Konnichiwa Japan Trip Report – Introduction and Planning


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Five months ago I returned from a 2.5 week trip throughout South East Asia. I loved the trip and culture so much that I knew I wanted to see more in Asia, even before the Cathay Pacific 777 touched down in the US. I have a ‘book now and figure it out later’ mentality when it comes to travel, so before I even made it back to my apartment in Chicago, I had two award tickets booked for myself and a willing friend on Japan Airlines to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Trip Report

  1. Introduction and Trip Planning
  2. Japan Airlines Economy From ORD to NRT
  3. Westin Miyako Kyoto
  4. Exploring Kyoto
  5. Day trips from Kyoto
  6. Park Hyatt Tokyo – Part I
  7. Park Hyatt Tokyo – Part II
  8. Exploring Tokyo
  9. Final Thoughts

Planning

As I generally do when planning award travel for myself and clients, I try to balance award flight dates on desired airlines, with hotel award availability at desired properties. For this vacation, there were several good flights and hotels that caught my eye but my true goal was to secure flights on Japan Airlines and nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. I have a good stockpile of AA miles, so I decided to fire up BA.com to search for Oneworld Alliance flight availability. After a few buggy searches returning routing through London and 1500 dollars in taxes, I finally was able to find a direct flight from Chicago to Tokyo Narita on both Japan Airlines and American Airlines. There were some OW routings into Tokyo Haneda which is more convenient to the city but would require an extra stop in the US so I decided to rule that out. I could book the AA flight on AA.com and avoid the forced AA phone booking fee (even though you can’t book online), but the decision was ultimately a no brainer. Having just experienced the incredible flight experience on Cathay Pacific, I was quite interested in giving another Asian airline (and another 777-300ER) a try. I called in to AA and instantly booked 2 round-trip tickets from Chicago to Narita on Japan Airlines for a grand total of 100k AA miles and ~150 dollars after taxes and the unavoidable AA phone booking fee.

As both a Hyatt and SPG guy, I decided to use Hyatt in Tokyo for 3 nights planned there and take advantage of SPG’s 5th night free option on the longer 5 night stay in Kyoto. I applied for the Chase Hyatt Visa when I was a Diamond in January so I had 2 Suite Award Nights in the bank. I was torn between using them at the Park Hyatt Tokyo or the Park Hyatt Paris later this year. After much deliberation, I decided to roll the dice by starting the stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo with one Suite night and padding the next two nights with a standard 22K per night points redemption. Availability was showing on Hyatt.com so I went ahead on locked that in. The Westin Miyako Kyoto was a category 4 hotel at the time of booking so the five nights in Kyoto cost me 40k SPG points or 8k points per night. As you will see in the upcoming hotel reviews, the trip was a clean sweep with 8 out of 8 nights clearing in a suite.

PHTThe grand daddy of award redemptions

PHT View

Suite View

Transportation

Japan’s infrastructure is unmatched. I fly domestically at least twice a week so the ability to move around an entire country via train quickly and comfortably was quite appealing. As expected, the mobility, convenience and comfort doesn’t come cheap with train rides between major cities running well into the $100’s per person per trip. Of course, there is a deal to be had for the savvy traveler!

As a foreign visitor to Japan, you may purchase a Japan Rail Pass before you enter the country. The Japan Rail Pass allows you access at a fixed cost to most Bullet Trains, Local Trains, Airport Express Trains, and runs a line in Tokyo which stops at most of the key tourist hotspots. Because the entire JR network of trains is so complex, it is important to know where and when you can use your Japan Rail Pass, but from my experience, it was able to take us everywhere we wanted to go. We used Kyoto as our home base and went on several day trips from there. At 175 MPH and no TSA Security checks, you can cover a lot of ground!

Bullet TrainNo TSA Checkpoints Here

Please stay tuned for my upcoming trip report on the incredibly modern, yet traditional Japan.

GoldGolden Pavilion

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

About alex

Alex loves to travel and does so a lot. Logging 100,000 flight miles each year over the past 4 years, Alex uses points and miles to power his passion. Alex is continuously striving to experience the far reaches of the globe. In his day job, Alex is a Management Consultant frequently on the road advising Technology organizations. I love thinking about, reading about, and talking about all things travel. Feel free to reach me at pmmalex@gmail.com

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Comments

  1. Alex, I was looking forward to seeing your trip reports since your first post on the PH Tokyo. BTW, thanks for your tips. I’m also planning to stay at the Westin Miyako Kyoto, so can’t wait for your next installment. Unfortunately, as a lowly SPG Gold and visiting during Hanami I might not be as lucky as you with your suite upgrades. I have called and emailed to inquire about using extra cash/points, but I was told it was not possible as I had booked a cash&point stay (when it was still a category 4, of course) 😉

  2. @Mon – You’re very welcome! I am excited to share my experience. Even as a lowly Gold, you have a lot to look forward to with this property.

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