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How to Stay in Tokyo for Free: Part 1 – Introduction & Planning

How to Stay in Tokyo for Free: Part 1 – Introduction & Planning

Million Mile SecretsHow to Stay in Tokyo for Free: Part 1 – Introduction & PlanningMillion Mile Secrets Team

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Emily:   Have you always wanted to visit Japan?  You can get there for a fraction of the cost with a few credit card sign-up bonuses!

My boyfriend and I recently flew from Austin to Japan for ~$200 round trip in Business Class.  And for 3 weeks of lodging (including some fancy hotels), I spent ~$450!

Japan is a beautiful country with LOTS to see and do, from high-rise skyscrapers to old temples to hot springs.  I loved Tokyo for its energetic neighborhoods, shopping, and delicious restaurants. 

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
The Tokyo Skyline Is Busy and Beautiful

Wherever you go, you’re sure to have an amazing time!  In this series, I’ll go into detail about where I stayed in Tokyo, what to do, and some of my favorite restaurants, and show you how you can do it, too!

How to Stay in Tokyo for Free Trip Report Index:

Introduction & Planning

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always wanted to go to Japan.  Back then, I was in love with Sanrio themed stationery and stickers.  My boyfriend is half Japanese, and grew up in Okinawa, Japan, for the first 20 years of his life.

He left Japan when he was 20, and hadn’t been back since — in nearly 20 years!  Because I love helping fulfill others’ travel dreams, I jumped at the opportunity to reunite family and see Japan for myself!

 Round-Trip Business Class Ticket From Austin to TokyoRoom at Hyatt Hotels in the Tokyo Area
Retail cost~$6,000 to ~$10,000~$700 to ~$1,000+ per night
Our Cash Cost$110 in taxes$0
Miles & Points Used95,000 American Airlines Miles25,000 to 30,000 Hyatt points per night, Free Night Stays
Source of Miles & Points- Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Current sign-up bonus of 60,000 American Airlines miles
- Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
Current sign-up bonus of 50,000 American Airlines miles
- Barclaycard American Airlines Aviator Red
Current sign-up bonus of 50,000 American Airlines miles
- Chase Hyatt
Current sign-up bonus of 2 free nights at any Hyatt after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account
Note:   On June 29, 2017, the sign-up bonus on the Chase Hyatt card is changing to 40,000 Hyatt points after meeting minimum spending requirements. 
Chase Ultimate Rewards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
Current sign-up bonus of 50,000 points
Alternatives- Alaska Airlines - 50,000 miles one-way with certain airlines
- United Airlines - 65,000 miles one-way
- American Airlines - 35,000 miles one-way (32,000 between October 1 and April 30)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
Current sign-up bonus of 50,000 points
- Chase Ink Preferred
Current sign-up bonus of 80,000 points
- Chase Ink Bold & Chase Ink Plus
Not available to new applicants
Additional Information- You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines at a ratio of 1:1
- You can transfer Starwood points to Alaska Airlines at a ratio of 1:1
- You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt at a ratio of 1:1

Tokyo is a vibrant city, and I’d recommend giving yourself at least 7 days to explore.  We were there 5 nights, and it went so fast!

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
I Would Have Loved to Spend a Month in Tokyo to Get to Know the City and Not Feel Rushed

There is really SO MUCH to see!  There are expansive parks with old temples.

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
I Was Fascinated by the Simplest Areas That Locals Didn’t Seem to Think Twice About

You can even have a Mario Kart experience through Shibuya, one of the busiest intersections in the world!

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
Watch out for the Blue Shells!

Whatever you like to do, you are sure to find it in Tokyo.  And you’ll probably find some fun surprises along the way!

Flights

We took Cathay Pacific Business Class for our flights to Japan.  And we flew Japan Airlines Business Class on our way back.

I used American Airline miles to book the trip for free!  Round-trip Business Class flights to Japan cost 95,000 American Airlines miles and ~$110 in taxes and fees.  

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
Japan Air Lines Has an Excellent Business Class Experience

For an even better flight experience, try to find a seat on Cathay Pacific or Japan Air Lines!

$700 a Night Hotel for Free Using Points

In Tokyo, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills.  This hotel regularly sells rooms for $700 per night.  But I booked it for a combination of 25,000 Hyatt points per night and a free night stay!

The hotel had a perfect location that was within ~30 minutes from the main sites via public transportation.

