After a long pandemic border closure, Japan opened back up to tourists last fall.
Japan is my favorite country, with its famous cherry blossoms, cutting-edge technology and top-notch hospitality.
The country also has unbelievable cuisine and a service industry that perfectly embodies the cultural importance placed on respect and politeness.
All of this to say, I am unbelievably excited to get back to Japan. Luckily, there are numerous loyalty programs to get travelers there — let’s look at some of the best options.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
I will start with the most aspirational way to get to Japan: All Nippon Airways first and business class. While the cost of first-class awards suffered a devaluation in early 2023, it’s still great value. Business-class redemptions escaped the devaluation and remain one of the best sweet spots in the industry.
Although Virgin Atlantic is now a member of the SkyTeam alliance, the airline still has individual partnerships with other airlines, including ANA (a member of Star Alliance). The Flying Club program is quirky but has some incredibly valuable redemption options.
Here is the round-trip award chart for flights on ANA booked through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club:
In many cases, these prices are lower than most other carriers charge for a one-way award — 90,000 points round-trip in one of the world’s best business-class products is an absolute steal.
Note that prices are marginally higher for flights from the U.S. East Coast and central states than from the West Coast, but the small difference shouldn’t be enough to sway you. You can book one-way trips for half the round-trip ticket cost.
Unfortunately, there are two major downsides to booking ANA tickets with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. One is that ANA is stingy with award availability. The other major downside is that you cannot book tickets online. Instead, you must find award space using a Star Alliance search tool. I like to use United Airlines’ or Air Canada’s websites, as both show all Star Alliance award availability online.
After you’ve noted award availability, you need to call Virgin Atlantic and give the representative the exact flights and class of service you want. The agent will look up and confirm the space. You can then transfer points over to Flying Club. Most transfers process instantly, so you don’t have to worry about losing award space.
Thankfully, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points are incredibly easy to earn. Flying Club is a transfer partner of all the major transferable currencies, including:
- American Express Membership Rewards (points transfer at a 1:1 ratio)
- Bilt Rewards (1:1)
- Capital One miles (1:1)
- Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)
- Citi ThankYou (1:1)
- Marriott Bonvoy (3:1)
When you transfer Marriott points to Flying Club in increments of 60,000, you receive 5,000 bonus miles. In other words, 60,000 Marriott points equal 25,000 Virgin points.
It’s also worth noting that we sometimes see transfer bonuses from programs such as Chase and American Express to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
ANA Mileage Club
Another great way to get to Japan on ANA is through its own loyalty program: ANA Mileage Club.
ANA Mileage Club may not be the most well-known loyalty program, but it does have some great uses.
One of the best ways to use your ANA Mileage Club miles is for business class. ANA business-class tickets from the U.S. to Asia can be booked for as little as 75,000 miles on low-season dates. This is less than many airlines charge for a one-way business-class ticket from the U.S. to Asia. The program also allows for stopovers and open-jaw trips.
ANA prices its own tickets based on the region you’re flying to and from, as well as the season in which you’re flying. Currently, the airline has three different seasons: low, high and regular.
Once you’ve chosen your travel season, you need to find the region your flight is departing from and arriving in. You can find that by scrolling down the page.
It is worth noting that you can only book round-trip tickets with ANA Mileage Club — no one-way awards are allowed. You can also only book off-peak prices on ANA-operated flights.
The easiest way to earn ANA Mileage Club miles is by transferring American Express Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. You can also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to ANA Mileage Club at a 3:1 transfer ratio. You’ll earn a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred, so 60,000 points are worth 25,000 ANA miles.
Alaska Mileage Plan
The Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan program is one of the most highly regarded loyalty programs.
This is due to its generous award charts for partner airlines. Alaska Airlines has different award charts for its flights and each of its partners which opens up numerous award redemption opportunities.
In March 2021, Alaska Airlines joined the Oneworld alliance. This opened up partnerships with major airlines including American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.
