Other Japan posts:
Hyatt and Marriott are the hotel loyalty programs that I would encourage most award travel beginners to focus on first. Hyatt’s global presence isn’t nearly as extensive as Marriott. This isn’t an issue for Japan, but for some destinations, there may not be any Hyatt properties. Hyatt has around 700 properties while Marriott/SPG has over 6600 properties worldwide.
There are 12 Hyatt properties and 43 Marriott properties in Japan. These range from budget to luxury hotels.
These are the important takeaways to remember from this post. I will explain all of this in more detail throughout the post:
- Chase-issued cards should be a priority if you are a beginner no matter what your goals are.
- Although you may not need it for hotels in Japan, a Chase Sapphire card that earns transferable Ultimate Rewards should be the first credit card for almost anyone.
- Ultimate Rewards transfer to Hyatt and Marriott, but it is rarely a good idea to transfer to Marriott. Hyatt usually is a good value.
- After that, Hyatt and Marriott cards would be the next move if your goal is hotels in Japan.
- If I was starting with zero points, I’d focus on Hyatt rather than Marriott for the higher end properties. But you don’t have to choose only one credit card! Get both while you still can!
How to quickly earn enough points for a free hotel stay
The quickest way to earn miles and points that can be redeemed for award travel is from credit card sign-up bonuses.
Before you start applying for any credit cards, it is important to plan a long-term strategy. This is due to an unofficial but well-established rule of a certain bank that issues many of the cards discussed on this blog and all of the cards discussed in this post.
The best way to maximize your earning potential from credit card sign up bonuses in the long-run is to prioritize Chase credit cards when you are beginning your miles and points journey.
Between Hyatt and Marriott, which program is better for Japan?
There are too many variables to be able to say one is better than the other. For what it’s worth, as of August 2018, I generally tend to favor Hyatt over Marriott (worldwide, not just Japan).
Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and SPG are now one program. The way we earned our points for our Ritz-Carlton stays in Japan is no longer possible since SPG points no longer exist. Changes as a result of the merger make it tougher to quickly earn the points needed for a multiple night stay at high-end Marriott properties. For high end luxury properties, Hyatt points will go further than Marriott points.
The good news is, you may not have to choose! As far as credit cards, if you are under 5/24 and otherwise qualified, you can open Hyatt and Marriott credit cards. In fact, I highly encourage you to open both if possible. More points=more free nights.
Which credit cards are best for hotels in Japan?
If you’re a solo traveler, the sign up bonuses from just 2 Chase credit cards may be enough for a week-long stay in Japan!
Traveling with a spouse or partner? You can earn the points needed for a 9 night stay in Japan valued at over $3,000 with as little as 2 credit card sign up bonuses per person.
If you are starting from 0, the World of Hyatt credit card and the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus credit card are the 2 hotel cards that I’d suggest.
BUT, before Hyatt and Marriott, there is another Chase card you should get: a card that earns transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
There are 3 Chase Sapphire cards that earn transferable Ultimate Rewards points.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred®
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Ink Preferred (business card)
Chase Sapphire Preferred is probably going to be the best choice for most beginners, but click here to compare.
One of these cards should be the very first card for almost anyone. Not only do they have valuable sign up bonuses, but they are also cards you should use for everyday spending.
The sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. They advertise it as $625 worth of travel, but in reality, 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth at least $1,000 if you learn how to utilize transfer partners.
Not only do you get a valuable sign up bonus, but this should also be your everyday spending card. Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of my favorite award currencies because there are several redemption options. I generally discourage readers from using airline and hotel co-branded cards for everyday spending because you are limiting your redemption options.
- If I earn Chase Ultimate Rewards, I can transfer them to 10 airlines or 3 hotels (including Hyatt and Marriott, but more on that in a moment)
- If I use a World of Hyatt card, I only earn Hyatt points. Those points do not transfer to other hotels or airlines (at least not at a decent ratio), so I’d be limiting my redemption options to Hyatt stays.
You may not necessarily need the 50,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus from this card for your hotel stay. Instead, you may be able to use it for your flights. Either way, you’re going to want an Ultimate Rewards earning card eventually, so it’s important that you get it early (while you’re under 5/24 and you still can). Time to talk about that unofficial but well-known 5/24 rule…
Chase’s 5/24 policy is another reason to make this card a priority, and I’ll get to that in the next section.
Quick Recap so far:
If a hotel stay in Japan is your goal, these are the 3 credit cards to consider:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (or Reserve or Ink)
- World of Hyatt
- Marriott Rewards Premier Plus
For flights, you may be able to use the Ultimate Rewards bonus, but you may also need an additional bonus. I’ll discuss flight strategy in a separate post.
Can I get all three cards?
