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Ultimate Guide to Booking Flights to Japan With Transferable Points

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Ultimate Guide to Booking Flights to Japan With Transferable Points

Jason StaufferUltimate Guide to Booking Flights to Japan With Transferable PointsMillion Mile Secrets Team

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INSIDER SECRET: As with any award flight, pay attention to not only the amount of miles or points it will cost you, but also the taxes & fees.

Japan was never on my travel wish list but after taking a trip there last year, I’m itching to go back. I loved just about everything — the culture, the food, the public transportation . . . and the world-class toilets.

Japan is a popular destination and the Olympics will be there next year, so I thought I’d update this guide on how to get to Japan using transferable points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards.

I’ll be adding different points programs to this guide in the coming weeks, so subscribe to our newsletter to have the updates deliver right to you.

The Deer Park in Nara is a worthwhile side trip. (Photo by Jason Stauffer/Million Mile Secrets)

How to Use Transferable Points for Flights to Japan

To keep things simple, I’ll describe the best ways to fly in and out of Tokyo and I won’t cover every option for every different type of flexible rewards. Instead, I’ll review the most useful and practical transfer partners.

I’ll cover the basics that will help you make an informed decision:

  • Transfer ratio:  How many points do you need to transfer to get the number of miles you need?
  • Transfer time:  How long does it usually take to transfer your points to the airline? This is important because you don’t want to find an award only to see it disappear while you’re waiting for the miles to show up in your account.
  • Award Prices:  How many miles will it take to book a flight to Japan with a particular airline?
  • Partner Award Prices:  You can use most airline miles to book award flights on their partner airlines. For example, you can use United Airlines miles to book award seats on ANA. However, airlines typically have different award charts for their partner airlines. And partner award seats are usually harder to find because in many cases, you’ll only be able to book the lowest priced (e.g., Saver level) awards. Also, airlines sometimes don’t allow partner bookings for Business or First Class seats.
  • Fuel Surcharges:  When you book an award ticket, you’ll always have to pay for taxes and fees, which can be very high depending on where you’re going (e.g., London). But some airlines also add fuel surcharges in addition to the taxes and fees. This can add hundreds of dollars to the ticket cost. So I’ll let you know whether or not you can expect these types of charges with each particular airline.
  • Pros:  What are the reasons you’d want to transfer points to this airline?
  • Cons:  What are the downsides of transferring points to this airline?
  • Other notes:  If there are any special rules, tips, or tricks you should know for the airline, they’ll be covered here.

How to Get to Japan With Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

You can earn transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the following cards:

And the Chase Ultimate Rewards points you earn with the following no-annual-fee cards can be pooled onto the “premium” cards listed above and then transferred to Chase’s travel partners:

British Airways

British Airways operates a distance-based award chart, so British Airways Avios points aren’t the most universally useful rewards for booking awards to Japan. With British Airways, you’ll pay based on the distance of the flight segment, not the total flight distance. So shorter nonstop flights can be a good deal, but if you need a connecting flight, you’ll pay extra for it.

Be aware that as of May 30, 2019, British Airways is changing their partner award chart, so these prices will be increasing.

Transfer ratio:  1:1

Transfer time:  Instant

Award Prices:  British Airways operates a distance-based award chart. You can use the Great Circle Mapper to estimate the distance of each segment of your flight.

 British Airways Avios Points Required for Each Flight
Travel DistanceCoach Premium EconomyBusiness ClassFirst Class
Off-PeakPeakOff-PeakPeakOff-PeakPeakOff-PeakPeak
0 to 649 miles4,0004,5005,7506,7507,7509,00015,50018,000
650 to 1,149 miles 6,5007,5009,50011,25012,75015,00025,50030,000
1,150 to 1,999 miles8,50010,00012,75015,00017,00020,00034,00040,000
2,000 to 2,999 miles10,00012,50020,00025,00031,25037,50042,50050,000
3,000 to 3,999 miles13,00020,00026,00040,00050,00060,00068,00080,000
4,000 to 5,499 miles16,25025,00032,50050,00062,50075,00085,000100,000
5,500 to 6,499 miles19,50030,00039,00060,00075,00090,000102,000120,000
6,500 to 6,999 miles22,75035,00045,50070,00087,500105,000119,000140,000
7,000+ miles32,50050,00065,000100,000125,000150,000170,000200,000