Flying first class on Japan Airlines is widely considered one of the best ways to get to Japan. From the great seats to the fantastic onboard cuisine to the incredible service and hospitality, Japan Airlines’ first class is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Flying between North America and Japan will cost 85,000 Alaska miles from the West Coast and 100,000 miles from the rest of the United States for a one-way first-class ticket. Business class redemptions cost 60,000 or 80,000 miles depending on your departure point.
Using Alaska’s search feature is relatively simple. There’s an award calendar, and you can book JAL-operated awards online. Availability in premium cabins isn’t fantastic, but if you’re flexible on your departure date or open to last-minute award space, you may be able to find a good itinerary.
If you need to top up your Alaska balance, the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card offers 50,000 bonus miles plus a $100 statement credit and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) when you make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
Because of its huge list of airline partners in the Oneworld alliance and non-alliance partners, you can earn miles by flying many different airlines and crediting those partner flights to Mileage Plan. Plus, you can earn miles when you fly with Alaska Airlines.
Another Oneworld option to get to Japan is with your American Airlines AAdvantage miles.
Although the program lost some value over the last few years, you can still get a ton out of the program, especially as partner awards are not subject to dynamic pricing. The best way to get real value is through the airline’s international partners in the Oneworld Alliance.
American publishes award charts for each region. On AA’s partner award chart, Asia is divided into four regions: Asia Region 1, Asia Region 2, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. Japan is considered to be in Asia Region 1.
This means you can book Japan Airlines business class for just 60,000 AAdvantage miles each way. It costs 20,000 additional miles to fly in first class. This provides an alternative way to fly on Japan Airlines if earning Alaska miles is too difficult.
One of the easiest ways to earn American AAdvantage miles is through American Airlines credit cards. Here’s a list of current offers:
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 100,000 miles after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. 4 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases. Then, if you spend $150,000 on purchases in a calendar year, you’ll earn a boosted rate of 5 miles per dollar spent on American purchases for the remainder of the calendar year. Earn 10 miles per dollar spent on eligible car rentals and hotels booked through American’s car rental and hotel booking sites, respectively. Earn 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases (see rates and fees).
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per dollar on gas station, restaurant and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases (see rates and fees).
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first four months of account opening. Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases plus telecom merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rentals and gas stations. Earn 1 mile per dollar on other purchases.
- AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after making your first purchase in the first 90 days and paying the annual fee. Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases.
The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select and AAdvantage Aviator Red cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuers.
In addition, you can transfer Bilt Rewards points directly to American AAdvantage at a 1:1 ratio. This can be a great option for those with the Bilt Mastercard® (see rates and fees) who are earning points on rent.
One final option to get to Japan is via a fifth-freedom flight operated by Singapore Airlines. Although this option is limited to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), I thought it would be worth mentioning for our West Coast readers.
Singapore Airlines is famous for its top-notch service, especially in its premium cabins. Plus, this route is operated on a 777-300ER, which allows the possibility of flying Singapore’s first-class product.
The carrier typically blocks premium-cabin award space from its partners, so you’ll have to book through Singapore’s KrisFlyer program. You will need 103,500 miles in business class, or 120,500 miles in first class at the lowest Saver level.
Award availability is typically scarce. However, it is worth noting that KrisFlyer allows you to waitlist for awards if your desired flight or class of service isn’t available when booking.
Fortunately, these miles are easy to earn since KrisFlyer is a partner of most major transferable points currencies, including Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One. Transfers from all of these programs occur at a 1:1 rate.
With Japan finally reopened, we’ve seen a surge in demand for travel to the country over the last year. Cash fares remain quite high as a result, but you may be able to save money on your trips by using points and miles.
That said, you may need to be flexible and book either well in advance or at the last minute to score premium cabin award seats, allowing you to visit one of the world’s most unique countries.
Additional reporting by Ben Smithson.