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Emily: Miles and points earned from just a few credit cards can help get you to Japan – or anywhere else you might want to go – for a fraction of the price!
My partner, Alfy, and I flew from the US to Japan round-trip for ~$110 in Business Class per person. He was raised in Japan and had not seen his family for ~20 years! And for 3 weeks of lodging (including some fancy 5-star hotels), I spent ~$450! In this series, I will show you how you can do it, too!
How to Use Miles for a Trip to Kyoto Index:
- Part 1 – Introduction and Planning
- Part 2 – Kyoto Airbnb Review
- Part 3 – What to Do in Kyoto
- Part 4 – Where to Eat in Kyoto
- Part 5 – Day Trip to Nara
The best part of traveling is seeing new places and experiencing things I’d never get to see back home. Kyoto, Japan is a fantastic place to explore old temples, see natural beauty, and meet friendly people. And you can ride all around the city (safely!) on a bike! These experiences made Kyoto a very unique place to visit and a place I would love to return to!
Introduction & Planning
Signing up for just a few credit cards, tracking the spending, and redeeming the bonus points is what allows me to travel, for almost free.
I also get very excited for international travel opportunities. I feel like I learn more about myself and other cultures, and grow more as a result.
This chart shows the retail cost and the actual cost we paid, along with the miles and points we used from credit card rewards.
|Round Trip Business Class Ticket From Austin to Tokyo|
|Retail cost||~$11,000 for 2 round-trip tickets|
|Our Cash Cost||~$110 in taxes per round-trip ticket|
|Miles & Points Used||120,000 American Airlines miles per round-trip ticket|
|Source of Miles & Points||- Citi American Airlines Platinum Select (Current sign-up bonus of 60,000 American Airlines miles after meeting minimum spending requirements)
- Citi American Airlines Executive (Current sign-up bonus of 50,000 American Airlines miles after meeting minimum spending requirements)
|Other Miles & Points to Use||Chase Ultimate Rewards points and/or United Airlines Miles
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (Current sign-up bonus of 50,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points after meeting minimum spending requirements)
- Chase Ink Business Preferred (Current sign-up bonus of 80,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points after meeting minimum spending requirements)
|Additional Information||- You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines at a ratio of 1:1|
We flew in Cathay Pacific Business Class for our flights to Japan. And we flew Japan Airlines Business Class on our way back.
Round-trip Business Class flights to Japan now cost 120,000 American Airlines miles and ~$110 in taxes and fees per person.
Riding on a Cathay Pacific flight was a real treat! It was Alfy’s first time in Business Class, and I love surprising family and friends with a fancy flight experience! But Business Class does cost more in miles, so there is nothing wrong with booking in coach. We recently flew to Hawaii in coach for ~$20! That way, you can take double the amount of trips (and who wouldn’t want to return to Hawaii?!)!
How to Get From Tokyo to Kyoto
We started our mainland Japan tour in Tokyo. Getting from Tokyo to Kyoto was very easy and fast. The rail system is advanced in Japan. Plus, it’s also very easy to navigate, thanks to Google Maps!
And although in many places you’d still want a car, you can get around very easily without one. Don’t forget that if you do want to rent a car in Japan, you will need an international driver’s license. Gas, tolls, and parking can be expensive, as well.
We rode the Shinkansen (the fast train) to Kyoto. We got one-way tickets because our flight back home flew out of Osaka.
I didn’t get a JR Pass. You can read more about the JR Rail pass in this post. Do your own research and do what makes the most sense for you!
Kyoto Airbnb Review
In Kyoto, we stayed in a Private Apartment Airbnb. The total cost for 4 nights was $166. Although very basic, the room came with 2 bikes for an additional ~$10 per day.
We LOVED riding the bikes all around Kyoto! The room came with 2 large beds, a fridge, basic kitchen, and a no-frills bathroom.
We experienced what homes are really like in Japan, with the small bathrooms and kitchens. We really do get spoiled with these fancy hotels sometimes. But we actually loved this place, especially because of the cheap bike rentals (an extra $10 / day).
All we had to do was go downstairs by the elevator and pick up our bikes. It was super easy and we rode them every day, for hours a day!
Airbnbs are great for families and larger groups. Because you’ll get more of an authentic feel for the area you’re visiting and more amenities for the price. Here’s how to find a safe and comfortable Airbnb. And if you use my Airbnb referral link, you can get $40 off your next rental!
What to Do in Kyoto
Kyoto is one of my 2 favorite cities in Japan (the other one being Tokyo). Kyoto was the most beautiful city we visited, and we never ran out of things to do. Here are some of my favorite activities:
Bike Ride to Arashiyama
Hands down, our favorite activity was riding bikes all around town! Bikes are everywhere in Kyoto. Our favorite destination was to Arashiyama, which is a “suburb” on the outskirts of Kyoto.
There’s a beautiful bamboo forest, as well as a monkey park. Don’t miss these places if you’re in Kyoto!
See Old World Japan
In Kyoto, there are also stunning temples and parks to explore. We saw one on our bike ride to Arashiyama.
It was a peaceful place to visit, and I really enjoyed the unique architecture.
In Kyoto, you can also take various cooking classes. Japan is known for its outstanding cuisine, so try to make time for a cooking class. They book well in advance during the busy tourist season, so get your tickets sooner than later. To be safe, I’d advise at least a month or 2 in advance.
Where to Eat in Kyoto
There are so many great restaurants in Kyoto! One of my favorite places was in Arashiyama, and my favorite dessert is a Japanese shaved ice. These desserts are light and refreshing—the perfect antidote on a hot, summer day!
Later in the series, I’ll go into much more detail on what to do in Kyoto, the restaurants I tried, so stay tuned!
United Airlines miles or American Airlines miles are both easy to earn for a trip to Japan!
One-way Business Class partner flights to Japan cost 80,000 United Airlines miles plus taxes and fees. But one-way Business Class award flights with United Airlines only cost 70,000 United Airlines miles taxes and fees.
If you need more United Airlines miles, consider cards like:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You can easily transfer Chase points to United Airlines at a 1:1 ratio!
- Chase Ink Business Preferred– 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- United Mileage Plus Explorer– 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account.
Round-trip Business Class flights to Japan cost 120,000 American Airlines miles and ~$110 in taxes and fees per person.
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:
- Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard – 50,000 American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard – 60,000 American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account
- CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard – 70,000 American Airlines miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 4 months of opening your account
- Barclaycard American Airlines Aviator Red– 50,000 American Airlines miles after your first purchase and payment of annual fee within the first 90 days of account opening
Kyoto has a handful of hotels you can book with points, including the following hotel chains:
- Marriott-Starwood-Ritz Carlton
- Accor Hotels
You’ll have the most options is you are using Marriott-Starwood points because they have 4 locations near Kyoto. Team member Jason is going to be staying at the Crowne Plaza Kyoto (IHG) on an upcoming trip and is looking forward to being only steps away from Nijo Castle.
Or if you want to stay in a neighborhood you could book an Airbnb. You can save money and points this way. Most Airbnbs in Kyoto are ~$50 to ~$125 a night, depending on what amenities you want.
Kyoto and Tokyo were my favorite cities in Japan. I loved riding bikes all around the city, seeing the sites in Arashiyama, and trying some delicious food!
United Airlines miles and American Airlines miles are simple to use for getting to Japan. And they’re easy to earn with these cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Chase Ink Business Preferred
- United Mileage Plus Explorer
- Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
- Barclaycard American Airlines Aviator Red
It’s easy to find cheap accommodations with Airbnb or book hotels with points!