Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Nippontastic Voyage Pt. 1 (The Why)

A while back American Airlines ran this incredible promotion. In hopes of building loyalty and combating JetBlue on a couple of their most popular routes AA offered a free ticket to anyone who made two trips from New York to California or Florida within one year. Between the number of decent LA tournaments I could go to and the fact that both my parents and Christi lived in Florida it was the perfect promotion for me. I easily completed the two required trips and was mailed my free ticket. Now the thing that made this offer so impressive was that the ticket was good for anywhere in the world that American Airlines flew to. I looked up the world map on the AA website and found that every continent short of Antarctica was positively littered with tiny red dots representing cities you could get to using AA. All I had to do was take two flights to places I was going to anyway and I would get a free ticket to anywhere in the world, it seemed too good to be true.

Now, as it so happens I’m not all that well traveled. I’ve seen a fair cross section of the large and lushly diverse country that I call home. I’ve lived in Michigan, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York. I’ve taken various road trips out west, along the Eastern seaboard, from Florida to Chicago, and so on. If it’s a state with a major legal casino I’ve probably made a business trip to it. However, I’m not so much a world traveler. I've never even made it over to Europe. I did spend about a month in Ethiopia in ‘99 but beyond that I'm not so much a member of the international community.

Luckily I’ve a fair number of friends who are far better traveled than I am and I spent almost a year interviewing them on what I should do if I had the chance to fly anywhere in the world for free. I received a decent range of suggestions but with the parameters I set one country came up more than most of the others, Thailand. So I called up American and told them "I’m going to Bangkok!" to which they replied "No you’re not."

What I quickly discovered was that American Airlines defines "anywhere in the world" fairly differently than I do. While the world map on the AA website was littered with tiny red dots that represented AA cities, the subtle difference between a Codeshare City, a Oneworld City, and an AA/Codeshare had eluded me. While you could get to Bangkok through AA it was not the specific Bozo type of city required for my ticket.

Well, I had backup and I told AA that I’d go to New Zealand instead. Now, the woman on the phone didn’t actually laugh out loud at me but there was a moment as she tried to figure out the best way to convey not only that I was not going to New Zealand but that it was a pretty dumb question in the first place and to convey all of that without insulting me too much. She got the first two ideas across but failed slightly with the third.

From there the conversation went: Australia? No. China? No. Singapore? No. And eventually I just gave up and asked "what’s the farthest point I can get to with this ticket?" She thought a second or two and said "Tokyo. I guess," to which I replied "Lock it up!"

And that more or less is the short explanation of why I ended up in Tokyo. Now just in case the idea of me trying to wade through Tokyo alone not knowing a single person or a word of Japanese wasn't silly enough I actually convinced Christi to put aside her debilitating fears of earthquakes, Asian bird flues, and having the only person she knows on an entire continent be me, and I dragged her to Japan as well. This all resulted in the following photos: Nippontastic Voyage Pt. 2 (The Photos)

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