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How to Use Airline Miles for Award Travel to Tokyo

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Tokyo is having a moment. It seems like every other day readers are asking how to use their miles to get there, whether it’s to experience cherry blossom season or check out new hotels like the Andaz, so I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to put together a handy guide for using miles to get to the Japanese capital.

TPG just spent part of December in Japan, and had a fantastic time in the Land of the Rising Sun. The good news is, so can you, and it’s relatively easy to get there using your points or miles.

For this handy resource on getting to Tokyo, I’m going to look at the various airlines that fly there from North America, the different points and miles you can use to book award flights, and where to actually search for those awards.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of every airline you can take to reach Japan from North America (for instance, I’m skipping Air China), but these are the ones you’re most likely going to want to fly, as well as the ones that will maximize your hard-earned points and miles, whether with partner airlines or through transferable points programs like Amex Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Flights to Tokyo are a great use of frequent flyer miles. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

We’re thinking of making this a series, so if you like it, leave a comment and let us know what other destinations you’re interested in.

Mileage and Partner Information Table

Before we get into the nitty gritty, here’s a table showing the various miles and points you can use to get to Japan, as well as the airline and transfer partners accessible from each program.

Miles/Points Transfer and Airline Partners Miles Needed Roundtrip
Alaska American, Delta, Korean Air Economy: 50,000-80,000 Business: 100,000-140,000 First: 125,000
American Airlines AAdvantage Alaska, American, JAL, SPG Economy: 50,000/65,000Business: 100,000

First: 125,000

Delta SkyMiles Alaska, Delta, Korean Air, Amex Membership Rewards, SPG Economy: 70,000Business: 140,000

First: N/A

United Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, Singapore, United, Chase Ultimate Rewards Economy: 70,000Business: 130,000/150,000

First: 160,000/220,000

US Airways American, JAL, SPG Economy: 60,000Business: 110,000First: 120,000
Aeroplan/Air Canada Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, United, Amex Membership Rewards, SPG Economy: 75,000Business: 150,000First: 210,000
ANA Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, United, SPG Economy: 50,000Business: 85,0000First: 150,000
British Airways American, JAL, Amex, Chase, SPG Economy: 50,000Business: 100,000/150,000First: 150,000/200,000
Flying Blue Delta, Korean Air, Amex, Citi, SPG Economy: 80,000Business: 200,000First: 480,000
Korean Air Alaska, Delta, Korean Air, Chase, SPG Economy: 70,000Business: 125,000First: 160,000
Singapore Airlines Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, Singapore, United, Amex, SPG Economy: 65,000 (52,250 with discount)
Business: 155,000 (131,750 with discount)First: 175,000 (148,750 with discount)
Amex Membership Rewards Aeroplan, ANA, Delta, Flying Blue, Singapore
Chase Ultimate Rewards United, British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines
Citi ThankYou Rewards Singapore Airlines, Flying Blue
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Aeroplan, Alaska, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, JAL, Singapore, United, US Airways

Airports

Tokyo is served by two major airports, Narita and Haneda. Narita is still the major hub, though it’s some distance from the city. Haneda has developed dramatically in recent years with many new flights from North America on several airlines, and is a bit closer to the city.

Visitors can fly into either Haneda (pictured) or Narita.
Visitors can fly into either Haneda (pictured) or Narita.

When looking for tickets to Tokyo, you can either search specifically for flights to Narita (NRT) or Haneda (HND), but many search engines will also let you enter the general Tokyo code (TYO) if you want to broaden your search.

Airlines and How to Search for Awards on Each

Air Canada: Canada’s national carrier flies to Japan from several gateways, and has a fleet of new (or at least newish) planes on many of these routes.

Air Canada VIP will (reportedly) have you flying high above the riff-raff
Air Canada flies to Tokyo from three Canadian airports.

Airports: You can fly Air Canada to Tokyo from …

  • Calgary
  • Toronto
  • Vancouver

Miles/Points to use: Aeroplan (Amex transfer), ANA (Amex transfer), United (Chase transfer), and Starwood Preferred Guest (direct transfer).

Search for awards on: Aeroplan.com or United.com

Aeroplan actually has one of the best Star Alliance award search engines out there. You just need an Aeroplan account to log in and search for awards (no miles in your account necessary).

