Ultimate Reader Success Story to Japan


One of our readers, Christy, just sent this reader success story to Japan to us – talk about an ultimate redemption and trip! Here’s her story:

My husband and I just returned from a nearly 3-week trip to visit our son living in Japan, visiting the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, and Iwaki. This is not our first epic trip (and I don’t believe it will be our last!), but it is our first trip using credit card points and miles to such a great extent. 

Previously, we put every purchase on a no-fee Capital One VentureOne and used the purchase eraser feature to erase some of our travel expenses (plus, I’m an OCD budgeter who looks to stretch travel dollars).  But with both of our grown children now living thousands of miles away, I knew this would not allow visits with them as often as we would like, nor would it fund other trips we dreamed of beyond that. 

In looking for a solution, I stumbled upon the points/miles community, including Travel Mom Squad, in late 2020.  We started slow (the world was shut down, and we waited to complete a home purchase). We took advantage of an incredible Chase Sapphire Preferred welcome offer, added the Venture X, and built from there.  I hope sharing how we used our points and our time in Japan will help others see the possibilities.



When we booked in May of 2022, Japan was still closed to tourists, and we were speculatively booking our future trip to fit our son’s vacation schedule in March 2023. Because this was my first time transferring points to book with a travel partner, I was a bit nervous about the process. But I messaged back and forth with Alex a bit, which boosted my confidence in the process (thanks, Alex! 😊). 


The Flight

I transferred 147K Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United and paid $113 in taxes for 2 round-trip economy flights, flying ANA and United metal to/from Chicago.  We drove from our home in Michigan on the morning of our flight.  Unfortunately, there was no Priority Pass lounge access in our terminal that we could access with our Venture X benefit. Would I like to have flown business class? YES!! But since this was all pretty new and there was more to book, economy it is. We also figured business seats could be possible for future trips if we hated economy. 

Our ANA economy seats were actually fine on the way to Tokyo (13 hours nonstop). ANA is an excellent airline with lots of legroom in economy; I have long legs and was satisfied. My only issue is that my wine was served in a paper cup. We’ve flown American economy to Paris and had wine served in a champagne flute, so this was a disappointment.  



Upon landing at Haneda Airport, it was a problem-free 40 minutes from wheels down until we had processed through the COVID check (which won’t be necessary after May 8), customs, and immigration, and we were hugging our son after 14 months apart! Using the Visit Japan preclearance portal was a factor in speeding entry into the country.  Also, after researching and talking with our son, we made the decision to travel carry-on only (something I HIGHLY recommend for Japan), which meant no stopping for luggage pick-up.

Japan has a phenomenal public transportation system, which we planned to use for all our travels. Before leaving home, we downloaded a Suica card to our Apple Wallet (in the wallet, use the + symbol at the top right; under the Transit Card option, scroll down to Suica; Pasmo is also available). 

Each person traveling will need their own card. We preloaded ours using Citi Premier Mastercard (you can also use AMEX, but not Visa). 

Using Sucia allows you to easily tap in/out of the metro system (trains, subways, certain busses), but it can also be used as payment at stores and vending machines. It’s super convenient, especially when it’s already loaded on your phone when you arrive! We took the train from Haneda Airport directly to Asakusa, where our hotel was located.

During our time in Japan, we continued tapping in/out of the metro and easily reloaded the Suica directly from our phones with our Citi Premier as needed without any problem.  At the end of our trip, we used the Suica to buy snacks at the airport to deplete all but a few yen.  Not all travel can be paid for via Suica; in some regions of Japan, cash is still used regularly. We took one short cab ride towards the end of our trip; otherwise, it was all train, subway, or walking.  

We knew we’d use the Shinkansen (bullet train) to travel beyond Tokyo. Our plans in Japan included visiting Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, and Iwaki using Japan Rail lines. Using an online calculator, we determined that a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) was the most economical way to pay for those trips. 

If you stay in Tokyo, there is little likelihood a JR Pass will pay for itself, but the online calculators can help you determine for certain.  We purchased two 14-day JR passes (active beginning the 3rd day in Tokyo until the day we left Japan) and paid for our son’s Shinkansen and JR Express tickets for $1,119 total. I used our Venture X and erased these charges; the actual cost $0.



Hotels in Japan are generally small and charge based on the number of adults per room (usually age 13+); it is also common for them to have single beds.  Accommodation for more than 2 people per room can be harder to find.  Because we were traveling with our adult son and didn’t want to be in separate rooms, we considered this when looking for hotels. 

