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The best ways to travel to Japan with points and miles

Sept. 28, 2022
13 min read
Mt. Fuji and Tokyo skyline
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After 2 1/2 long years, Japan is finally opening back up to tourists. Japan will resume visa-free entry for individual travelers beginning Oct. 11.

Japan is my favorite country, with its famous cherry blossoms, cutting-edge technology, and top-notch hospitality.

The country also has unbelievable cuisine and a service industry that perfectly embodies the cultural importance placed on respect and politeness.

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All of this to say, I am unbelievably excited to get back to Japan. Luckily, there are numerous loyalty programs to get travelers there — let's look at some of the best options.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

CHRIS DONG/THE POINTS GUY

Naturally, I will start with the most aspirational way to get to Japan: All Nippon Airways first class.

Although Virgin Atlantic just will soon join the SkyTeam alliance, the airline still has individual partnerships with other airlines, including ANA. The Flying Club program is hit or miss, but it does have a few incredibly valuable redemption options.

Here is the round-trip award chart for flights on ANA booked through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club:

VIRGINATLANTIC.COM

In many cases, these prices are lower than what most other carriers charge for a one-way award — 110,000 points round-trip in one of the world’s best first-class products is an absolute steal.

Business class for 90,000 points isn’t half-bad either. Note that prices are marginally higher for flights from the U.S. East Coast and central states than from the West Coast, but the small difference shouldn’t be enough to sway you.

Another great thing is that you can now book one-way trips for half the cost of a round-trip ticket.

Unfortunately, there are two major downsides to booking ANA tickets with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. One is that ANA is quite stingy with award availability. The other major downside is that you cannot book tickets online. Instead, you must find award space using a Star Alliance search tool. I like to use United Airlines' website or Air Canada's website as both show all Star Alliance award availability online.

UNITED.COM

After you’ve noted award availability, you need to call Virgin Atlantic and give the representative the exact flights and class of service you want. The agent will look up and confirm the space. You can then transfer points over to Flying Club. Most transfers process instantly, so you don’t have to worry about losing award space.

Transfer partners: Flying Club points are incredibly easy to earn. It's a transfer partner with all the major transferable currencies, including:

When you transfer Marriott points to Flying Club in increments of 60,000, you receive a bonus 5,000 airline miles. In other words, 60,000 Marriott points equal 25,000 Virgin points.

It's also worth noting that we sometimes see transfer bonuses from programs such as Chase and American Express to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. Through Sept. 30, 2022, Amex has a 30% bonus for Flying Club.

Related: 5 ways to maximize Amex’s latest set of 12 transfer bonuses

ANA Mileage Club

TUNGCHEUNG/SHUTTERSTOCK

Another great way to get to Japan on ANA is through its own loyalty program: ANA Mileage Club

ANA Mileage Club may not be the most well-known loyalty program, but it does have some great uses.

Although not quite first class, one of the best ways to use your ANA Mileage Club miles is for business class. ANA business-class award tickets from the U.S. to Asia can be booked for as little as 75,000 miles. This is less than what many airlines charge for a one-way business-class ticket from the U.S. to Asia. The program also allows for stopovers and open-jaw trips.

ANA prices its own tickets based on the region you’re flying to and from, as well as the season in which you’re flying. Currently, the airline has three different seasons: low, high and regular.

You want to know what season you will be traveling. ANA.CO.JP

You then need to find the region your flight is departing from and arriving at. You can find that by scrolling down the page.

Here we are looking for routes between Japan (Zone 1) and North America (Zone 6). ANA.CO.JP

It is worth noting that you can only book round-trip tickets with ANA Mileage Club — no one-way awards are allowed. You can also only book off-peak prices on ANA-operated flights.

ANA.CO.JP

Remarkably, you can book round-trip tickets to Japan in one of the best business-class products in the world for only 75,000 miles.

ANA.CO.JP

The easiest way to earn ANA Mileage Club miles is by transferring American Express Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. You can also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to ANA Mileage Club at a 3:1 transfer ratio. You’ll earn a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred, so 60,000 points are worth 25,000 ANA miles.

If you need to add some Membership Rewards points to your current balance, here are some current welcome offers:

Related: 10 ways to redeem ANA Mileage Club miles for maximum value

Alaska Mileage Plan

EQROY/SHUTTERSTOCK

The Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan program is one of the most highly regarded loyalty programs out there.

This is due to its generous award charts for partner airlines. Alaska Airlines has different award charts for its flights and each of its partners which opens up numerous award redemption opportunities.

In March 2021, Alaska Airlines joined the Oneworld alliance. This opened up partnerships with major airlines including American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.