Just log in, click on the Use your Miles tab, and then click Travel and you can search for flights.

Here is a sample economy itinerary on Air Canada’s own 787 flight from Vancouver to Narita for 37,500 miles and $176 in taxes and fees.

AC YVR NRT
Air Canada Vancouver to Tokyo Narita in economy

 

American Airlines/US Airways: One of the major US legacy carriers, the American Airlines and US Airways award charts remain relatively strong for flights to Japan, since award levels haven’t changed in advance of the impending merger. American also offers low-level saver Off-Peak awards to Japan in economy, which can be a great value.

Airports: If you want to get to Tokyo on American itself, you can fly non-stop from …

  • Chicago
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth
  • Los Angeles

Miles/Points to use: American, Alaska, British Airways (Amex and Chase transfer partner), US Airways, Starwood Preferred Guest.

Search for awards on: AA.com, BritishAirways.com.

While airline websites aren’t paragons of functionality, American’s is actually decent for searching its own awards. It has an easy-to-use search engine that pulls up American’s own award availability as well as that of several partners (but not JAL).

You can search round-trip or one-way awards, and the search function pulls up a calendar of availability at both low-level saver and high-level AAnytime awards, so you can see all the available dates at a particular level. This is an example of economy off-peak saver availability in April from LAX to Narita.

AA LAX TYO off peak saver
AAdvantage award availability for LAX-NRT in April.

 

Clicking on one of the dates will pull up your options, including American’s non-stop flights from both LAX and DFW.

AA LAX TYO date
Flight options for LAX-NRT

 

ANA: This Japan-based Star Alliance carrier offers a lot of flights to the US. You can use United miles, or transfer Amex points directly to ANA’s mileage program if you have a card that earns Membership Rewards like the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card or The Platinum Card from American Express.

Airports: ANA flies to Tokyo from the following US cities …

  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • New York JFK
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Seattle
  • Washington DC Dulles
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
ANA is a great option, and flies from several US hubs. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Miles/Points to use: Aeroplan (Amex transfer partner), United (Chase transfer partner), American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest.

Search for awards on: ANA website, Aeroplan.com, or United.com.

ANA’s award search engine is known for being the most accurate for pulling in Star Alliance award availability, but it can be complicated and unwieldy. For tips on using ANA to search for availability, check out this post.

While you might want to use it to search ANA’s own award inventory, I find it much easier to use United.com, though United will push its own flights to the foreground. In the  example below, United pulled in ANA’s flights from both New York JFK and Chicago O’Hare.

ANA JFK TYO United
ANA award availability between JFK and TYO found on United.com

 

Aeroplan is also good at finding ANA availability, like the below economy award from San Francisco to Narita.

ANA Aeroplan
Economy award between SFO and NRT found on Aeroplan.com

 

Once you find the award you want, you can then either book the award online on ANA’s website, or call the airline up and do it that way. The United website just helps you find the award inventory.

Asiana: Asiana is a Star Alliance partner based out of Seoul, South Korea with several connections to Tokyo each day.

Airports: Asiana currently flies from the following US airports …

  • Chicago
  • Los Angeles
  • New York JFK
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle

Miles/Points to use: Aeroplan (Amex transfer partner), United (Chase transfer partner), Starwood Preferred Guest.

Search for awards on: United.com, ANA’s website, or Aeroplan.com.

While United does pull in Asiana award inventory, it’s bad at constructing itineraries to Japan via Seoul on Asiana itself, so you might be better off using Aeroplan or the single airline search on ANA.

However, you can also use United.com and piece together your itinerary one leg at a time like I did below, starting with a flight from LAX to Seoul.

Asiana LAX ICN

And then a flight from Seoul to Tokyo.

Asiana ICN TYO

Don’t worry about the mileage numbers here; you just need to call United, and the phone rep should be able to book the entire itinerary for you at the price of a Japan award.

Delta: Delta has been expanding its transpacific route network lately, including many new services from the US to Tokyo.

At long last, some good news for Delta SkyMiles members in 2015: no cap on point transfers to partners.
Fly Delta from any number of US hubs directly to Tokyo.

