Using a little bit of ingenuity and a few Credit Cards, my wife and I were able to take an amazing 12 day trip to Japan! The Flights were just $98 (9-11 Fees) since we used United, which is nicer regarding fees and taxes when redeeming with points.
The following cards were used to ‘Finance’ this Trip:
- United MilagePlus Card: 50,000 United Points (One for Each of us)
- The Chase Ink Bold for 30,000 points (UltimateRewards -→ United 1:1) [Card is Discontinued]
- Barclay ArrivalPlus – $450 worth of ‘Travel Expenses’ (Credits applied after purchases incurred, one each)
- Chase Ultimate Rewards Points leftover from Sapphire Card (UltimateRewards -→ United 1:1)
The UR Portal was very helpful here, as the 30K from the Ink Bold helped us to meet the 65K per Ticket cost for each of our RT Tickets.
I ‘bought’ my flight there and back for 65,000, plus her flight from Japan back to Cleveland for 32,500 using United MileagePlus Points. She purchased her own ‘To Japan’ Ticket using her points from HER United card. Since one cannot transfer points from one United account to another without paying fees, I had to buy her ‘1 way’ ticket from Japan to Cleveland.
The Barclay Arrival card is great for ’rounding the corners’… For example, we stayed in a very nice AirBnB in Tokyo, which is categorized as a ‘hotel’ in their system. That means our $100 a night lodging was ‘canceled out‘ by the $450 AirBnB credit. This particular AirBnB included Breakfast, an amazing Portable WiFi Unit (INVALUABLE Abroad!), a dinner or two, and some amazing advice / memories. My wife who also had the same Barclay card, used hers to cancel our our ‘JapanRail Pass’ and a couple of taxis who took credit cards. That’s $900 in expenses easily avoided thanks to Churning!
If we had more time to plan everything and I had more foresight, we could have gotten 2-5 nights of Hotel Stays for free as well.
- 1 Sat 3/29 Travel to Tokyo
- 2 Sun 3/30 Arrive at 4 PM in Tokyo, Host’s place around 6PM. – Dinner with Hosts
- 3 Mon 3/31 Explore Tokyo – Explore Shinju-ku area – Robot Restaurant – Government Building for Free View of City – Various Parks / Shrines in the Tokyo Area and Harijuku
- 4 Tues 4/1 Tsukiji Seafood Market, Ninja Akasaka Restaurant, shopping in Shinjuku and other areas
- 5 Wed 4/2 Train to Hakone – Get Hakone Freepass in Shinju-ku Station – Leave Early, Hotel includes Meals & Onsen. ‘5 Types of Transport’ & Open Air Museum tours
- 6 Thurs 4/3 Hakone – Free Pass – more Onsen, visit Cedar Groves and quaint shops in the area
- 7 Fri 4/4 AM Train to Osaka – JR Shinkensen from Odawara. Aquarium in Osaka is amazing. Cooked Amazing Waygu (KoBe) Beef in our AirBnB Apartment. Exploring Namba underground and overground shopping mall in the eve.
- 8 Sat 4/5 Night in Osaka Castle, Hanami and misc adventures
- 9 Sun 4/6 JR Train to Kyoto (Arishiyama), Rent Bikes – Bamboo Grove / Hike, Monkey Park / Various Temples
- 10 Mon 4/7 AM- Nara Trip – Buddhist Temples / Museum / Deer Park, then South Kyoto for Fushimi Inari Shrine Hike (2-4 hours) – Nara is 1hr away (JR from Kyoto Station)
- 11 Tues 4/8 Train back to Tokyo – JR Shinensen 3.5 hrs…
- 12 Wed 4/9 Tokyo – Get Tattoo’d – Fancy Restaurants
- 13 Thurs 4/10 Tokyo Ghibli Museum @ 10 AM – Various Sight Seeing in Tokyo
- 14 Fri 4/11 Leave back to CLE at 4 PM
Some of these plans changed when we got there of course, but this packed itinerary let us make the most of the 12 days we had in Japan.
Knowing what I know now, if I had the foresight I would have purchased an ANA Business Class Ticket for 85,000 points, after transferring Amex Membership Rewards points to ANA. The Amex Platinum (Benz) has a sign up bonus of 75,000, and there are various other Amex cards which offer 25k or 50k to make up the difference. The lie flat seats would be a huge plus, and SPG (Starwood) hotel points can be transferred over to ANA as well.
If you do go to Japan, I HIGHLY recommend hitting up an Onsen, as that kind of Hot Springs experience in the revered nature of Japan is a very unique experience. The traditional ‘Japanese things’ are fun, but my personal favorites were the serene temples with free roaming deer in Nara, biking through Arishiyama (temples + Monkey Park) and drinking sake in the park with hundreds of locals during Hanami (Cherry Blossom Watching).
ProTip: If you have access to a kitchen, Kobe Beef is ‘regular steak’ priced in Japan. They have mini supermarkets even in the densest part of the cities, and you can prepare an amazing meal with unique stuff you find at the grocery store or pick up at the Tsukiji Market.