Partner Award Prices: British Airways uses the same chart for their awards and partner awards unless you book a flight with two or more partner airlines. In that case, you’ll want to check this chart. You’ll notice that the prices aren’t good and the fees are hefty.

With almost all partner awards, you can only book the peak price.

With British Airways Avios points, you can book Japan Airlines flights under 650 miles within Japan for 4,500 Avios points one-way plus taxes & fees. And from some West Coast cities, you can book one-way awards on partners like American Airlines or Japan Airlines starting at 25,000 British Airways Avios points plus taxes & fees. But your options for flying cheaply to Japan are limited.

Fuel Surcharges: Yes

Pros: Great for booking short-haul flights within Japan or nonstop flights from the West Coast.

Cons: Not good for folks who can’t fly nonstop or need to fly farther to get to Japan Higher fuel surcharges and fees on some flights. Prices are increasing effective May 30, 2019.

Other notes:

Iberia

Iberia also operates a distance-based award chart. You can even transfer Avios points between your Iberia & British Airways accounts, but you’ll have to jump through a few hoops to do it.

Iberia is a member of the oneworld alliance, so you’ll be able to book partner awards flights with Japan Airlines, American Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

Transfer ratio:  1:1

Transfer time:  Instant

For more details on using Iberia Avios points to fly to Japan, see the Iberia notes under the Amex Membership Rewards section.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines miles are not particularly useful for getting to Japan. The biggest advantage they have is how easy they are to earn. You can transfer points from Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One and Marriott to Singapore Airlines. So if you don’t have enough flexible points to get to Japan in any single program, you can easily combine points and book award flights with Singapore Airlines miles.

Transfer ratio:  1:1

Transfer time:  Up to two days

Award Prices:  Japan is in Zone 7 of the Singapore Airlines award chart. Award flights from the West Coast are comparable in price to other options for coach flights, but Singapore Airlines only flies from Los Angeles to Tokyo. And I’m not sure how easy it is to find available award seats. I searched on the Singapore Airlines website for ~15 minutes and could only find partner award flights. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

Because of Singapore Airlines’ more restrictive routing rules, I couldn’t find flights with Singapore Airlines from the East Coast. But even if you can find those award seats, you’re better off booking a partner award, which will cost fewer miles. Remember to pay attention to fuel surcharges with certain airlines.

Partner Award Prices:  Singapore Airlines is a member of Star Alliance and has a separate award chart. You can book awards with their partner airlines from North America to Japan for:

  • Coach – 108,000 Singapore Airlines miles round-trip
  • Business Class230,000 Singapore Airlines miles round-trip
  • First Class – 280,000 Singapore Airlines miles round-trip

One-way partner awards are half the price of the round-trip partner awards.

Fuel Surcharges:  Singapore Airlines does not add fuel surcharges to their own flights, but if you’re booking a partner award flight, you’ll pay fuel surcharges if the airline you’re flying has them. Most European and Asian airlines add hefty fuel surcharges. Others, like United Airlines, don’t have any fuel surcharges.

Pros:  Some of the easiest airline miles to earn as they transfer from Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One and Marriott.

Cons:  High cost of awards and restrictive routing rules.

Other notes:

  • You are allowed one stopover (layover of 24+ hours) & one open jaw (origin or destination is not the same) on round-trip Saver award flights.
  • You can add stopovers on award flights for $100 each (up to three total), but you can’t book them online.

United Airlines

United Airlines prices their awards as Saver awards and Everyday awards. Saver awards are much cheaper, so those are what you’ll want to find and book. Everyday awards can be absurdly expensive and are typically not a good deal.

