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Best Ways to Get to Japan With Miles

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By: Caroline Lupini

Going to Japan is a dream trip for many. The big cities, great food, natural beauty, and the koi ponds are enough to mesmerize even the most well-traveled of people.

But getting there isn’t cheap—especially if you want to fly up front. Economy tickets are often over $1,000, and business class starts at somewhere around $2,500 at any given time. Don’t even get us started on first class tickets.

Fear not! It’s actually very easy to get to Japan with points and miles. A ton of different airlines fly from major U.S. cities to Tokyo (and beyond), and you can use a number of different airline programs to book award flights.

Today we will look at 6 ways to get to Japan using points/miles

Here are six of the best ways to fly to Japan using points and miles.

  1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  2. Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank
  3. All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
  4. Air Canada Aeroplan
  5. United Airlines MileagePlus
  6. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

One of my favorite ways to book flights to Japan is with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles thanks to a few partners.

Alaska Airlines has a different award chart for each airline, and you can’t mix flights on different partners for the same award redemption. However, one-way award flights are allowed and you can include a stopover.

Here’s the one way award prices for both airlines:

AirlineEconomyBusiness ClassFirst Class
Japan Airlines42,500 Alaska miles55,000 Alaska miles70,000 Alaska miles
American Airlines40,000 Alaska miles80,000 Alaska miles110,000 Alaska miles
Alaska Air Mileage Plan

You may find yourself connecting on an Alaska Airlines flight to get to your Japan Airlines departure city or connecting on Alaska or American to pick up your American Airlines long-haul flight.

Connecting flights on Alaska Airlines can be tagged onto an award ticket, but that’s it. You may find yourself connecting on an Alaska Airlines flight to get to your Japan Airlines departure city or connecting on Alaska or American to pick up your American Airlines long-haul flight.

Remember, you can only include one partner on award bookings so you can’t include a domestic connection on American Airlines if you have a flight on Japan Airlines.

How To Book With Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles

Booking your tickets with Alaska Mileage Plan is simple: just search for the award on its website. The search results will show both American and Japan Airlines award space if available. From there, you just select your desired flight and book.

If you’re trying to book a business or first class award, make sure you don’t get stuck with a mixed-cabin award. Annoyingly, you’ll get search results that include a short segment in domestic first class on Alaska Airlines (or American) and a long-haul segment in economy.

How to get to japan using miles

Watch out for mixed cabin awards, which look like this

To make matters worse, you’d be charged the first class award rate. Mixed-cabin awards are denoted with the light blue person in a dark blue seat next to the flight price. An award without mixed-cabin availability would not have that.

How To Earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles

Alaska Mileage Plan is a partner with Marriott Rewards so you can transfer Marriott Rewards points to Alaska Mileage Plan at a 3:1 ratio (which is equivalent to the old 1:1 ratio with SPG).

If you transfer 60,000 points to Alaska Mileage Plan, you’ll receive a 5,000-mile bonus which will yield a total of 25,000 miles. When you consider that each SPG point is worth 3 Marriott points and 20,000 SPG Starpoints used to get you 25,000 Alaska miles, this isn’t a big change. The issue is the earn rates on the SPG credit cards as we’ll discuss below.

Alaska Airlines also has co-branded personal and business credit cards issued by Bank of America that allow you to earn Alaska miles directly.

Alaska Mileage Plan is a partner with Marriott Rewards so you can transfer Marriott Rewards points to Alaska Mileage Plan at a 3:1 ratio

Cards to Help You Earn More Alaska Miles

Due to some recent changes to the SPG Amex credit cards, the best way to earn Alaska miles is with Alaska’s co-branded cards. Both the personal and business versions of the card offer 3X miles per dollar on purchases with Alaska Airlines and 1X mile per dollar on all other purchases.

With the merger of the SPG and Marriott Rewards programs, Amex has reconfigured the earn rates of the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express and the SPG Luxury Card.

