Japan is often a bucket-list destination, but getting there can be expensive. With the right strategy, though, flying to the Land of the Rising Sun can cost you next to nothing. Credit card rewards can cover your airfare, leaving you to pay just taxes and fees — or they can cover the full expense.
Here are four of the best ways you can achieve your goal of booking a trip to Japan without needing to save up for years.
1. ANA Mileage Club
All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest airline, is a great place to start when searching for an award trip to the country. For flights from North America, minimum miles required for a round-trip flight depends on which class you book and when you’re traveling.
|Low season||Regular season||High season|
The seasons change each year, but here’s what to expect for 2019 and 2020 as you prepare for your trip:
- Low season 2019: Jan. 6-Feb. 28, April 1-25, Dec. 1-20
- Regular season 2019: March 1-14, May 7-July 31, Aug. 26-Nov. 30
- High season 2019: Jan. 1-5, March 15-31, April 26-May 6, Aug. 1-25, Dec. 21-31
- Low season 2020: Jan. 6-Feb. 29, April 1-23, Dec. 1-24
- Regular season 2020: March 1-12, May 11-Aug. 6, Aug. 24-Nov. 30
- High season 2020: Jan. 1-5, March 13-31, April 24-May 10, Aug. 7-23, Dec. 25-31
You can search award flight availability on the airline’s website but need to sign up for the ANA Mileage Club program first.
While there is a co-branded card for the airline, issued by the First National Bank of Omaha, its sign-up bonus and rewards program leave much to be desired. Fortunately, there are other cards that allow you to transfer miles. Examples include:
- Platinum Card from American Express
- American Express Gold Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card
One thing to keep in mind is that transferring Marriott Bonvoy points to ANA Mileage Club occurs at a 3:1 ratio, although you will get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer. With Amex Membership Rewards points, on the other hand, the ratio is 1:1. Also, Amex offers airline fee credits on some of its cards, which can save you money on baggage fees and other related costs.
Also, ANA is a member of the Star Alliance, which also includes United Airlines. If you have the United Explorer Card, you could use your miles to book ANA flights through the United website.
2. Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
If you want more options, it may be worth looking into flights with Japan Airlines (JAL). For starters, the airline offers discounts on limited days of the week, which allow you to get a business-class ticket for 80,000 miles or first-class for 110,000. To qualify, you typically need to depart from the U.S. Monday through Thursday and return Tuesday through Friday.
Base miles for non-discounted round-trip fares from the U.S. are as follows:
|Fare class||Base miles required|
Award availability can be limited on certain days, so if no seats are available on a date you want to fly, you’ll be waitlisted. Alternatively, you can book a PLUS ticket for extra miles to open up award availability. The cost above the base requirement can vary based on where you’re departing from and which class you book.
You can search award availability for Japan Airlines flights through its website or its Oneworld alliance partners’ websites.
Again, the First National Bank of Omaha offers a co-branded credit card that earns miles with the airline, but you’re not going to earn much with the bonus or rewards program. Other cards that can help you earn Japan Airlines Mileage Bank miles include the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card.
As with ANA, though, the transfer ratio is 3:1 with a bonus of 5,000 miles with every 60,000 points transferred.
JAL is also a member of the Oneworld alliance, which also includes American Airlines and British Airways. So if you have the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard or the British Airways Visa Signature Credit Card, you can use your rewards with either airline to book flights with Japan Airlines.
3. Korean Air SKYPASS
Korean Air is the largest South Korea-based airline with the option to get a free stopover in Seoul (until July 1, 2020) on your way to Japan. Like ANA, Korean Air has varying mile requirements from the U.S., based on peak and off-peak travel.
In 2019, peak season includes May 16-July 12 and Dec. 10-23. In 2020, peak rates apply May 14-July 10 and Dec. 10-23. You can search for award availability directly on Korean Air’s website.
There are a handful of decent co-branded Korean Air credit cards available through U.S. Bank, including a secured credit card for people with poor credit.
Alternatively, you can earn points with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card and transfer them to SKYPASS at a 3:1 ratio (with an extra 5,000 miles for every 60,000 points transferred).
Another option is to book Korean Air flights through a SkyTeam alliance partner, such as Delta Air Lines. If you prefer this option, consider the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card.
4. Redeem rewards from cards that can cover any flight
Earning airline points or miles with a co-branded credit card isn’t always easy, especially when the sign-up bonus is typically lower in value and you only earn bonus rewards on purchases made with the airline. And while transferring points from the Marriott Bonvoy program is an option, it’s not a very valuable one with a 3:1 ratio.
If you want more flexibility, consider a general travel credit card that can allow you to redeem rewards for any flight you purchase to Japan, regardless of where you find it.
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is an excellent example of this strategy. You book the flight directly with the card, then use your miles to get a statement credit against the purchase, essentially “erasing” the cost.
To take full advantage of general travel credit cards, it’s important to watch out for travel deals. Websites like Dollar Flight Club can alert you when a flight goes on sale, allowing you to save money and still get some or all of the expense covered with your rewards.
Also consider other general travel credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The card doesn’t give you the flexibility to book anywhere but does offer a platform where you can book flights directly with airlines. What’s more, there are some Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners that could help you get to where you want to go.
There’s no single best way to get to Japan using points and miles, so if it’s on your bucket list, the sooner you start researching your options, the better. As you consider each avenue, think about which credit cards can help you get there faster and align with your spending habits.
Whether through a sign-up bonus or rewards earned on everyday purchases, getting the right card sooner than later can help you achieve your goal much faster.
Best Luxury Travel Benefits
- 60,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
- 5X points on eligible flights and hotels
- $15 in free U.S. Uber rides each month ($20 in December)
- $200 airline fee credit each year
- Access to Centurion and Priority Pass airport lounges
- Terms apply