The Park Hyatt Tokyo, while we didn’t stay here, is also an excellent way to use Hyatt points.  Rooms here frequently sell for $1,000+!  But it costs 30,000 Hyatt points per night to stay at this hotel.

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
Great Views of the City From Our Room at the Grand Hyatt

Both hotels have incredible locations, so it just depends on your preference.  But I really liked the Grand Hyatt.  The next time I’m in Tokyo, I’d love to stay at the Park Hyatt to compare!

What to Do in Tokyo

Because Tokyo is such a dynamic and spirited city, it would take years to appreciate all it has to offer.  One of my favorite experiences was exploring the different neighborhoods with a couple of friends at night.

Christina is Alfy’s friend from a high school in Okinawa.  She brought her husband, Cody, with her to show us around the city.  They live in Tokyo so they had plenty of local favorites to show us.

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
Christina and Cody Were Excellent Street Tour Guides

You can tour the neighborhoods yourself and stop at the many convenience stores along the way to grab cheap alcoholic drinks like we did.  And you can drink freely on the streets of Japan!

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
Nightlife in Tokyo Can Be Overwhelming!  It’s Almost as If the Sun Never Actually Sets

There was so much to take in, and we had a blast hanging out!

Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park is similar to New York’s Central Park.

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
Yoyogi Park is a Great Place to Have a Picnic and Just Hang out

In Yoyogi Park, you can find peaceful nature walks, captivating temples, breakdancers of all ages, and different kinds of street artists and musicians.

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
The Park Is Huge, and a Welcome Break From the Concrete Jungle of Tokyo

Tokyo Is a Shopper’s Paradise

Even if you don’t like to shop, you’ll find something in Tokyo.  Trust me, my boyfriend hates shopping, but he ended up buying more clothes than I did! 🙂

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
Tokyu Hands Is Great for Gifts for Family and Friends

There are thousands of shops for everyone, no matter your budget or taste.

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
You Can Even Find Old Model Car Kits

I had a lot of fun seeking out kawaii (cute stuff), vintage clothing stores, and gift shops.  I’ll go into a lot more detail on where to shop in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Sample Unique and Delicious Restaurants

1.   Snack Bars

If you’re hungry and want to try a unique experience, head to a snack bar!

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
Don’t Know What You’re in the Mood to Eat?  Head to a Snack Bar!

You can try out all the unique and delicious snacks (both sweet and savory) that you want!  It’s a lot of fun trying out all of the Japanese flavors and textures!

2.   Character Cafes and Animal Cafes

One type of cafe I really wanted to try while in Tokyo was the character cafes.

There’s an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant, a Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory for Studio Ghibli fans, and even a Pom Pom Purin Café!

Tokyo also has animal cafes, where you can enjoy a coffee and interact with cute animals like cats, bunnies, and owls!  I went to a bunny cafe in Nagoya, and you can pay to do a mini photo shoot with a bunny where you dress it up in costumes and take pictures of it “on location.”

How To Stay In Tokyo For Free Part 1 Introduction Planning
Animal Cafes Combine My Love for Cute Stuff With My Love for Adorable Creatures

Afterwards, you can enjoy bunny-themed food and drinks!

If you do want to try one of these restaurants or cafes, get Marceline Smith’s guide Planning for Japan.

You Can Do It, Too!

1.   Flights

Round-trip Business Class flights to Japan cost 95,000 American Airlines miles and ~$110 in taxes and fees.  

For an even better flight experience, try to find a seat on Cathay Pacific or Japan Air Lines!

If you need more American Airlines miles, consider cards like:

2.   Hotels

I stayed for free at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, which usually costs ~$700+ per night!  I used my 2 free nights from the Chase Hyatt card sign-up bonus for part of my stay.  And I transferred points to Hyatt from my Chase Sapphire Preferred, which is super easy to do.

Note:   On June 29, 2017, the sign-up bonus on the Chase Hyatt card is changing to 40,000 Hyatt points after meeting minimum spending requirements.

There are plenty of hotels where you can stay with points, so it doesn’t have to be Hyatt!  Use Hotel Hustle or Award Mapper to find hotels you can book with points.

Hilton has hotels in Japan including the Hilton Tokyo and Hilton Osaka.  Or you could use IHG points to stay at the InterContinental Tokyo Bay or InterContinental Osaka.  There are lots of options!

Bottom Line

Tokyo is a traveler’s paradise with a lot to offer.  It’s energetic, fun, and truly unique.  Our flights to Japan in Business Class were just ~$200 total, and our 5-night hotel stay in Tokyo was completely free!

