A Luxury Trip for Two to Japan for Less

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion Temple) in  Kyoto, Japan

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion Temple) in Kyoto, Japan

It's no secret I love Japan. I've been to Europe and Australia many times as well and really enjoy those places, but Japan is my home away from home. And for my girlfriend's very first visit there I had no choice but to unleash a Machiavellian plan to fly there in business class, stay in five-star hotels, and thoroughly enjoy the tastiest foods, timeliest trains, and most transcendent temples in my favorite country. No one should go his or her entire life unable to sleep, wondering what okonomiyaki (a pan-fried dish consisting of batter and cabbage) tastes like.

The Challenge: Book two international business class flights to Japan and 12 nights of hotel stays in luxury hotels all for less than $1,000.

How could I do this, you ask? With magic spells and voodoo, of course. Actually, it's much easier to achieve this goal using frequent flyer miles and hotel points so I decided that was the way to go.

If you're wondering about the difference between flying international economy and flying international business class, let me explain.

Let's start at business class check-in: That's the one without the line. Next up: the priority security line. That's the super-short one just to the side of the gajillion people dead tired from standing so long, waiting to take their shoes and belts off.

Now it's time to relax in the airport lounge before boarding. Yes, thanks to our snazzy business class tickets instead of running to our gate just in time to catch the flight after standing in line after line, we await our departure while enjoying some free food, free drinks (including alcohol), free Wi-Fi, quiet and comfy seats, fancy bathrooms (as my girlfriend always points out), and a quiet escape from the masses at the gate area.

Now on to the flight itself: Wide, cushy chairs greet us with pillows, blankets, and the menu, a preview of delicious food to come. (Did I say delicious when referring to airline food? Darn right.) When I ask the flight attendant which sake she'd recommend I receive a complimentary sake "tasting" of three kinds of sake while my girlfriend samples the Japanese appetizers and peruses which movie she wants to watch on her private entertainment screen.

This is all before arriving at our awesome destination. Domo arigato frequent flyer miles!

The streets of Tokyo at dusk

Tokyo: my home away from home. With all the money I saved, I had plenty of cash on hand to take my girlfriend shopping in the fancy stores of Ginza, eat amazing food at every turn, and wander the streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku taking in the sights and sounds of Tokyo.  

When we got tired we simply strolled back to our amazing hotel room, such as the one we had at the Hilton Tokyo Hotel (reserved on points), which came complete with a queen-size bed, a desk and work area, an incredible view, and a rooftop tennis court.

Our room at the Hilton Tokyo

So how much did two international business class flights and 12 nights of hotel stays at 3- to 5-star hotels cost?

Total Cost Using Frequent Flyer Miles and Points: $1,001.23 USD

What?!?! Egads! I went over my projected budget by $1.23. Oh, the horror! Well, this is embarrassing. I don't know how I can live with myself… 

Wait. Actually, I do. I just think about what this trip would have cost me if I HADN'T used frequent flyer miles and points.

Wanna take a guess? Okay, brace yourself.

Total Cost Without Using Frequent Flyer Miles and Points: $13,279.20 USD

Let me break it down for you:

To begin with, the award flight I chose was only available from a few select departure cities. The closest to us was San Francisco. So we had to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco before starting our international trip. As you can see below, two flights from LA to San Francisco are really cheap, plus it was a great excuse to spend an evening on each end of our trip in beautiful San Francisco catching up with old friends.

Two flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco: $279.20 USD ($139.60 each)

(Note: No miles were used for these two flights. I get much more value out of using the miles for longer flights.)

Hotel Stays, Including Several 5-Star Hotels, For Seven Nights: $580.03 USD

Without points this would have been about $3,000.00 USD (an average of $250 per night). This is a conservative estimate; some rooms would have cost considerably more.

Two Business Class Tickets From San Francisco to Tokyo: $142.00 USD

Without using frequent flyer miles, this would have cost around $10,000 USD.

All this brings us to the total cost for all flights and hotel stays to $1,001.23 USD using miles and points.

While it's true I've flown to Japan as well as Europe in first class, I chose to fly business class on this particular trip for a very simple reason: better value.

American Airlines was having a 50 percent off sale on award flights to Tokyo. So instead of spending 100,000 frequent flyer miles each to fly to Tokyo, we only had to spend 100,000 miles total for the two of us. And frankly our international business class seats to Japan were better than most first class domestic flights I've been on anyway.

It's also important to note while international first and business class seats are worlds apart from economy, I didn't write my book or start my website only to teach people how to fly in luxury on planes.  

The real goal is to get you there. If you want to use less frequent flyer miles and fly economy, go for it. It's what you do and experience once you're there that will stay with you long after you return.

Keep in mind, these are not some top-secret techniques passed down from monk to monk in the Shaolin Temples—along with how to vanquish an opponent with a single fingertip strike. I just wish they were.

In reality, learning how to earn and use frequent flyer miles for amazing trips is really quite easy, and you should seriously take the time it would require for you to get up to speed.

My girlfriend meets a bowing deer of Nara

With just a little knowledge of frequent flyer travel, it could be you singing karaoke in Shibuya with the friends you just made, or hanging at the yakitori shack savoring an ice cold Asahi while learning that bonjiri is chicken butt and maybe you'd prefer to eat momo (chicken thigh) instead, or off visiting the always adorable bowing deer of Nara.

Me in Inari, Japan

Japan not your bag? Then fly to Europe or the Caribbean, visit the pyramids, whatever suits your fancy. Once you learn these techniques, it will make travel at any level of service way more affordable so you can take that much-needed vacation and enjoy all the world has to offer.

Win It!

On Thursday, May 23 during our Twitter chat (hashtag #JSETT) we'll be giving away a signed copy of Algis' book "Rock Your Travel." Be sure to join us at 10:30 a.m. PST for your chance to win!