The Best Ways to Use Miles and Points to Get to Japan

Japan is a perfect destination to use award travel to get to. There are tons of options to get there so you should always be able to find a route and an airline for your and some redemptions are extremely cheap, even in business class. In this article, I’m going to focus on the best ways to use miles and points to get to Japan via Tokyo, although you can use many of the figures to estimate the requirements for getting to other parts of Japan. 

Tokyo Airports 

Tokyo has two large airports, Tokyo International (HND) and Narita International (NRT). While HND is a much busier airport than NRT, there are actually many more direct flights to NRT from the US than there are to HND. The only drawback is that NRT is much further away from Central Tokyo (about an hour farther away). My recommendation is to explore options with both airports to increase your chances of finding a flight that fits into your desired schedule. 

Lots of direct flights 

There are tons of different direct flights to Tokyo from various places in the US, especially from NRT.

Direct flights to NRT include (organized roughly west to east):

  • SEA (ANA, Delta)
  • PDX (Delta)
  • SFO (ANA, United)
  • SJC (ANA)
  • LAX (ANA, American, Delta, JAL, Singapore, United)
  • SAN (JAL)
  • DEN (United)
  • DFW (American, JAL)
  • IAH (ANA, United)
  • MSP (Delta)
  • ORD (ANA, American, JAL, United)
  • ATL (Delta)
  • DTW (Delta, 1X a week)
  • IAD (ANA, United)
  • EWR (United)
  • JFK (ANA, JAL)
  • BOS (JAL)

Direct flights to HND include (organized roughly west to east):

  • SFO (JAL, United)
  • LAX (ANA, American, Delta)
  • MSP (Delta)
  • ORD (ANA)
  • JFK (ANA)

All of these direct flights mean that you shouldn’t have much difficulty in finding a direct route to Tokyo. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with connecting and I’ll explore some of those options below, but I think it’s always good to have an idea on the direct options to a given destination.

Sushi class Tokyo
Taking a sushi class in Tokyo.

1. ANA 

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 50,000
  • Business class: 75,000+

ANA

Booking ANA flights with ANA miles is a superb way to get to Tokyo because the hard product of ANA is one of the best and the fees are actually pretty reasonable. When booking on ANA’s metal, the mileage requirements will differ depending on whether you’re booking on low, regular, or high season.

Chart showing seasons for ANA.

The mileage requirements to get to Japan from North America are as follows:

  • Low: 75,000
  • Regular: 85,000
  • High: 90,000

The rates for booking an ANA flight for only 75,000 miles roundtrip in low season in business class also come with only $86 in fees! This is an absolute steal of a redemption but availability can be an issue sometimes so try to plan in advance and be flexible.

One of the best deals to Japan in low season.

You can also book stopovers on flights not departing from Japan when flying ANA.

Business Class, ANA B787 Dreamliner
ANA business class on 787. Photo by Jason Lawton.

To find out more about ANA and their booking policies read my guide on ANA

Star Alliance Partners 

When you use ANA miles to book with Star Alliance Partners, the travel seasons don’t apply and it’s just a standard rate of 85,000, regardless of when you travel. The drawback to booking partners with ANA is that you must book roundtrips. 

Asiana

Asiana is one of the major airlines in South Korea and it’s a great way to use ANA miles to get to Japan because the surcharges are pretty reasonable and can stay around $160. What’s even better is that the availability is superb (at least when I searched). As I researched flights from the US, I found tons of flights with multiple business class seats. The business class seats on Asiana are often highly reviewed, so you’d get to experience a quality product on your way to Japan.

Asiana has a number of flights to the US including:

  • ORD
  • HNL
  • LAX 
  • JFK 
  • SFO
  • SEA
Asiana Airlines Business Class Seats
Asiana Airlines Business Class Seats on a 777. Photo by Luke Lai.

United

United always stands out as a great use of ANA miles because there are usually no surcharges when you book a United flight. However, you can’t forget that United usually does pass on surcharges for flights to Asia. These fees are usually pretty reasonable like Asiana’s, however and may be around $150 to $180 (although YMMV).