Traveling carry-on, we also made sure both hotels had coin-operated laundry onsite. Another factor was that our trip fell during Sakura (cherry blossom) season, which is peak season in Japan and reflected in availability and pricing.  

In Tokyo (Asakusa), we spent 5 nights at the Richmond Premier International Hotel. I booked via Agoda during a Thanksgiving sale. Five nights in a premier room for three adults, breakfast included, was discounted to $798.  I used our Venture X and erased the charge; actual cost $0. 

The hotel was great; we loved the area and would stay there again. Our room was nicely sized by Tokyo standards, had an excellent breakfast buffet with both Japanese and Western offerings, and had an espresso machine in the lobby. 

Though it wasn’t necessary for us since our son speaks Japanese, the front desk staff speaks English. The hotel provided an assortment of free amenities for guests, such as bath salts, toothpaste, razors, slippers, pajamas, etc. Best of all, our room had an amazing view of both the Tokyo Skytree and Senso-ji Temple (a short 5-minute walk away). 


View of Tokyo Sky Tower

View of Tokyo Sky Tower from the hotel room


We covered a lot of ground during our Tokyo stay, including visits to: 

  • Senso-ji Temple
  • Tokyo Skytree,
  • teamLab Planets,
  • Shinjuku Gyoen Park
  • Shinjuku
  • Ginza
  • the world’s largest Uniqlo,
  • Shibuya Sky
  • Shibuya Scramble
  • Meguro River
  • Zojo-ji Temple
  • Tokyo Tower
  • Ueno Park
  • Tokyo Zoo. 

Our son took us to some of his favorite Tokyo restaurants, including Ichiran and CoCo Curry Ichibanya, and others that looked like local favorites because we were the only tourists there. It’s a fabulous city, and I’ll happily visit again!



We took the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station using our JR pass. Depending on your travels, it may be less expensive to fly between cities in Japan, but then you miss the experience of riding a bullet train across the country (we saw Mt. Fuji!) and exploring some of the shops and food offerings in the main train stations…they are a wonder! 

Then, we took the subway to our hotel at Hyatt Place Kyoto, conveniently located above a subway stop.  Kyoto’s transportation system is less extensive than the one in Tokyo, and we used busses to reach some Kyoto locations, but every trip started with a subway ride, and the Hyatt Place location was a convenient starting point. 

It was helpful that the hotel provided a similar assortment of amenities as our hotel in Tokyo (slippers and pajamas seem to be common amenities in Japan). When booking, Hyatt Place Kyoto was a Category 4 hotel. It was peak season, which meant 18k per night.  I transferred 108k UR points from Chase to Hyatt to cover our 6-night stay; the actual cost $0.

Midway through our stay, the downgrade of the hotel to a category 3 became effective, and I was told to expect 9k points credited back to my account. The hotel is new, tastefully decorated, and includes a generous breakfast buffet with Japanese and Western offerings. 

The layout of the room made it a bit easier for 3 adults to move around than in our hotel in Tokyo. There was no view from our room, which was a bit of a disappointment after the great view from our Tokyo hotel. The breakfast buffet, though good, also didn’t measure up to the one provided at the Tokyo hotel, which was so good that it would be hard for any hotel to top. 

This was my first stay at a Hyatt, and it won’t be my last. We walked past the Park Hyatt Kyoto during our tour; the location is fabulous if you’d like to try to fit that into your plans. 

We used our Kyoto hotel as a base to explore not only Kyoto but also Osaka and Himeji. Both cities can be easily reached by train for day trips. In Kyoto, we visited:

  • Sakura illuminations at Nijo Castle
  • IG famous tatami mat Starbucks on Nineizaka Street
  • Kiyomizu-dera
  • Ryozen cemetery
  • Climbed the thousands of torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha
  • Walked Philosopher’s Path under the full Sakura blooms
  • Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion)
  • Kinkakuji (Golden Temple). 
  • Riding the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station, we took a day trip to Himeji to tour Himeji Castle (as seen in “Shogun” and “You Only Live Twice”). 


Red Japanese Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine


Japanese building

Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto


On two days, we took the train for day trips to Osaka, where we explored the vibrant areas of Shinsekai, Shinsaibashi, and Dotonbori, as well as Osaka Castle and the Umeda Sky Building observatory. 

We tried sushi from a fun conveyor belt sushi restaurant, food from the street markets, and pizza from an Italian restaurant in Kyoto Station. But my favorite food experience of the trip was in a tiny crepe restaurant run by an older couple who spoke no English (though a younger man working there did).  I asked my son to let them know their crepes were better than any I had in Paris.  