Flying first class on Japan Airlines is widely considered one of the best ways to get to Japan. From the great seats to the fantastic onboard cuisine to the incredible service and hospitality, Japan Airlines' first class is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

This is where the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program comes into play. Flying between North America and Japan will cost 70,000 Alaska miles for a one-way ticket in first class. Yes, that is correct. Only 70,000 miles to fly in first class to Japan. Alaska Airlines allows a stopover on award redemptions, but we are focused on Japan for this article.

ALASKAAIR.COM

Using Alaska's search feature is relatively simple. There's an award calendar and you can book JAL-operated awards online.

ALASKAAIR.COM

As you can see, it costs only 70,000 Alaska miles to fly Japan Airlines first class to Japan.

ALASKAAIR.COM

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles are some of the most valuable miles you can earn. Unfortunately, they're not as easy to earn because Alaska Mileage Plan isn’t a partner of any major transferable credit card programs like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards.

However, because of its huge list of airline partners, both in the Oneworld alliance and non-alliance partners, you can earn miles by flying many different airlines and crediting those partner flights to Mileage Plan. Plus, of course, you can earn miles when you fly with Alaska Airlines.

Also, Alaska often has buy miles promotions that allow you to stock up on miles at a reasonable price. There is also an online shopping portal that can help you earn miles on online shopping.

Alaska Airlines has two cobranded credit cards issued by Bank of America: one personal card and one business card.

If you need to top up your Alaska balance, the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card offers 70,000 bonus miles plus Alaska’s Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after spending $4,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.

Related: Spa at 35,000 feet: A review of Japan Airlines in first class from New York to Tokyo

American AAdvantage

VIPER-ZERO/GETTY IMAGES

Another Oneworld option to get to Japan is with your American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

Although the program lost some value over the last few years, you can still get a ton out of the program. The best way to get real value is through the airline's international partners in the Oneworld Alliance.

American publishes award charts for each region and even partner awards. On AA's partner award chart, Asia is divided into three award regions: Asia Region 1, Asia Region 2 and South Pacific. Japan is considered to be in Asia Region 1.

AA.COM

This means you can book Japan Airlines business class for just 60,000 AAdvantage miles each way. It costs 20,000 additional miles to fly in first class. This provides an alternative way to fly on Japan Airlines if earning Alaska miles is too difficult.

I found some business-class availability from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD) in January 2023 using American's award calendar.

AA.COM

It costs 60,000 AAdvantage miles to fly to/from Japan one-way in Japan Airlines' business class:

AA.COM

For just 20,000 more miles, you can get into the prestigious Japan Airlines first class. I personally believe this is one of the absolute best redemptions for AAdvantage miles.

AA.COM
AA.COM

All that is left is to earn the miles. Earning American Airlines miles is significantly easier than earning, say, Alaska miles. This is primarily because there are numerous cobranded credit cards.

Between Citi and Barclays, there are currently five American Airlines credit cards with varying sign-up bonuses and earning structures. Here's a look at Citi's offerings:

The information for the Citi Business AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard, and Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

You can also earn AAdvantage miles by flying on American and partner airlines. You can also earn American miles with the AAdvantage eShopping portal and AAdvantage Dining program.

Related: Your ultimate guide to American Airlines AAdvantage

Singapore KrisFlyer

Singapore Airlines flies from Los Angeles to Tokyo. FASTTAILWIND/SHUTTERSTOCK

One final option to get to Japan is via a fifth-freedom flight operated by Singapore Airlines. Although this option is limited to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), I thought it would be worth mentioning for our West Coast readers.

Singapore Airlines is famous for its top-notch service, especially in its premium cabins. Plus, this route is operated on a 777-300ER, which opens up the possibility of flying Singapore Suites first class.

Singapore doesn't release premium-cabin award space to its partners, so you'll have to book through Singapore's KrisFlyer program.

SINGAPOREAIR.COM

Award availability is typically scarce. However, it is worth noting that KrisFlyer allows you to waitlist for awards if your desired flight or class of service isn't available at the time of booking.

Fortunately, these miles are easy to earn since KrisFlyer is a partner of all five major transferable points currencies: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy. The first four transfers occur at a 1:1 rate.

Again, the transfer from Marriott occurs at a 3:1 rate. If you transfer 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to KrisFlyer in a single transaction, you’ll get a bonus of 5,000 miles on top of the 20,000 miles you’d earn.

Related: The best first-class seats between the US and Asia

Bottom line

With Japan finally set to reopen next month, expect to see a surge of demand for travel to the country.

Although some great options to fly to Japan on some of the world's best airlines, award availability is scarce. I spent numerous hours looking for availability with the options listed above and my advice is to book as soon as possible.

Featured image by JACKYENJOYPHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES
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.

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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases