Tips for Getting the Miles & Points You Need for a Trip to Japan!
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Emily and I started this blog to share with you the secrets of Big Travel with Small Money. Because with miles & points, you can achieve your travel dreams and save $1,000s (or even more!) at the same time!
Million Mile Secret Agent Maikul asked:
I’m looking to get started in the miles & points hobby. I took my wife to Japan last year, and she has been dreaming of going back ever since. The tickets we booked were a steal and we can’t afford to splurge on ~$1,500 round-trip tickets a piece. So I was wondering, if we both signed up for the right cards, would we be able to be authorized users on each others’ accounts and pool our points together?
Yes, Maikul, you can absolutely do this! Some reward cards even award bonus points for adding authorized users! And those miles or points will automatically be added to the cardholder’s account.
You could earn frequent flyer miles with a single airline. But I suggest giving yourself more flexibility by earning transferable points. My favorite transferrable points are Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which will give you plenty of options for getting to Japan!
Earning the Miles & Points You Need for Awards to Japan
Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to several airlines that can get you to Japan, including United Airlines, Korean Air, and Singapore Airlines.
Here are the miles you’ll need for each round-trip coach award flight:
- United Airlines – 70,000 United Airlines miles
- Singapore Airlines – 70,000 Singapore Airlines miles from the West Coast or 116,000 Singapore Airlines miles from Houston or the East Coast
- Korean Airlines – 70,000 Korean Air miles (off-peak), 105,000 Korean Air miles (peak season)
These aren’t the cheapest awards you can find (as I’ll show you). But they could be the best to use because of how easy it is to earn the miles & points you’ll need. I suggest earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points and United Airlines miles. Because you won’t have to worry about off-peak awards or where in the US you’re flying from.
Plus, United Airlines usually has lots of open award seats. And if you get the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card, you’ll have access to even more award tickets!
You can earn the miles you need with cards like these:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening. But there is no authorized user bonus and a $450 annual fee (not waived).
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Card – 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. You’ll earn an additional 5,000 United Airlines miles after you add the first authorized user and make your first purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.
You could earn the 140,000 miles & points you need with just 3 bonuses!
In Maikul’s case, he and his wife could each get a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. And one of them could get the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card. With those 3 cards, they’d have 165,000 miles & points:
If Maikul and his wife get these 3 cards at the same time, they’ll need to spend $10,000 within 3 months ($4,000 minimum spending X 2 Chase Sapphire Preferred cards + $2,000 minimum spending for the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card) to earn the bonuses!
That can be a lot for some folks. So depending on your situation, you might want to spread your applications out over several months.
Beware the Chase “5/24” Rule!
Chase has strict credit card application rules. If you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards from any bank within the past 24 months, you are NOT likely to be approved for a new Chase card. And being an authorized user will count toward your “5/24” limit.
There are some exceptions to the rule. But those cards aren’t as useful in Maikul’s situation.
That said, if you qualify for business credit cards, some banks will not report business accounts to your personal credit report. So business cards from those banks (including Chase!) will NOT count towards your “5/24” limit.
If you’re not sure how many cards you’ve opened in the past 2 years, you can check your 5/24 status with Credit Karma.
How to Fly to Japan for Fewer Miles (And Avoid the “5/24” Rule)
Alaska Airlines isn’t part of a major airline alliance. But they still have a bunch of great partner airlines. So you could use Alaska Airlines miles to book awards on their partner airlines to Japan.
Here’s what it would cost round-trip per person in coach from the US to Japan on an Alaska Airlines partner flight:
- American Airlines – 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles (off-peak), 65,000 Alaska Airlines miles (peak-season)
- Cathay Pacific – 60,000 Alaska Airlines miles
- Hainan Airlines – 60,000 Alaska Airlines miles
Alaska Airlines miles are usually harder to earn than United Airlines miles. Plus, in order to book an award on a partner airline, you’ll need to find low-level award seats. And American Airlines can be stingy with their low-level awards.
To fly 2 people from the US to Japan in coach, you’ll need at least 100,000 Alaska Airlines miles. But I would recommend collecting at least 120,000 Alaska Airlines miles so that you won’t be limited to booking American Airlines off-peak partner awards.
You can earn Alaska Airlines miles directly, with these cards:
- Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card – 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles and $100 statement credit after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of opening the account (only available to those who haven’t had the card before).
- Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Business Card® – 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of opening your account.
Or consider these cards, because Starwood points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to Alaska Airlines miles:
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express – 25,000 Starwood points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express – 25,000 Starwood points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account.
For every 20,000 Starwood points you transfer to an airline with a 1:1 transfer ratioin, you get 5,000 bonus miles. So the bonus on the AMEX Starwood card is worth 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles. Neither of these cards has bonuses for adding authorized users.
To earn 120,000 Alaska Airlines miles Maikul and his wife will need to earn the bonuses from 2 credit cards each:
Even though Maikul and his wife would be signing up for more credit cards using this method (4 in total), the minimum spending requirements will only be $8,000 ($3,000 minimum spending X 2 AMEX Starwood cards + $1,000 minimum spending X 2 Bank of America Alaska Airlines cards)!
If you’re looking to book award flights to Japan, you have options!
For example, you can book 2 round-trip coach tickets for 140,000 United Airlines miles OR 100,000 to 130,000 Alaska Airlines miles (depending on the season).
In Maikul’s case, he and his wife could earn all the United Airlines miles they need from only 3 Chase card bonuses. They could get the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase United MileagePlus Explorer cards. But they’ll have to take Chase’s stricter application rules into consideration.
Or, they could consider earning and using Alaska Airlines miles for their tickets. In which case they’d each need to apply for an AMEX Starwood personal or business card, and a Bank of America Alaska Airlines personal or business card.
Thanks again for the great question, Maikul!
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)