The Best Option For Traveling Around Japan

Temple in Nagano

Why You Should Use Award Tickets To Travel In Japan

The first time I visited Japan back in 2012 (which was also the first time I used miles to fly first class) common wisdom held that the JR pass was by far the best and most cost effective way to travel within Japan and so I shelled out the $600 or so dollars to Shinkansen my posterior all over the country. I went to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Miyazaki, Arita and Nagano and while I definitely got my money’s worth out of the pass, I have since found a faster and cheaper way to get my Japan fix without spending all my cat cafe money on a JR pass.

AA first class
Where it all began…

I have since learned that award tickets present a much better value than the JR pass.

Avios to the rescue! When Avios don’t suck.

Avios Intra-Japan Award Ticket
Not too shabby a way to use BA Avios.

Alright, maybe I’m being a little hard on Avios. As far as programs go their distance based award chart is pretty much only worthwhile for shorter distances and considering that business class is twice the price of economy and the cost of first class twice the price of business class it really offers few exciting redemptions for premium travel. Its ideal use is for economy tickets that cover short distances where the cash cost for a ticket is relatively high and that is pretty much exactly how I would describe intra-Japan flights.

JAL cash ticket price
The cash ticket price is hilariously expensive.

With ticket prices in US being pretty dang low right now and the fact that the oneworld US domestic carrier being American Airlines, who seems to be fulfilling their new year’s resolution to not release any saver level domestic award space (the level you can book with partner airlines’ miles) for 2017, it has gotten harder and harder to use BA Avios on US domestic flights.

AA award space NYC - MIA
…because everyone wants to go to Miami in the summer.

Instead, the current hot spot that I am rocking with my Avios is for flights within Japan. Why? Because they are hilariously expensive for how short they are and JAL, unlike American Airlines, makes plenty of award space available.

JAL intra-Japan award availability
JAL intra-Japan award availability.

Most flights between many cities in Japan are 4500 with some of the longer ones coming in at 7500 in economy for a one way trip. They don’t release business class space (at least I’ve never seen it), but the flights aren’t terribly long, JAL has a pretty great economy product and even my delicate sensibilities find these flights to be generally pleasant.

Intra-Japan Avios award redemption
9,000 Avios or $630 dollars, it’s up to you.

It bills each segment separately, so even if the total distance on the itinerary falls within one band and might otherwise price out at 7500 for the whole trip, because it is two segments, it will price out at the total price for two one-way flights, a minimum of 9,000 miles. Which still really isn’t a lot.

United award costs
It’s ironic that United doesn’t usually pass on fuel surcharges but somehow this short flight has $75 in taxes and fees.

Even United charges slightly more than BA, though they certainly aren’t that expensive (except those taxes and fees are expensive).

The good, the bad and the solution

Alright, so you’ve found your flights and you and your travel companions are feeling pretty pumped about keeping those yen in your pocket for unexpected beer expenses. First, let me tell you the good news; your taxes and fees will be $0.00 on each segment on most routes. What?!? If you earned those miles for nothing then you are looking at some truly free award tickets! Amazing! Arrigato gozai mas!!!

The good news brings us promptly to the bad news, British Airways will not let you book something with a cost of $0.00. Instead the booking process will error out when verifying your credit card information. Boo!!!!!!! This IT glitch has persisted for at least a couple of years (as I have known about it at least that long) and is quite infuriating the first time you encounter it. I am always suspect of It glitches that interfere with your ability to use your awards. They seem far more common than IT glitches that interfere with booking paid seats and longer lasting as well. Hmmmmm.

Being philanthropic also allows you to complete your award booking.

Fear not! There is an inexpensive solution and it even has a philanthropic element. You get your ticket and starving orphans get a couple meals out of the deal. There is no way to get past the $0.00 charge error that I know of except to add a donation to charity so that your total is no longer zero. Just scroll down on the confirmation page until you see the optional donation to charity option. You can choose one of the preselected amounts or write in your own amount.

Now when you continue to the next screen your total will be $1.00 (or more) and you should have no problem completing your transaction and getting your eticket issued. Now you can focus on how much sushi your going to eat and getting your Naruto cosplay outfit all worked out for Sunday’s in Akihabara park.

Happy hacking!

Hit me up with all your questions and comments!

Do you need some assistance figuring out which credit cards are going to get you to your destination in style? Learn more about my personalized credit card consulting services here.

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