How (and why) to plan a ski trip to Niseko, Japan, with points and miles
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A few years back, I took a daytrip from Tokyo to ski at Nozawa Onsen. I enjoyed the experience so much that when I bought a 2019 Ikon ski pass, I planned a more extended trip to a Japanese ski resort included on my Ikon pass: Niseko United. My resulting trip to Niseko was wonderful, so today I’ll tell you how and why to plan a trip yourself.
Admittedly, it’s unclear whether Japan will reopen to American tourists in time for this winter’s December-to-April ski season at Niseko. So, if you book a trip for this winter, I recommend booking fully refundable travel. But it may be more prudent to plan a trip for the 2022-2023 winter season. However, regardless of when you plan to travel, here are some tips for planning a trip to Niseko using points and miles.
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Why take a ski trip to Niseko
Niseko is outside the northern Japanese city of Sapporo, but it’s relatively easy to reach from Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport (CTS). And Niseko is home to Japan’s largest ski resort: Niseko United.
Niseko United comprises four interconnected resorts: Annupuri, Niseko Village, Hirafu and Hanazono. This area is well known for its champagne powder and availability of backcountry skiing, but there are also beginner and intermediate runs at each resort.
The four resorts are connected high up on the mountain, but the base areas aren’t particularly close. Sure, a bus connects the base areas — and some lodging options offer a shuttle to each area — but it’s best to stay close to where you want to ski the most. However, if you’re looking for restaurants and nightlife, Hirafu may be the most appealing.
If you have an Ikon or Mountain Collective pass, you can use your pass to get free ski days at Niseko United. Otherwise, check here to get an idea of how much your lift tickets will cost. For example, an adult regular season four-day pass would cost 28,200 Japanese yen (about $249).
Finally, one of my favorite parts of visiting Japan is visiting a Japanese onsen. Onsens are hot spring baths ranging from a simple tub to many pools in a beautiful setting. And after a long day of skiing, soaking in an onsen with views of the snow-covered mountains is amazing. Some accommodations have on-site onsens, but you’ll also find many onsens around Niseko that you can visit for a modest fee.
How to fly to Niseko with points and miles
I’ll assume you won’t only visit Niseko during your trip to Japan. So, I recommend that you use points and miles to fly into Tokyo. Then you can travel to other cities using Japan’s rail system or domestic flights.
Check out our complete guide for all the details on traveling to Japan with points and miles. For example, you can book round-trip business class to Japan for 75,000 ANA miles on off-peak dates. And you can often find reasonably priced economy-class awards through various programs, including ANA Mileage Club, Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, American AAdvantage and Alaska Mileage Plan.
Once you’re in Japan, you can use buses, trains and domestic flights to travel the country. But, especially since Sapporo is in northern Japan, I recommend booking intra-Japan airfare for just 5,500 United miles or 7,500 American Airlines miles.
Where to stay in Niseko using points and miles
Luckily, plenty of hotels are bookable with points near Ikon ski pass resorts, including Niseko United. If you want to earn or redeem with the major hotel loyalty programs, you’ll have the following options:
|Hotel||Loyalty program||Award category or nightly award rates during ski season||Typical nightly cash rates during ski season||Notes|
|Hilton Niseko Village||Hilton Honors||60,000 to 368,000||$124 to $715||Only premium room rewards are available during ski season
Located slope-side at Niseko Village with a hot spring and ski-in, ski-out access
|Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono||World of Hyatt||Category 7||$355 to $675||Ski-in, ski-out access to Niseko United
Pool, onsen baths and spa with private onsen baths
Minimum stay requirements apply on select dates
|Mr & Mrs Smith Zaborin||IHG Rewards||No award availability found||$1,303 to $1,749||Each villa has two private onsen baths, one inside and one outside
Niseko United is 20 minutes away by car
Minimum stay requirements apply on select dates
There’s also the Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, that’s bookable through Marriott. However, since Ritz-Carlton Reserve doesn’t participate in Marriott Bonvoy, you wouldn’t be able to earn or redeem Marriott Bonvoy points.
Additionally, Category 6 Hinode Hills Niseko Village and Category 8 Kasara Niseko Village participate in the World of Hyatt program as Small Luxury Hotels of the World. However, I didn’t find any availability using points or cash at either hotel for this ski season.
There are also plenty of other accommodation options outside of the major hotel loyalty programs. For example, when I visited in early 2020, I booked the Niseko Grand Hotel through Hotels.com. By doing so, I got a great rate and earned Hotels.com Rewards. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option or want to stay in traditional Japanese lodging, earning or redeeming rewards through an online travel agency might be your best option.
If you love skiing, hot springs and Japan, consider adding a Niseko ski trip to your travel schedule once Japan reopens to American tourists.
There’s no need to rent a vehicle or reserve an expensive transfer from Sapporo. Instead, ask your accommodation or search online to see if a tourist bus from downtown Sapporo or New Chitose Airport drops off nearby. When I visited in early 2020, buses were frequent and multiple companies dropped off near my hotel.
Additionally, you don’t need to bring ski equipment. Most hotels offer the ability to rent just about anything you’d need, including clothing. Some companies will also drop off (and pick up) equipment from your lodging. Search online or ask your accommodation about your options for equipment if you don’t plan to bring your own.
Featured photo of Niseko United’s Annupuri base area by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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