The Best Ways to Fly to Japan With Points and Miles

Cathay Pacific First Class Cabin

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If you research travel destinations as often as I do, you’ll likely notice Japan is near the top of many wish lists. From the ski resorts in the northern part of the country to the capital city of Tokyo to the beaches in Okinawa, Japan has it all.

Similar to popular destinations like Hawaii, the cash price of tickets to Japan can make traveling there challenging. Thankfully, you can use points and miles to make this hard-to-reach destination a reality without spending an arm and a leg.

In this post, I’ll cover the best programs to use for all cabin classes, including flying economy and business class across a multitude of airline carries. I’ll also share the least expensive way to fly first class from the U.S. to Japan.

Have an upcoming trip and looking for insider tips? Check out our Tokyo travel guide for ideas on what to do while you’re in the city.

Best Programs to Use to Book Flights

As we jump into to each redemption, it’s important to note that booking premium cabin award space will require you to book ahead. Since Japan is a popular destination, it can be challenging to find award tickets, particularly the closer you are to the date you want to travel.

When you read through each option, remember that the key to award travel is flexibility in both the points you earn as well as the dates you are looking to travel.

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club

ANA Business Class Seat
Enjoy the comfort of ANA business class. Image courtesy of aluxurytravelblog.com.

ANA’s Mileage Club offers one of the lowest redemption rates for both economy and business class flights to Japan from multiple U.S. cities.

The program’s award chart uses 10 zones, with North America in Zone 6 and Japan in Zone 1. U.S. cities in Zone 6 include:

  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD)
  • New York (JFK)
  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Houston (IAH)

Book Awards With ANA

Award space for ANA flights from the U.S. to Japan can be found on ANA’s website. When flying Star Alliance partner United Airlines to Japan, search for award space on United’s website and then confirm availability on ANA’s website.

ANA uses different award charts when flying their own metal versus flying with an ANA partner like United Airlines. It’s important to note that the ANA award chart when flying ANA has a high, regular, and low season, meaning you can save a significant amount of miles depending on the date you fly.

Unlike many airline award programs, ANA’s Mileage Club requires you to book round-trip award tickets. A one-way award ticket is not allowed.

Here are the round-trip redemption rates and an estimate of the taxes and fees for both nonstop ANA and United Airlines flights from the U.S. to Japan.

Cabin ClassANA FlightsTaxes and Fees
Economy40,000-55,000~$261
Business75,000-90,000~$261
First150,000-165,000~$261
Cabin ClassUnited FlightsTaxes and Fees
Economy50,000~$259
Business85,000~$259
First150,000~$259

Hot Tip:The key to using your ANA miles is fly to during the low season. For 2019, low season is from January 7-February 28 and April 1-25. If you can’t make the low season, regular season runs from March 1-31, May 8-July 24, and August 20-December 17. 

Need help booking this award? Here’s our step-by-step guide to booking business class award tickets on ANA.

Examples of nonstop flights that can be booked include:

  • ANA: Chicago (ORD) – Tokyo (NRT)
  • ANA: Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo (NRT)
  • United Airlines: San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo (HND)
  • United Airlines: New York (JFK) – Tokyo (HND)

Earning ANA Miles

Utilizing the ANA award program is made easier by the fact that ANA partners with 2 transferable point partners: Amex Membership Rewards and SPG. Both Amex and SPG transfer to ANA at a 1:1 ratio.

Amex has a number of personal and business cards that earn Membership Rewards points to choose from, making it easy to accumulate the necessary points.

