Progress In Planning: We’re Heading To Japan

We’ll be leaving on our next international trip a week from today and we’re almost finished planning all of the details. The funny thing is that we first booked our flight back in December and then made some (free) changes to our itinerary in February. Since then, we hadn’t done anything towards planning this trip up until two weeks ago.
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Our destination is Japan, a country that we’ve considered visiting for years now. We’ve been to Tokyo’s Narita Airport two times but never got to step outside. Some might consider this a visit but we definitely don’t.
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We were very close to booking a trip to Japan in 2011. Our options for Spring Break came down to Chile or Japan. Japan always seemed to be a distant second choice though. The possibilities of visiting Easter Island and Patagonia were too hard to pass up so Chile won.
The main reason we were considering Japan was the very fair mileage redemption option to book the flight to get us there..
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We made the decision and booked a flight to Chile at night on March 10, 2011. When I woke up the following morning I couldn’t believe the news. There was a massive earthquake in Japan which took the lives of thousands of people.. It seemed like we had made the correct decision but I felt sick thinking about what was going on in Japan.
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Once Japan seemed to be recovering from the destruction, we started thinking about visiting and now the time has come.
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The Flight:

I originally booked our flight to Japan back in December. We rarely plan or book our trips so far in advance but I wanted to get my miles refund from being a Citi AA card holder before the year was up. (You can get a 10% miles refund up to 10,000 miles in a calendar year when you book a reward flight.)

Our original flight was in business class,costing 100,000 AAdvantage miles each (90K after receiving the miles refund). There was a small amount of tax for Kim and my ticket but Lucas’ was pricey. It was somewhere in the high $700 range to fly as a lap baby.
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There was one thing that I didn’t like about our flight- the only return flight available was sooner than when we wanted to return home.
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I called AA a couple of times to see if award availability opened up in business class for later dates but had no luck. However, I could change the flight to the date of my choice if I upgraded our return flight to first class. I thought it over and made the switch. The taxes for Kim and I went down due to the change, up a bit for Lucas. They both pretty much canceled each other out.
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I did have to spend some more miles for this switch. More on that in another post.
The Itinerary:
Kim and I went back and forth with itinerary ideas. There were some tough decisions to make so I got some help from a friend that has been to Japan a bunch of times (his wife also happens to be from there).
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Here is where we will be going:
  • Tokyo – (beginning and end)
  • Yokohama- (day trip)
  • Hiroshima
  • Miyajima Island- (day trip)
  • Kyoto

Getting Around:

To travel around Japan we’ll be using a Japan Rail Pass. The pass is not cheap and you must purchase it prior to arriving in Japan. After looking around online, the cheapest price I found was $269 for the economy 7 day pass from a tour agency in NYC called IACE. With our trip coming up so soon, we decided to go in person to pick up our “exchange orders”. (You purchase an exchange order prior to entering Japan and this must be turned in for your rail pass.)
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Lodging/ Hotels:
Hotels in Japan can be very expensive but with a little digging you can find places to stay to fit most budgets. I looked into booking rooms with hotel points but the redemption prices were way too high.
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We ended up booking rooms in the $75- $100 range. None of the hotels are brands known in the US. We still need to decide on a room for our final two nights in Tokyo. Kim and I will be using our free nights earned for having the Chase Priority Club Visa cards. For a $49 annual membership fee, we will each book a room that would cost $200+ per night!
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Kim and I are looking forward to our trip to Japan. We still have some research to do on the places we will be visiting. If you have any tips or suggestions on things to do, feel free to leave a comment!

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