Family Trip to Japan on Points and Miles

Megan

Like most of our readers, I usually pick our next trip destination and then plan and book everything for our family. I’m lucky that my husband is always up for whatever big plans I have for us, but I still occasionally ask if he has any ideas or requests. When I asked him what his dream trip destination would be this time, he quickly answered that it was Japan.

Japan has always been a special place for him. He lived there for a few years as a kid while his dad was stationed in Okinawa. Now that the girls are the age he was when he lived there, he was excited to share that experience with our family. Of course, it’s not cheap to fly a family of five to Asia, so this is how I made our family trip to Japan on points and miles happen. 

 

Family trip to Japan on points and miles

 

We traveled over Spring Break and during cherry blossom season, so I had a hard time finding flight availability for 5 people into any of the major airports in Japan. Although Japan was our end goal, I instead searched many other airports in Asia, such as Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and even Bangkok. I figured that if I could just get us to Asia, then we could take cheap hopper flights between countries.

Ultimately, I found 5 Delta flights bookable via Air France for 50k points plus $14.50 for taxes/fees for each person from our small Rochester, NY airport, with one layover in Detroit and straight onto Seoul. It’s crazy to think that we paid just $72.50 to fly all of us to Korea without the need of positioning to a larger airport

 

2 Week Itinerary for Family Trip to Korea and Japan

Here’s how we spent our 17 days between Korea and Japan.

  • Travel Day to Seoul, South Korea
  • 3 Days Seoul, South Korea
  • 2 Days Osaka, Japan
  • 3 Days Kyoto, Japan
  • 3.5 Days Tokyo, Japan
  • 3 Days Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea
  • Morning in Tokyo Bay, Travel Back to Seoul
  • Travel Day Home

 

Osaka, Japan

After spending a few days in Seoul, we took a quick 1.5-hour flight from Seoul Gimpo International airport (GMP) to Osaka Kansai International airport (KIX). For these flights, I used 8.8k miles + $21 taxes/fees per person to fly on Asiana Airlines. I booked these flights through United, using United miles that we had hanging out in our accounts.

This flight was so lovely. Before they even sat down, the flight attendants knew all three of the girls’ names. They brought them fun activity kits with colored pencils and stickers. The flight attendants even made sure to check on them multiple times during our quick flight. Overall, Asiana Airlines was a lovely experience!

 

Hotel in Osaka

After landing at Kansai airport, we took the metro to our next hotel, Mimaru Osaka Shinsaibashi West. We stayed two nights in Osaka. It’s no secret that we use points and miles to help cut down on travel costs. We almost never have a trip that is 100% on points, and this trip was no different.

We paid cash for our Osaka hotel. The Mimaru Hotels are a Japanese brand and are not members of any hotel brand loyalty program. I booked it through Booking.com, and Rakuten had 6% cash back, too!

Our room had a small kitchenette, dining table, two twin beds, and three tatami mats for the girls. The Mimaru hotels are available all over Japan, in Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. They have rooms that sleep from 4 to 8 people, so they’re perfect for large families. I’d highly recommend them if you want to save your points for flights or fancier hotels. 

 

Things to do in Osaka with Kids

Osaka Castle

The metro system makes it super easy to get around the city. We rode about 15 minutes from our hotel to Osaka Castle. It was a rainy day, but we still spent a few hours walking around the castle and playing in the gardens. We also had our first spotting of Japanese cherry blossoms. We didn’t go into Osaka Castle, but you can. Tickets are 600 yen ($3.87), and kids under age 15 are free. 

 

Osaka Castle - family trip to Japan on points and miles

Osaka Castle

 

Universal Studios Japan

The real reason we came to Osaka was to visit Universal Studios Japan! Our kids haven’t been to any U.S. Universal parks, so they were excited to spend most of our day in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The park opened at 8 a.m. on the day of our visit. I had read ahead of time to arrive early, as they usually open the park early. We were in line before 7 a.m. and inside the park by 7:35 a.m. 

If you get there early, you can get a free timed entry to Super Nintendo World. You can also purchase Express Passes ahead of time, though we didn’t. They were a lot more expensive, but you are guaranteed to ride either four or seven rides, depending on the one you buy.

This was another rainy day, and the park was packed! The weather doesn’t stop the crowds here. When our tickets were scanned, I secured a 9 am timed entry for Super Nintendo World. We went straight to Harry Potter and walked on both of the rides there. And that’s about where our luck ended. My husband rode the Flying Dinosaur by waiting in the single-rider line, and we rode only a few more rides throughout the day. We loved the shows and the parade. There are a number of unique Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts characters to meet, and the girls especially enjoyed the chance to cast some spells in Harry Potter World.