Busy shopping area with Japanese signs

Osaka, Japan


After 6 nights in Kyoto, it was time to head to our son’s home in Iwaki for the remaining 5 nights of our trip.  We rode the Shinkansen back to Tokyo Station, then took a JR Express train for the 2.5-hour trip to Iwaki, where we took the only cab ride of our trip for the short ride to his apartment to avoid waiting for the next bus.   

The next few days were more personal to us and included meeting our son’s friends, touring his workplace, attending his church, and visiting his favorite spots in the town where he lives. One of our visits was to Aquamarine Fukushima, a newer aquarium in Iwaki.  During our time there, we used the bus (no Suica, coins only in some Japanese towns), our JR Pass for the train, and plenty of foot power.  We stayed at his apartment; cost $0.


Goodbye to Japan and a Trip Home

After 2.5 weeks together, we were sad to say goodbye to our son. My husband and I took the JR Express train back to Tokyo Station. Since our flight out wasn’t until later that night, we walked to the nearby Imperial Gardens. The Sakura that had been in full bloom during our week in Tokyo had already passed by this time, but other plants and trees were beginning to bloom, and it was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours. 

We returned to Tokyo Station for a late lunch before boarding the Narita Express train (our final use of the JR Pass) to Narita Airport.  It was a smooth, non-stop, and stress-free way to travel between the city and the airport.  

The airport was pretty quiet (a mid-week evening), and we were directed to use the automated departure gates, which took almost no time at all. With 3 hours before departure, we had time to visit Starbucks (a must) and then put our Priority Pass from Venture X to use by visiting the ANA Lounge. Highly recommend!  While the food offerings were subpar during our visit (glad we had a full meal at Tokyo Station), I was able to have a glass of wine to calm my pre-flight nerves, the lounge was large and had plenty of seating options, and the best of all…private shower suites. 

After a full day with much more to go, it felt great to shower and feel clean before the flight. Our first leg was from Narita to Honolulu, again on ANA economy. Our flight was overnight, and we tried to sleep after the food service. The seats that had seemed so comfortable on the flight over now did not, probably due to a busy couple of weeks and an already long day. Still, I did appreciate the extra legroom on ANA. 


An “Extra” Day

The funny thing about flying backward across the International Date Line is that you get a bonus day!  As we descended into the Hawaiian Islands, we watched the sunrise (again) on the day that we had already lived in Japan. After landing, it was a QUICK re-entry into the USA thanks to Global Entry (a free benefit of our United and IHG cards); it took about 1 minute per person. 

We took a Lyft to the Waikiki Beach area (used our Chase Sapphire Preferred linked to Lyft for 5x UR), used bag storage (with a discount code), and spent the next few hours at Waikiki Beach. We were already tired and didn’t have big plans, but having already visited Maui and Kauai, we were eager to see Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head for ourselves and enjoy some shaved ice. 

After a few hours, we returned to the airport, where we used Priority Pass to enter the IASS Hawaii Lounge (the only Priority Pass lounge available at that terminal). It was nearly empty and had air conditioning, phone charging stations, and drinks, but no bathroom within the lounge; it was okay for our brief stay. 

Our final leg was on United Economy, and as we walked to the gate, I realized my mistake….a United Club Lounge, which I could have accessed using my two passes from the United Explorer card. UGH! I had known that before our trip and planned to use it, but I forgot when the time came. Oh, well….long days of travel will do that to you. Our United economy flight from Honolulu to Chicago made me determined that any future trips to Japan (or similar distance) will involve business class flights on the way home. By now, we were exhausted, and I definitely missed the legroom of ANA economy.  


Bottom Line

Japan is a unique and exciting place to visit. The people are helpful, the transportation system is exceptional, and the cities are clean, safe, and surprisingly quiet. Being able to experience the country as it celebrated the beautiful Sakura blooms was an extra blessing and exceeded my expectations.

Our total trip cost (which also included paying for our son’s expenses once we arrived in Japan) was:

  • $3,200  
  • 147,000 Chase UR points transferred to United Airlines
  • 108,000 Chase UR points transferred to Hyatt (99,000 after expected refund of 9,000 points) 
  • 191,656 Venture miles redeemed (including points from my VentureOne transferred to my husband’s VentureX)

Thanks, Christy, for sharing your Ultimate reader success story to Japan on points and miles with us!

Cherry blossoms along river

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