These cards each come with bonus categories but only the 6X points you can earn at Marriott and Starwood properties really deserve attention. Non-bonus category spending now earns 2X points which is equivalent to ⅔ the value of the old earn rate.

With this in mind, it’s hard to justify using the SPG cards beyond SPG and Marriott stays.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card Earn 30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card Earn 100,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months(Learn more)

 

Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank

Japan Airlines is part of the Oneworld alliance, so you can use it to book awards on American, Cathay Pacific and more. Japan Airlines has different award prices depending on if you are flying one of its own flights or with one of its partners.

For flights on Japan Airlines, your award will be governed by a distance-based award chart. These are the one-way award rates:

Economy25,000 miles
Premium Economy32,500 miles
Business Class50,000
First Class70,000

Japan Airlines also offers discount awards on limited days of the week. On those days (more in a minute!), you’ll pay the following one-way prices:

Business Class42,500
First Class60,000

The eligible days of the week depend on what direction you are flying. From Japan, you will qualify for the discount awards on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. On flights to Japan, eligible days of the week are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Limited blackout dates apply, and they change each year. You can view the current blackout dates here.

If you book an award with a partner airline, you’ll use a separate distance-based award chart. So, if you fly a partner such as American Airlines, you’ll have to calculate the distance of your flight using gcmap.com. And look up the appropriate mileage cost on the chart below.

How to fly to Japan using miles

JAL Partner Award Chart

How To Book With JAL Mileage Bank Miles

First, try searching for the award on Japan Airline’s website. Note that only some partners are searchable and bookable online, so if you know that you want to fly with a specific partner, you might be able to skip searching with Japan Airlines directly.

The following partners are searchable online:

  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific/Dragonair
  • Japan Airlines
  • Qantas

All other partners are not searchable or bookable directly through Japan Airlines’ website. In the case of other OneWorld partners, it generally makes the most sense to turn to the British Airways website.

In the case of non-alliance partner, Emirates, it is best to use Alaska Airlines website. If you want to fly non-alliance partner Air France, but are not seeing award availability directly with Japan Airlines, you can search for award space directly with Air France or with Delta.

If you find award space on a website other than Japan Airlines, you will have to call Japan Airlines to book your ticket.

How To Earn JAL Mileage Bank Miles

Unfortunately, JAL Mileage Bank miles are very tough to earn.

Japan Airlines has one lackluster credit card which earns 1X point per $1 after paying for the annual fee.

However—as with  Alaska—you can transfer in points from Marriott Rewards. If you transfer your points in increments of 60,000 Rewards Points, you will receive a 5,000 mile bonus. This means that 60,000 Rewards Points will give you 25,000 airline miles. Or in other words, $30,000 of non-bonused credit card spend will give you 25,000 airline miles.

Finally, you can also earn 2X miles per dollar on the Barclays Arrival Premier but the transfer ratio isn’t great at 1.7:1.

Cards to Help You Earn More JAL Mileage Bank Miles

Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months(Learn more)
Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card Earn 100,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months(Learn more)

 

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club

Like United, ANA is a part of Star Alliance. It has some of the better redemption rates for Star Alliance partner flights and very competitive rates for its own flights.  Points are also much easier to earn than with JAL Mileage Bank.

Best ways to get to japan with miles

You will be required to do a round-trip booking if you use ANA miles

The downside to using ANA miles is that you’ll be required to make a round-trip booking, but ANA miles are incredibly easy to earn.

ANA has different award prices depending on whether your itinerary only includes flights on ANA or there is at least one partner flight on your itinerary. If you’re flying ANA, the award price also depends on whether you are flying during the low, regular, or high season.

If you’re booking ANA flights to  Japan with ANA miles, you can expect to pay around $130 in surcharges in each direction, regardless of class of service. But other partners may have higher or lower fuel surcharges.

Air China flights don’t have fuel surcharges when booked with ANA miles while Asiana flights should cost around $320, for example.

Here’s the number of ANA miles needed for a round-trip award to Japan on ANA.