 

Universal Studios Japan Tips

  1. Buy your tickets ahead of time and load them into the app.
  2. Get there early, as the park usually opens before the marked opening time.
  3. If you have the budget, buy the Express Passes ahead of time. 
  4. The magic wands are only 4,900 yen ($32) U.S. here in Japan, while they are $63+ in the U.S. parks. They will work at any of the Universal Parks as they all use the same technology. 

 

Universal Studios Japan

Not a Japanese castle, just Hogwarts at Universal Studios Japan 😉

 

Here are some other things to do in Osaka if you have more time:

  • Shitennoji Temple
  • Shinsekai, Tsutenkaku Tower
  • Namba Yasaka Jinja
  • Dotonbori

 

Kyoto, Japan with Points and Miles

From Osaka, we hopped on a 25-minute train to Kyoto. Once we arrived in Kyoto, we transferred to the Karasuma Line and got off at Marutamachi Station. Once we got above ground from the metro, I was trying to orient ourselves with the map. We turned left and ran right into the Hyatt Place Kyoto front entrance. 

This hotel recently changed from a Hyatt Category 3 to a Category 2. We booked before it changed categories, but we were automatically refunded 33k points when we checked in on the day the new rates went into effect.

Hyatt Place Kyoto is a steal at the new pricing of only 8k points per night. We had a two-twin room and a king room. The front desk staff were so kind as to get us connecting rooms. The cash rate of this hotel is also rather cheap, so I’d definitely check that, too. Hyatt Place Kyoto also had the best washing machines! If you’re like us and travel carry-on only, this was a great place to do your laundry. 

 

Things to do in Kyoto with Kids

Imperial Palace Gardens

The Hyatt Place Kyoto is right down the street from the Kyoto Imperial Palace. We spent our first evening here playing in the palace gardens. Lots of cherry blossom trees blooming, shrines to visit, and a little stream running down the middle of the park made for a fun evening. 

We also ate dinner at a local restaurant across from the palace garden entrance, where a robot delivered our food. That was exciting for all of us!

 

Japan on Points and Miles - Imperial Palace Gardens Kyoto

Kyoto Imperial Palace

 

Fushimi Inari Shrine

As Fushimi Inari is one of the most popular tourist sites near Kyoto, we had an early start this day. I’m so glad we did! We arrived by 7:30 am and started the 3-mile loop right away, beating many of the tour groups. It wasn’t an easy walk as there were many, many stairs. We made a number of stops along the way to take breaks. There are a few small gift shops and water vending machines if you need those as well.

The majority of people only walk the first part, so if you want to get some good photos or the full experience of the shrine, keep walking! It’s worth it to make it to the top. 

 

Fushimi Inari - Points and Miles to Japan

Fushimi Inari Shrine

 

Nara Park and Visitor Center

Nara was one of our favorite places on this trip. We went to Fushimi Inari in the morning and then took the train from there to Nara. We had a great lunch, then walked to Nara Park to visit the bowing deer. Most deer were napping since it was already around 2 pm. We crossed over into the park, further away from the tourist crowds, and found a bench to hang out on. The girls built a fort and cleared some dams in the creek while deer wandered and napped around us. They certainly are not afraid of people. 

The Nara Visitor Center is also worth 1-2 hours of your time. The English-speaking host, Jay, was wonderful. He stayed with us the entire 1.5 hours we spent here to ensure we had the best experience. We learned all about the city of Nara, dressed in kimonos, made deer origami, and left with all of our names written in Kanji. Truly a special time in Nara. 

 

Other sites we visited in Kyoto:

  • Kiyumizu-dera temple
  • Yasaka Pagoda
  • Explore Gion and Higashiyama district
  • Nishiki Market

 

Kiyumizu-dera temple, Kyoto, family trip to Japan on points and miles

Kiyumizu-dera temple

 

As with most of our trips, my wish list of things to do and places to see often gets cut down. We have to remain flexible as sometimes we end up at a fun playground or park and simply don’t get to the next place before it’s time for dinner, baths, and bed. Here are a few places that were on my list for Kyoto that we didn’t get to do:

  • Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
  • Iwatayama Monkey Park

I think I’d love to have more time in Kyoto next time we go to Japan. Four to five days would have been better for us.