My only regret was that we only spent 5 nights in the city.  It just wasn’t long enough!  I can’t wait to return and stay longer.

If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 25,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

More Info

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Thank you for all these tips. We are planning a trip for 2019.

Found this out by accident reading something else – just want to make people aware that Japan has restrictions on bringing in medications and requires travelers to have certain documentation. And, certain medications, like those treating ADHD, are illegal, not just restricted. I was surprised to learn this. So, search for this information if you are planning travel there and if this might impact you.

Hey, MMS, you might want to do a piece on medicine restrictions when traveling to certain places and how to check. Since your blog has such wide readership, this could be really useful to a lot of people.

@ Marilyn- Thanks for the tip! I never knew there could be medicine restrictions and I can see how an important topic like this could be easily missed. Thank you!

@Emily, you’re welcome. Although I’d always collected miles and points when I traveled, it was this blog that really got me “into” it back in 2011, so thank you. I even won 3 days of parking back when you didn’t have so many readers as you do now!

I think it would be really helpful for you guys to do a post on this topic. For me, I actually was reading another blog about someone traveling in the Middle East and having a problem. Then I Googled the topic for some places were were planning to travel to, and found out about Japan’s restrictions. There were some posts on Flyertalk, but in general, it isn’t something you’d actually know about or find easily. Most surprising was some of the meds that are restricted in Japan – I think Sudafed is one of them. Biggest issue is trying to find the info on the Japanese websites about what is illegal, what requires approval documentation, etc. – this would be a good job for Daraius to figure out!! (Sorry, D). But I also wonder if there are other countries that have similar restrictions. You all reach so many people that I think you could add a useful voice on this topic.

Finally, I love that you have more of your own voice on the blog now (and, totally off topic- I really like your longer hairstyle.)

Thanks for all the useful info you provide, and keep up the good work!

@ Marilyn- Glad to hear you are a long time reader and that you won a giveaway. I probably processed it for you back then. The medicine restriction does seem complicated and in need of some research. I’ll make sure Daraius gets right on it! 😉 And thank you for the nice comments regarding my own voice. It means a lot. 🙂

You inspired us to go to Tokyo from your last roundup of Tokyo Trip posts. We saved up a combination of AA / MR points to fly to Japan next month! 120k AA Biz via JAL for $88 in tax. Also, flying ANA One Way on United’s Dreamliner, randomly got a ANA trick to work only using 120k for 2 people Biz class., taxes were $300, but the Barclay A+ took care of that. 2 Free nights at the Park Hyatt, staying at cheap Choice hotels! All in under 4 months, your blog started it all for us. So, thank you!

Hi Vee. Can you tell us more about this trick? I’d love to do business class to Tokyo too.

@Emily – Will do! Thanks for publishing interesting content on your blog! The hardest part like many was finding award space, JAL updates everyday and flights come in and out. AA Agents need to be walk throughed the whole booking process. Looking forward to the rest of your Tokyo Series before we arrive there!

@ARK – Most places would say the trick is dead, but you would have to fiddle with it from different routings to get it to work. I didn’t have enough MR to transfer to ANA so I decided to just have a throw away ticket. Which would be 60k/pp – 65k/pp. From West Coast try the Mixed Cabin from SFO-TYO / TYO-HNL. It should be 62.5k Total ANA points. The throw away ticket would be TYO-HNL economy. Or just take that trip there 🙂 East Coast departures I would try EWR-TYO / Monterrey-HOU. Check United’s award map to see what is available, 90% of the time ANA will have that also.

Thanks so much Vee! I’ll look into it.

@ Vee- I’m so glad we inspired you to go to Tokyo! Japan is a wonderful place. And it sounds like you have planned a fantastic trip–exactly what Big Travel with Small Money is all about! Share your pics with us on social, and let us know if you’re interested in contributing to our “Reader Success Story” series after your trip! 🙂

@Dan–the trip was booked before the AA devaluation.

The AA award chart shows 60k miles each way from US to Japan. How did you book roundtrip business class for 95k miles?

My question exactly!

Yes, it was booked before the devaluation.

I got the same question, seems 110K will be the minimal after the 10K rebate from AA credit card

They are still recovering from nuclear meltdown. I would not travel there with young ones. At least be careful with what you eat there.

@Jason : Agree 100%. Don’t eat seafood over there!

Agree 100%. Don’t eat seafood over there!

This has to be one of the silliest responses I’ve ever read.