Airports: You can currently fly this SkyTeam airline to Tokyo from …

  • Atlanta
  • Detroit
  • Minneapolis
  • New York JFK
  • Portland (Oregon)
  • Seattle

Miles/Points to use: Delta, Alaska, Flying Blue (Amex and Citi transfer partner), Korean Air (Chase transfer partner), American Express Membership Rewards transferred to Delta.

Search for awards on: Delta.com.

Delta.com recently underwent some dramatic improvements with its award search, including the ability to book one-way awards, view availability calendars and award levels over a period of several days up to 5 weeks, and more.

If you’re searching for an award on Delta’s own flights to Japan, you can plug in your dates and airports, and then add other parameters like searching by class, whether you want non-stop flights, or to see 5 weeks worth of availability.

Here is a calendar for low-level award availability over the course of 5 weeks on Delta’s own Seattle-Tokyo flight.

Delta SEA TYO 5 week nonstop
SEA-TYO availability on Delta.

 

When you click on one of the dates, you’ll see that the SEA-HND flight is actually the low-level one, and the SEA-NRT one is at a higher redemption rate in both economy and business.

Delta SEA TYO
In this case, redemption rates are lower to Haneda than to Narita.

 

JAL: Japan’s other major carrier is part of Oneworld, so it partners with American Airlines on several codeshares. The airline also has some new 787’s coming off the line with its flagship SkySuite business class, so look out for that on its route from New York JFK.

Try JAL's new business SkySuites aboard flights from the US to Japan.
Try JAL’s new business SkySuites aboard flights from the US to Japan.

Airports: You can fly JAL itself from …

  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Los Angeles
  • New York JFK
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco

Miles/Points to use: American, US Airways, British Airways (Amex and Chase transfer partner), Starwood Preferred Guest.

Search for awards on: BritishAirways.com or Qantas.com.au.

Though American Airlines and JAL are close partners and have tons of codeshares, American’s website unfortunately does not display awards on JAL. For that, you have two other good options.

The first is the British Airways website. You must have an Executive Club account and sign in to search for award tickets, but you don’t need any Avios in your account. Just enter your city pairs and dates, and make sure you have selected Book with Avios as your payment preference.

It doesn’t matter whether you search economy or business class, as all the availability should pull up on the dates you select, such as the example below for JFK-Narita flights on April 1, including availability in both economy and business aboard the airline’s newly configured 787.

BA JAL JFK TYO
JAL availability between New York and Tokyo as shown on BritishAirways.com

 

You can also search Qantas.com for Oneworld availability if you log in with your mileage account info, but because BA does such a good job with JAL awards, I usually find what I need there.

Korean Air: Korea’s other major carrier is a member of SkyTeam, and offers several daily connections from Seoul to Tokyo.

Korean Air offers flights to several US airports and connections from Seoul to Tokyo.
Korean Air offers flights to several US airports and connections from Seoul to Tokyo.

Airports: Korean has grown rapidly in the past decade to serve several major US destinations, including …

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • New York JFK
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Washington DC Dulles

Miles/Points to use: Alaska, Delta (Amex transfer partner), Korean Air SkyPass (Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner), Ultimate Rewards

Search for awards on: Delta.com, KoreanAir.com.

One of the improvements Delta has made in the past year is pulling in more Korean Air award availability, so if you hope to use Delta miles to fly Korean, Delta.com is your best bet.

Because Delta offers its own flights from various destinations to Tokyo, you might have to put together an itinerary piecemeal and then call Delta to actually book it.

For instance, here is Delta availability on Korean’s flight from Seattle to Seoul on April 7.

KE SEA ICN Delta

And then a possible connection from Seoul to Tokyo on Korean.

KE ICN TYO Delta

If you have Ultimate Rewards points, however, you might prefer to transfer your points directly to Korean Air’s SkyPass program for booking, since the redemption levels are lower and you can book first class awards, which you can’t do with Delta SkyMiles. For more see this post.

Singapore Airlines: This isn’t the most obvious route, but Singapore Airlines flies from Los Angeles to Tokyo, and stops there en route to Singapore.

Airports: Los Angeles

Miles/Points to use: Amex (1:1 transfer partner), Aeroplan (Amex transfer), ANA (Amex transfer), United (Chase transfer), Chase Ultimate Rewards (direct transfer), Citi ThankYou Rewards (direct transfer), and Starwood Preferred Guest (direct transfer).