We recommend the following Amex personal and business credit cards that earn transferable points:

Recommended Amex Cards (Personal)

CREDIT CARDBENEFITS & INFO
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
  • Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points
  • 2x points at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x).
  • 0% introductory APR for the first 15 months on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.74%-25.74%.
  • 0% introductory APR for the first 15 months on balance transfers requested within 60 days of account opening, then a variable APR of 14.74%-25.74%. Terms Apply.
  • Annual Fee: $0
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
  • Earn 25,000 points.
  • $100 Airline fee credit. Terms apply.
  • 3x points for flights booked directly with airlines.
  • 2X points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and at US supermarkets. Terms Apply.
  • Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $195
The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • Access more than 1,100 airport lounges across 120 countries and counting, including the amazing Centurion® lounges.
  • Up to $200 Uber Savings Annually.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit. Terms Apply.
  • Annual Fee: $550

Recommended Amex Cards (Business)

CREDIT CARDBENEFITS & INFO
The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express

The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express
  • Earn 2X points on everyday business purchases such as office supplies or client dinners.
  • 0.0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, then a variable rate, currently 12.99%, 16.99% or 20.99%. Terms Apply.
  • Annual Fee: $0
The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
  • Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points
  • Get 3x points - Choose 1 out of 5 categories.
  • Earn 2x points on the remaining 4 categories
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175. Terms Apply.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN
  • LIMITED TIME OFFER: Earn up to 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com.
  • Access more than 1,100 airport lounges across 120 countries and counting, including the amazing Centurion® lounges.
  • Up to $200 a calendar year in baggage fees and more at one airline.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit. Terms Apply.
  • Annual Fee: $450

As previously mentioned, SPG is also an ANA airline transfer partner, with the added benefit of a bonus when transferring your points in increments of 20,000.

The SPG personal and business credit cards earning transferable points that we recommend are:

CREDIT CARDCARD INFO
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
  • Earn up to $100 statement credit
  • Earn an additional $100 statement credit after making a purchase at a participating hotel during your first 6 months. Terms Apply.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
  • Earn up to $200 statement credit
  • Up to 5x Starpoints® on eligible purchases.
  • Free Boingo Wi-Fi & Free Wi-Fi at SPG participating hotels. Terms Apply.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.

Hot Tip:
When using SPG points for this redemption, don’t forget about the transfer bonus! For every 20,000 SPG points transferred to an airline partner like ANA, you will receive an additional 5,000 miles. The limit is 79,999 points per day, so we recommend only transferring 60,000 points every 24 hours. 

Japan Airlines Mileage Bank

Japan Airlines First Class Seat

The Japan Airlines Mileage Bank program offers competitive rates from the U.S. to Japan on Oneworld partners from Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), and Los Angeles (LAX).

Japan Airlines uses a zone-based award chart when flying its own metal, which is different from its partner airline chart. When flying partner American Airlines, the award chart is distance-based.

Book Awards With Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines award space can be found on Japan Airlines’ website. When flying American Airlines, search for award space on either British Airways or Qantas.

When you locate Japan Airlines availability, it’s important to note that flights can be booked one-way with the same number of miles required from Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

If you are flying American Airlines, we recommend using Great Circle Mapper to calculate your total trip distance. The round-trip distance will correspond to the number of miles required on the partner award chart. American Airlines flights can be booked one-way.

Here are the redemption rates and an estimate of the taxes and fees for both Japan Airlines and American Airlines nonstop flights to Japan:

Cabin ClassJapan Airlines FlightsTaxes and Fees
Economy50,000~$265
Business100,000~$265
First140,000~$265
Cabin ClassAmerican Airlines FlightsTaxes and Fees
Economy50,000-55,000~$259
Business80,000-85,000~$259
First115,000-135,000~$259

Need help booking this award? Here’s our step-by-step guide to booking Japan Airlines business class.

Hot Tip: The sweet spots for this redemption are to fly in economy and business class. If first class is on your bucket list, consider the nonstop Los Angeles to Tokyo route on American Airlines, which only requires 115,000 miles round-trip. 

Here are some examples of nonstop routes bookable on both Japan Airlines and American Airlines:

  • Chicago (ORD) – Tokyo (NRT)
  • Dallas (DFW) – Tokyo (NRT)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo (NRT)

Earning Japan Airlines Miles

The downside to this redemption is that Japan Airlines only partners with 1 transferable point partner: SPG. These points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, and remember that for every 20,000 SPG points transferred to Japan Airlines you’ll receive a 5,000-mile bonus.

SPG has a personal and business credit card that each earn transferable points and come with elevated sign-up bonuses throughout the year. With the merger of Starwood and Marriott, you can earn additional points for paid hotel stays.

