3 Ways to Do Tokyo on Points
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There’s nowhere else quite like world’s most populous city is an otherworldly blend of the past, the present and the futuristic. Depending on your interests, you can visit 1,400-year-old temples, an imperial palace, an robot restaurant and over 230 eateries with at least one Michelin star. In short, there’s something for everyone in Tokyo. Except people who don’t like trains that run exactly on time. They’re out of luck.
Of course, there’s no wrong way to “do” Tokyo. But here are three ways your trip could possibly go using points and miles, depending on your time and budget.
Don’t have a ton of time or money? The bad news is that Tokyo is one of the most expensive destinations in Asia, and it’ll be years before we see shorter flights. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get there and stay there without running out of yen.
If you don’t mind long flights in economy, you might want to save your airline miles for another redemption. Instead, we’ve seen some great deals from the US to Japan in recent years, including fares as low as $399 round-trip on Singapore Airlines and $435 on a variety of other carriers.
If one of these comes along at a convenient time for you, you could use a credit card with a fixed rate of return like the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Purchase the airfare with your card and then redeem your miles at a fixed value for a statement credit toward the expense; that $399 flight would only cost you 39,900 miles with the Premium Rewards card. If, on the other hand, you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve and booked the $435 fare through Chase’s new travel portal, you would only need 29,000 points. In these cases, redeeming your points directly for travel purchases makes a lot more sense than using airline miles.
However, if you do still want to use traditional airline miles, you have plenty of options. Delta has been posting some cheap flash award sales, including one to Tokyo-0Haneda (HND) for 40,000 miles round-trip and another to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) for 54,000 miles round-trip.
Apart from that, Japan Airlines flies from Tokyo-Narita to Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Diego (SAN) and Vancouver (YVR); it also flies from Tokyo-Haneda to San Francisco (SFO). The airline is part of the Oneworld alliance with American Airlines, and you would need 35,000 AAdvantage miles each way in economy. You could also use 35,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles each way on Japan Airlines.
As a side note, I’m not going to discuss JAL Mileage Bank options in this post because they are about to change in November, and the program is not a direct transfer partner (i.e. you can transfer one point to one mile directly) of Amex, Chase or Citi.
If you’re a Star Alliance flyer, you could consider flying ANA, Japan’s other major carrier. ANA flies from Tokyo to Chicago, Houston (IAH), Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle (SEA), Vancouver and Washington-Dulles (IAD). United, which is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, would charge you 35,000 miles each way in economy on ANA.
ANA’s Mileage Club, which is an Amex transfer partner, would charge you just 50,000 miles round-trip. However, the taxes and fees are over $300, which makes it not worth it.
For all of these options, be sure to compare the cost of purchasing the ticket outright with the required mileage amounts. It's generally only a good deal to use your miles for economy award tickets when the paid rates are high; there's no sense in blowing 70,000 valuable Ultimate Rewards points by transferring them to United if the ticket is available for $500!
Where to Stay
Tokyo has tons of hotels that participate in various loyalty programs, though most are at the higher end of the spectrum. Still, there are some choices in the more economical range. For instance, either the Courtyard Tokyo Ginza Hotel or the Courtyard Tokyo Station would cost you just 35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.
As would the MOXY Tokyo Kinsicho.
The Hyatt Regency Tokyo is a moderate 12,000 points per night, making it a solid option for free night certificates from The World of Hyatt Credit Card. If you don’t have the World of Hyatt points necessary, you can always transfer them in from Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.
For Hilton Honors members, your best bet is the Hilton Tokyo Bay, where award nights start at 48,000 points. Just beware that they do go as high as 80,000 points (this is the biggest points range I’ve seen at any Hilton hotel), so make sure you’re getting a good value for your points.
Tokyo is one of the world’s largest, most spread-out cities; both of its major airports are quite a ways out, and taxis are expensive. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, you’ll likely want to use trains and the subway for your transportation needs. When purchasing fares or tickets, remember to use a credit card that earns multiple points or miles per dollar spent on travel expenses, specifically mass transit. Such cards include the Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred and the new World of Hyatt card, the latter of which now earns 2x points per dollar on purchases of local transit and commuting services.
Also be sure to check out this post on How to Save Money on Your Next Trip to Japan.
If you’ve been saving points, miles and money for your Tokyo trip, they should help you fly and stay in style.
I’ll spare you the details here, since we have a very thorough post on The Best Ways to Fly to Asia in Business Class. There are a couple key takeaways for Tokyo, though.
In Oneworld, your main choices will be JAL (as mentioned above) and American Airlines, which flies to Tokyo-Narita from Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles and offers flights to Tokyo-Haneda from Los Angeles. AAdvantage will charge you 60,000 miles each way in business class from the US to Japan on both its own flights and those on JAL. However, you could also redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles for flights on either carrier; regardless of which one you choose, you'll need 60,000 miles for a one-way business class award flight.
In Star Alliance, United will charge you 70,000 miles each way for its own flights or 80,000 on ANA-operated flights.
ANA, meanwhile, would charge you a mere 85,000 miles…round-trip! The taxes and fees are around $340, but that would still be worth it just to save on miles and airfare.
If ANA is the carrier you seek, a more outside-the-box redemption option is through Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club. Round-trip business class award flights from the US to Tokyo start at just 90,000 miles, depending on your departure gateway. This is especially attractive given the fact that Virgin Atlantic partners with all three of the major transferable point currencies.