Yes. I’d encourage you to plan to open all 3 of these. You can have all 3, but you can’t open all 3 at the same time. Speaking of time…
The limiting factor here is going to be time. If your desired travel dates are a year away, you’ll probably be able to earn all 3 bonuses in time. But if you are trying to plan a trip and have somewhat specific dates and/or dates in the near future that can’t be pushed back, you may not have the time needed to acquire all 3 cards and their sign up bonuses.
All 3 of these cards are issued by Chase and subject to the 5/24 rule
First of all, you may want to read this post about Chase’s 5/24 policy. That article is a more detailed overview of the policy.
What is the Chase 5/24 policy?
The short version: Chase is the issuer of some of the best credit cards for travel. Chase limits the amount of credit cards one can open in a 24 month period. If you have opened 5 or more credit cards from ANY bank in the past 24 months, you will not be approved for any Chase card that falls into this policy. Most of the cards discussed on this blog are now 5/24 cards.
You do not want to miss your chance to get a Chase Sapphire card. I know that sounds dramatic but it’s a fact. Once you open 5 cards, you will not be approved for any Chase 5/24 card. You would have to wait until you’re back under 5/24. Waiting is not ideal because you’re missing out on other bonuses during that time.
A big misconception is that only Chase 5/24 cards count against your 5/24 status. Not true. You must distinguish between these two terms:
- Chase 5/24 cards: “Chase 5/24 cards” or “5/24 cards” are credit cards issued by Chase that are subject to the policy. If a card is a “5/24 card”, that means Chase will not approve your application if you have opened more than 5 cards total, across ALL banks in the past 24 months. Most Chase cards are “5/24 cards”.
- Chase 5/24 status: “Chase 5/24 status” or “5/24 status” or “5/24 count” refers to the number of cards you have opened in the past 24 months. This includes ANY card from ANY bank, not just Chase cards. If you have not opened any credit cards in the past 24 months, you’re at 0/24. That means you have 5 spots left. When you open your first (hopefully a Chase Sapphire card), you’re at 1/24. You now have 4 spots left. You’ll often see me mention 5/24 “slots” or “spots”.
Ideally, you want to fill your “spots” or “slots” with Chase 5/24 cards (as opposed to cards from other banks). Once you reach 5/24, Chase will not approve you for any 5/24 cards, but other banks aren’t as strict. In other words, you can still get an Amex after you reach 5/24. So the strategy I suggest is to wait on cards from other banks.
The fact that Sapphire, Hyatt, and Marriott cards are all subject to the Chase 5/24 rule is good and bad.
Good news first (assuming you’re under 5/24):
Even if Japan isn’t the goal, these are cards that I’d suggest for most beginners and/or anyone under 5/24. Since Sapphire, Marriott, and Hyatt cards are Chase 5/24 cards, you don’t have to worry about wasting a “spot” on a non-5/24 card!
If you are just getting into miles and points, you are probably at 0/24,1/24, or 2/24. This is a good thing because it means you have 3-5 more spots for Chase 5/24 cards. But it also means you’ll need to be a little patient.
The (maybe) bad news:
It will take over 4 months to open all 3 of these cards and earn the bonuses. I say “maybe” bad news because this shouldn’t be much of a problem if your dates are far enough away.
It is now suggested that you space out your Chase applications by a couple months. Five years years ago when I first started collecting miles and points, it was possible to open more than one Chase credit card on the same day. While this may still be possible, it is no longer suggested that you apply for 2 Chase cards at the same time. That is a red flag for Chase, and since Chase issues some of the best travel credit cards, you don’t want Chase to shut you down.
Most data points suggest that waiting 30-60 days between Chase applications is your safest bet. Some are even suggesting waiting as long as 3 months. At the very minimum, I’d wait 60 days between applications.
If you started now, here’s your timeline. Remember, the min spend usually must be met within 90 days of opening a card:
- 12/20/18 Chase Sapphire (Preferred or reserve)… meet min spend within 90 days (mid-March)
- 2/22/19 World of Hyatt credit card… must meet min spend for first 40,000 bonus points by mid-May. Then you have until mid-August to earn the second bonus tier.
- 4/26/19 Marriott Rewards Premier Plus… must meet min spend by mid-July.
A little over 4 months from now, you’ll have the last of the 3 cards. The soonest your Marriott bonus would post is going to be when your first statement closes in May. So you’re looking at a minimum of about 5 months to open all of these cards and earn all points.
Earlier, I said if your dates are a year away, you should be in good shape. If it’s possible to have the points within 5 months, why did I say you need a year? Because availability is the other factor you would need to worry about.
If you earn all the points in May and your trip is in June, there’s a chance you won’t get the hotel you want. Just like with most airline award tickets, hotels only release a certain amount of rooms available to book on points for any given date.
