TPG Reader Hall of Fame: A ski-lovers honeymoon to Japan worth $37,000+ with points and miles
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We've heard many terrific stories from TPG staff and readers about the amazing honeymoons they've taken with points and miles. Today TPG reader William shares the incredible trip he and his wife took to Japan, including luxurious flights and hotels plus a stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).
How did they pick their honeymoon destination? "Japan was in the top three countries to visit on my and my wife's list of world destinations we really wanted to see. We both are fascinated by the culture and love the food, plus we are skiers, so we really wanted to experience 'japow' first-hand," said William.
Choosing flights and hotels was a no-brainer because William's been a United Airlines loyalist for years and travels for work with over 100 Marriott nights per year. As a result, he was sitting on a considerable stockpile of points and miles and it made the most sense to consider Star Alliance flights and Marriott Bonvoy properties for their adventure. "Once we realized we could use United miles for a first-class leg on ANA, it became that much easier of a decision. Star Alliance finally delivered!"
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Booking flights to and within Japan
William redeemed 360,000 United MileagePlus miles for two round-trip tickets between Denver (DEN) and Tokyo Narita (NRT). If he'd paid cash, these flights would have cost a total of $30,000 — a value of 8.3 cents per mile, well over TPG's valuation of 1.3 cents each. Here's what he booked:
- Denver to Tokyo in United Polaris
- Tokyo to Chicago O'Hare (ORD) in ANA first class
- Chicago to Denver in United domestic first class
For domestic tickets within Japan, he booked ANA flights for just 5,000 United miles per person each way:
- Osaka (ITM) to Sapporo (CTS) in ANA coach
- Sapporo to Tokyo Narita in ANA coach
These flights would have cost a total of $650, with a redemption value of 3.3 cents per mile (20,000 United miles total).
Related: Maximizing redemptions with United MileagePlus
Booking hotels in Japan
Sitting on a considerable stash of points, these Marriott Bonvoy hotels were an easy pick:
- Courtyard Tokyo Station (two nights for 70,000 points, cash value $550 or 0.8 cents per point)
- Ritz-Carlton Kyoto (two nights for 155,000 points, cash value $1,750 or 1.1 cents per point)
- Courtyard Osaka Honmachi (one night for 40,000 points, cash value $225 or 0.6 cents per point)
- Rusutsu Westin (Seven nights for 420,000 points, cash value $4,000 or 1 cent per point)
Related: Maximizing redemptions with the Marriott Bonvoy program
In addition, the couple splurged on one night at the Yoshida-Sanso Ryokan in Kyoto.
Related: How to travel to Japan with points and miles
A honeymoon of incredible memories
The couple's adventure started on a flight from Denver to Tokyo in United Polaris, which William describes as an amazing experience. "The chillers were broken on our plane, so we expected more from the food. Still so nice to arrive fresh and rested after a 12+ hour direct nonstop flight, though!"
Upon arrival in Tokyo, the newlyweds spent two nights at the Courtyard Tokyo Station, where they received free breakfast thanks to having Marriott Titanium elite status. William recalls it as not the most amazing hotel, but with "the great central location near Tokyo Station, we were really happy to have stayed here."
Related: A beginner's guide to visiting Tokyo: Everything to see, do and eat
From Tokyo, William and his wife took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto, and sprung for the green cabin, equivalent to first class. "The seats were super comfortable and service was great!"
On their first night in Kyoto, the couple settled a debate. William recalled, "My wife and I went back and forth on this forever — to stay or not to stay at a ryokan?" They decided to go for it and are very happy they did. "The Yoshida-Sanso hosts were spectacular and the authentic lodging and hospitality was such a pleasure to experience. The included breakfast blew us away!"
William shared some surprising insights about the food in Japan in general. "It's extremely difficult to have any dietary restrictions in Japan! We are typically gluten free and vegan, and both of those went out the window very quickly during our travels," he said. "What was interesting is that the foods we typically have negative reactions to in the U.S., we didn't have in Japan. We, and a few others, surmised that Japanese foods might have fewer chemicals in it — who knows?"
Following their incredible ryokan experience, William and his wife went even more luxurious with a two-night stay at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, where they received a complimentary corner suite upgrade, again thanks to having Marriott Titanium status. They particularly enjoyed the underground spa, which included a pool, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. Plus they received an incredible free breakfast each morning (worth $110). "The whole experience was unbelievable. Nothing further need be said!" said William.
Related: The best ways to earn Marriott Bonvoy points
One regret? The newlyweds wish they would have spent more time in Kyoto. "What a special place," said William.