Low SeasonRegular SeasonHigh Season
Economy40,00050,00055,000
Business75,00085,00090,000
First150,000150,000165,000

If you are flying on a partner, the round-trip award prices are as follows:

EconomyBusiness ClassFirst Class
US – Japan Zone 1-A50,00085,000150,000
US – Japan Zone 1-B55,00090,000165,000

Whether your award is to Japan Zone 1-A or 1-B isn’t as simple as what part of Japan you are flying to, but it’s not too complex. If your round-trip itinerary includes a maximum of two international flights and connections in Japan, your itinerary will be considered a Zone 1-A award. All other awards will be considered Zone 1-B.

How To Book With ANA Mileage Club Miles

First, search for the award on ANA website. If you can find availability there, book it and you’re done!

However, ANA requires you to search for round-trip awards, so you might find it easier to search for award space with United using the flexible date search then searching specific dates on ANA.

Be careful of the fact that United will show more award space on its own flights than could be bookable with ANA miles.

How To Earn ANA Miles

American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to ANA Mileage Club at a 1:1 ratio and transfer instantly and Marriott Rewards points transfer at a 3:1 ratio Amex Membership Rewards points will be your best option as the points are much easier to earn.

Cards to Help You Earn More ANA Mileage Club Miles

The Platinum Card from American Express Earn 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months(Learn more)
The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express Earn 2x points on eligible purchases up to $50,000 annually, 1x on all else(Learn more)

 

Air Canada Aeroplan

Aeroplan miles can be used to book tickets on Star Alliance partners to Japan on Air Canada and a number of partners including ANA, Asiana Airlines and United.

how to get to japan using miles

Aeroplan miles can be used to book tickets on Star Alliance partners to Japan on Air Canada and a number of partners including ANA, Asiana Airlines and United

Here’s how much economy, business, and first cost using Aeroplan miles:

Economy45,000
Business75,000
First105,000

If you fly Air Canada to Japan, you can expect to pay around $135 in fuel surcharges and taxes in each direction. Different airlines have different amounts of fuel surcharges. If you want to get to Japan for the lowest cost, you should look at United and Air Canada flights. Bookings ANA or Asiana will cost more, around $100 or $200, respectively.

How To Book With Aeroplan Miles

You can search for award space on Aeroplan’s site but you might find it easier to use United’s flexible date search to narrow down the exact dates with award space. Once you do that, you can search for exact dates with Aeroplan and complete your booking online.

Aeroplan sometimes issues with itineraries that include connections. If United shows award space but Aeroplan doesn’t, search segment by segment. If Aeroplan shows the space, call to complete the booking (1-800-361-5373).

How To Earn Aeroplan Miles

You can transfer Membership Rewards points (1:1 ratio) to Aeroplan. These transfers process almost instantly so you can quickly get your hands on Aeroplan miles.

You can also use the TD Bank Aeroplan co-branded card to earn Aeroplan miles directly.

Cards to Help You Earn More Aeroplan Miles

The Platinum Card from American Express Earn 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months(Learn more)
The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express Earn 2x points on eligible purchases up to $50,000 annually, 1x on all else(Learn more)

 

United Airlines MileagePlus

Have a ton of Chase Ultimate Rewards? You may want to consider using United miles to book awards on United or its Star Alliance partners.

how to get to japan using miles

Here’s how much one-way flights to Tokyo cost in all classes:

Economy35,000
Business70,000
First90,000

How To Book With United Miles

United has a great award search engine that shows all partner availability.

How To Earn United Miles

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United at a 1:1 ratio and these transfers process almost instantly. The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred as well as the Ink Preferred have the ability to transfer points to partners such as United MileagePlus,.

Chase also offers a few co-branded cards that earn United miles directly including:

  • United MileagePlus Explorer Card
  • United MileagePlus Club Card
  • United MileagePlus Explorer Business Credit Card

Each of these cards offer varying benefits and have varying annual fees.