 

Tokyo with Kids

We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto to Tokyo. It cost $330 total for all five of us (2 adults, 3 kids). I purchased our tickets ahead of time through the SmartEx app and used my phone to scan us all through. It was super easy, and I would recommend doing this if traveling during a busy season like we were. 

Train tip: Step on the lever under the seat to flip the seats around so that all four face each other.

Once arriving in Tokyo, we checked into the Hyatt Regency Tokyo. This is a Category 4 Hyatt hotel. Standard nights are 15k points, peak nights are 18k, and off-peak nights are 12k. We were there during peak rates and paid 18k/night. Three nights for room 1 was 54k points; for room 2, I used 36k points plus 1 free night certificate. Our 3 nights at a hotel in Tokyo were $0, so you can see how traveling to Japan on points and miles can really help make these family trips to international destinations happen!

I want to note that no connecting rooms were available during our stay. At check-in, the front desk did rework our rooms to get them next to each other, which was nice. The Hyatt Regency Tokyo also has a club room, and lucky for us, Alex and Jess each gifted me a Club Access Award to apply to each room. And doubly lucky for us, the front desk receptionist allowed us to have club access for all 3 nights, even the night we used the free night certificate. Typically, you are not allowed to use two awards for one stay. He did mention that this would be a “one-time” exception. 

 

View of Mt Fuji from Hyatt Regency Tokyo Club Lounge

Mt. Fuji in the distance. View from Hyatt Regency Tokyo Club Lounge

 

Things to do in Tokyo with Kids

Shinjuku Chuo Park

This park is located directly behind the Hyatt Regency Tokyo. It’s a sprawling park right in the middle of the city. There was a very big playground, where the girls made friends with local children and a little girl from the U.K. 

 

Meiji Jingu Shrine - Family trip to Japan

Meiji Jingu Shrine

 

Takeshita Street in Harajuku

I think if the girls could pick one place to spend more time, it would be Takeshita Street in Harajuku. Every single thing on this street is so much fun. We especially enjoyed the giant cotton candy from Totti Candy Factory and rainbow grilled cheese from Le Shiner and spent at least an hour or two in the Capsule toy stores. Setting a budget was necessary because there were SO many options. We gave each of the girls 1000 yen ($6.60 U.S.). Each capsule machine ranged from 200-400 yen, so this was also a good learning experience on budgeting and really thinking about which ones they wanted most. 

 

Tokyo Tower observation decks

A few years ago, we visited Paris and took the girls to the top of the Eiffel Tower. There was no chance we’d miss the opportunity to also go to the top of Tokyo Tower! I reserved our timed tickets ahead of time on the website. It was 2,800 yen per adult ($18.09 U.S.) and 1,800 yen for children ages 7-15 ($11.63 U.S.). 

 

View from Tokyo Tower

View from the top of Tokyo Tower

 

Tokyo Tower - Family trip to Japan on points and miles

 

Explore Asakusa and Senso-ji

Asakusa is an area that definitely needed more time than we allotted. We visited Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, which opened in 645 AD. There is a large market in front of the shrine, and we even saw a man with a monkey doing tricks to the right of it. There were tons of people and also tons of fun and interesting things to do and see. 

 

Senso-ji - Japan on points and miles

Senso-ji

 

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Attending a traditional tea ceremony was on our list, but finding a tea house that would allow children was tricky. Luckily, I found Tokyo Maikoya. They accept children ages 7 and older. I’m so glad I did. This was one of my top favorite travel experiences, and enjoying it with the girls was amazing. 

I had originally booked a family tea ceremony specifically for kids ages 7-12. However, once we arrived we were put with another family with teenage children and a couple, who were traveling without their kids. I was a little worried on how the girls would do, but they loved it!

They sat quietly and listened. We all learned so much. Ultimately, we had the opportunity to make our own matcha traditionally. Toko was our host, and she ensured the girls tried their matcha, then pulled out juice boxes for them to have instead. Truly an unforgettable family experience while in Tokyo!

 

Megan and Tim Tea Ceremony Tokyo

Photo credit to our 9-year-old, Rose

 

Other things to do in Tokyo with kids:

  • Meiji Jingu Shrine
  • Japanese BBQ
  • Ueno Park
  • Tokyo Station Character Street
  • Tokyo banana
  • Imperial Palace
  • Yoyogi Park
  • Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko statue 

 

Tokyo Disneyland

For our two park days at Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, we stayed at the Hilton Tokyo Bay. We paid about $500 cash rate for a family room that slept our entire family of 5. This was the Family Happy Magic Room, with 3 single beds & bunk beds for a family of 5. Standard rooms can be booked on points for 55-61k points per night. Amex points transfer 1:2 to Hilton, so if your family is smaller than ours or you don’t mind getting two rooms, this might be a good option for you. 