Search for awards on: ANA’s website or Singapore’s website.

Singapore is one of the trickier airlines to find award availability on. If you need to use partner miles like Aeroplan or United, then you must search for Singapore awards using ANA’s award search engine, and use the single airline tool to narrow your search.

A Singapore Airlines First Class Suite bed on the A380.
Try Singapore’s First Class Suites for yourself on its LAX-NRT route.

However, Singapore is now a 1:1 transfer partner of both Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, as well as Starwood Preferred Guest, so you have tons of transferable points options to book Singapore awards directly with its own miles.

Suppose you have some points that will transfer directly to Singapore Airlines; your best bet is to transfer them there and book awards directly on Singapore, since the airline’s award search is fairly easy to use. It opens up First Class Suite availability, and if you book Singapore awards online at the airline’s site, you get a 15% mileage discount, which can amount to some big savings.

For instance, here’s an award in Singapore’s First Class Suites aboard the A380 from LAX-NRT next week.

Singapore LAX TYO First 1
First Class Suite award between LAX and Narita on Singapore Airlines

 

Normally it would cost 87,500 miles, but with the 15% online booking discount, the total award price comes to 74,375 miles and $183.60 in taxes and fees — an incredible value!

United: The major Star Alliance carrier in the US codeshares several flights with partner ANA, but also operates its own services to Tokyo from several major US hubs.

Airports: You can catch United flights to Tokyo from …

  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • Newark
  • San Francisco
  • Washington DC Dulles

Miles/Points to use: Aeroplan (Amex transfer), ANA (Amex transfer), United (Chase transfer), Chase Ultimate Rewards (direct transfer), and Starwood Preferred Guest (direct transfer, but at a 2:1 ratio).

Search for awards on: United.com.

The best place to look for United awards is on United’s own website. While United pulls in a lot of partner availability, it prioritizes its own awards, so with a little searching and looking for routes through United’s departure gateways, you should be able to hone in on the award you want quickly.

United ORD TYO

Here, for instance, is a day in April where the search displays awards in economy and first class on both United and ANA.

Which Miles or Points To Use?

Depending on which points or miles you’re using, you’ll have different options for flying to Japan. Here are the number of miles you’ll need for each program (or for partner awards through that program) in economy, business, and first (where it applies), as well as the associated transfer partners and airline partners.

Transferable Points Programs

  • American Membership Rewards: Partners include Aeroplan, ANA, Delta and Flying Blue.
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: Partners include United, British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines
  • Citi ThankYou Rewards: Partners include Singapore Airlines and Flying Blue.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest: Partners include Aeroplan, Alaska, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, JAL, Singapore, United and US Airways.

Air Canada Aeroplan
This is the mileage program of Air Canada, and has some great redemption values in its chart. It’s a Star Alliance program, so it can be especially useful for getting to Japan.

  • Economy: 37,500 miles each way
  • Business: 75,000 miles each way
  • First: 105,000 miles each way

Airline partners: Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, United
Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards 1:1, Starwood Preferred Guest 1:1 (with 5,000-point bonus on transfers of 20,000 points, so more like 1:1.25).
Notes: Aeroplan levies surcharges on award tickets, so check out this post for estimates of how much flights will cost you.

Alaska Airlines
Though not a member of any alliance, Alaska has a ton of great airline partners, including American, Delta and Korean Air. It uses different award charts for each partner and region, but here’s how many miles you’ll need to reach Tokyo.

  • Economy: 50,000 American Off-Peak, 65,000 American normal, 80,000 Delta, 70,000 Korean
  • Business: 100,000 American, 140,000 Delta, 105,000 Korean
  • First: 125,000 American

Airline partners: American, Delta, Korean Air
Transfer partners: SPG

American AAdvantage
American’s chart is among the best for booking awards to Japan thanks to its Off-Peak economy awards and some great business and first class values.

  • Economy Off-Peak: 25,000 miles each way, October 1-April 30
  • Economy: 32,500 miles each way
  • Business: 50,000 miles each way
  • First: 62,500 miles each way

Airline partners: JAL
Transfer partners: Starwood Preferred Guest 1:1.
Notes: You can use American miles to book JAL awards as well, since both airlines are Oneworld partners.

