Trip Report: A surprise Weekend in Tokyo

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Obviously I love trips in general, but I REALLY LOVE surprise trips. Not ones for my self, although those aren’t bad, but what really brings me joy is doing the actual surprising.  So when the opportunity came to pull off a very unexpected, special trip to Tokyo for my girlfriend’s birthday…it had to be done. Since we were limited on time, this surprise trip would need to land in Tokyo for just 2 nights, yes – a weekend in Tokyo. Here’s the overview of how I planned, selected accommodations, and earned the points needed.

@zacharyburrabelSurprise trip to… #tokyo #japan #precovid #travelhacks #traveltips #travel #sushi #surprisetrip #travelhacking #points #youcandoittoo

♬ A Moment Apart – ODESZA


Surprise trip to… #tokyo #japan #precovid #travelhacks #traveltips #travel #sushi #surprisetrip #travelhacking #points #youcandoittoo

♬ A Moment Apart – ODESZA


a desk with a tv and a mouse on it

Not only would we only be there for 2 nights, but the whole experience of flying in a premium cabin was a must. I’d originally planned on buying econ tickets and then upgrade by using American Airlines SWUs ( Executive Platinums get 4 a year) that were showing available at the time of booking. The problem? By the time I got around to locking down dates – the 2 I needed on the return had disappeared. As luck would have it, when I searched our return date, Japan Airlines was showing an empty First Class cabin and 1 seat available with Alaska miles. Figuring JAL would release another – I locked in the flights.

Accumulating the miles

AA flights over

  • I used 49k Amex Points for the econ tickets with System Wide Upgrades applied

The flights over in American Airlines Business Class were purchased using American Express Points. At the time if you carried an Amex Business Platinum, which I did, you would receive 50% rebate on any flights purchased used points. That effectively gave Amex points a 2 cent valuation. The flights were roughly $330 a piece, or $660 total, and it ended up costing me 33k total Amex points for both tickets, one way to Tokyo in coach.  Since I was an American Airlines Executive Platinum I applied the System Wide Upgrades to the ticket and locked in our business class seats. Amex has since lowered the rebate to 35% so if you were to find a similar deal you’d need 49k points to book the two tickets.

Japan Airlines First Class

  • 70k Alaska Miles
  • 80k AA miles

I had accumulated Alaska Miles via their personal and business cards. At the time, they were each offering 25k welcome offers, but you could get more than one of each at a time. That has since been restricted. I also aligned my flying with Alaska and credited all of my flights to Alaska leading up to this trip.  I easily had the 70k miles need to book one First Class ticket return. As I mentioned, I’d been a AA Executive Platinum ( Plus I also carried a Citi Aadvantage Platinum + and Business variant which included 50k welcome offers at the time) I was sitting on a few hundred thousand AA miles so it wasn’t difficult applying the 80k AA miles needed for the second first class ticket.

Barclay Aviator Red frequently has 60k offers after a single purchase and paying the annual fee, it’s currently 50k. Additionally, Barclay Aviator Business currently has a 65k offer after $1k spend + 10k bonus AA miles after an employee makes a single purchase. Either of these offers would put you in striking distance.

Grand Hyatt Tokyo

If you already have Hyatt points, then you’re good to go, we used 50k for this redemption. The hotel, including tax, would have easily been around $1700 for our 2 night stay in a club room. I didn’t have the Hyatt points so I used my Chase points – either way it was a great value.

Hyatt is a transfer parter of Chase and I moved 50k points over when I saw the award space was available at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. Club level certificates, which are earned from being Explorist, can be applied to award reservations which made it perfect. The club easily saved a couple $100 when you think about the cost of breakfast and the few glasses of wine, etc we had each night while staying there. The cards listed below are all current with their most recent offers, but you can easily accumulate the 50k points needed every year by hitting bonus categories and creating a solid Chase wallet.

Booking flights –

a screenshot of a computer

I purchased 2 econ tickets ( LAX-HND) through the American Express travel center. Sidenote: these tickets would be classified as consolidator tickets, and ultimately that fare bucket earned me 100% points credited to Alaska, ok back to the story. I also redeemed 70k Alaska Miles and booked my gf a ticket from Tokyo to Los Angeles, and counted on JAL releasing space as they normally do 10-14 days out.  This strategy worked, and sure enough, 10 days prior to departure they peeled off another. I booked the 2nd JAL First ticket using AA miles – 80k to be exact.

Hotels – Club Level Please

a building with a tree and a car parked in front of it

I still had 4 club level upgrades from my Hyatt Explorist status in my account, and ultimately chose the Grand Hyatt Tokyo because of it. I redeemed 2 nights, at 25k a night, and applied the upgrades to the account. The location is great, attached to the Roppongi Hills mall, and we were even able to use the concierge to book us into Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi.

A $25k weekend trip for a couple hundred bucks. #weekendwarrior

I couldn’t have asked for the trip to go any better. She was totally surprised and we got to spend an amazing weekend in Tokyo.

*since I’d reviewed both the Qantas First Class Lounge and Japan Airlines First Class lounge recently, I included links to those reviews rather than write new ones.

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® is a great starter card that earns Premium Ultimate Rewards that can be transferred into over a dozen partners many of which are US based including Hyatt, Southwest, United, IHG, and Marriott.

Welcome Offer

Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. 

*you may find an elevated offer walking into a branch – see below

Annual Fee


Points Earned

Transferrable Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
    • That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠
    • Some people have seen Chase branches offering the following:
      • 75k Ultimate Rewards After $4k spend in 3 months + 10k Ultimate Rewards after $6k in 6 months 
  • 5x on all travel purchased through Chase Travel℠
  • 3x on dining, including eligible delivery services for takeout & dining out
  • 3x on select streaming services
  • 3x on online grocery purchases
    • (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
  • $50 Annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit via Chase Travel℠
    • The begins immediately for new cardmembers and after your account anniversary for existing cardmembers
  • 2x on all other travel
  • 10% Anniversary Bonus
    • Every year you keep the card, your total spend will yield a 10% points bonus. If you spend $10k in a year, you’ll get 1k bonus points
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred continues to redeem at 1.25c in the Chase Travel℠ and the slew of other benefits remain in tact including Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver ( primary ), purchase protections, etc.
  • Points are transferrable to 14 Ultimate Rewards partners
  • Redeem in Chase Travel℠ for 1.25 cents per point
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Suite of Travel and Purchase Coverage
    • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver is my favorite
  • Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024
  • $95 Annual Fee

We keep an up to date spreadsheet that lists the best ever offers: You can find that spreadsheet here.

Historically 80k is a very, very good offer and hit in both 2022 and 2023. In 2021, we saw the offer hit an all time high of 100k. Who knows if that will ever come back.

Main Cast: 

Cards that earn flexible points and should be used on the bulk of your purchases.

Supporting Cast:

Cards that earn fixed points in the currency of the airline/hotel and can not be transferred at attractive rates. These cards yield benefits that make it worth keeping, but not necessarily worth putting a lot of your everyday spend on. 

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® is exceptional starter card and offers transferrable Ultimate Rewards, and pairs well with other Chase cards.

If you carry this card alongside Chase’s cashback cards like the Chase Freedom Flex℠and Chase Freedom Unlimited® or the business versions: Ink Business Cash® , Ink Business Unlimited® you can combine the points into Preferred account and transfer into hotel and airline partners

Annual fee is quite low at $95 a year + you get a 10% anniversary bonus on points + $50 hotel credit in Chase travel.

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