Introduction: An Overdue Trip To Kyoto

Introduction: An Overdue Trip To Kyoto

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Welcome to my next trip report series, which will cover our recent trip to Japan.

You can expect flight reviews of JetBlue’s A321 business class, Starlux Airlines’ A350 business class, Starlux Airlines’ A330 business class, Japan Airlines’ 787 business class, and American’s 787 business class. You can also anticipate several hotel reviews, including of the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, Park Hyatt Kyoto, Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, Four Seasons Kyoto, and Shisui Nara (Marriott Luxury Collection).

In this post I’ll outline all the basics of the trip, and then I’ll publish the entire trip report series (I won’t just review hotels, airlines, and lounges, but will also talk a bit about our time in Kyoto, food, etc.).

Why we took this trip

There were a few things that motived this trip. For one, Ford and I were celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary. Okay, we don’t actually really care about that kind of stuff, but it seemed that if we were going to take a trip, we might as well time it around that (ironically we ended up spending our entire anniversary in the air, during the Los Angeles to Taipei flight — it was just dark the whole time, and we didn’t see a sunrise or sunset!).

Beyond that, Ford and I both adore Japan, and have enjoyed our past trips there. The culture is just so different and fun, the food is amazing, there’s so much to see, and there are lots of great hotels. Aside from the Middle East, neither of us had spent any substantial amount of time in Asia since before the pandemic, so we were looking forward to returning (I’ve gotta say, I’m out of practice and am getting old, because the jet lag was brutal).

We had some amazing meals in Japan!

Kyoto was at the top of our places to visit. We were supposed to take a trip there in early 2020, but you can guess how that went. Ever since it was announced that Japan’s borders would reopen, we were just waiting for the right time to plan our trip.

I know, it’s not exactly a unique or original concept to go to Kyoto — it has become so popular recently, and I hadn’t visited in over a decade. But I figured it was a case of “better late than never,” especially since there were several hotels I was looking forward to reviewing. We also added in a little trip to nearby Nara, where we spent a night.

While we had been considering this trip for some time, what ultimately caused us to finally book our tickets and plan our trip was when Starlux Airlines opened up a bunch of reasonably priced award space through Alaska Mileage Plan. Good thing we booked when we did, because pricing increased very quickly.

Beautiful Kyoto, Japan

The airlines we flew on this trip

For the outbound portion of our trip, we had to position from Miami to Los Angeles. Fortunately I found a great fare in JetBlue’s Airbus A321 Mint business class, so we managed to book the following for $619 per person:

9/26 B62986 Miami to Los Angeles departing 6:25AM arriving 9:17AM

Ford and I both had leftover JetBlue ticket credits from last year, so this ended up costing us nothing out of pocket.

JetBlue Airbus A321 Mint business class

Next up, we were excited to fly with Taiwan’s Starlux Airlines, which we managed to book with Alaska Mileage Plan miles. We flew from Los Angeles to Taipei in Starlux Airlines’ Airbus A350-900 business class, and then from Taipei to Osaka in Starlux Airlines’ Airbus A330-900neo business class.

At the time that I booked, it was cheaper to book the two segments separately, so I booked the following in business class for a total of 75,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles plus $46.60 in taxes and fees per person (the first segment cost 60,000 miles, the second segment cost 15,000 miles):

9/28 JX1 Los Angeles to Taipei departing 12:50AM arriving 5:40AM (+1 day)
9/29 JX820 Taipei to Osaka departing 8:30AM arriving 12:05PM

Starlux Airlines Airbus A350-900 business class
Starlux Airlines Airbus A330-900neo business class

For the return portion of our trip, we took a much more direct routing, and I booked Japan Airlines’ Boeing 787-9 business class for a total cost of 60,000 American AAdvantage miles plus $45.25 in taxes and fees per person:

10/07 JL60 Osaka to Los Angeles departing 5:45PM arriving 12:05PM

Japan Airlines Boeing 787-9 business class

Then we connected same day to Miami. Unfortunately there was no saver level award availability, so I couldn’t book it all on one reservation (for that matter, I booked an itinerary with less than the minimum connection time, so couldn’t book it as a single ticket anyway).

