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Should A Tokyo-Based Expat Get An ANA or United Credit Card?

by on October 27, 2013 · 8 comments

in ANA, Sunday Reader Questions, United, Video Blog Post

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This reader question comes from Tim, an expat living in Japan:

“I’m an avid follower and have a question that I wonder if you could answer.  I’m American and have lived in Tokyo long-term.  Because I’m a resident of Japan, I do most of my spending in Japanese Yen and have access to Japan-based ANA and United mileage credit cards.  My question is this – as mainly a Star Alliance flyer and doing all my flying out of Japan, do I go for the Japan ANA or United Visa card?”

The ANA program is pretty good for certain redemptions thanks to its distance-based chart that means flying from the East Coast to Europe only requires 43,000 miles roundtrip in economy and 68,000 miles in business class.

However, ANA has a lot of downsides including the fact that it tends to impose very heavy surcharges on award tickets, you can’t change an award once you start travel, whereas United miles are extremely flexible and are pretty much my favorite frequent flyer currency thanks to the fact that you can use them on so many Star Alliance partners like ANA but without paying those huge fuel surcharges.

Instead of getting the United MileagePlus Explorer card, though, if I were you, I’d actually consider getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred since you can transfer the points you earn using it to United (among 10 travel transfer partners including British Airways who is partners with JAL, and Korean Air as well as Hyatt, Marriott and more).

Ultimate Rewards' airline partners include 5 great carriers.

Ultimate Rewards’ airline partners include 5 great carriers.

Like the Explorer, the Sapphire card has no foreign transaction fees – so you don’t have to worry about using it in Japan and having to pay an extra 3% – and you earn 2.14X points per $1 on all travel and dining, which the United Explorer card does not give you.

Then if you want to splurge and put some friends or family visiting you up in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which I personally love, but which costs north of $1,000 a night, you can also transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to your Hyatt Gold Passport account and redeem for award nights at 22,000 points per night, which is an outstanding value.

The Park Hyatt Tokyo is one of my favorite hotels - and you can use your Ultimate Rewards points to stay there.

The Park Hyatt Tokyo is one of my favorite hotels – and you can use your Ultimate Rewards points to stay there.

The current sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in 3 months and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year so it’s a no-brainer. If you already have the card, though, then I’d go with the MileagePlus Explorer card since United is a much more user-friendly mileage program and has much lower fees than ANA.

For more information check out this post: ANA Award Taxes and Fees Overview

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Mark

    The ANA card has some other benefits (East Japan Railways Suica and ETC toll road compatibility), but it’s earning ratio isn’t necessarily the greatest. Most of the Japanese cards have a rule that the earning ratio is directly proportional to the amount of annual fee you’d pay. If getting a US card isn’t an option, recommend the Japanese AMEX Gold, which earns 1 MR per 100 yen, and allows you to transfer to ANA. Comparison sites like Kakaku can give you the breakdown the various features on the Japanese cards (plus, rankings, which I wouldn’t necessarily trust, but at least you can see the balance between annual fee and miles/points earning ratios). AMEX used to have English handouts at National and other expat haunts, so I’d assume they’d be a little more foreigner friendly, which isn’t always the case with credit issuers in Japan.

  • Lamonster

    United explorer card also has no Foreign transaction fees

  • Yichuan

    If possible, get cards from both countries. The more points the better.

  • JM

    I live in Seoul, Korea and I have the Sapphire Preferred and the United Explorer Card. Flying Star Alliance out of Seoul and Tokyo is easy, and flights are easily booked through United. No foreign transaction fees mean that I only use these cards in Seoul, for everything I buy.

  • hamnori

    If he can get Japanese credit cards, I’d suggest getting one of the United MileagePlus (MP) credit cards from Credit Saison.

    Their basic MP card (1575 JPY annual membership) awards 5 miles per 1000 JPY spending, or roughly 0.5 miles/USD, nothing phenomenal. But purchasing an “Mile Up Members” option (5250 JPY annual membership) gives you an boost of extra 10 miles per 1000 JPY spending, summing up to roughly 1.5 miles/USD. Beware though, that the “Mile Up Members” boost is capped at 20k miles annually, which corresponds to 2M JPY spending.

    Another option is their MP gold card (15750 JPY annual membership). The gold card award rate is the same as above, 15 miles / 1000 JPY, but up to annual spending of 7.5M JPY.

    I think these options are far better than the US-based Chase credit cards, especially if he earns money in JPY.

  • hamnori

    If you spend more than 7.5M JPY annually, consider their MP platinum card with 37800 JPY annual fee. 15 miles / 1000 JPY, no cap.

  • DavidP

    Doesn’t this question really depend on whether he gets paid in Yen or Dollars? Even if you don’t get charged foreign transaction fees, you still will incur currency exchange fees/rates when paying off your card that will certainly negate any advantage of having an international card.

  • momo

    Definitely consider the Delta AMEX gold. For 27300yen/year it automatically gives you gold status, earning bonus 100% on most flights. 1.25% mileage rate when you use overseas (like US, EU) and 1% per every 100yen. 3 times the mileage on ticket purchases from delta.com . It’s a pretty crazy deal. I live in the US but income is mainly yen so I use this as my main card. With sign up bonuses included I have already accumulated 120000 Delta miles since April (daily spending + 2 trips NY-TYO + 3 domestic US flights..)

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