within the days leading up to departure. If you want to change your destination, it will cost $75, if you want your miles back it will be $150, but these are lower for Premier Silver and Gold members, and waived for Premier Platinum and 1K members.

But United actually will let you change the departure date for free, as long as your origin and destination remain the same, so you can always push your trip back as long as you are able to find saver availability, without any money out of pocket. That’s why in general I think using miles can not only save money on the front end but if you need to change, it’s a lot less than if you were to purchase tickets outright.


Paid Tickets: $75- $150 for Domestic, $150-$750 for International.
Award Tickets: $150, American waives AAdvantage award change and reinstatement charges for Executive Platinums.

Paid Tickets: Domestic $150, International $250.
Award Tickets: $150, waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallions.

Paid Tickets: Domestic $150, International $250
Award Tickets: $150, United waives the fee for Premier Platinums, 1K’s and Global Service customers. Premier Silvers and Gold receive a discounted award redeposit fee of $125 and $100 respectively.

US Airways
Paid Tickets: Domestic $150, International $250.
Award Tickets: $150, waived for Chairman’s Preferred-level members.

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  • tallworldtraveler

    Hi, I live in Korea. In fact, just returned from Ireland to Seoul today during the ‘threat of war’. If one is worried, make sure your card has good travel insurance, other than that frankly, one can get out of bed and break a foot in Costa Rica, or be caught in a 7. 6 earthquake in Taiwan, so says this voice of experience.

  • Genghis Khan

    The tohoku quake was just over 2 years ago.

  • Genghis Khan

    Technically radioactive. Give me a break.


    Don’t worry you will be safer in Japan than in Hawaii if something happens. ANYWAY… Its all hot air and bluster by Pugsly to show his people his God like power.

  • yati

    Last November i had a United award ticket, India to Israel, with a long stopover in Europe to start. When it came time to go to Israel, it was pretty tense there, with bombings, etc. I called United and said i didn’t want to go and they had no problem with changing my ticket for free so i could do directly back to India.

  • Marcus at Street Smart Travele

    If you believe everything the news and the government tell you, you’ll be too scared to travel anywhere. Perceived danger is easily one of the top reasons people don’t travel (the other being lack of money). Granted, do your homework and make sure you’re not going into a war zone or where civil war has broken out. Short of civil disorder and natural disaster, most times you’ll be okay.

    If you Google “top causes of death,” you get things like heart disease, lung disease, and car accidents. Rarely is travel on there, except for big, headline-grabbing incidents. There was a statistic somewhere that over 99% of travel insurance policies go without any claims–which means almost all the time, travelers make it back with no problems.

    I’m not a political scientist either, but here’s my two cents. North Korea has a long track record of making big, noisy threats to covertly extract more money, food, and subsidies. They’re more dependent on outside help than they admit, and any serious action would have huge adverse effects on their own interests. I’ve had expat friends who’ve lived in South Korea for years, and this kind of news barely registers with them anymore.

    Take care and enjoy Japan. I backpacked around the country and loved it.

  • Alex

    The biggest advice to this reader- live a little. This is like saying ‘I’m nervous to go to Miami because of the drug war down in Mexico’.

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