We absolutely loved Japan and feel so grateful for our 10 days (9 if you exclude our travel day from the US!) exploring the nation’s fascinating melding of old traditions and new innovations. Here’s a great itinerary you can follow to get the most out of a short time in this amazing land, and a little bit of bragging on how we made this part of our trip almost free.
(Note – this post includes links to our accommodations and ways to earn points you can redeem for free travel. All of my recommendations are genuine, and if the link has the potential to give me a commission, I disclose this outright.)
If you are traveling to Tokyo from the US, you will likely fly out one day, sleep on the plane, and then wake up the next day in Japan. Consider Day 1 your travel day. We flew from Madison, WI to Tokyo, Japan via Minneapolis on a Delta flight. We redeemed 80,000 miles each for a Delta One (first class) ticket.
Check into your hotel in Tokyo. We redeemed 140,000 Marriott points to stay 5 nights at the Marriott Tokyo
Pro tip – if you stay 4 nights on points, you get your 5th night free! I earn my Marriott points on work travel and using my Chase Marriott Rewards card. This card has no foreign transaction fees, is accepted everywhere, and while it has a small annual fee (<$100), you get a free night stay credited to your account every year. If you’re interested, you can earn 80,000 bonus points with the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card. I can be rewarded too if you apply and are approved for the card. Learn more here.
For your first full day in Tokyo, check out the Tsukiji Fish Market. Based on feedback from friends who have visited Tokyo, we decided to go with a guide to the market in order to more effectively navigate the frenetic scene and actually understand what we’re seeing. We ended up doing this tour of the market, which included a sushi rolling class after! Since Japan is known as being an expensive travel destination, we decided this was a good place to use our points on activities as well as our hotels and flights. Using 5,700 Chase points each (details below), we got our tour for free.
We both have the Chase Ultimate Rewards Sapphire Card. It has a larger annual fee ($450 per year), but it comes with $300 cash back on travel purchases and access to airport lounges around the world (which typically range from $20-50 per visit without a pass). If you apply and are approved, you can earn 50,000 bonus points. That is the equivalent of about 9 fish market and sushi making tours. Note: I will also receive a small commission in points if you apply and are approved. Learn more here.
Consider venturing out of the city to check out Japan’s most famous peak, Mt. Fuji. We took this tour, again using Chase points – 4,000 per person (yay, free!).
Continue exploring Tokyo! There are a lot of free walking tours available. We went with Tokyo Localized to explore Meiji Shrine and Tokyo’s night culture!
Consider another day trip. We activated our rail pass ($275 for 7 days, which can be bought here), and headed north of Tokyo to the city of Nikko to explore the national park and temples for the day.
Check out of your Tokyo hotel and take the train using your pass to Hakone, the mountain spa/hot springs resort town near the base of Mt. Fuji. We stayed here at Ashinoko Ichinoyu, a traditional ryokan near the town center. We absolutely loved this hotel- dinner and breakfast were amazing, and you have free access to private onsens. If you book a hotel using that link, I’ll receive a small commission that helps keep this blog going!
Head out early on the train to Kyoto. We checked into the Westin Miyako Kyoto for 24,000 SPG points for two nights. Since Marriott and SPG have merged, you can now courier points back and forth between the two brands. We converted 72,000 Marriott points into SPG points for this stay, because Marriott and SPG have a 3:1 points ratio.
I also have the SPG credit card which earns me points when I spend. Apply for The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with this link. We can both get rewarded if you’re approved!
Explore Kyoto more, or head to Hiroshima using your rail pass. We ventured to Hiroshima for the day.
Take the train to Osaka from Kyoto and check into a hotel here. We used 30,000 Marriott points to stay one night at the Moxy Osaka Honmachi.
Fly out the next day. We flew from Osaka to Seoul to continue on our 20 month round the world trip!
- Delta Miles: 80,000 per person
- Marriott Points: 170,000
- SPG Points: 24,000
- Chase Rewards Points: 9,700 per person
- Money (USD): $1,298 for 2 people (note this would have been about $300 less had we not had a few expensive travel mishaps along the way).