Suppose you ask me what my favourite holiday destination is. Before I tell you my verdict, you’ll see me pause for a second – reigniting memories of springy fresh sashimi, soothing onsens and monkey-filled mountain walks.
There is so much to love about Japan (for the answer is Japan, of course). There’s the incredible dining scene – where quality cooking is a given, from humble street stalls to top-rated establishments. Want to ski on powdery slopes? Buy a year’s worth of cosmetics, tax-free? Sleep on a futon in a temple on a mountain?
It’s all possible. I’ll never turn down an opportunity to visit Nippon. And you shouldn’t, either.
But how you fly to and from Japan is of course important too. And why not jet to Japan up the pointy end for less? Waaaay less. I fly China Airlines Business Class via Taipei for 90,000 points and $166 in fees and taxes – saving more than $2,500 off the cash price of the ticket! With lie-flat seats on both flights and lounge access in Sydney and Taipei to stay refreshed, my journey is a sweet one.
My return flight with ANA is booked by purchasing Avianca LifeMiles outright during a sale for only AU$929, fees and taxes included. The same flight with cash would have cost $2,604. And you can absolutely do this too – or if you prefer, book ANA with Velocity Points for equally great savings. Onboard, I enjoy nearly 10 hours of blissful luxury on my lie-flat seat – working, dining and relaxing in comfort.
Of course, we want you to experience this trip for yourself. It is possible to enjoy a luxurious jaunt to Japan on points. Take a peek at our 2-page itinerary below.
China Airlines Business Class with Qantas Points
My trip to Osaka begins with a flight that might be a point collector’s dream. China Airlines Business Class is the trifecta of low fees and charges, excellent availability throughout the year, and a cabin so sublime I feel like I’ve stepped into an exclusive club for high-rollers.
Navigating Sydney Airport is not a worry with ‘Sky Priority’ perks in Business Class. It reduces check-in, immigration and security into effortless formalities. Onboard, the four-course dinner includes an elegant slice of smoked salmon, pumpkin soup, beef fillet and my pick of small dessert plates (I choose cheesecake and fruit).
After washing it all down with vintage 2012 Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, my comfortable, fully-flat bed beckons. The rest of the flight flies past in a dreamy haze – precisely what I want for an overnight trip in Business Class.
A pitstop in Taipei gives me ample opportunity to slurp down a bowl of made-to-order beef noodles and wash off the cobwebs with a shower in the China Airlines Dynasty Lounge. Taipei is a gem in its own right, but I’ll have to visit it properly another time. Because up next is another stellar Business Class flight to Osaka.
Featuring similar lie-flat seats as my previous flight, China Airlines goes all out on this 150-minute flight with a Japanese kaiseki set meal with over 15 tasty morsels. Sake-simmered abalone, smoked duck – booking a ticket to Japan has to be the most flavourful way to fly.
Osaka: the gateway to experiences
Oh, Osaka. I’ve had the honour of visiting this city twice before – both pre-COVID. But on this third occasion, many years later, it feels like my first time again. Standing by the edge of the Dotonbori Canal on my first evening, I feel the gentle breeze, hear the laughter of tourists on the canal cruise and smell the aroma of street delicacies. It’s good to be back.
My hotel for four nights here is the relatively new Mercure Tokyu Stay Osaka Namba. With the hotel a member of the Accor Group, I enjoy Gold status perks such as welcome cookies and a free drink. The location is also spot-on.
Kyoto, Kobe and Nara
Every day, I head out with the JR Kansai Area Pass (4 days, AU$72 at the time via Pelago) to visit the surrounding regions. Kyoto is barely a 20-minute train ride away, yet the former Japanese capital remains steeped in culture and history. Visiting Arashiyama is also a must – especially for the bamboo grove and monkey park.
A stop in Kobe isn’t complete without witnessing melt-in-your-mouth beef being grilled right before you, much like a visit to Nara isn’t finished until you’ve whiled away the hours with the city’s famous deers. Don’t forget to also stop by Osaka’s Kuromon Market, where seafood delights are seared to order.
With bullet-like precision: all aboard the Shinkansen
A ride on the Shinkansen (bullet train) isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it. With the rising cost of JR Rail Passes, you might want to consider point-to-point tickets if you’re not travelling on the Shinkansen often.
My tip: use the official Smart-Ex website. It’s available in English and you can enjoy discounts for booking early! I secure a Green Car (1st Class) discounted fare with nearly $40 off. But even in an Ordinary Car (2nd Class), you can save around $26 per person by booking at least 28 days in advance.
With those savings, treat yourself to a train station bento box, otherwise known as ekiben. It’s colourful and varied – your senses will thank you.
Tokyo is so big, so vibrant – there’s so much to fit in. I’m based at the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, which is smack-bang among the action. It’s also hard to miss – since Godzilla is perched on its lobby balcony.
