(Limited time) Earn a roundtrip flight to Japan with just one credit card sign up bonus

Earn a roundtrip flight to Japan with just one credit card sign up bonus

For a limited time, one credit card sign up bonus is enough for a roundtrip economy ticket from anywhere in the US to Japan.  The American Express Gold Card  has an increased sign up bonus of 50,000 American Express Membership Rewards points until January 9, 2019.  In the past, the typical sign up bonus on the American Express Gold Card has been 25,000 Membership Rewards points.

There is also a limited-time statement credit that helps offset the annual fee.  This is also expected to end on January 9.

Redeem Amex Membership Rewards for Japan flights

The Amex Gold Card’s sign up bonus will fly you to Japan to see the Golden Pavillion!

American Express Gold Card

  • Bonus: 25,000 50,000 Membership Rewards points with the link above!  Limited time: Also, 20% back as a statement credit at U.S. Restaurants with The American Express® Gold Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership, up to $100 back.
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $2,000 in 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $250
  • Bonus Categories: 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines, 4 points per dollar at US restaurants and grocery stores.  This card used to earn extra points per dollar at gas stations, but that is no longer the case.  If you already have the card, 2x points per dollar at gas stations until 10/4/2019.
  • Notable benefits: $100 annual airline incidental credit, $120 annual dining credit.  If you’re able to take advantage of these, the annual fee is effectively $30.  Then if you’re able to utilize the 20% restaurant credit mentioned above, you can make up to $100 back, which brings your effective annual fee down to $0 (plus some extra statement credits!).

Don’t let that annual fee scare you.  The sign up bonus alone is more than worth it, but the statement credits may offset the fee entirely.  More on that in a second.

If you aren’t high maintenance like me, you can fly roundtrip in economy on an American Airlines flight for 50,000 Amex MR.  This is possible thanks to one of the airline transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards, Etihad.  More on that below, but first I need to discuss something to consider before applying for the Amex Gold Card.

If you’re new to award travel, you should open another card first

Please read this post before applying for any credit card.  That post has lots of important info about credit cards and award travel.  Also, the Chase 5/24 rule is something that every beginner needs to think about when making decisions about which credit cards you want to open.  

A Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred is my suggestion for almost any beginner no matter where you want to travel.  If you can get a business card, go for the Chase Ink Business Preferred credit card.  That sign up bonus is 80,000 UR points.

If you do not already have one, I’d start with a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card (assuming you’re under 5/24).  Then if you’re still under 5/24, before moving on to the Amex, you should consider any other Chase 5/24 cards.

Once you’re over 5/24, Amex will still approve an application, whereas Chase will not.  For that reason, I’d suggest opening one of the Ultimate Rewards earning cards (or both*) before opening the Amex Gold Card.

*You can have a Chase Ink Business Preferred Card and a Chase Sapphire Preferred (or Reserve) card.  But I’d apply for the business card first since it will not count against your 5/24 count.  Also, I’d space those Chase applications out by 30-60 days, because I like to play it safe with Chase. 

Chase Ultimate Rewards points can help with flights and hotels in Japan, so you’re still earning valuable points.  In addition to several airlines, Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Hyatt, which is a hotel program I’d highly recommend for Japan.  Actually, I recommend Hyatt in general!

With that said, I’ll explain how the Amex Gold Card’s sign up bonus is enough for one roundtrip economy ticket to Japan.

Japan on miles and points. How to book with one sign up bonus.

Back to the Gold Card discussion

The American Express Gold Card’s current sign up bonus, 50,000 Amex points, can get you a roundtrip flight to Japan in economy from anywhere in the US where AA flights are available (doesn’t have to be nonstop). This would involve Etihad Guest, an airline transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.

Etihad is not in an alliance, but there is a non-alliance partnership with American Airlines.  This means that you can use Etihad miles to book American Airlines flights.   Etihad Guest, their frequent flyer program, has a generous award chart for flights operated by American Airlines between the US and Japan, especially on off-peak dates.

A few things to note about Etihad Guest:

  • You can transfer Amex MR points to Etihad at a 1:1 ratio.  Chase Ultimate Rewards points do not transfer to Etihad (but there are other Ultimate Rewards partners that you can use for Japan).
  • Etihad does not collect fuel surcharges on American Airlines flights.
  • If you do not live in a city with nonstop flights, no problem.  A connecting flight will not add to your redemption cost!
  • Etihad miles do not transfer to AA.  Instead, you are using Etihad miles to book the AA flight.
Etihad’s chart for redemptions on flights operated by American Airlines

Flights are priced each way; roundtrip is double the amounts shown:

Etihad award chart for American Airlines

Japan is in the Asia 1 region.  Etihad’s off peak dates for US-Asia 1 are October 1-April 30.

  • Economy off peak is 25,000 each way (50,000 roundtrip)
  • Economy peak is 32,500 each way
  • Business is 50,000 each way

(“P” refers to flights that have suites, but this isn’t even an option on American Airlines)

How to fly to Japan with American Express Membership Rewards points

Fall in Japan is beautiful! Know what else is beautiful? Etihad’s off peak redemption table for US-Japan.

How to book AA flights with American Express points (via Etihad):

Click here for in-depth instructions, including screenshots.  Do not transfer any points until you have read that post!  The post will tell you exactly when to transfer.

  1. Search for MilesAAver seats* to Japan on AA.com.
  2. Transfer Amex Membership Rewards to Etihad (again, do not transfer until you have confirmed availability with an Etihad agent!)
  3. Redeem Etihad Guest miles for the American Airlines flight.