The problem with United is when I searched the United site for business saver seats, almost all of the flights were ANA or Asiana airlines. However, for economy flights, I found a lot more availability. Therefore, if you want to fly United in business, you may struggle to find open seats.

Other partners

Singapore Airlines could be a great use of ANA miles but according to Travel Codex, ANA prohibits award booking in first or even business class awards on the A380 or 777-300ER, so that makes things difficult since Singapore flies the A380 to Tokyo (no longer the case). Air China is another Star Alliance partner and it flies out of Beijing, but I struggled to get their flights to show up when searching so I’m not sure how good of an option Air China might be. 

2. Japan Airlines 

  • Alliance: One World 
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 55,000
  • Business class: 80,000-100,000

Japan Airlines is the flag carrier airline of Japan and the second largest in the country behind ANA. JAL offers a number of tremendous rates for redemptions to places and the rates from the US to Japan are outstanding as well. The problem with JAL is that the only major transfer partner is SPG. This makes it very difficult to accumulate lots of miles compared to programs like ANA that is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.

JAL

JAL awards for JAL’s metal operates on a region-based award system, with the following rates. When I went through the booking for one person in business class roundtrip from LAX to NRT, the total fees were only about $90 in addition to the 100,000 miles required.

JAL award chart to Japan from North America.

To find award availability with JAL you can search on their own website or use British Airways’ search function. Availability in business class was somewhat of an issue from some of the cities, so you might have to try a little harder to find open seats for business class. However, I came across tons of open economy awards. 

JAL flies to the following destinations:

  • BOS
  • DFW
  • JFK
  • LAX
  • HNL
  • ORD
  • SAN
  • SFO

Partners

JAL awards on partner airlines operate on a distance-based award chart. For routes from the West Coast to Tokyo, you’re going to be looking at the lower 80,000 mile requirement for business class and for routes departing from the middle of the country or East Coast, you’ll be hit with the higher 85,000 mile requirement.

The surcharges listed (at the bottom of the award chart) for American Airlines and Cathay Pacific are both below $100, so if you’re looking to book with a partner, I’d consider those two to limit fees. Plus, the 80,000 and 85,000 mileage requirements are way cheaper than what American and even Alaskan would require for the same flights. Another good thing about JAL is that you’re allowed to book one-way flights, making it very easy to piece together itineraries. 

3. Alaska Airlines 

  • Alliance: Select partners
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG and Bank of America Alaskan credit cards 

Alaska Airlines offers rates that differ depending on the partner, so here are a few of the best ways to use Alaska miles to get to Japan with a few of the best partners.

American Airlines

  • Economy: 50,000 (off-peak); 65,000 (peak)
  • Business class: 100,000

The rates in American Airlines business class using Alaska miles are 20,000 miles cheaper, but remember, Alaska Airlines has a very generous stopover policy allowing one stopover on one-ways and two stopovers on roundtrips. Thus you can get a lot more value using Alaska miles on American Airlines. (Keep reading below for availability.)

Cathay Pacific

  • Economy: 60,000
  • Business class: 100,000

You’ll need to search for award availability with British Airways or Japan Airlines since Alaska often doesn’t show Cathay Pacific award availability. Searching for availability about 4 months out and more, I found several flights with 2 to 4 open spots in business between HKG and HND/NRT. Availability from US airports can be a bit hit or miss but with enough searching it shouldn’t be too difficult to find (I found several seats in business class from SFO to HKG just 4 to 5 months out). Also, the business class product on Cathay typically receives pretty solid reviews.

Cathay Pacific flies to a number of cities in the US, including the following:

  • BOS
  • ORD
  • LAX
  • JFK
  • EWR
  • SFO

Korean Air

  • Economy: 70,000
  • Business class: 105,000

Korean Air availability is best found on its own website but you can also search for it on Delta’s website. I found a ton of availability to Tokyo with Korean Air and many of the award seats also showed up on Delta’s website leading me to believe that award availability to get to Japan with Korean Air is generally pretty solid, though you’ll find it easiest to book several months out.

Sometimes Korean Air will make more award seats available only to SKYPASS, so always try to double check with Alaskan or other websites like Delta to verify that you’ll be able to book the awards you find on the Koran website.