But the biggest issue with United Airlines is that it has eliminated its award chart for travel after November 15, 2019. For now, however, partner award prices are staying the same.

Transfer ratio:  1:1

Transfer time:  Instant

Award Prices:   

Again, these prices are valid for travel through November 15 ,2019; after that you should expect award prices to go up during peak travel times and for business- or first-class flights. It’s possible you can find good deals in coach during less popular travel times, which is the case with Delta’s SkyMiles sales.

  • Coach – 35,000 United Airlines miles for a one-way Saver award, up to 80,000 United Airlines miles for a one-way Everyday award
  • Business Class70,000 United Airlines miles for a one-way Saver award, up to 175,000 United Airlines miles for a one-way Everyday award
  • First Class 90,000 United Airlines miles for a one-way Saver award, up to 200,000 United Airlines miles for a one-way Everyday award

Partner Award Prices:

  • Coach – 35,000 United Airlines miles one-way
  • Business Class80,000 United Airlines miles one-way
  • First Class – 110,000 United Airlines miles one-way

Fuel Surcharges:  No, United Airlines does not add fuel surcharges for their award flights or partner award flights.

Pros:  United Airlines awards are easy to find and book and typically there are lots of available award seats.

Cons:   Business- and first-class partner awards are expensive and now that they’ve eliminated their award chart we have no idea what future award prices will be.

Other notes:

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic doesn’t fly to Tokyo or Japan, but they are worth mentioning because they have one of the best options for partner award flights from the US to Japan. And Virgin Atlantic miles are super-easy to collect.

Transfer ratio: 1:1

Transfer time: Instant

Award Prices: There are no Virgin Atlantic flights to Tokyo or Japan.

Partner Award Prices:   Virgin Atlantic has a different award chart for each partner airline. But the only useful partner is ANA, and when I say useful, I mean amazing!

All the prices below are for round-trip awards; you can’t book one-way partner award flights:

Those prices aren’t typos. You can book a first-class partner award on ANA from the West Coast to Japan for only 110,000 Virgin Atlantic miles! That’s only 2,000 miles more than what it would take for a Singapore Airlines partner award in coach.

Unfortunately, you cannot book partner award flights online. You’ll have to book them over the phone (800-365-9500).

Fuel Surcharges:  Yes, but the fuel surcharges on ANA flights are reasonable. I checked a few different flights from the US to Japan and saw fuel surcharges in the $170 range.  You’ll spend an additional ~$100 in taxes & fees.

Pros: Incredible ANA awards and you can transfer from Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, and Marriott to Virgin Atlantic – so they’re easy to earn.

Cons: Can’t search for or book partner awards online. Only one useful award flight option to Japan.  Fuel surcharges on award flights.

 Other notes:

  • You can search for ANA awards on the United Airlines website or Air Canada’s Aeroplan site and then call Virgin Atlantic to book the flights.

American Express Membership Rewards Points

Amex Membership Rewards points are very helpful for getting to Japan because, as you’ll see, they have lots of useful airline transfer partners and they are easy to earn.

If you’ve got a collection of Amex points, ANA is typically the best option for award flights to Japan but one of the best things about Amex Membership Rewards points is the frequent transfer bonuses they have with their partner airlines. And through July 1, 2019, there is a 30% transfer bonus to one of those partners, Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin Atlantic miles are the cheapest way to book partner awards on ANA. And with this bonus, you’ll be able to book a round-trip first-class flight from the US to Japan by transferring only 93,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic (or less if you live on the West Coast).