If you have Delta SkyMiles, the airline flies from Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW) and Seattle to Tokyo-Narita; it also offers flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo-Haneda. The airline should theoretically offer awards starting at around 80,000 miles each way in Delta One, but the lowest I’m seeing on any of these routes for the moment is 260,000-300,000 miles. However, I actually found plenty of award availability on Delta’s Los Angeles flights by searching through Virgin Atlantic instead; these flights would set you back just 60,000 miles each way.
Where to Stay
Save money for meals out at some of Tokyo’s world-class restaurants by using your hotel points at its mid-range hotel options. In the Hilton family, there are a few options for 60,000 points per night including the Hilton Tokyo and the Hilton Tokyo Odaiba.
The Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo is 20,000 points per night and frequently has rates approaching $500, making it a solid redemption option.
Uber does operate in Tokyo, but the services are limited and often just get you a taxi instead. The reason you might want to use it, though, is if you can use one of these credit cards to maximize your earnings on these rides. Unfortunately, The Platinum Card® from American Express does not give cardholders $200 in Uber credits on rides outside the US, but Uber purchases do count toward the Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel statement credit.
Unlike some other major cities in Asia, Tokyo can be quite expensive. This is a definitive plus if you’re a luxury traveler looking to splurge, as you have some truly fabulous options both in terms of flying first class and staying in some world-class hotels.
If you want to roll into Tokyo like a yakuza boss, get some ideas from this post on the Top 5 Ways to Fly to Asia in First Class, including both JAL and ANA first class. Let’s just concentrate on those two and Singapore Airlines, which flies nonstop from Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita.
If you want to fly JAL first class, which is truly one of the best experiences in the sky, your best redemption option is through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. The program charges an almost unbelievable 70,000 miles each way from the US to Japan on JAL. That’s right; it’s just 10,000 more miles each way than business class!
That said, American AAdvantage would only charge 80,000 miles, which isn’t too terrible, especially considering that flights from New York-JFK are over 14 hours long. In addition, if you were to fly anywhere else in Asia (except South Korea), you’d be paying 110,000 miles each way in first class.
That’s the same amount of miles United would charge you to fly ANA each way, though it could be worth it considering what raves ANA first class receives.
By contrast, ANA Mileage Club would charge you 150,000 miles round-trip and about $340 in taxes and fees.
However, the most economical way to book ANA first class is through Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club program, where round-trip flights from the US to Japan start at just 110,000 miles.
Though you won’t find Singapore’s famous Suites (either the old ones or the new ones) on the LA-Tokyo route, since it’s operated by Boeing 777-300ERs rather than Airbus A380s. However, the experience is still pretty over-the-top.
If you want to book it yourself, you’ll almost certainly need Singapore Airlines’ own KrisFlyer miles, as the carrier doesn't normally release first class space to partner programs (though there have been some exceptions in the past). Luckily, the program is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase and Citi, so you can top up your account in any number of ways. Once you do, it’ll cost you 95,000 miles and about $40-$100 in taxes and fees each way.
Finally, if you are thinking about paying for a premium ticket rather than redeeming miles for one and you have the Amex Platinum or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, you could take advantage of the issuer's International Airline Program. When booking through this program, passengers can score discounts of 10-20% on international first, business and premium-economy tickets on 20 airline partners, including Delta, JAL and Singapore Airlines. You can even use Pay With Points to purchase them.
Where to Stay
There are some pretty exciting options when it comes to luxury hotels in the Japanese capital. Hyatt actually fields three of TPG’s favorites. The Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills and the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Roppongi each cost 25,000 points per night, while the Park Hyatt Tokyo (of Lost in Translation fame) costs 30,000 points.
Hilton’s top property is the Conrad Tokyo, where room awards over the next year range from 93,000-95,000 points.
IHG Rewards has The Strings by Intercontinental in Shinagawa for 55,000 points.
Just note that both of these properties will fall into Category 8 come 2019, so if you're planning a trip for next year, try to lock in your dates before standard prices jump to 85,000 points per night.
Leading Hotels of the World just revamped its Leaders Club so members can earn and redeem points at the collection’s 400+ luxury hotels across the world. In Tokyo, there are two participating properties: the Palace Hotel Tokyo and the iconic Imperial Hotel Tokyo.
Cardholders of the Amex Platinum and Business Platinum also have access to Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts collection. When you use your associated card to book directly through the program, you can enjoy on-property perks like a room upgrade, free daily breakfast, guaranteed late check-out, credits for spa and dining, and more. The dozen participating FHR hotels in Tokyo include the Aman Tokyo, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo and the Peninsula Tokyo, among others.
Folks with a Visa Signature card like the Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, United Explorer Card or Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card (to name a few) can also consider booking through the Visa Signature Hotels portal. Doing so might earn you benefits like room upgrades, free Wi-Fi, on-property credits and more. There are eight participating Tokyo hotels, including all three high-end Hyatts, the Conrad, the Aman, the Palace Hotel, the Mandarin Oriental and the Peninsula.
Finally, if your trip to Tokyo will be at least four nights long (a luxury hotels or otherwise), consider using your Citi Prestige rather than redeeming points. Here’s a post on how to maximize the card’s fourth night free benefit.
Tokyo may be on the other side of the globe, but it's surprisingly accessible using your hard-earned points and miles. Whether you're trying to stick to a budget, willing to splurge on a high-end vacation or fall somewhere in between, the major airline and hotel programs give you plenty of options for your next trip. If you play your cards right (pun intended), you'll be saying "Konnichiwa" to Japan's largest city in no time at all.