This series of articles about credit cards, points and miles, and budgeting for travel is brought to you in partnership with The Points Guy.
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With its unique culture, cuisine and stunning natural beauty, it’s no wonder why Japan is a popular destination for travelers from around the world. From ancient temples to modern cities, there is something for everyone — making it the perfect place for a memorable vacation. However, Japan can also be incredibly expensive, thanks to the high cost of food, lodging and airfare. The solution? Points and miles.
Traveling to Japan using points and miles is a great way to experience this fascinating country’s culture, cuisine and natural beauty without breaking the bank. With an abundance of airline rewards programs offering flights from North America for as little as 40,000 miles round-trip, making your dream trip a reality with some strategic planning.
From taking advantage of airline loyalty programs or signing up for credit cards with generous rewards points, there are plenty of ways for travelers looking for a budget-friendly journey through Japan.
Here’s everything you need to know about traveling to Japan using points and miles:
How to use points and miles to save money on travel
The cheapest award flights to Japan using points and miles
Flying to Japan using airline miles is fairly attainable, with many airlines servicing Osaka and two airports in Tokyo (Haneda and Narita). Award rates are also reasonable for international travel, especially on business and first class.
Here’s a look at the cheapest award flights to Japan, broken down by airline, along with ways you can earn the required miles through credit card welcome bonuses:
- Cheapest economy class ticket to Japan: 40,000-55,000 ANA miles round-trip
- Cheapest business class ticket to Japan: 75,000-90,000 ANA miles round-trip
- Cheapest first-class ticket to Japan: 140,000 Alaska’s Mileage Plan miles round-trip
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All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
All Nippon Airways is a Japan-based Star Alliance carrier with many direct flight options. ANA Mileage Club offers some of the lowest mileage rates to Japan, starting at just 40,000 round-trip in economy class. ANA utilizes a seasonal award chart, with prices varying during low, regular and high season.
- Economy Class: 40,000-55,000 miles round-trip
- Business Class: 75,000-90,000 miles round-trip
- First Class: 150,000-165,000 miles round-trip
ANA miles are easy to earn, thanks to a 1:1 transfer partnership with American Express Membership Rewards. With the current welcome bonuses offered by American Express, you can book up to two round-trip tickets to Japan on points alone. Here’s a look at credit cards that earn Membership Rewards points you can transfer to ANA Mileage Plan:
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express*: Earn 120,000 points after spending $15,000 within the first three months of card membership.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express*: Earn 80,000 points after spending $8,000 in the first six months of card membership.
- American Express® Business Gold Card*: 70,000 points after spending $10,000 within the first three months of card membership.
- American Express® Gold Card*: Earn 60,000 points after spending $6,000 within the first six months of card membership.
- American Express® Green Card: Earn 40,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first six months of card membership.
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Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines partners with Japan’s flagship carrier, Japan Airlines, making it an excellent program for getting to Japan using points and miles. Other Alaska partners that fly to Japan include American Airlines and Korean Air. First-class tickets are cheap relative to most other loyalty programs, at just 140,000 miles round-trip. Best of all, Alaska Airlines offers a free stopover on international itineraries. So you can add another city in Japan (or another country) to your trip without redeeming more miles.
- Economy Class: 60,000 miles round-trip
- Business Class: 100,000 miles round-trip
- First Class: 140,000 miles round-trip
Unfortunately, Alaska miles are a little harder to come by since Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t partner with any major transfer programs. Instead, you can use two co-branded credit cards to earn enough miles for a trip to Japan. Granted, you won’t earn enough for a first-class ticket, but you could generate enough for economy or business class.
- Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card: Buy one ticket, get one for just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) and receive 40,000 bonus miles. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
- Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles, $100 statement credit and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) after you make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.
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Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is a great program if you want to get to Japan cheaply using points and miles. Virgin Atlantic offers some of the lowest business class award prices — you can even fly All Nippon Airways, which has one of the best business class cabins in the sky. The airline’s “The Room” seat features a fully-enclosed suite on par with many top first-class seats. The best part? It will cost you just 90,000-95,000 miles round-trip.
- Economy Class: 60,000-65,000 miles round-trip
- Business Class: 90,000-95,000 miles round-trip
- First Class: 145,000-170,000 miles round-trip
While Virgin Atlantic’s award tickets to Japan cost more than ANA’s tickets, there is one major caveat to consider: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points are some of the easiest to earn. You can transfer Flying Club points at a 1:1 ratio from American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards and the Citi ThankYou program. Several of these programs offer enough points from credit card welcome bonuses to cover at least one round-trip ticket to Japan:
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 120,000 points after spending $15,000 within the first three months of card membership.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 80,000 points after spending $8,000 in the first six months of card membership.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.