Korean Air flies to the following destinations

  • ATL
  • ORD
  • DFW
  • IAH
  • LAS
  • JFK
  • SFO
  • SEA
  • IAD

4. Etihad Airways 

  • Alliance: Various partners 
  • Ways to earn miles: Citi, SPG, Membership Rewards

Etihad Airways has several partners and they implement different award charts with these different partners. Looking through the various awards charts, many of the charts, such as the charts for ANA, Asiana, and Korean Air are distance-based. However, the mileage requirements based on these charts are substantially more than previous methods shown above so I won’t list them here.

American Airlines

  • Economy: 50,000 (off-peak); 65,000 (peak)
  • Business class: 100,000

One chart that isn’t distance-based and is actually better is the award chart for American Airlines. To get from North America to Japan, the chart shows 50,000 for off-peak economy and only 100,000 for business class. I’ve heard mixed-reviews about what it’s like to deal with booking partner awards with Etihad. Some have had very frustrating experiences but others have had more success, so that’s always something to think about. But if you really want to fly American, then this could be a good use of your Membership Rewards, especially if you transfer over your points during a promotional transfer rate.

5. American Airlines 

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, Citi credit cards

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 65,000 (off-peak); 70,000 
  • Business class: 120,000

Availability for economy SAAver to Japan from various cities was fantastic when I searched. For business SAAver awards it was much more hit and miss, but when I got about 6 to 7 months out, more of those flights started to show up, including many direct flights. Thus, American is a great option for economy but if you want to go with business, you may need to plan far in advance to ensure availability.

As already stated, Alaskan Airlines, JAL, and Etihad all offer cheaper redemptions for these flights on American, so I’d definitely consider booking an American flight with them, first. However, if you’ve got a lot of American miles, I don’t think the rates are very bad and I’d consider using them to get to Japan.

6. United Airlines 

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles:  Chase Ultimate Rewards, Chase cards, SPG (2:1)

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 70,000
  • Business class: 130,000; 150,000 (partners)

The major issue with United is that availability on saver awards is not always the greatest. Searching about 5 to 6 months out, it was very easy to find awards for partners, such as ANA or Asiana in business class but a bit more difficult for me to find actual United flights on its own metal. They are out there, but it’s just going to require extra effort to find them. However, when it came to economy flights, I founds tons of them available from a lot of different cities.

I’d really try to book partners with other methods, though because that savings can be huge. For example, if you were able to book a off-season award with ANA you’d be paying HALF of the miles needed for a roundtrip business class to Tokyo when compared to United!  

7. Delta Airlines 

  • Alliance: SkyTeam Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles:  SPG, American Express Membership Rewards, American Express credit cards

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 70,000+
  • Business class: 150,000+

Delta receives a ton of flack and rightfully so in many cases. Many of their redemptions are very high, they don’t publish an award chart, and their dynamic pricing makes searching for flights a huge headache sometimes. However, sometimes Delta isn’t a bad option at all and getting to Japan can be one of those times it’s not. 

When searching for flights from about 4 months out and longer, I found tons of open seats on Delta’s website. These were for Delta’s own metal and for partners, such as Korean Air, China Southern, and China Easter Airlines. I even found one booking (pictured below) with China Southern for 150,000 miles roundtrip and only $184.96 in fees.  

Delta award ticket to Japan for 150,000 miles.

150,000 miles is a lot more than what some of the other programs require so you may be wondering why I’ve included Delta. Well, first, I’d definitely try to book my award with the other programs that are cheaper first. But Delta has several credit cards with Amex that make it very easy to earn miles with. Right now the Delta Platinum credit card is offering 70K miles, which is enough to cover one roundtrip to Japan in economy. If you coupled that with another card like the Gold offering 50K, then all of a sudden you’re not far off from earning business class tickets. Sometimes Delta offers specials on their flights, so having a stash of Delta SkyMiles isn’t a bad thing. 

Final word

If you’re planning on making Japan a destination then you’re in luck because as you can see you’ll have plenty of options to get there for cheap. Both the miles needed and the total fees can be very reasonable and you should’ve have to break the cash bank or the miles bank to get there, even in business class. 

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