How US athletes are traveling to the Tokyo Olympics this summer

Jul 17, 2021

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I’d planned to be in Tokyo for the rescheduled Olympics this summer. My Olympic dreams were crushed when Japan announced it wouldn’t allow overseas visitors to attend the Tokyo Olympics. But, the Olympics are still on and many athletes are traveling to Tokyo.

Back in March 2020, Delta announced it would become the official airline of Team USA beginning Jan. 1, 2021. However, with the Tokyo Olympics postponed from 2020 to 2021, Team USA allowed most sponsors to extend through the Tokyo Olympics (including United).

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As such, most U.S. athletes and Olympic committee members are flying United Airlines to the Tokyo Olympics. And, even if you aren’t flying to Tokyo, you may be able to snag some Olympic swag from United. For example, TPG editor at large Zach Honig recently enjoyed Team USA amenity kits and pajamas when flying United Polaris.

But, back to the athletes. United recently posted a photo of Team USA gymnast Simone Biles in United Polaris business class, with a custom blanket for the G.O.A.T. And North Shore Gymnastics Association got attention earlier this summer when it posted an online fundraiser to upgrade three Minnesota gymnasts to United Polaris. The campaign raised $34,860 and the association published a photo of one of the gymnasts sitting in United Polaris on July 15. Hopefully, the association also looked into getting United Airlines upgrades using miles.


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Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

Although some Olympic athletes have secured upgrades for their flights, most will fly in economy. After all, there’s a limited number of business class seats on each aircraft. So, even if an airline or team wanted to fly all the Olympic athletes in premium cabins, it’s typically not possible. For example, a few years ago, Delta denied an upgrade request from the U.S. men’s curling team after winning gold in Pyeongchang. Although TPG didn’t check upgrade availability at the time, Delta claimed there were “no seats” available for upgrades.

TPG readers know it’s often possible to upgrade paid fares with miles. And, many readers simply book business class awards using points and miles. But, many Olympic teams fly on charter flights or flights offered as part of a sponsorship deal. So, even if an Olympic athlete typically works to maximize their points and miles and book business class award flights, they may not have many options when flying to a high-profile event like the Olympics.

Of course, Team USA is only one group of athletes flying to the Tokyo Olympics. For example, Iberia flew two flights from Madrid to Tokyo on July 15 and 17 for Spanish athletes. The airline announced it would use an A350 christened “Spanish Olympic Team” for these flights.

And humans aren’t the only ones traveling to the Olympics. For example, 247 horses are also traveling to Tokyo; check out this video for an exciting look at these cargo flights.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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