A Trip to Tokyo in Cherry Blossom Season — Reader Success Story

Aug 29, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! From time to time I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Kraig, who redeemed points and miles toward a week-long trip to Tokyo with his wife. Here’s what he had to say:

Kraig used a free night from his IHG Rewards credit card at the InterContinental Tokyo Bay.

My wife and I spent a week in beautiful Tokyo this spring, and we did it without breaking the bank! I regularly keep an eye on flight deals by following TPG Alerts on Twitter, and we were psyched to see Delta’s $600 round-trip flights to Tokyo from several airports (including nearby Raleigh-Durham). However, since we’re expecting a new addition to our family and cash is tight, we decided not to spend the $1,200 for two tickets.

Instead, I used Delta’s Pay with Miles option, courtesy of our co-branded Delta SkyMiles card from American Express. Using this method, each ticket cost 60,000 miles round-trip in economy. This was a great deal in my eyes, since Delta’s now-hidden award chart normally prices those flights at 70,000 miles per person, and even then they’re hard to come by given the destination’s popularity.

Our flights were a breeze thanks to a complimentary upgrade to First Class between Raleigh-Durham and Atlanta, and to Comfort+ for the longer flight to Tokyo. Lounge access as a Platinum Medallion member also meant free breakfast at RDU, and free lunch and drinks at the ATL SkyDeck.

Hotels in Tokyo are notoriously expensive and availability is limited during cherry blossom season, but we were able to book using rewards. I used the free anniversary night from my IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card at the stunning InterContinental Tokyo Bay, and cashed in 50,000 points per night for a few nights at the high-class InterContinental ANA The Strings. My IHG card also got me a 10% rebate on that redemption, so the end cost was only 45,000 points per night. These were points I had been hoarding from the Accelerate promotion and the 2016 Priceless Surprises promotion — writing and mailing all those notecards was worth it!

Overall, we were in Japan for a week and barely spent $1,000. Food, entry fees, and in-country transportation were our only out-of-pocket expenses. We had a wonderful time, and can’t wait to go back, so thanks for your help!

Most loyalty programs offer more than one way to book travel. Mixed “points + cash” awards and pay with miles options (like the one Kraig used) have become more common in recent years. To maximize your rewards, it’s important to distinguish when these alternatives offer better value than a standard award redemption. Kraig’s decision was pretty straightforward: booking a normal SkyMiles award would have cost 10,000 more miles per person, so using the Pay with Miles feature was clearly the better option. That’s especially true because those tickets are eligible to earn miles and elite credits.

When cash prices are low, another strong option is to use points that you can redeem at a higher rate. SkyMiles are worth just 1 cent apiece when you use Pay with Miles, but you can redeem Ultimate Rewards for 1.5 cents apiece toward airfare if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and book directly through the Chase travel portal. Citi and Amex also offer higher redemption rates to some cardholders, so it’s good to weigh your options if you have a variety of rewards on hand. I think using SkyMiles was the right call in Kraig’s case, but it depends on how much you value points and miles.

Kraig and his wife were upgraded thanks to his Delta Platinum Medallion status.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Kraig for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.

Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured image courtesy of Filippo Bacci via Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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