You can earn Amex Membership Rewards points with these cards:

Card Welcome Bonus & Minimum Spending Requirements
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express


Up to 75,000 Amex Membership Rewards points

50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $10,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account, plus earn an extra 25,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending an additional $10,000 on qualifying purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. Terms Apply.
The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American ExpressNo welcome bonus
The Platinum Card® from American Express


60,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. Terms Apply.
American Express® Gold Card35,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. Terms Apply.
American Express® Business Gold Card
35,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. Terms Apply.
Business Green Rewards Card from American Express5,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after your first purchase on the card within the first year of card membership. Terms Apply.
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
Card Image Not Available
15,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. Terms Apply.
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American ExpressCard Image Not Available
10,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. Terms Apply.
The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card and Amex EveryDay Credit Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Air Canada Aeroplan

Aeroplan is Air Canada’s loyalty program and it is part of the Star Alliance. Aeroplan is also partners with Cathay Pacific, but you can only redeem Aeroplan miles on a few select Cathay Pacific routes, none of which will get you to Japan.

Aeroplan doesn’t have the best award prices to Japan, but they do have handy rules for adding stopovers to award flights (on flights between two continents) and if there is a transfer bonus to Aeroplan it could be a good option.

Transfer ratio: 1:1

Transfer time: Instant

Award Prices: A round-trip flight to Japan costs 75,000 Aeroplan miles in coach, 150,000 Aeroplan miles in business class, and 210,000 Aeroplan miles in first class.

One-way awards cost half of the Aeroplan miles required for round-trip flights.

Partner Award Prices: Aeroplan doesn’t have a separate award chart for partner awards. But they partner with useful airlines for getting to Japan, like United Airlines & ANA.

Fuel Surcharges: Yes, but not with all of their partners. If you want to avoid these extra fees, try booking partner awards flights with United Airlines.

Pros: Visit extra cities for free via stopovers. Lots of useful partner airlines. Frequent transfer bonuses.

Cons: Fuel surcharges on most flights to Japan. Not the best award prices.

Other notes:

  • You’re allowed two stopovers or one stopover and one open-jaw on award flights between 2 continents.
  • Reasonable lap infant fees – $50 to $125 or 5,000 to 12,500 Aeroplan miles.
  • For more tips, check out our guide to using Aeroplan miles.

ANA

ANA (All Nippon Airways) is one of the best options for booking award flights to Japan. They have incredible low-season award prices and good partner award-chart prices during other times of the year.

The biggest drawbacks are how complicated ANA’s award charts and rules are and potentially higher taxes and fees on award flights. I’ll keep things as simple as possible by only including information that is relevant to award flights to and from Japan.

Transfer ratio: 1:1

Transfer time: 2 to 3 days

Award Prices: Flights from North America to Japan with ANA vary in price depending on when you’re traveling. Awards to and from North America are divided into low (L), regular (R), and high season (H).

In the chart below Y is coach, PY is premium economy, C is business class and F is first class. You can only book round-trip international awards:

Here are the dates for each season through early 2021:

Partner Award Prices: The only partners useful for flying to Japan are ANA’s Star Alliance partners. You can fly on more than one Star Alliance partner on a single award flight.

You cannot book one-way partner award flights, so all the prices listed are for round-trip tickets. There is one award chart for the entire year, but it is broken down into Zone 1-A & Zone 1-B.

This is how the ANA website explains the difference between Zone 1-A & Zone 1-B:

What this means for award flights from the US to Japan is you will pay Zone 1-A prices for nonstop flights (but you can have connections within Japan) and Zone 1-B prices if you have a connecting flight.

Fuel Surcharges: Yes, and they are ~$260 (plus taxes & fees). But you won’t pay this extra fee with certain partners like United Airlines.

Pros: Amazing award prices (especially during low-season), lots of direct flight options from the US.

Cons: Must book round-trip award flights. Confusing and convoluted rules. The extra fees can add up.

 Other notes:

  • ANA miles expire after 36 months and cannot be extended.
  • You can have one stopover and one open jaw on award flights

British Airways

It’s not uncommon for there to be an Amex Membership Rewards transfer bonus to British Airways and they can be quite generous, which could make British Airways a useful option.

