Please come to Boston for the springtime, someday…

I changed my Boston trip reservation again – for the 8th time! With my new schedule it will be three years since my last trip to the U.S., assuming all goes well.

American Airlines contacted me a couple of days ago saying that my scheduled October 22, 2021 flight from Narita to Boston on JAL (a mileage partner) was canceled and they rebooked me for the 23rd. That would have made for just 6 days total in the US, which is a little hard with jet-lag and all. Plus things are still very much up-in-the-air (as it were) with the spread of the delta variant, and with continuing stringent two-week quarantines when returning to Japan.

Side-note: Japan started creating “vaccine passports” and anybody, like me, who is fully vaccinated and has a passport can get one. But… Japan does not recognize its own vaccine passports when returning to Japan! Everybody, including Japanese nationals, must have a verified negative covid-19 test done within 72 hours of arrival and still undergo two-week quarantine. And when they depart they also must have proof of a negative PCR test.

It just seemed safest to postpone again.

American Airlines was super cooperative. There were no penalties. And I got to keep my non-stop flight between Narita and Boston both ways, on JAL.  I was looking forward to that – it would be a first for me, and a big time saver not having to transfer in Chicago.

I also decided to increase the length of my stay to almost 2 weeks. I’m hoping I can do a side trip to St. Louis while I am there and visit my friends. And I would like to see my cousins. And maybe take a one-day-return Amtrak trip down to New York and visit friends. It should be more relaxed. There are a lot of people I haven’t seen for a long time now.

The only hitch was there were no economy seats available from Narita to Boston showing up at the moment any time close to my desired departure date. And only business class seats were available on one day. So for a 25,000 mile upgrade I will be going business class to Boston and keeping my economy when returning. That’s no problem since I have extra miles saved up (I haven’t gone anywhere in over two years).

AA simply juggled the miles around and all is fine. Plus, if over time, an economy seat comes available before April (they said it might simply be too early to show up just now) that I can just call in and they will switch and return the miles. I can then use those miles for the side-trip in the U.S. Round-trip between Boston and St. Louis, for example, is also the same 25,000 miles.

I would like to say that American Airlines has been super cooperative ever since the pandemic began. I highly recommend getting international seats with them, using miles for complete flexibility when you need it. 

So… now it will be 8-9 months before my departure! I feel more relaxed about it considering the upsurge in infections lately and everything else going on. I certainly hope the pandemic and quarantine issues are resolved by then, for everybody’s sake. Things are feeling weirder lately rather than anywhere back to normal.

Using my Japan Softbank iPhone 7 Plus while traveling in the U.S. – America Houdai

At the end of March I will be making a two week visit to the U.S. for my mother’s 90th birthday. My mother and sister live in Boston.

Since I have an unlocked iPhone 7 Plus I thought of doing what I usually do – get an AT&T GoPhone SIM card and get a U.S. temporary account and phone number. They have plans for $45 per month which seem fairly reasonable, for unlimited talk and text within the U.S. and 4 GB of data at high speed, after which your speed is throttled.

But I ran into some problems, and it was starting to get expensive. For example, the GoPhone plans don’t allow tethering. I was surprised by that. So in order for me to do work on my computer I would need a separate mobile hotspot – more money for a new device, plus pretty expensive data plans with restrictive data limit caps. It was getting costly. I was looking at $45 for the GoPhone plan plus $119 for a mobile hotspot device + $75 or so for a hotspot data plan. All for a two week visit.

I had decided to go with AT&T anyway, because I do every year, but this morning got a notice that my online order had been canceled by AT&T because they “could not confirm my identity.” I don’t know why, since I have U.S. credit cards that match my U.S. address and have been using AT&T every year. But whatever…

While looking for an alternative a Facebook friend told me about Softbank’s “America Houdai” service. I happen to use Softbank for my carrier in Japan. The word “houdai” means “all you can.” For example, if a restaurant is “tabe houdai” (like the Sizzler salad bar) it is all you can eat. Some bars have happy hours which are “nomi houdai” – all you can drink. The Softbank America Houdai plan turns out to be quite a good plan:

  • There is no extra fee for using it. You just change certain settings on your iPhone to make sure you stay connected to the Sprint network in the U.S. because Softbank happens to own Sprint.
  • You get unlimited talk and text with calls made within the U.S. and also calls made to and from Japan. So people in Japan can continue to call me as usual.
  • The plan includes tethering. And currently there is no data cap. That’s unlimited 4G/LTE data for my iPhone and my computer.

The only drawback is that you don’t get a U.S. phone number. So when you make a call in the U.S., it looks to the person receiving the call like you are calling from Japan. And if they call or text you back at your Japan number, they end up making an international phone call. But for people calling me I can just tell them to use my Skype-in number, which is a Boston number, and avoid that problem.

It sounds like a good deal. No extra cost, unlimited talk and text, and unlimited data during my trip.

I think perhaps the AT&T network is better than the Sprint network. So I’ll report again how good the reception and speeds turn out to be. But it’s definitely worth trying if you are a Softbank person visiting the U.S. and have an eligible contract.