In fact, I ran into this exact issue when booking our hotels! We had our flights booked, but I waited until about a month before our trip to book hotels because I couldn’t make up my mind about an itinerary. By the time I was ready, the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto was only available for 2 nights. Like I said in the post about our hotels, this wasn’t a problem for us. There were plenty of other options with availability. But if you have your heart set on a specific hotel, I suggest booking as far in advance as possible.
Tip: If you have your eyes on a certain property, it’s always a good idea to search availability in advance to get an idea of any patterns. For example, certain properties may not release many rooms for points bookings on a certain day of the week. Or some properties may not release as many rooms during certain months. You can do this before you have the points needed. All you need is a free loyalty account to search.
Marriott’s Points Advance
One feature that Marriott Rewards members can utilize is Points Advance. I won’t get into all the terms and conditions, but basically, you can go ahead and book some properties as soon as you find availability even if you do not yet have the points. Points must be in your account 14 days prior to check-in, but if you know you have a bonus on the way, this is a great way to make sure you get the hotel you want even before you have all of the points.
How many bonus points do I get for opening each card?
- Chase Sapphire (Preferred or Reserve): 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
- Marriott Rewards Premier Plus: 75,000 Marriott Rewards points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
- World of Hyatt credit card: 40,000-60,000 World of Hyatt points. The current welcome bonus offer is tiered with a total potential of 60,000 Hyatt points. After spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, earn 40,000 Hyatt points. If you spend a total of $6,000 in 6 months, you earn an additional 20,000 points.
How far will these bonuses go in Japan?
To show how valuable these sign up bonuses can be, I’ll go through the steps I would take if I was starting from zero points and zero (lol) credit cards.
Speaking of value, now is a good time for a reminder: not all miles and points are equal. Don’t let the big numbers on non-Chase cards trick you into opening the wrong cards. 100,000 Hilton points aren’t as valuable as 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Nothing against Hilton, it’s just that there are 2 probems:
- That sign up bonus of 100,000 isn’t as valuable as it looks. Hilton has a highly inflated award program. Assuming I’m below 5/24, it would take a sign up bonus of stellar value for me to use a 5/24 spot on a non-5/24 card…
- Hilton cards are issued by Amex. Remember, if you are a beginner you want to fill your 5/24 spots with Chase 5/24 cards. If the bonus of a non-5/24 card doesn’t provide significant value, wait until you reach 5/24 to open non-24 cards with less valuable bonuses.
I could redeem the sign up bonuses from the Hyatt and Marriott cards for a 9 night hotel stay worth $3400.
This would be my game plan to squeeze over $3,000 in value out of a few sign up bonuses
If Ryan and I were starting with 0 points and 0 credit cards, each of us would open these cards in this order. As long as you can meet both min spend requirements, each partner can open his or her own card at the same time as the other partner:
- Chase Sapphire (Preferred or Reserve): 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points each for a total of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points
- World of Hyatt credit card: 40,000-60,000 Ultimate Rewards points each for a total of 80,000-120,000 points
- Marriott Rewards Premier Plus: 75,000 points each for a total of 150,000 points
5-6 months later, when all bonus points are posted, this is how I would book our hotels. Of course, this assumes there will be availability.
- 5 nights at the Westin Miyako Kyoto OR 5 nights at the Westin Osaka which would cost a total of 140,000 Marriott points. Remember, you can easily visit Osaka from Kyoto, and vice versa.
- 4 nights at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. This is a category 6 property which would be 25,000 Hyatt points per night. Assuming one of us meets the 60,000 bonus min spend, we’d have more than the 100,000 Hyatt points needed for a 4 night stay.
We wouldn’t have to use any Ultimate Rewards to book these hotels! We could use the Ultimate Rewards for flights or we could save them for other trips.
Redemption cost-value analysis
For the 9 night stay, we would be using the points from a total of 4 credit card sign up bonuses.
Because hotels booked entirely on points have no taxes and fees, the only out of pocket cost to consider would be the annual fees on the cards acquired to earn the sign up bonus points.
Each Hyatt card has an annual fee of $95. Each Marriott card has a fee of $95. Neither is waived the first year (Chase Sapphire Preferred is waived the first year, FYI). Without considering the potential value of any benefits associated with these cards, your total out of pocket fee to get the points needed is $380. That may sound like a lot, but let’s look at the average cost of a stay at these hotels about a year from now:
The Westin Miyako Kyoto seems to have less availability than the Westin Osaka. I’ll use Osaka for this example. At the time of publishing (December 2018) the Westin Osaka has good availability, even on dates in the near future.
Points required for 5 nights: 140,000 Marriott points (4 nights at 35,000 then 5th night is free). Average cost per night a year from now is $320. This is before taxes, so it’s actually higher. But I’ll use $320 for this example.