Transfer ratio: 1:1

Transfer time: Instant

For more details on using British Airways Avios points to get to Japan check the Chase Ultimate Rewards points section.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Cathay Pacific operates a distance-based award chart and they are a member of the oneworld alliance, which includes American Airlines and Japan Airlines.

I don’t think Cathay Pacific’s award prices are good enough to justify the hassle you’ll need to go through to understand their award-booking rules, much less to actually book an award.

But they are transfer partners with most flexible points programs, so it might be easier for you to accumulate the miles you need. And booking award seats with Cathay Pacific miles could make sense if you’re already in Asia and want to book a short-haul side trip to Japan.

Transfer ratio: 1:1

Transfer time: 1 to 2 days

Award Prices: When you’re flying to Japan on Cathay Pacific you’ll need to connect through Hong Kong, so be sure to add in that connection when you’re calculating the mileage for your award. This extra connection bumps all Cathay Pacific awards from the US to Japan into the “Ultra-Long” category.

So this isn’t a great option for award flights to Japan. But you can book one-way awards, which might be helpful for you.

Partner Award Prices: The most useful Cathay Pacific partners for getting to Japan are American Airlines and Japan Airlines. Note that with Japan Airlines you can only book round-trip award tickets with Cathay Pacific miles.

If you are booking an award which includes only one partner airline or one partner airline and Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon, then you’ll use the “Asia Miles Standard Award” chart shown above. A Standard Award round-trip award flight can have up to three stopovers and one open jaw, but the rules are complicated and this doesn’t apply to all award flights. You can read more about the stopover and open-jaw rules under #5 in the terms.

This oneworld multi-carrier chart below applies if your award flight includes:

  • Two oneworld partner airlines, but does not include Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon
  • Three or more oneworld partner airlines and Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon is one of those airlines

For oneworld multi-carrier flights, the stopover and open-jaw policy looks like it could be even more generous but I can’t make heads or tails of it. And I’m not sure how practical it is for most flights to Japan anyway.

Fuel Surcharges: Yes, but certain airlines don’t add them (e.g., American Airlines).

Pros: Miles are easy to earn – they transfer from Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, Capital One and Marriott. Useful for short-haul or one-way awards. Potentially generous stopover and open-jaw policy.

Cons: Expensive award prices. Overly complicated. The most useful partners (for getting to Japan) can’t be booked online.

 Other notes:

  • You can book award flights online if you’re flying on Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Qantas, or Qatar Airways. But for awards which include any other partner airline (which covers most of your options to Japan), you’ll need to fill out a “Flight Award Request Form or call 866-892-2598 to book your award.
  • Use this tool to figure out how much a specific award flight will cost.
  • Sometimes you’ll get a phone agent who doesn’t completely understand Cathay Pacific’s convoluted award booking rules. Don’t be afraid to hang up and call again.

Delta

Delta no longer publishes an official award chart, so it’s hard to estimate how many Delta miles it will cost to get to Japan. And they are a part of the SkyTeam alliance, which doesn’t include any of Japan’s major airlines.

But Delta does have frequent SkyMiles award sales, including great deals to Asia. So this is a good option to keep in your back pocket in case a deal pops up.

Transfer ratio: 1:1

Transfer time: Instant

Award Prices:  Delta doesn’t have an award chart.

From certain cities, like Detroit, you could book Delta’s posh Delta One Suites (Photo courtesy of Delta Airlines)

Partner Award Prices: No partner award chart, but partner awards to Japan tend to have similar prices to Delta award flights.

Fuel Surcharges: Yes, but not on Delta flights originating in the US.

Pros: Potentially useful award sales.

Cons: No award chart, fewer non-stop flight options compared to other airlines.

 Other notes:

  • I’ve seen Delta award sales to other parts of Asia and directly to Japan. These sales could be a good way to get close to Japan and then get a cheap flight for the final leg and see an extra country on the way over.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines has terrible award prices for flights from the US to Japan. They also don’t have any nonstop flights to Japan and you aren’t allowed a stopover in Hawaii, which is the only reason I’d want to connect in Hawaii on my way to Japan. In addition, I’m not sure how easy it is to find the cheapest awards, so that only increases the cost.