Hot Tip:
Japan Airlines offers the lowest round-trip first class award from Los Angeles to Tokyo at 115,000 miles — a fantastic deal for round-trip 11+ hour flights!

Korean Air SKYPASS

Korean Air Business Class Bed
With direct aisle access and a lie-flat bed, you can rest peacefully when flying business class on Korean Air. Image courtesy of Korean Air.

The Korean Air SKYPASS program does not have the most competitive redemption rates, but when you factor in a stopover they become more attractive.

Korean Air uses a zone- and season-based award chart when flying Korean Air metal. When flying a Korean Air partner like Delta, the award chart is only zoned-based.

North America is considered a single zone in the award chart, and includes Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Honolulu (HNL), Houston (IAH), Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA), Toronto (YYZ), Vancouver (YVR), and Washington, D.C. (IAD).

Book Awards With Korean Air

Korean Air award space can be found on Korean Air’s website. When you locate availability, the award can also be booked on Korean Air.

As mentioned above, the program uses different award charts when flying Korean Air metal versus a SkyTeam partner like Delta. For this redemption, the Korean Air award chart is the one to use.

Similar to ANA, Korean Air uses a peak and off-peak award calendar. Flying Korean Air metal during peak dates requires a premium of 35,000, 60,000, and 80,000 miles for economy, business class, and first class respectively.

Here are the off-peak redemption rates and an estimate of the taxes and fees for Korean Air flights to Japan (NRT) with a stopover in Seoul (ICN).

Cabin ClassKorean Air FlightsTaxes and Fees
Economy70,000~$195
Business125,000~$195
First160,000~$329

Hot Tip:The key to this redemption is to fly during off-peak dates and take advantage of the stopover. Peak dates in 2018 are May 11-June 30 and December 7-December 25. 

Need help booking this award? Here’s our step-by-step guide to booking Korean Air business class.

Examples of flights that can be booked with a stopover online include:

  • Atlanta (ATL) – Tokyo (NRT)
  • Dallas (DFW) – Tokyo (NRT)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Tokyo (NRT)

Earning Korean Air Miles

Similar to ANA’s transfer partners, the Korean Air redemption is made easier by the fact that SKYPASS partners with 2 transferable point programs: Chase Ultimate Rewards and SPG. When transferring points to Korean Air, both Chase and SPG have a 1:1 transfer ratio.

Chase offers a multitude of Ultimate Rewards-earning cards providing plenty of options to choose from. Here are a few cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points to consider:

Recommended Chase Cards (Personal)

CHASE PERSONAL CARDBENEFITS & INFO
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • 50,000 bonus points
  • That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide.
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95
Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
  • Earn $150 bonus
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase - it's automatic.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases & balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74-25.49%.
  • Annual Fee: $0

Recommended Chase Cards (Business)

CHASE BUSINESS CARDBENEFITS & INFO
Chase Ink Business Preferred℠ Card

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points
  • That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 in select business categories.
  • Annual Fee: $95
Chase Ink Business Cash℠ Card

Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
  • Earn $500 bonus cash-back
  • Earn 5% cash back in select business categories
  • Earn 2% cash-back on the first $25,000 (combined) spent at gas stations and restaurants each year
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.99%-20.99%
  • $0 Annual Fee
Chase Ink Business Unlimited℠ Card

New! Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card
  • $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening.
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back
  • 0% intro APR for 12 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.99%-20.99%.
  • $0 Annual Fee

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Cathay Pacific First Class Seat

Asia Miles provide another option for Oneworld flights, with the most value being found in economy award flights from Oneworld hub cities like Los Angeles and New York.

The Cathay Pacific program uses several distance-based award charts that start to make more sense once you spend time reviewing how the mileage is calculated.

Book Awards With Cathay Pacific 

Award space when flying Cathay Pacific metal can be found on Cathay Pacific’s website. For flights on Oneworld partners like American Airlines, you can redeem miles for award flights by completing the Flight Award Request Form.

Asia Miles made major changes to their awards on June 22, 2018, with awards now called Standard Award and Choice Award.