- Capital One Venture X Credit Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.
- American Express® Business Gold Card: 70,000 points after spending $10,000 within the first three months of card membership.
- American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 points after spending $6,000 within the first six months of card membership.
- American Express® Green Card: Earn 40,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first six months of card membership.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.
- Citi Premier® Card: Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.
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American Airlines AAdvantage
American Airlines remains the only domestic carrier that still publishes an award chart. This is great if you’re saving up for a trip to Japan because you’ll know exactly how many points you need, regardless of travel dates. American AAdvantage has pretty competitive rates on flights to Japan. The airline operates several direct flights to Japan, though you can also use miles to book tickets on Japan Airlines.
- Economy Class: 70,000 miles round-trip
- Business Class: 120,000 miles round-trip
- First Class: 160,000-190,000 miles round-trip
American AAdvantage miles are relatively easy to earn, thanks to multiple credit cards available through Citi and Barclays. You can accrue enough miles for at least one round-trip ticket with 1-2 credit card welcome bonuses. American is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Bilt Rewards, though the Bilt Mastercard doesn’t currently offer a sign-up bonus.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive Mastercard®: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after spending $10,000 within the first three months of account opening.
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 within the first four months of account opening.
- Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee within the first 90 days.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 within the first three months of account opening.
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Japan hotels you can book with points
Japan has no shortage of fantastic hotels and some of the best can be booked with points. All four major hotel chains (Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Marriott) have properties throughout Japan where you can redeem your loyalty points for terrific value. There is really something for everyone: Budget travelers, luxury hotel connoisseurs, families and everyone in between.
Regardless of where you end up in Japan, there are lots of great hotels you can book with points — thanks to a selection of top-notch hotel credit cards.
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Stop 1: Tokyo
Your trip will likely start in Tokyo, which is a huge hotel market. We recommend staying at the iconic Park Hyatt Tokyo, which was made famous by the film Lost in Translation. Room rates start at just 25,000 Hyatt points per night and you can cover up to two nights with the welcome bonus from the World of Hyatt Credit Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
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Stop 2: Kyoto
From there, you might want to hop on a train to Kyoto, where Marriott’s The Chapter Hotel strikes the perfect balance between luxury and affordability. While Marriott no longer publishes an award chart, you can book The Chapter Kyoto for around 50,000 points per night. Marriott also offers the fifth night free on award stays, incentivizing you to stay longer and explore the area more. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card* can help you cover up to two nights at this hotel.
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Stop 3: Osaka
When you’re ready to move on to Osaka, Hilton’s Conrad Osaka hotel offers a luxurious respite from the chaotic city. Rooms at this deluxe hotel go for around 95,000 points per night. You can cover at least one free night at the Conrad Osaka with the welcome bonus from the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card*. The card also provides automatic Gold elite status, providing valuable perks like complimentary breakfast and room upgrades. The card even lets you earn an additional free night award annually when you spend $15,000 annually.
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Stop 4: Hakone
No trip to Japan is complete without an Onsen bath experience and the Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora offers them inside their spacious rooms. The hotel is also located just an hour from Mt. Fuji, making it a great base to explore the famed landscape. The hotel even has a free shuttle service from the Odawara train station, so you can get to it easily as you journey back to Tokyo.
The Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora costs around 65,000 points per night, depending on the travel season. You can cover up to two nights on points with the welcome bonus from the IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card or by transferring points from the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
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Activities and ground transportation throughout Japan
Even if your airfare and hotel are covered with points, activities and transportation costs in Japan can add up substantially. Whether you want to experience a food-tasting tour around Tokyo or explore the country through the famous bullet train for a cross-country, you can cover these expenses with points and miles.
Several loyalty programs allow you to pay for expenses that are coded as travel with your points. For example, the Capital One Venture and Capital One Venture X cards let you redeem miles towards travel purchases at a rate of one cent each. Alternatively, you can redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for tours, transportation and activities through the Chase travel portal. Points are worth 1.25 cents each with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and 1.5 cents each with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
While you’ll get more value when redeeming points for airfare and hotels, you can still use them for tours and activities to expand your travel budget. Points and miles are there to save you money on travel, so you should use them for that purpose when you see fit.
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Thanks to points and miles, traveling to Japan doesn’t have to be expensive or an arduous journey. ANA Mileage Club and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan allow you to book tickets cheaply, even putting business and first class within reach. With the right credit card strategy, you can cover both airfare and hotel nights while having plenty of funds left over to splurge on meals and sightseeing in this beautiful country.
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* Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions, and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.