But there have been transfer bonuses to Hawaiian Airlines in the past. That could make this a more interesting opportunity, but only if you want to top up your Hawaiian Airlines account for an award flight.

Transfer ratio: 1:1

Transfer time: Instant

Award Prices: The prices listed in the chart below are for one-way award tickets.

Partner Award Prices: No practical partner award options for flights to Japan.

Fuel Surcharges: No

Pros: Low fees.

Cons: No nonstop flights to Japan. No stopovers in Hawaii. Terrible award prices.

 Other notes:

  • This is only a useful option if you already have a collection of Hawaiian Airlines miles and only need to transfer a small amount of Amex Membership Rewards points to top off your account, or if you live in Hawaii.

Iberia

Iberia operates a distance-based award chart, just like British Airways.  And you can even transfer Avios points between your Iberia & British Airways accounts.

Iberia is a member of the oneworld alliance, so you’ll be able to book partner award flights with Japan Airlines, American Airlines, and Cathay Pacific.

Transfer ratio: 1:1

Transfer time: 1 to 2 days

Award Prices: No Iberia flights to Japan.

Partner Award Prices: Iberia has a separate award chart for each of their partner airlines, although most are exactly the same. What you’ll pay is based on the total distance of the trip. For most partners, you’re only allowed to book round-trip award flights.

If you are booking an award with more than one oneworld partner, you’ll use the award chart below. It is the same chart as the award charts for flights with American Airlines and Japan Airlines, which are two of the more useful partners for flying to Japan.

Most nonstop round-trip flights from the US to Japan will be between 10,000 to 14,000 miles in distance, so I’ve highlighted those award prices.

The best deals will be on the shortest flights, so you’ll want to look for nonstop flights on American Airlines or Japan Airlines.

Fuel Surcharges: Yes, but certain partners, like American Airlines, don’t have fuel surcharges.

Pros: Good award prices for certain shorter flights. Easy to earn – they transfer from Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Marriott, and British Airways.

Cons: Some partner awards can only be booked over the phone (which incurs an extra fee).  Partner awards are non-refundable.

 Other notes:

  • You can book American Airlines partner awards online, but you’ll need to call to book partner awards with most other airlines.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines miles are not particularly useful for getting to Japan. The biggest advantage they have is how easy they are to earn. You can transfer points from Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One and Marriott to Singapore Airlines. So if you don’t have enough flexible points to get to Japan in any single program, you can easily combine points together and book award flights with Singapore Airlines miles.

See the Singapore Airlines notes under the Chase Ultimate Rewards section for more details.

Transfer ratio:   1:1

Transfer time:   Up to two days

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic doesn’t fly to Tokyo or Japan, but they are worth mentioning because they have an amazing award chart for partner award flights on ANA. Plus, Virgin Atlantic miles are super-easy to collect and there’s a 30% transfer bonus through July 1, 2019.

With the 30% bonus, you’ll only need to transfer 85,000 to 93,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic to book a round-trip first class award on ANA to Japan. You’ll have a hard time finding a better deal than that.

Transfer ratio: 1:1

Transfer time: 1 to 2 days

See the Virgin Atlantic notes under the Chase Ultimate Rewards section for more details.

Bottom Line

Japan is one place that should be on your travel wish list! Even outside of cherry blossom season, it is one of the most beautiful and cleanest countries I’ve visited, and the people couldn’t be more helpful.

Plus, getting there doesn’t have to cost a fortune. With transferable points, there’s no shortage of options for booking award flights. My wife and I were able to fly to Japan in first class and back from Japan in business class for only a few hundred dollars out of pocket per person. That’s the power of miles and points!

For the next installment of this series, I’ll cover how to get to Japan using Marriott points.

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