*Only American Airlines Milesaaver seats are available to partners.  If you search AA.com and only find AAnytime tickets, those seats will not be available to book with partners such as British Airways or Etihad.  Click here for more info. 

If you want to book one way in business class (and one in economy), you can earn all of the points and miles with only 2 credit card sign up bonuses

The sign up bonus points from 2 credit cards would be enough (plus you would have some leftover Ultimate Rewards points) for the same flights Ryan and I booked:

  1. A Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Business Preferred credit card.  That bonus is enough for a one way economy ticket between DFW and NRT.  It is also enough for flights between Japan and several other US cities with nonstop Japan Airlines or American Airlines flights.  This is possible by transferring to British Airways and then using British Airways to book the American Airlines or Japan Airlines flight.  DFW-NRT nonstop  in economy is 30,000 Avios per ticket.
  2. American Express Gold Card.  This bonus is enough for a one way business class seat on an American Airlines flight (booked with Etihad miles) between the US and Japan from any city, regardless of connecting flights.

Chase Sapphire Preferred  and American Express Gold Card each currently have a 50,000 point sign up bonus.   Both are also good for everyday spending since they earn transferable points.  Plus they have good bonus categories.

Chase Ink Business Preferred credit card has a sign up bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards.

How to fly to Japan with American Express and Chase Ultimate Rewards

Amex has other airline partners with even lower redemption costs, but this depends on your dates and departure city  

Amex has other options for US-Japan for 50,000 points or less!  For example, one partner, ANA, has roundtrip economy seats for as low as 40,000 miles on certain dates and from certain cities.

The great thing about transferable points such as Membership Rewards is that you have options.  And when there are multiple options with availability, you can figure out which airline partner requires the least amount of points (miles).

Now for the fine print

The redemption amounts I discuss are subject to availability of saver award seats.  I wrote a post about award seat availability and I highly recommend reading it (it’s a pretty quick read!).

If you’re trying to book economy, you shouldn’t have much trouble.  Also, any of these scenarios will increase your chances of finding availability in business or economy:

  • Have American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Each have several airline partners. If one partner isn’t available, check other airlines with other transfer partners.
  • Start your search as early as possible.  You’re a lot more likely to find tickets if you are 6 months out vs. 2 months out.
  • Have flexible dates (even if it’s only plus or minus 1-2 days)
  • Are you willing fly into/out of other cities? For example, if Dallas to Tokyo is not available, try LAX to Tokyo.  Even if you have to buy a positioning flight to LAX, you could still save lots of money.  Especially in premium cabins.  Southwest is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so that may be an option to get from Dallas to LAX if you’re trying to minimize your out of pocket costs.

We started in Kyoto, so flying into Osaka rather than Tokyo would have been ideal. But Osaka wasn’t available. So we flew into Tokyo and took the bullet train to Kyoto. The fare was covered with our rail pass (which was very reasonable)

Annual fees

The annual fee ($95) on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is waived the first year.  The fee on the Amex Gold Card is not waived, and it’s high.  BUT, the value of the 50,000 MR sign up bonus and the benefits/credits are more than worth it.

There are enough statement credits (including a limited time bonus credit) that add up to more than $250.  Even without the statement credits, I’d gladly pay $250 for 50,000 Amex points.  When you think about 50,000 Amex points as a one way business class ticket (~$3500) or one roundtrip economy ticket (~$1,000-$1500) to Japan, $250 doesn’t seem so crazy!

Amex sign up bonus eligibility

The sign up bonus will not be awarded if you have previously held an American Express Gold Card.  Amex has a once-in-a-lifetime-bonus policy per product.  Business credit cards of the same name as personal cards are considered different products.  In other words, the Amex Gold Business card would be considered a different product, so you’d still be eligible for the personal sign up bonus.

Conclusion

Amex Membership Rewards points are great for flights between the US and Japan in business class or economy.  Chase Ultimate Rewards points are good for Hyatt hotel stays and for economy flights between the US and Japan.

The limited-time increased sign up bonus on the American Express Gold Card is a great opportunity to earn some valuable points.  Plus the minimum spending requirement ($2,000 in 3 months) is relatively low.

Spend your money on Kobe beef, not plane tickets.

50,000 Amex points gets you:

  • A one-way business class seat between the US and Japan on an American Airlines flight

Or

  • A roundtrip economy ticket from the US to Japan between Oct 1 and April 30 on an American Airlines flight.

If you’re in 2 player mode (traveling with a friend/spouse/companion) each of you can apply for your own card(s).

  • Bonus: 50,000 Membership Rewards points with the link above!  Limited time: Also, 20% back as a statement credit at U.S. Restaurants with The American Express® Gold Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership, up to $100 back.
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $2,000 in 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $250
  • Bonus Categories: 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines, 4 points per dollar at US restaurants and grocery stores.  This card used to earn extra points per dollar at gas stations, but that is no longer the case.  If you already have the card, 2x points per dollar at gas stations until 10/4/2019.
  • Notable benefits: $100 annual airline incidental credit, $120 annual dining credit
  • Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $4,000 in 3 Months
  • Annual Fee: $95, but waived the first year
  • Bonus Categories: 2 points per dollar on travel and dining
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One thought on “(Limited time) Earn a roundtrip flight to Japan with just one credit card sign up bonus

  1. Pingback: How we booked Japan for $388 [$13,600 value] and you can, too!

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