Should A Tokyo-Based Expat Get An ANA or United Credit Card?
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).
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 current sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 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