ANA Mileage Club
ANA’s award chart has some amazing values. It is changing in April, but mostly for the better, with some very low-priced, zone-based awards. The numbers cited below are for awards booked after the change in April.

  • Economy: 50,000 miles roundtrip
  • Business: 85,000 miles roundtrip
  • First: 150,000 miles roundtrip

Airline partners: Air Canada, Asiana , United
Transfer partners: Amex Membership Rewards 1:1
Notes: ANA levies surcharges that can cost hundreds of dollars, so price out an award first by speaking to an airline rep. Check out this series for more info.

British Airways Avios
The British Airways award chart is distance-based, so the number of miles you need depends on where you leave from. This chart will also be changing as of April 28, complicating things further. However, here are sample numbers for flights from LAX-NRT.

  • Economy: 25,000 miles each way now, 25,000 post-devaluation
  • Business: 50,000 miles each way, 75,000 post-devaluation
  • First: 75,000 miles each way, 100,000 post-devaluation

Airline partners: American, JAL
Transfer partners: Amex Membership Rewards 1:1 (frequent transfer bonuses), Chase Ultimate Rewards 1:1, Starwood Preferred Guest 1:1.

Delta SkyMiles
Delta pulled its award charts earlier this month, so you’ll have a hard time finding the numbers, but I pulled these from the existing charts and listed the most basic low-level saver award numbers.

  • Economy: 35,000 miles each way
  • Business: 70,000 miles each way

Airline partners: Korean Air
Transfer partners: Amex Membership Rewards 1:1, Starwood Preferred Guest 1:1.
Note: You cannot book first class partner awards using Delta SkyMiles.

Flying Blue
This is the mileage program of Air France/KLM, a SkyTeam carrier with several transfer partners that can make it worth considering (for economy awards at least).

  • Economy: 80,000 miles round-trip
  • Business: 200,000 miles round-trip
  • First: 480,000 miles round-trip

Airline partners: Delta, Korean Air
Transfer partners: Amex Membership Rewards 1:1, Citi ThankYou Rewards 1:1, Starwood Preferred Guest 1:1

Korean Air SkyPass

  • Economy: 70,000 miles round-trip on KE, 80,000 on partners
  • Business: 125,000 miles round-trip on KE, 140,000 on partners
  • First: 160,000 miles round-trip on KE, 180,000 on partners

Airline partners: Delta
Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards 1:1, Starwood Preferred Guest 1:1
Notes: Korean Air requires partner awards to be round-trip, and the booking process can be rather complicated.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

  • Economy: 32,500 miles each way (27,625 with discount)
  • Business: 77,500 miles each way (65,875 with discount)
  • First: 87,500 miles each way (74,375 with discount)

Airline partners: Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, United
Transfer partners: Amex Membership Rewards 1:1, Chase Ultimate Rewards 1:1, Citi ThankYou Rewards 1:1, Starwood Preferred Guest 1:1.
Notes: If you want to book on Singapore itself, consider using the airline’s own miles, since they release more award availability to KrisFlyer members and you get a 15% mileage discount when booking online.

United

  • Economy: 35,000 miles each way on United or partners
  • Business: 65,000 miles each way on United, 75,000 on partners like ANA and Asiana
  • First: 80,000 miles each way on United, 110,000 on partners

Airline partners: Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, Singapore Airlines
Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards 1:1, Starwood Preferred Guest 2:1
Notes: United charges more miles for partner awards than those on its own metal.

US Airways
Now that the US Airways and American merger is moving along and US Airways has joined Oneworld, you can use Dividend Miles (and take advantage of a generous award chart) on partners like American and JAL.

  • Economy: 60,000 miles round-trip
  • Business: 110,000 miles round-trip
  • First: 120,000 miles round-trip

Airline partners: American, JAL
Transfer partners: Starwood Preferred Guest 1:1
Notes: You can only book round-trip awards at this point.

While this might seem like a lot of information, the most important takeaway is that if you want to get to Tokyo, you have a ton of options. Whichever points or miles you’re accruing, you should be able to use them on at least one (if not several) of the carriers that fly there from North America.

Got any more questions about flying to Japan? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

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