Travel Hacking Japan

Well, we’ve gone and booked our delayed trip to Japan! When Japan reopened Fall of 2022, we were already expecting our first baby and felt we hadn’t planned enough to travel-hack our way there before the stork arrived. For those who don’t know, we have travel-hacked our way to almost ten countries and all around the USA. We open credit cards in a strategic manner in order to earn points that give us free flights and hotel stays. In this blog post, I share how we are travel-hacking our way to Japan this year, with a 6-month old baby in tow.

The Biggest Regret Was Not Getting On That Plane

We were set to leave for Japan with a group of friends in March 2020. Due to pandemic precautions, we never got on the plane, not realizing how long the shut-down would stay in effect. Two days after our departure flight, the world shut-down. Not getting on that plane was probably one of the biggest regrets we had for years, as we had acquaintances who took the trip anyway and had no problems returning a few weeks later.

Japan was Mike’s dream destination and we felt like we missed out on a huge opportunity. We had made a goal of seeing the world before starting family growth and we felt the pandemic definitely changed all of that. Now that we’ve entered the family growth stage of our lives, we don’t want travel to be affected. So we decided to travel-hack our way to Japan and jet-set right when baby would be approved for travel. We’re set to take off in October 2023! We couldn’t be happier for Japan to be open again.

Travel Hacking the Flights: Total Cost $250 per person

Since the reopening of the countries borders, the cost of flights to Japan are at an all-time high. I have seen so many friends take their delayed dream Japan trips in the last few months. I have also seen some of them shell out over $1000 per person to get there. Mike and I are pretty frugal about flights, having used credit card points for almost all of them since our marriage. So we wanted a way to get to Japan, but lessen the cost. Unfortunately, even if you paid with points, getting to Japan is impossibly expensive and opening credit cards will not cover the full cost for two people. Thankfully, our 6-month-old infant will get to fly for free.

So we chose to open an American Express Gold card to book our flights to Japan. The flights themselves helped us to hit the minimum spend. The total cost of the flights were about $1,400 for both of us plus our free infant bassinet. With American Express Gold, once you hit the bonus rewards points, you can opt to get $900 back in cash refund which we used to offset the flight costs. This means that it cost us $250 per person to fly to Japan. Considering it would cost us the same amount of money to fly from the West Coast to the East Coast on the same exact dates, I would consider this an absolute win! If you wish to open an American Express Gold card, you can use Mike’s referral link here.

Photo by Manuel Cosentino on Unsplash

Travel Hacking the Hotels: Total Cost FREE!!

I opened one of my favorite cards ever, IHG Rewards Premier (this is my referral code). People don’t typically look at IHG, but we have been loyal to the brand since Mike’s dad worked for Crowne Plaza for over 20 years until 2020. This was the credit card we used to travel-hack part of our honeymoon to New Zealand in 2017!

The IHG Rewards Premier earned me 140k bonus points after hitting the minimum spend of $3,000 in 3 mos. I used these points to book 4 nights at InterContinental Hotel in Tokyo Bay. I love IHG because the 4th night is always FREE. Meaning, I only spent 3 nights worth of points in order to book a 4 night stay.

Mike then opened the IHG Rewards Premier card after me, and received his bonus points. We used his points to book 4 nights at the Crowne Plaza in Kyoto. Together, we had enough left-over points to cover the rest of the single-night stays during our trip. Essentially, opening the IHG Rewards Premier allowed us to stay in Japan for ten days for FREE. If you find value in this, please use my referral link to sign up for an IHG Rewards Premier card. They are currently giving away the most points I have ever seen. By using our referrals, you are also helping this space and us spread the word about travel-hacking. Thank you.

Things to Know About Booking with Infants

Wow. I can’t believe I am now writing about this. But I think it is worth mentioning that there were a few considerations this time around, as we are taking a 6-month old with us. The best advice we ever got from fellow travelers was that the easiest time to travel with a wee one is between 6 months old and 1 years old. Especially on long flights! At this time in their life, they are still mostly sleeping. They haven’t learned how to walk (or run) away from you, or babble all day. They may cry occasionally, but nothing a bit of milk and swaying can’t solve.

When it comes to flights, you should inquire about bassinets. Our flight to Japan is quite long, so we wanted to book a seat with a bassinet in front. There are only two sections of the plane that has this. However, in order to book it, they asked for our newborn’s passport information. But he is yet to be born. So we called the flight company and talked to an attendant who helped us book the seats with a placeholder name for our child. Since we didn’t know his name at the time, we arbitrarily picked one.

There is no charge for his bassinet. It is completely free. But we will apply for his passport once he is born. We can them call the flight company and update his information.

As for hotels, typically when booking with IHG, no rooms are bookable via the website with points if it exceeds 2 people. But if you call in to the hotel, they will typically make an exception for an infant. Many hotels do not count the infant as a third person and will thereby allow you to book the room on their end using points. Especially if you are a card-holder or loyal rewards member! Hotels are great because unlike AirBNBs, they typically have bassinets available for their guests.

In Conclusion…

As a caveat, this is by no means the only way to travel-hack to Japan. This is simply the way we ended up doing it. A lot of factors go into it, including where we are at with the frequency of opening certain cards, as well as what airlines we want to use. Going to Japan means limited flight options, so definitely consider that first. Public transportation in Japan is great, especially if you are going to the touristy areas, so there is no need to worry about booking cars. Just make sure you order your Japan Rail Passes at least a month before departure. You activate the pass once you are in the country.

A great alternative to hotels in Japan would be Marriot, which Mike’s dad currently works for. Our friends are going to be in Japan the same week we are, and as Marriot members, they decided to book their hotel rooms with Marriot. I am also a Marriot fan since family works for them, but we benefit more from friends and family perks rather than rewards points. Either way, I am a proud holder of their Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card (this is my referral link) which I would highly recommend signing up for in order to book a few nights for FREE!

Photo by Redd F on Unsplash

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