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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.
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: 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.