In two days, I explore the merest fraction of what Tokyo offers – starting with a visit to Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple. It’s certainly packed, but one can still experience a degree of introspection, seeing the contrast of old and new.
Tsujiki Fish Market will undoubtedly be on any food lover’s list. I come for the seafood but unexpectedly join a growing queue for a warming bowl of gyūdon (beef). Speaking of bargain bowls, make plans for a visit to Konjiki Hototogisu. Its Michelin-starred soba noodles are one of the gastronomical highlights of my trip – which is already so culinary-heavy.
Last on my list is a visit to bustling Shibuya City and loading up my bags with tax-free shopping at Don Quijote and Matsumoto Kiyoshi. Bringing home revered skincare products, specialty Kit Kats and unique foods is a sure way for family and friends to thank you.
Back home in ANA Business Class
Perhaps I’ve saved the best for last. Although ANA’s Boeing 787 Business Class cabin isn’t as sleek as China Airlines’, the Japanese touches more than make up for it. From hand-pressed salmon nigiri in the ANA Lounge to Champagne and a delightful range of sake onboard, I’m wanting for nothing.
Each morsel on this flight is crafted with – if not love, then at least respect. From the bite of clam ratatouille to the dance of the Duval Leroy bubbles on my tongue, my culinary adventure doesn’t stop when I leave Japan. If anything, it only draws to a close during our descent into Sydney, as I savour the last few drops of sake.
With the comfortable lie-flat bed, I can easily alternate between working upright and taking a restful nap later on. The crew’s service is impeccable, unsurprisingly. You’ll feel like royalty here.
Choose your adventure to Japan with points
With some savvy point hacking, it’s possible to cut down on costs while still enjoying the finer things. Click the dropdown arrow to see what we paid for the skeleton of this specific itinerary:
How much we paid for this experience:
- 90,000 Qantas Points and $166 pp (at the time – now $193 pp) to fly Business Class all the way from Sydney to Osaka. The equivalent cash fare (based on return pricing) is $2,860 one-way.
- JPY 69,255 (AU$724, so $362 pp twin-share) for four nights at Mercure Tokyu Stay Osaka Namba with a 20% off Accor app offer. Earning 1,500 Accor points and 1,992 Qantas Points on top doesn’t hurt, either.
- JPY 15,940 (AU$166 pp) for discounted Green Car tickets on the Shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo.
- AU$660 (so $330 pp twin-share) for two nights at Hotel Gracery Shinjuku via Qantas Hotels. I also earned 2,475 Qantas Points on the booking.
- US$627.9 (AU$929 pp) in total to buy Avianca LifeMiles whilst on sale (150% bonus in my case), and then redeem for ANA reward seats from Tokyo to Sydney, including flight taxes and a booking fee. The equivalent cash price (based on standard return tickets) is $2,406 one-way on a Business Value fare.
That’s a grand total of 90,000 Qantas Points + AU$1,954 per person (twin-share) for return Business Class flights, six nights of shared accommodation and a one-way Green Car Shinkansen ride – worth over $6,100 pp if booked with cash. But of course, if you’re able to stay longer and see more of Japan, I would thoroughly recommend doing so.
Pricing will fluctuate – especially hotel rates and the promotions with buying LifeMiles – so the figures we paid might not exactly match up for you. But the concepts remain the same and the reward flight prices should remain stable for the foreseeable future.
Experience the joys of Japan for yourself
Japan is the ideal destination for many getaways, but flights there aren’t always cheap. By harnessing the power of points, you can save thousands of dollars off the retail price of flights in premium cabins. The China Airlines flights often have great availability out of Australia. ANA Business Class seats are more elusive, but they can still be found if you book far in advance or within four weeks of departure.
The easiest way to kick-start your points journey is with a points-earning credit card and a big sign-up bonus. If you’re keen on China Airlines, Qantas Points are the easiest way to book. And for ANA, we’ve demonstrated how you can buy points outright to book with Avianca LifeMiles (just wait for a good sale to come along).
But you can also book ANA with Velocity Points – 78,000 points + fees and taxes, to be exact. And for expert point hackers, you can also transfer just 90,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to 45,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points to book the same ANA flight (plus fees and taxes).
Hotel accommodation isn’t cheap in Japan. Look to book during sale periods with major chains, or perhaps when Qantas Hotels is offering bonus points to soften the blow. Cashback websites are worth looking at as well.
For me, Japan will always be worth the splurge. The culture, the food, the history and the scenery – there’s always something for me to look forward to. Flying there and back in Business Class, nibbling on beautiful Japanese-inspired bites? Well, that’s just the ume on top. And now, it’s your turn.
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All photography and the Shibuya Crossing timelapse footage by Brandon Loo, who travelled at Point Hacks’ expense.