Japan finally announced that their borders will be open to independent travellers. Therefore, you should expect a rush of travellers as this news was very anticipated!
Indeed, from October 11th, Japan is reopening its borders to the world where you’ll be able to move freely as you did before the pandemic, without any restrictions. Furthermore, they will remove the arrival entry cap and waive visa requirements for tourists.
This means you’ll be able to travel as you wish whether it’s for hiking Mount Fuji or visiting Tokyo Disneyland in your quest to hit all the Disney theme parks around the world!
Pre-pandemic, Japan was already a very popular tourist destination as the country is an excellent way to get out of your comfort zone but the standard of service is similar above western level. So you should expect award availability to be limited.
How to get to Japan with award flights ?
From Canada, it’s quite affordable to use Aeroplan points to get to Japan. In fact, as long as you can find availability on partner airlines, you’re looking at 50,000 points for a one-way fare in economy class from most places in the country. People on the West Coast will be favoured here since the cost drops down to 35,000 points as the distance flown is lower.
On Air Canada metal, you can also find very good deals with points from all over Canada and get great valuations for your Aeroplan points.
In addition, you’ll fly direct from major hubs and you can use your eUpgrade credits to fly in premium economy or in business class.
But don’t expect these prices to last or to see a lot of R space, especially if you wish to go during Sakura season.
Since partner airlines don’t fly directly from all major airports in Canada, you’ll have to use a positioning flight or a connecting flight on Air Canada. By doing the latter, you will be subject to dynamic pricing, but that’s not always a bad thing.
For example, this round-trip economy class ticket to Tokyo from Montreal is under 90,000 points (while the expected fare is 100,000 points).
And this routing from Vancouver is at 68,500 points (while the expected fare is 70,000 points).
You can quickly and easily rack up those points with just one or two credit card sign up bonuses such as the The Platinum Card®. The $499 fees to unlock all those points (after the $200 Amex travel credit) don’t look too shabby when you look at the $1600 airfare on Google Flights!
Because of the hype of this reopening of Japan amid Revenge Travel, you should not expect to find anything reasonable in business class with Air Canada’s dynamic pricing and those premium seats on partner airlines are highly coveted.
Should you see any availability on All Nippon Airways for example, you should be aware that they will sell faster than hot cakes; snag them as soon as you see them.
Otherwise, ExpertFlyer can do the work for you if you set up alerts. That is pretty much the only way you can hope to fly to Japan in a premium cabin (or at all, as seats are released in a limited number with partner airlines).
Alaska Mileage Plan
Since Japan Airlines is a member of Oneworld, you can use AVIOS to get to Japan although I would not recommend it because of the very high surcharge you may have to pay.
Instead, you can use Alaska Mileage Plan to fly on Japan Airlines for as little as 35,000 miles from Chicago or New York in economy.
You can even snag business class for 60,000 miles or First Class for 70,000 miles. The latter usually have availability within 2 weeks of departure.
JAL is one of my favourite airlines and their economy class (especially the soft product) is actually quite stellar compared to North American airlines. Also, there’s plenty of availability next month.
If you are from Vancouver, you’re in a pretty sweet spot as it’s the only city Japan Airlines flies to in Canada!
For folks living elsewhere in Canada, you have to position yourself in order to fly to Japan using Alaska Mileage Plan Miles. That is very easy to do with Aeroplan points and why not make the most of it to explore a city such as New York on the way?
Again, like with Aeroplan, secure your airfare tickets as soon as possible, especially if you want to get to Japan in a premium cabin.
To accumulate enough miles, you buy them; wait for a promotional bonus!
Where to stay in Japan with award points?
Regarding Hotel Reward Points, Marriott Bonvoy hotels are widely available throughout Japan from Hokkaido to Sendai to Miyazaki along with all the major cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Remember that you get the 5th night free when you book with points so you can stretch them out all the way! This is a great feature of the program since you can use Tokyo and Kyoto as bases to travel around their respective regions.
Furthermore, a Free Night Award Certificate can go a long way in few places here; since you’re getting them at either $120 or $150 with the renewal of the Marriott Bonvoy® American Express®* Card and the Marriott Bonvoy™ Business American Express® Card, you’re getting tremendous value when they are used to stay at properties like these:
You can check our review of the Moxy Osaka Honmachi (where you can use an Annual Free Night Award Certificate).
And below, you’ll find the current offers for Marriott Bonvoy Credit Cards:
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Japan ranging from very tidy hostels to fancy hotels.
Hostel dorms are a good way to budget travel in Japan. While they are more expensive than South-East Asia, they are super clean and often in prime locations.
On the other hand, for a party of 2 or more, it often makes more sense to book a private room, an independent hotel on Booking.com or an Airbnb.
In terms of reward points, those costs can easily be offsets with rewards points such as the ones offered by the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®. Those points can be used to cover any travel purchases so you’re free to book whatever you see fit and deal with the statement credit when you get home.
In addition, you will be able to avoid the 2.5% Foreign Exchange Fees through your trip to Japan.
Ryokan are Japanese-style inns that you can find about everywhere in the country and especially around hot springs. In terms of accommodation in Japan, you will get much more than just a place to sleep. Indeed, it’s actually the whole experience of traditional Japanese hospitality and atmosphere.
The cost can vary a lot depending on the amount of luxury you’re looking for and its location but you can expect tatami rooms, futon beds, on-sen baths and a kaiseki-like dinner brought to your room. The average rate is JPY 20,000 per person per night which is roughly $200.
While that is expensive, keep in mind that the kaiseki dinner alone, which is a fine dining experience, can be worth that price since it’s a standard price you can find in restaurants.
The best way to make this bucket list experience more affordable is to use rewards points you can apply on travel purchases again. In fact, the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard® gives you more than enough points in their sign-up bonus for this special night in Japan.
Personally, I couldn’t be more thrilled to hear that Japan is opening up again for all tourists. On the other hand, it also means the prices will soar and award availability will be harder to find.
That is why you should start planning right away and lock in your flight and accommodation as soon as you can as that’s will eat up the most in your budget. Then, you can start digging into how to save on local transport in Japan; with that covered, the remaining expenses such as food is quite reasonable.
Current formalities in place in Japan
Do I need to book a tour to visit Japan ?
Between September 7 and October 10, 2022, you could visit Japan as a tourist on a Non-Guided tour. But from October 11th, you can explore Japan without any restrictions as it was before the pandemic.
Do I need a visa to visit Japan ?
From October 11th and onwards, visa waivers will be reinstated for most countries including Canada for trips up to 90 days. Therefore, only a valid passport is required.
Do I need health insurance to visit Japan ?
It is recommended to get health insurance that will cover most medical expenses including hospitalization for severe forms of COVID-19. Check with your credit card for your situation specifically because you may already have great insurance.
Are masks mandatory in Japan ?
While the country is abolishing most COVID-19 measures, wearing a mask was an established habit well before the pandemic; it is part of Japanese culture and manners to wear one as soon as you had any kind of symptoms. Right now, it is still recommended in public transportation and crowded places.
Do you need specific COVID-19 tests to enter Japan ?
You no longer need to have a negative PCR test to enter Japan if you have been vaccinated at least 3 times. Travellers who has fewer than 3 doses are still required to do a pre-departure PCR test.
Also, you have to complete a health questionnaire to enter Japan.
Do you need to be quarantined when visiting Japan ?
You no longer need to quarantine or test on arrival if you come from any of the blue countries which includes Canada and the USA. This applies to all passengers whether you are fully vaccinated or not.