Recently, the travel community received news that we’ve been waiting a long time for: Japan is fully opening to tourists on October 11, 2022. I’m sure that many others, like myself, are now eagerly planning their Japan trips for 2023 (if you haven’t been already). With that in mind, the next logical step to consider is what is the cheapest way to get to Japan on points.
Let’s look at how you can travel to Japan, roundtrip in business class with lie-flat seating, by earning a welcome bonus from two credit cards.
The Strategy For This Redemption
Our strategy for making this redemption happen is to find the balance between the easiest points to earn but also the flight award redemption that costs the least. Ultimately, we are going to work towards getting the most value out of the one credit card we are signing up for.
Thankfully, airline loyalty programs have sweet spots for various routes and destinations; this is what we are going to take advantage of with this redemption. Enter our favorite frequent flyer program in Canada: Air Canada Aeroplan.
Points Program of Choice: Aeroplan
If you collect miles and points in Canada, there is no doubt that you have signed up for Air Canada Aeroplan. For this redemption, we are going to collect Aeroplan points and then redeem 55,000 Aeroplan points for a one-way business class North America to Japan redemption.
This means that we will require a total of 110,000 Aeroplan for the full roundtrip redemption. This is what I would consider a low-cost but high-value redemption within the Aeroplan program.
Desired Flight Routing
Below is the distance band that we are going to take advantage of between the North America and Pacific zones:
Ultimately, we need to stay under 5,000 miles flown to be able to take advantage of this distance band. This gives us a few options for routing to take advantage of this sweet spot:
- Vancouver to Tokyo: 4,700 miles between Vancouver and Haneda/Narita Airport; 55,000 Aeroplan
- Calgary to Tokyo: 4,900 miles between Calgary and Haneda/Narita Airport; 55,000 Aeroplan
However, if we move only a bit north in Alberta and consider booking YEG-YVR-NRT/HND, this routing is around 5,200 miles. Unfortunately, that pushes us into the next distance bracket of 5,001 to 7,500 miles thus increasing the price for both Air Canada and partner airlines up to a minimum of 75,000 Aeroplan miles for a one-way booking in business class.
Also note that if you would rather book this redemption in economy class, it would cost 70,000 Aeroplan for the whole trip. Still, a decent value redemption, but hard to consider when you can achieve business-class lie-flat seating for only an additional 40,000 points which is not that hard to earn.
Other Considerations with Aeroplan
Note that partner airlines, such as All Nippon Airways (ANA), will price at 55,000 Aeroplan flat within the band. However, Air Canada flights can be dynamically priced and as a result, you may see a wide variety of prices when searching for awards as they can fluctuate based on demand/availability.
With that in mind, we would prefer to fly on partner airlines when possible (depending on route), especially considering that the quality of the soft and hard products can be much better with partner airlines.
Similarly to how we looked at the distance banding above, flights routing from any further east in Canada will incur a higher point cost as a result of the distance banding. If you are curious about the total miles flown for your desired route, check out Great Circle Mapper and then reference the Aeroplan Flight Award Chart to determine the total Aeroplan cost.
Additionally, if you want to add a stopover on one of the directions, it will cost 5,000 Aeroplan points however it may adjust the entire cost of the trip depending on the routing.
How to Earn the Required Aeroplan Miles
Since we are focusing on earning a minimum of 110,000 Aeroplan miles for this round trip redemption, there are two points programs we can choose to utilize: Aeroplan or American Express Membership Rewards.
The lists below are of both personal and business credit cards available in Canada that offer at least 55,000 points (enough for one direction of redemption); remember, you are able to be approved for a business card as an individual.
Aeroplan Credit Cards
The most straightforward way to earn the needed Aeroplan miles for our trip is to simply sign up for one or two Aeroplan co-branded credit cards that offer a greater than a combined 110,000 Aeroplan welcome bonus.
The table below captures all Aeroplan credit cards that currently have a greater than 55,000 Aeroplan welcome bonus in Canada.
|American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve
|American Express Aeroplan Reserve
|CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege
|TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege
American Express Membership Rewards Credit Cards
The American Express Membership Rewards program is the most flexible points program Canadians have available. Membership Rewards points can be transferred to a variety of airline partners, including Air Canada Aeroplan. Points transfer at a rate of 1:1, and transfers are nearly instant.
Thus, if we sign up for one or two Amex Membership Rewards cards that offer a greater than a combined 110,000 point welcome bonus, we can easily transfer the points to Aeroplan for our upcoming redemption.
The table below captures all American Express Membership Rewards credit cards that currently have a greater than 55,000 Membership Rewards welcome bonus in Canada.
|American Express Business Platinum
|120,000 Membership Rewards
|American Express Platinum
|100,000 Membership Rewards
|American Express Business Gold
|70,000 Membership Rewards
|American Express Gold
|60,000 Membership Rewards
If you are unsure about being able to reach the total spending required for the bonus on any of these cards, check out some tricks to meet minimum spending requirements and manufactured spending techniques.
Of note, if you have access to the US credit card market, you would also be able to transfer to Aeroplan from any US Membership Rewards earning credit card as well. US Amex Membership Rewards are also nearly instant and transfer at a rate of 1:1 to Aeroplan.
Redeeming Miles For Your Japan Business Class Booking
So you have earned the welcome bonus on the credit card of your choice, and now have 110,000 Aeroplan points (or more) in your account. Let’s get to the more challenging part, making the redemption. Finding award availability can be a pain, and this is no different with Aeroplan.
Thankfully, we have access to CanadianCow’s AC Reward Searcher tool which is a game changer when it comes to Aeroplan award space. This tool allows us to quickly search a variety of dates with a ton of options to filter down our options to find the exact booking that we are interested in.
I recommend taking the time to play around with it and get familiar with the tool, as this will be the best resource for any Aeroplan bookings, domestic and international, that you want to book in the future.
When I was writing this article, I ran a simple search for routing from Vancouver-Tokyo for early October in business class. This is a sample of the output:
As you can see, a few weeks in advance there were quite a few spots available along our desired one-way route, all at 55,000 Aeroplan points. You can also search for the return routing through the AC Reward Searcher tool as well to determine the availability and routing you plan on booking as a round-trip redemption.
Once you find the date and routing you are interested in booking, simply click the link on the right-hand side to be taken to the Aeroplan website to log in and complete the booking.
The AC Reward Searcher tool gives you complete control over searching your desired dates and routes to find an option that works best for you. As always, remember that you will most likely have the best chance at finding award space if you are looking only a few weeks before travel or closer to 330 days out, but this is a guideline and not a rule. Flexibility goes a long way in the miles and points game.
With Japan opening back up, many travelers will be looking to visit in the next few years. Finding the best and most efficient way to earn and burn your miles is part and parcel when it comes to the miles and points games.
Whether you are new to travel hacking or more experienced, this article showcases that you actually don’t need a whole wallet full of credit cards to benefit from the miles and points game. Instead, I recommend picking a redemption goal and working towards it, exactly how we outlined above.
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