We got to the parks about an hour before opening and waited in line until they opened the gates. Once inside, I booked our first Premier Access (like paid lightning lane here in the US), and the 40th-anniversary pass gives you 2 free lightning lanes/fast passes each day. The lines get crazy long for the popular rides, so we paid to ride Beauty and the Beast and Baymax at Disneyland, then Journey to the Center of the Earth and Tower of Terror at DisneySea. They were 2,000 yen/person, but the lines were like 150 minutes, so 100% worth paying to skip.

 

Tokyo DisneySea

DisneySea was simply amazing. I’d say it’s the most immersive Disney park. I had watched some videos on the Tokyo Disney parks but I felt that seeing it in person was even better than I imagined. It rained our whole day in DisneySea, and that was a bummer. However, overall, we really enjoyed the rides we rode, the shows we saw, and simply walking around to enjoy the park.
 
The girls all have new favorite Duffy characters as well. Duffy was exclusively sold in Tokyo DisneySea from 2005-2008 and has recently become more common in the U.S. parks. I didn’t know much about them going into this trip, but we have read up on all the characters since then. Duffy has many friends now, and the girls loved learning all about them while here. 
 
 

 

Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea Pricing

One-day tickets to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea were $260.15 each day for 2 adults and 3 kids. Everyone can also get 2 paid Premier Access (like U.S. park Lightning Lanes), and for the 40th anniversary, everyone will also get 2 free Premier Access.   

 

Airport Transfer from Hilton Tokyo Bay to Narita Airport

After spending three days at the Hilton Tokyo Bay for Disneyland, we checked out and had an airport transfer to Tokyo Narita. The transfer cost about $130 on Viator and 10% cash back on Rakuten.

We flew back to Seoul that morning to catch our flight home. We flew on Korean Air and booked on Delta with Delta points transferred from Amex to Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN). We paid 7.6k miles+$28 taxes/fees for this flight for each person.

I made sure to give us enough time. We had 5 hours from when our Korean Air flight landed until our American Airlines flight home took off. We spent some time in the Priority Pass lounge, but it was pretty disappointing with the coffee machine broken and “make your own” ramen as the food choice.

 

Flights Home from Seoul to Rochester, NY

We flew American Airlines home from Seoul. We used 35k American Airlines miles + $43.95 taxes and fees per person. The total of our 5 flights home from Korea was just $219.75+175,000 miles! While we used flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, we opened the Citi Business American Airline and Barclays American Airline cards to specifically book these flights. I booked 3 flights from my husband’s account (1 adult, 2 kids), and I booked 2 (1 child, 1 adult) from mine. 

 

Overnight Layover at Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Airport

Once we landed in Dallas DFW after our long 12-hour flight from Seoul ICN, we used our Global Entry on arrival. While the process of getting this is sometimes a pain, it is SO nice to walk right through customs and immigration when landing back in the U.S.

We have NEXUS for our whole family. Living near the Canadian border and flying from Toronto often, NEXUS made the most sense for us as you get a fast-track at the border into Canada, as well as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. Adults are only $50, and kids under 18 are free. There are a few cards that reimburse for it, like the United MileagePlus and IHG Premier cards. 

I booked the Hyatt Regency DFW International Airport for only 8k points. We landed at 4 pm and had 5:30 am flights the next morning to get back home to Rochester, NY. This hotel was the perfect spot for a quick overnight. The shuttle was super efficient and on time. I do want to note that our most expensive dinner throughout our 17-day trip was the one we had at the hotel restaurant that night. It was good, though, and the girls were glad to have chicken tenders again and not have to use chopsticks. 

 

Bottom Line

Taking a family of 5 on a big international trip like this takes a lot of planning. Yes, I sometimes feel like a mad scientist piecing it all together, however it’s always worth it in the end. As we were traveling during peak season, the cost for our 5 roundtrip flights to Asia would have been at least $7,000. By using points and miles, we paid only $292.75 in total! Using points and miles made this trip possible for our family. If a family trip to Japan is on your bucket list, I hope this post helps with your planning. 

 

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