The biggest surprise of the trip came at their next hotel, the Courtyard Osaka Honmachi. William reports, "This Courtyard was nicer than some five-star/five-diamond hotels I've stayed at around the U.S. The rooms were impeccably appointed, smartly renovated and felt like a five-star hotel. So nice!"
Related: Second cities: Detinations to add onto a trip to Tokyo
Then came another trip highlight — skiing in Hokkaido. William and his wife flew from Osaka to Sapporo in ANA coach, which he describes as nothing spectacular but not terrible either — perfectly acceptable for a 1.5 to 2-hour flight. What's better? "These one-way flights were only 5,000 United MileagePlus miles per person!"
The couple then spent four nights at the Rusutsu Westin, which was a bit of a disappointment. "The Westin Rusutsu is in desperate need of room renovations, and it's not so great for couples. The rooms are two stories with a master bed upstairs (next to do the door to the room), and then the bathroom is downstairs (approximately 25 steps, not a short journey!)."
William added, "It's a property that's much better suited for a large party group (we could've easily slept six in our room with the pullout couch and murphy beds). It also advertises as a 'ski-in, ski-out' property, and it is NOT ski-in-ski-out. In order to get on either mountain to start your day, either a monorail or a gondola ride is required to get to the hill. Once you're ready to return to the Westin, you cannot ski back to the hotel; you must return via gondola. Also, much to our chagrin, most of the staff speaks very little English. We found it more difficult to communicate at this hotel than anywhere else we were on our trip. We actually ended up cutting our stay there short and moving to another ski town."
Another letdown: the lack of snow. "Japan was experiencing the lowest snow year in over 40 years (which we were really bummed about)," said William, "but we got very lucky the last day with a storm that totaled over two feet of blower pow! It was one of the best mornings of skiing we've had in our entire lives."
After this epic skiing adventure, it was time to start heading home starting with another affordable ANA coach flight from Sapporo back to Tokyo. But there was yet another incredible memory to be made with the return flight in ANA first class. From start to finish, the experience was incredible.
"The check-in process was UNREAL. It felt like we were checking into a five-star, five-diamond hotel, and it was so nice that they had a separate Japanese TSA/security lane for us!" recalled William. The first-class lounge also impressed them, with fresh sushi and just about anything they wanted — and the lounge staff surprised them with a beautiful tray of desserts.
Related: The ultimate guide to ANA first class
Once on board, they discovered there was only one other person in the first-class cabin, so they essentially got four seats to themselves to use however they wanted. William recalls, "The flight attendants recommended that we use one seat to eat our meals and the other to sleep, so we took their recommendation. While we enjoyed our meals, they were busy preparing the other seat and making our beds for us to sleep in. So spectacular."
William can't gush enough about the food, drinks and service which he described as "to die for." "I ordered so much food they thought I wouldn't be able to eat it all ... I surprised them with my endless appetite!"
And at the end of the flight, the crew surprised the newlyweds with a gorgeous dessert plate that William describes as "really looking like it came out of a Michelin-star kitchen. We were blown away. No idea how they do that on an airplane!"
William has a tip for couples considering ANA first class. "We didn't realize this at first, but the ANA first-class seat arrangement we had isn't so great for couples the way the United Polaris seat arrangement is. There was really no way for us to sit next to each other and be able to watch a movie together or be able to lean over for a quick kiss. That was our one and only qualm with this product/experience." he said. Otherwise, "The ANA first-class experience was by far the best flight experience we have ever had in our lives (so far)! It'll be hard to top!"
Related: Welcome to the square: ANA (777-300ER) in First Class From Washington, DC, to Tokyo
All told, William and his wife spent 1,065,000 points and miles for travel worth over $37,000.
Beyond enjoying the top-notch hotels and luxury flights, William had one key takeaway from this trip:
"Don't wait to plan your trip of a lifetime and don't hoard those points! You never know what tomorrow brings ... it might be a pandemic! Despite the lowest snow year in 40+ years, we still feel SO fortunate to have gone on this trip when we did ... who knows when the travel world will return to normal with COVID-19. To quote Warren Miller: If you don't do it this year, you'll just be another year older when you do!"
Sage advice William, and what an unforgettable trip. Congratulations on creating an incredible honeymoon from points and miles — well done!
Have an epic points and miles adventure to share? Email your story to email@example.com (put “TPG Reader Hall of Fame” in the subject line), message us on Facebook, or tell us about it in the TPG Lounge; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.
All photos courtesy of William Feldman.