Asia Miles Standard Award
Cabin ClassAsia Miles Required by Distance Zone (One-way)
Ultra-ShortShortMediumLong – Type 1Long – Type 2Ultra-Long
1-750 miles751-2,750 miles2,751-5,000 miles5,001-7,500 miles5,001-7,500 miles7,501+ miles
Economy7,50010,00022,00030,00030,00042,000
Premium Economy11,00018,00030,00040,00045,00060,000
Business16,00025,00045,00065,00070,00085,000
First25,00040,00070,000100,000110,000125,000

Asia Miles Choice Award

Cabin ClassAsia Miles Required by Distance Zone (One-way)
Ultra-ShortShortMediumLong – Type 1Long – Type 2Ultra-Long
1-750 miles751-2,750 miles2,751-5,000 miles5,001-7,500 miles5,001-7,500 miles7,501+ miles
Economy11,50015,00034,50046,00047,00063,000
Premium Economy17,50028,00045,00062,50070,00091,000
Business25,00040,00070,50097,500105,000127,500
First37,50060,000105,000150,000165,000187,500

oneworld Multi-Carrier Award Chart

Flying Asia Miles partners gets complex fast. If you fly multiple Oneworld partners there is a unified distance-based chart.

Award zoneDistance in actual milesRequired miles
Economy ClassBusiness ClassFirst Class
010 – 1,00030,00055,00070,000
021,001 – 1,50030,00060,00080,000
031,501 – 2,00035,00065,00090,000
042,001 – 4,00035,00070,00095,000
054,001 – 7,50060,00090,000140,000
067,501 – 9,00065,000100,000150,000
079,001 – 10,00070,000110,000160,000
0810,001 – 14,00090,000135,000220,000
0914,001 – 18,000100,000155,000250,000
1018,001 – 20,000105,000165,000260,000
1120,001 – 25,000115,000185,000280,000
1225,001 – 35,000130,000210,000300,000
1335,001 – 50,000150,000240,000345,000

If you fly an individual partner airline, Asia Miles has separate award charts for every partner. Consult them here.

You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Points, or SPG Starpoints to your Asia Miles account at a 1:1 ratio.

Earning Cathay Pacific Miles

The Cathay Pacific redemption is made much easier by the fact that Cathay Pacific partners with 3 transferable point programs: Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and SPG.

All transferable points transfer to Cathay Pacific at a 1:1 ratio, making it possible to pool points across multiple programs to book this award.

Citi has several personal credit cards that earn ThankYou points to choose from. Here are a few of the cards we recommend:

CREDIT CARDCARD INFO
Citi Prestige® Card
  • 3 ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on airline and hotels
  • 2 points per $1 spent on dining/entertainment
  • 4th hotel night free
  • $250 airline credit that includes flight purchases
  • $100 Global Entry credit
  • Priority Pass Lounge access + 2 guests
  • Annual Fee: $450
  • Our Review


Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card
  • 2 ThankYou® Points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants and entertainment
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Our Review
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
  • 3 ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on Travel, including Gas
  • 2 points per $1 spent on dining/entertainment
  • Annual Fee: $95 (Fee waived for the first 12 months)
  • Our Review

Hot Tip: Familiarize yourself with the different Cathay Pacific award charts to ensure you are pricing your award flight correctly before booking an award ticket. 

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

The Virgin Atlantic Flying Club program is often overlooked, but it can provide tremendous value for flights from the U.S. to Japan.

Virgin Atlantic uses award charts for each of their airline partners like Delta Air Lines, Singapore Airlines, and ANA.

Book Awards With Virgin Atlantic

Award space for ANA flights to Japan can be found on ANA, while the flight will need to be booked by calling Virgin Atlantic at 800-365-9500.

The ANA award charts divide the U.S. into Western USA and Eastern USA zones, with the Eastern zone requiring a 5,000-mile premium for both economy and business class flights, and a 10,000-mile premium for first class flights.

Similar to ANA, the Flying Club program requires you to book round-trip tickets; one-way award tickets are not allowed when flying ANA.