Cards to Help You Earn More United Miles

United Explorer Card 40,000 bonus miles after $2,000 spend in 3 months(Learn more)
Chase Sapphire Preferred 50,000 bonus points after $4,000 spend in 3 months(Learn more)
Chase Sapphire Reserve Earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months(Learn more)

 

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Virgin Atlantic is one of the best ways to book an award ticket to Japan. The airline is partners with ANA and Delta and offers very competitive rates for non-stop flights — it’s actually the best way to book ANA First Class.

best ways to get to japan using miles

Virgin Atlantic is one of the best ways to book an award ticket to Japan

Virgin Atlantic charges different amounts to fly on ANA depending on what part of the US you are flying from. Unfortunately, one-way awards are not permitted, so here’s how much the roundtrip awards cost:

EconomyBusiness ClassFirst Class
Central & Eastern US65,00095,000120,000
Western US60,00090,000115,000

The airports that fall into the Central & Eastern US pricing include:

  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Houston (IAH)
  • New York (JFK)
  • Washington DC (IAD)

The airports that fall into the Western US pricing include:

  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Seattle (SEA)

Note that if a journey includes a connecting flight or stopover, miles are charged for each sector.

It’s also possible to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic at the following one-way rates:

Economy: 40,000 Virgin Atlantic miles
Business Class: 60,000 Virgin Atlantic miles

How To Book With Virgin Atlantic Miles

If you want to book an ANA award with Virgin Atlantic miles, get ready to get on the phone because you won’t be able to book online.

You can first search for award space either on ANA’s website or United.com and then note your ideal flight numbers. Call Virgin Atlantic (1-800-365-9500) to book your flights.

Keep in mind that ANA’s website may show more award availability on ANA flights than Virgin Atlantic has access to, which is why it is a better ideal to search on United.com.

(10xT Founder Bryce went through this process more than once to book his own ANA First Class flight to Tokyo)

While you can actually book Delta awards on Virgin Atlantic’s site, we prefer to put awards on hold by calling (1-800-365-9500) before transferring points to Flying Club. The phone agents are fantastic.

Before you call, you can search Virgin Atlantic’s site for Delta award space. Call to put the award on hold, and then transfer your points so you don’t end up with points stuck in your account and no award availability.

How To Earn Virgin Atlantic Miles

You can transfer points in from all major transferable points programs — Chase, American Express, Citi, and Marriott Rewards — all partners of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

Virgin Atlantic also has two co-branded cards in the USA: the Black and White cards. We recommend using the Black card as it has a larger sign-up bonus and earns 1.5 miles per dollar spent.

Cards to Help You Earn More Virgin Atlantic Miles

Chase Sapphire Preferred 50,000 bonus points after $4,000 spend in 3 months(Learn more)
Chase Sapphire Reserve Earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months(Learn more)
The Platinum Card from American Express Earn 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months(Learn more)
The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express Earn 2x points on eligible purchases up to $50,000 annually, 1x on all else(Learn more)

Bottom Line

Japan is a beautiful country, and it’s even more amazing when you visit for close to free. It might take you some time to learn the ins and outs of the miles you want to use and earn the miles you need to book your ticket, but it’s without a doubt a destination worth the trip.

Have you booked a trip to Japan before? Let us know how you did it in the comments.

Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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3 Comments

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.
  • Reply Paul September 25, 2018 at 9:28 am

    I flew JAL in F NRT to LAX in March. Booking on the Alakska website via points could nit have been easier. Wonderful redemption in terms of CPP and luxury. The sign on bonuses with Alaskas BofA cards helped with the points. Go to Japan! Loved every minute of it!

    • Reply BryceConway September 25, 2018 at 10:03 am

      Awesome job Paul!

  • Reply VX_Flier September 25, 2018 at 9:36 pm

    Hi @Caroline,

    The picture that’s supposed to be of a Virgin Atlantic aircraft is actually one from Virgin America, which is no longer around.

    I don’t mind it because VX was my favorite airline, and I still miss flying with them.

  • Leave a Reply