Finance Punk’s $30,000 Trip to Japan for Almost Free

It doesn’t take a finance degree to realize that spending $30K in two weeks when you’re making ~$50K a year is outlandish. But, a finance punk spending 800k rewards points is routine.

The closest I’ve ever been to Japan is the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas – which is lovely, but, [I would imagine] it will be better to experience the real thing.

And, what better time to experience the real thing than…

Cherry Blossom Season:

Do a search for the best time of year to visit Japan and you’ll find that it is spring time. Not only is the weather perfect but the flowering trees are in full bloom resulting in festivals all over the country.

But does it also cost the least? – Makes for beautiful scenery and an extra high cost of travel [everybody’s favorite].

Lucky for finance punks, travel is almost free.

Getting there:

My cache of a few hundred thousand Delta Skymiles should get us there in style, right?

Wrong, the redemption rate for this time of year to Japan is pretty bad [makes more sense to use these miles for domestic flights from my home airport], especially for Business class.

So, I transfered 160,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to ANA [instead of 150k-200k Skymiles per ticket] for 2 business class tickets from Seattle to Tokyo.

There were about $300 in taxes I had to pay but luckily I still have this years $250 airline credit on a Citi Prestige card [this card isn’t completely worthless yet – more on that later].

These tickets go for about $10k each making the redemption rate$0.125 per point.


The first hotel we are staying in is Conrad by Hilton in Tokyo. Two nights here to adjust to being 15 hours into the future  should be adequate.

Generally the rooms are ~$500/night but they are a little higher for cherry blossom season – at 95k Hilton points per night, it’s right in line with what I value Hilton points at [>$0.0053 per point redemption rate].

Something that is always nice when staying at Hilton hotels [especial outside of the U.S.], is getting breakfast included and an upgraded room with Diamond status [the former is guaranteed so it’s a nice perk in the U.S. as well but the latter is contingent on “availability” which in my experience means up to the front desk which, also in my experience, results in more upgrades outside of the U.S. than inside the U.S.].

I obtained Diamond status by having Hilton match my status to Platinum Elite status with IHG hotels which I obtained by simply having the Chase IHG credit card. Another way to achieve Hilton Diamond status it to spend $40k in a calendar year on the Amex Hilton Surpass Card. The traditional way to achieve Diamond status is to have 30 stays, 60 nights, or 120,000 base points at Hilton properties – no thanks.

Getting around:

Japan Rail train passes will get us everywhere in Japan and can be purchased in week long increments. We’ll be heading to Osaka first.

The Rest of the Stay:

Intercontinental Osaka:

One of the nicest hotels in Osaka [I’m told. By the internet.] goes for $1k/night during cherry blossom season so I was happy to book 3 nights for 50k IHG points/night [$0.02 per point].

Sumiya Ryokan Kyoto:

Had to pay cash for this tradition Japanese hotel because it doesn’t qualify for Citi Prestige’s “fourth night free” benefit because apparently it is either a yacht, riverboat, cruise, campground, castle, safari, villa, or apartment rental. [And, if you read my italicized rant below you will see why] I am cancelling this card.

Side note – Citi Prestige has gone from being a must have card to being just alright to not worth the $450 annual fee [$350 annual fee if you got in with a Citigold account] especially when you are paying for travel with points. When I first got this card with a reduced annual fee of $350 I got 50k points and benefits like fourth night free [including taxes], $250 airline credit, 3 rounds of golf at pretty much any property, and one of the only cards to get you into priority pass lounges. Now, fourth night free doesn’t include taxes, many cards give you priority pass, there is no golf benefit, and pair that with Citi[Shiti] Bank’s awful customer service [even the concierge dropped the ball on the 2 reservations I tried/had to make through them] and you’re looking at $250 credit for paying $350-$450 dollars to have to book travel over the phone like it is 1993. I shouldn’t be complaining because I have received close to $10k from Citibank – plenty of which came from the Prestige card.

These hotels charge per person because they serve you breakfast, dinner, tea, etc in your room – $300-$400 per person per night.

Charging this stay to Barclaycard Arrival+ and redeeming 100k points to credit the $1K balance on my statement.

Hyatt Regency Kyoto:

Since I wasn’t able to use Citi Prestige’s Fourth Night Free benefit on the Ryokan and stay 4 nights, [see rant above] I used Hyatt points to book this hotel close to the ryokan for $600/night or 20k Hyatt points/night [$0.03 per point].

Hyatt Andaz Tokyo:

Deciding between Park Hyatt Tokyo [where Lost in Translation was shot] for 30k Hyatt points per night and Hyatt Andaz Tokyo for 25k Hyatt points per night, Andaz came out ahead.

They are both five star hotels with incredible views in Tokyo for ~$1k/night and the rooms and amenities are very similar. After reading reviews for both, it seemed like the difference was the feel of the hotels – Park Hyatt is more business professional where as Andaz is more “fun.”

I will go with more fun and less points for the same cash value [$0.04 per point redemption rate].

Total Points Summary:

Flight: 160K Amex MR for 2 Business Class on ANA

Hotels: 680K various hotel points for 11 nights in 5 star hotels across japan

  • 140k Chase UR converted to Hyatt for Anadaz [4 nights] and Regency [2 nights]
  • 190k Hilton Honors Points for Conrad [2 nights]
  • 150k IHG points for Intercontinental [3 nights]
  • 100k Arrival+ points covers the ~$1K cash for Sumiya [2 nights] and gets me back 5k points for another $50 towards travel [most likely trains, cabs, uber, etc]

Japan Rail Pass: Up to $600 per person but will be using $300 travel credits from Chase Sapphire Reserve [I get to use 4, $300 credits because we have 2, CSRs each getting one travel credit per calendar year – 1 in 2017 and 1 in 2018] to get this cost close to $0


840K points for ~$30,000 plus another $1,200 that is cancelled out by travel credits

I can’t really call it “free” though.

Two weeks of dining and activities in Japan certainly won’t be free and the Arrival+ points and travel credits are essentially cash so thats ~$2K in costs.

A few thousand dollars in opportunity cost for thirty thousand dollars in travel seems like a good deal to me.




Leave a Reply