Here are the redemption rates and an estimate of taxes and fees for nonstop ANA flights to Japan:

Cabin ClassANA Western USATaxes and Fees
Economy60,000~$261
Business90,000~$261
First110,000~$261
Cabin ClassANA Eastern USATaxes and Fees
Economy65,000~$261
Business95,000~$261
First120,000~$261

Need help booking this award? Here’s our step-by-step guide to booking business class award tickets on ANA.

Examples of nonstop flights that can be booked by calling Virgin Atlantic include:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo (HND)
  • New York (JFK) – Tokyo (NRT)
  • Houston (IAH) – Tokyo (NRT)

Earning Virgin Atlantic Miles

One of the best aspects of this redemption is the fact that Virgin Atlantic partners with all 4 transferable point programs in Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and SPG.

Points from any of these programs transfer to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 ratio.

Hot Tip: Pooling your points together can make this redemption even better, in case you don’t have enough points to transfer from one program directly to Virgin Atlantic. 

Final Thoughts

Japan is a bucket-list destination that has a variety of redemptions to choose from across all cabin classes. The key to each of these redemptions is to accumulate transferable points across all of the programs to give yourself some flexibility.

Keep in mind that each program uses its own set of award charts and rules, which makes the miles vary depending on what partner you use, the cabin class you select, and your departure city. For the most part, the taxes and fees for each redemption are reasonable.

The competitive mileage requirements paired with reasonable and affordable taxes and fees make a trip to Japan more possible when earning the right points and miles. Now all you have to do is determine when you want to fly!


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The Best Ways to Travel to Japan Using Points & Miles

FAQ

Which airlines include carrier-imposed surcharges on award flights to Japan?

ANA, Japan Airlines, American Airlines, Korean Air, and Cathay Pacific all impose surcharges on flights to Japan.

What is the fewest number of miles you can use to book an economy class award flight to Tokyo?

ANA requires the fewest number of miles to fly economy at 40,000 round-trip, which is during the low season.

What is the fewest number of miles required to fly business class to Tokyo?

ANA also requires the fewest number of miles to fly business class at 75,000 round-trip, which is during the low season.

What is the fewest number miles required to fly first class to Tokyo?

Japan Airlines requires the fewest number of miles to fly first class at 115,000 round-trip. The route is between Los Angeles and Tokyo.

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7 comments

  1. Chris Moore · May 3, 2018 · Reply

    I believe there are two errors in the ANA mileage chart shown: (1) I believe the required number of miles shown is Round Trip, not One-Way and (2) The required number of miles required for Business Class ranges is 75K-90K, not 75K-95K from the US.

    • Michael McHugh · May 3, 2018 · Reply

      Hi Chris!

      We appreciate you catching these errors and you are correct on both. The post has been updated.

  2. Peter Kuehnel · May 4, 2018 · Reply

    I noticed no mention of Singapore Airlines and KrisFlyer, although in my mind they are a great way to get to Asia. Not so for Japan?

    • Michael McHugh · May 4, 2018 · Reply

      Hi Peter

      I could not recommend KrisFlyer as their redemptions rates are not as competitive. For RT on Singapore metal, you’re looking at 70/170/190k E/J/F SQ miles from the West Coast and 116/230/300k E/J/F SQ miles from Houston/East Coast. For RT on Star Alliance metal, you’re looking at 108/210/250k E/J/F. Here’s the SQ metal chart and Star Alliance Chart if you want to check it out.

  3. James · May 5, 2018 · Reply

    Good article Michael especially the FAQ,s at the end! TY!

    • Michael McHugh · May 7, 2018 · Reply

      Appreciate it James. Please let us know if we can help answer any additional Q’s!

  4. Bastian · June 16, 2018 · Reply

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for this article. This is extremely helpful. I am planning to travel to Tokyo end of this year and would like to book an United flight via ANA using my Amex points (my home airport is SFO). I will be traveling with an Infant and I am curious how this will work when booking an award ticket. Could there be any problems?
    Secondly, will I be able to select my seats on the United flight when going through the ANA booking system?
    Thank you!

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