- Marriott points required for a 5 night stay: 140,000
- Cost of a paid 5 night stay: $1600
Grand Hyatt Tokyo is WOH category 6, which requires 25,000 Hyatt points per night. The average rate is $462. In reality, it’s probably more like $500 after taxes, but I’ll use $462 for this.
- World of Hyatt points required for 4 nights: 100,000
- Cost of a paid 4 night stay: $1848
If you add the paid rates for both of these stays, the total is $3,448!!!
- Total annual fees on credit cards: $380
- Total points required: 240,000 (140,000 Marriott and 100,000 Hyatt, all earned from sign up bonuses)
- Value of this 9 night hotel stay: $3,448
This is an example of what we call 2 player mode since both players are opening our own cards. Solo travelers would have half the amount of points, but you could make the points stretch further by booking lower category hotels*.
Important: The category in which a hotel is designated may not be indicative of the overall quality and value. The Andaz Costa Rica (a Hyatt property) is an excellent example. As a 5 star hotel that often costs over $500 per night, I’d expect to see it in one of Hyatt’s higher categories (6 or 7). But it’s actually category 4, which is great for us because less points are required for a redemption! This goes both ways, though, so a category 7 hotel doesn’t always mean you are booking a 5 star hotel.
If you want to see what other hotel options you have using these sign up bonuses, scroll all the way to the bottom. I listed what all you can book as a solo traveler and in 2 player mode for luxury, mid-range, and low tier properties.
All 3 of the credit cards discussed in this post have valuable sign up bonuses that will go a long way for award travel to Japan.
Even if Japan isn’t on your list right now, the 5/24 rule lands these cards on my list for beginners. I would definitely prioritize a Sapphire card. Then, depending on your goals, choose the other 5/24 cards you want.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- 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
World of Hyatt credit card from Chase
- Bonus: 40,000 Hyatt points, plus 20,000 extra if you spend an additional $3,000 in the first 3 months (so 60,000 total if you spend a total of $6,000 in the first 6 months)
- Minimum spend for bonus: $3,000 in 3 months
- Annual Fee: $95
- Bonus Categories: 4 points per dollar at Hyatt, 2 points per dollar at restaurants, airfare purchased directly from airlines, local transit, and gym memberships
- Notable benefits: Annual free night at category 1-4 properties (this can be more valuable than the $95 annual fee, so many people choose to keep this card even if they do not use it on a regular basis), Hyatt Discoverist status (benefits include free premium internet and late checkout)
Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus credit card from Chase
- Bonus: 75,000 Marriott Rewards points
- Minimum spend for bonus: $3,000 in 3 months
- Annual Fee: $95
- Bonus Categories: 6 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG properties, 2 points per dollar on everything else
- Notable benefits: Annual free night worth up to 35,000 points per night (this can be more valuable than the $95 annual fee) if you keep the card after the first year, Marriott Rewards silver status
Here are more examples of potential redemptions for hotel stays in Japan
- Chase Sapphire (Preferred or Reserve): 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
- World of Hyatt credit card: 40,000-60,000 Ultimate Rewards points
- Marriott Rewards Premier Plus: 75,000 points
Remember, you can transfer to Ultimate Rewards Hyatt or Marriott. But Marriott isn’t a good value for UR transfers.
This is what some different combinations of the above bonuses could book:
- 3 nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (or other Hyatt cat 7)
- 1 night at the Ritz Carlton Tokyo (or other Marriott cat 7)
Luxury 2 player mode (without transferring any UR points):
- 4 nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo
- 2 nights at the Ritz Carlton Tokyo
- 5 nights at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto (or other Hyatt cat 5)
- 2 nights at the Westin Miyako Kyoto (or other Marriott cat 5)
Mid-tier 2 player mode (without transferring any UR points):
- 5 nights at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto
- 5 nights at the Westin Miyako Kyoto (assuming you can pool points and take advantage of 5th night free)
Lowest possible tier:
No Ultimate Rewards transfer is required, even with only 1 person’s bonuses!
- 5-7 nights at the Hyatt Regency Osaka (or other Hyatt cat 2)
- 3 nights at Marriott category 4 (the lowest available in Japan). The only 2 cat 4 properties aren’t in locations that you’ll likely want an extended stay, though. But you could use the 75,000 Marriott points for 2 nights at a category 5 hotel or 1 night at a category 6 or 7 hotel.
Lowest possible tier 2 player mode (without transferring any UR points):
- Up to 14 nights at the Hyatt Regency Osaka. I realize most people aren’t aiming for 14 nights at one hotel.
- Like I said above, the Marriott lowest category properties (cat 4) aren’t going to be properties you want for a long stay. But you can get 5 nights at the Westin Miyako Kyoto or other category 5 property. (assuming you can pool points and take advantage of 5th night free)