Trip Report: Two Simple Trips (to Japan) with Credit Cards

My cousins are not great planners. Fortunately for them, I am a great planner. These are their stories.

Two travelers, two cards. It was late November when J and D mentioned they wanted to go to Japan in March but they hadn’t started planning. After I got over the shock, we jumped into action. We starting searching for cheap flights and hotels (not cheap, no availability), and in the mean time, I had them both apply for the Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard (review). As the cards were en route, we found non-stop roundtrip economy flights on Korean Air for around $920 each and held them for 14 days without paying (which is a nice feature). And as this was going to be a Tokyo only trip, so we eventually found an inexpensive no-frills business-type room at the Pearl Hotel Yaesu, about an 8 min. walk from Tokyo Station (Yaesu North Exit), 8 nights, $1,100. Which, for late March with last minute planning, was about as good as you could ask for. Cards arrived in the mail, they started making their minimum spend, and $3,000+ each later, they exchanged their 46,000+ miles earned (40,000 bonus plus spend) for $460+ in credits for a total of $920+ in savings.

pmbh: What did points and miles help you do on this trip that you may not have otherwise done?

J and D: Because we saved money on our travel, we were able to splurge on things we really wanted to, such as, food and shopping. Plus, as one of the benefits of the card, we didn’t have to worry about international fees.

pmbh: How was the transportation?

J and D: We flew on Korean Air. They had the cheapest tickets at the time we were booking. We also heard good things about them, and they were all true. The staff was very friendly and accommodating, and the service was excellent. We also enjoyed the inflight meals very much. They offered a main meal and a snack, which was large enough to be another meal. On both flights, we chose to eat the bibimbap and it was delicious! The non-alcoholic beverages were complimentary, which was really nice to have on a long flight. Other things that helped the long flight were the comfortable seats and having our own screen to watch movies or play video games. All in all, we would definitely fly with them again.

pmbh: How was your lodging?

J and D: Lodging wasn’t our top priority when we were planning our trip. We chose to save money on our hotel so that we could use it for other things. We stayed at the Pearl Yaesu Hotel. It was cheap, the rooms were cozy, but like everything else in Japan, it was above our expectations. The staff was helpful and friendly, the rooms were clean, we had a fresh set of amenities everyday (towels, robes, slippers, etc), and it was conveniently located near Tokyo Metro Station. It had the basic necessities (bed and bathroom) and that’s all we needed.

pmbh: What were your Top 3 experiences on your trip? 

J and D: Number one would have to be food! Practically everything we ate was the best version of what it was. Some of our favorites were the ramen at Tsuta, the tonkatsu at Maisen, and the wagyu steak at Vimon (which we ate twice). Our tastebuds have been ruined knowing that we cannot get the same quality of food at home.

Number two would be Tokyo’s efficiency. The people, the transportation, the service, everything was top-notch and simple. We never felt like we were lost and we always felt like we could ask anyone for help. Everything was on time, made sense, and worked so well.

Number three would be the never-ending list of things to see and do. Tokyo is so dense and so eclectic that you could visit a Temple, soak at an onsen, and see a robot show all in the same day. Our days were so jam-packed with things to do, yet we barely scratched the surface. We can’t wait to go back and experience more!

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Two travelers, four cards. A and C had planned to go to Japan for a while. Long enough that they each applied for the Barclay (American Airlines) AAdvantage Aviator Red World MasterCard (50,000 mile bonus offer) (review) before it went offline and since resurrected. Long enough ago that they could still redeem  50,000 AAdvantage miles for non-stop roundtrip economy flights ($800+ each) from Honolulu to Japan (arrival: KIX and departure: HND) on Hawaiian Airlines (you possibly still can, but I haven’t found any availability lately — things change fast in this game). They then applied for Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCards and utilized their 92,000+ miles ($920) towards hotels in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. The Hotel Granvia Osaka sits on top of Osaka Station and is accessible by the chuo or south gate. The Sakura Terrace The Gallery is about a 7 min. walk out the south exit of Kyoto Station and is new, modern and inexpensive. The E Hotel Higashi Shinjuku is about a 9 min. walk from Shinjuku Station, in Kabukicho, the sketchiest place in all of Japan (but A stayed in the area on her last trip and wanted to stay there again!). All told, A and C saved $2,400+ on their 11 day trip (after paying annual fees).

pmbh: What did points and miles help you to do on this trip that you may not have otherwise done?

A and C: Our airfare and hotel rooms were basically covered through points and miles. Based on all of the savings for airfare and lodging we were able to splurge on a few meals and entertainment we would have otherwise skipped on this trip.

pmbh: How was your transportation?

A and C: We flew with Hawaiian into Kansai and flew out of Haneda – the usual accommodating Hawaiian Airlines service. The flight into Kansai arrives in the evening and by the time we got through customs it was pretty late and we still had to make our way to our hotel. In the future we probably would stay closer to the airport that night.

pmbh: How was your lodging?

A and C: Hotel Granvia Osaka and Sakura Terrace The Gallery in Kyoto – AMAZING!! Great locations, great service, great accommodations. But our hotel in Tokyo, E Hotel Higashi Shinjuku does not provide AC during the cooler months and room barely fit two adults with two suitcases.

pmbh: what were your Top 3 experiences on your trip?

A and C: Food – Kyubey for sushi and Yoshihashi for sukiyaki (Ryan’s note: very sadly, Yoshihashi has since closed).

Day Trip and Sightseeing in Kyoto — Amazing experience to think you were standing in the same spots that the shoguns(?) lived and fought battles on and seeing the history of Japan still preserved. We saw a real geisha and were able to view the beautiful cherry blossoms lining the sidewalks, temples and parks.

Baseball game —  C loves baseball and this was a treat for both of us. The energy of the crowd with continuous chanting, cheering and banners waving in the air, beer girls running up and down the aisles to fill cups — the ultimate baseball experience! (Ryan’s note: A and C went to see the Nippon Ham Fighters vs. Softbank Hawks at the Tokyo Dome, and reserved their tickets through Japan Ball Ticketssuper easy and reliable service).

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See: Strategies: Two Simple Trips with Credit Cards

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