Cost of churning a trip to Japan

Since I started this hobby last November I have now successfully booked an 8 night trip to Japan with business class flights for two people. It’s time to figure out how much it cost! If you aren’t interested in how I got there, scroll down to the bold text at the bottom for the answer.

Last November, I applied for the following cards with corresponding bonuses:
1) American Express Hilton HHonors
– 65,000 HHonors points (40,000 after $750, & 25,000 after $3000 in 6 mo.)
2) Citibank American Airlines Visa Signature
– 50,000 AAdvantage Miles (after $2500 in 4 mo.)
3) Citibank American Airlines American Express
– 50,000 AAdvantage Miles (after $2500 in 4 mo.)

In January, I applied for the:
4) American Express Premier Rewards Gold Charge Card
– 50,000 point offer after $1000 in 3 months offer
(which I transferred to 100,000 Hilton)

In February, 91 days after my November churn:
5) Citibank Hilton Reserve
– 2 Free weekend nights (after $2500 in 4 mo.) with a $95 annual fee.
6) Citibank Hilton HHonors Visa Signature
– 50,000 HHonors points (after $1500 in 6 mo.)
7) United Airlines Mileage Plus Explorer
– 50,000 MileagePlus miles (after $1000 in 3 mo. plus $50 statement credit)
8) Chase Ink Bold
– 50,000 (after $5000 in 3 mo.)

As I got further into this hobby, I came across several deals posted throughout the year. On Black Friday last year, Office Max had a deal where you could purchase a $100 Visa or Mastercard gift card for $90.95. This was essentially making money meeting minimum spending! I purchased enough that I made $72.40 and met minimum spending on my new American Express card. Office Depot also ran a similar promotion, and I made $40.50 off of gift cards there. Recently, Staples did the same and I used my Ink Bold and made $10.25 while working towards minimum spending.

American Express also runs “Small Business Saturday” in November where cardholders get a $25 statement credit for purchases at a small business on their list.  I used my Hilton HHonors Amex to take advantage of that offer. American Express also ran a twitter promotion for a $10 gift card per card synced with twitter. I made another $20 from that for syncing the Premier Rewards Gold and Hilton HHonors Amex! I spent using the gift cards after I had met minimum spending on my cards, or talked family members who were willing to put up with my habits into using them. 🙂

In order to meet the minimum spends and put my car loan and homeowners association payments into a format I could get points for I used Vanilla Reloads and gift cards – along with my American Express Bluebird account’s Bill Pay option. The fee for Vanilla Reloads is $3.95/$500. I bought 20 Vanilla Reloads, at a cost of $79. When you have direct deposit enabled, you can withdraw $2000/month for free from Bluebird at Walmart – not counting Bill Pay. I messed up, and accidentally got charged $16 in ATM fees before setting up direct deposit.

My only expenses on the actual booking of the trip so far were taxes. The taxes on the airline fees were $46.40 each through American Airlines from Japan to the US, and $5 each through United for the US to Japan leg.

Totaling it up, we have:

-$95 Citi Hilton Reserve Fee
+$50 United MileagePlus Explorer Statement Credit
+$10.25 Staples Gift Cards
+$72.40 Office Max Gift Cards
+$40.50 Office Depot Gift Cards
+$25 American Express Small Business Saturday
+$20 American Express Twitter Sync Gift Cards
-$79 Vanilla Reloads
-$92.80 American Airlines Taxes
-$10 United Taxes
-$16 Accidental Bluebird ATM Withdrawal fees

The trip to Japan consists of:

  • seven nights at the Conrad Tokyo (estimated $448/night on Hilton.com for a total of $3136)
  • one night at the Hilton Narita Tokyo (estimated $98 on Hilton.com)
  • two business class United Airlines tickets flying on ANA from the US to Japan (estimated $10,964 on United.com)
  • two business class American Airlines tickets from Japan back to the US (estimated $14,258 on aa.com)

Totaling the costs/price estimates above results in….
$74.65 out of pocket for a $28,456 trip!

Even if you ignore the extra work buying gift cards and taking advantage of Amex promotions, the overall cost is still under $250. That’s not to say you couldn’t find much better deals. I’m sure it is possible to do this trip for much much much less than $28k. But if I go to the airline and hotel websites and type in the specific flights/hotel nights we selected that’s what I get.

Overall, it was a lot of work and it all depends on what you want to spend your time/money on. I spent a significant amount of time planning and reading forums/twitter to pull this off, along with running to CVS, OfficeMax, Office Depot, Staples, Walmart for Bluebird, etc.! But in the end, I’m thrilled with the results can’t wait to go on this trip!

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About Rebecca

I'm an engineer who is new to the points game. Hoping to share my discoveries as I collect points to travel the world.

2 responses to “Cost of churning a trip to Japan”

  1. Wandering Aramean (@WanderngAramean) says :

    Two thoughts…

    1) Not really a $28K trip as you would never spend that much to buy the tickets. That’s basically a red herring view of the value.

    2) Is it sustainable? Sure, you’ve churned all the CCs and got the sign-up bonuses, but what are you going to do next year and the year after when those CCs are not available to you?

    • Rebecca says :

      Both valid points, thanks for the feedback.

      For 1) I tried to comment that isn’t the real cost. At least I doubt anyone would actually pay that, that was just what I found on each website. Maybe I should bold the “much much much less”?

      And 2) Honestly I am still trying to figure the first part out. I know there is enough out there right now for another couple trips. And I’m hoping manufactured spend helps as I learn more. I notice others spend more on travel out of pocket to take advantage of offers and I’m guessing I will eventually want do that as well.

      This blog is meant to be a learning experience, where others can learn from my dumb mistakes. It’s definitely possible that sustainability will be an issue in the future and I am still working on an overall game plan. Any tips for someone who is just starting out?

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