Fortunately the mileage cost was reasonable, and I managed to book the following flight in American Airlines’ Boeing 787-8 business class for a total of 36,500 AAdvantage miles plus $5.60 in taxes and fees per person:

10/07 AA2883 Los Angeles to Miami departing 1:20PM arriving 9:11PM

American Airlines Boeing 787-8 business class

The hotels we stayed at on this trip

During this trip, we stayed at different hotels, and there sure was some variance in terms of the experiences. In the individual review installments I’ll talk about how we booked each of the hotels.

At the front end of the trip we had one night in Los Angeles, and we ended up staying at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills for the night. I tend to think that Los Angeles doesn’t have a single best hotel, but rather all the top properties have their pros and cons. This is an excellent choice.

Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills guest room

Then we ended up spending a week in Kyoto, which we decided to split between three hotels. Admittedly that’s more time than most people would probably spend in Kyoto, but we were working while traveling, and I also wanted to review different hotels, so it worked out.

We stayed at the Park Hyatt Kyoto, which is perhaps the hotel I was most excited to stay at this trip. This hotel is broadly very well regarded, but seems to get mixed reviews in the miles & points world. Personally I loved this property, in terms of the location, dining outlets, and service, though there were a few quirks.

Park Hyatt Kyoto exterior

We also spent a couple of nights at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto. Honestly, this is a very good hotel with phenomenal service (possibly the best we had this trip), but personally I found this to otherwise be the least remarkable of the three properties.

Ritz-Carlton Kyoto lobby

Then we also stayed at the Four Seasons Kyoto. This is by far the largest of the three properties we stayed at, which I ordinarily wouldn’t love. However, the hotel has the most amenities, and also has a beautiful garden and pond, which is missing at the other two properties.

Four Seasons Kyoto pool

It was awesome to compare these three properties in Kyoto, as they all have their pluses and minuses. There’s not a single hotel that’s going to be best for everyone, so that’s also why its nice to stay at properties back-to-back.

To finish off our trip, we visited nearby Nara, and stayed at Shisui Nara, a Marriott Luxury Collection property. This hotel just recently opened, and there’s not much online about it. Ummm, I found the whole experience to be well-intentioned, but kind of a hot mess.

Shisui Nara Marriott Luxury Collection exterior

Bottom line

We had an incredible trip to Japan, with lots of (hopefully) interesting review content. Not only was I happy to finally fly Starlux’s long haul business class, but we checked out some awesome hotels in Japan (and one kind of strange one), and had so much good food. Japan is just such a special place, and I’m already dreaming of my next trip.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

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  1. Dick Karp Guest

    Great report, Ben!

    I also recently stayed at the Park Hyatt Kyoto in a garden suite and, for me, the experience was good but not at all overwhelming. In the Hyatt family in Kyoto, I still prefer an executive suite at the Hyatt Regency (which would be considerably cheaper) over the garden suite at the Park Hyatt. I was particularly disappointed at the lack of knowledge of the Park Hyatt Kyoto concierge staff which seemed...

    Great report, Ben!

    I also recently stayed at the Park Hyatt Kyoto in a garden suite and, for me, the experience was good but not at all overwhelming. In the Hyatt family in Kyoto, I still prefer an executive suite at the Hyatt Regency (which would be considerably cheaper) over the garden suite at the Park Hyatt. I was particularly disappointed at the lack of knowledge of the Park Hyatt Kyoto concierge staff which seemed to entirely rely on googling things in order to answer the (generally straightforward) questions that I asked them.

  2. Roundtree Member

    I can't wait to read. Heading to Japan with the family next summer (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima). I recall you saying you wanted to visit Osaka as well. Did that happen?

    1. Luke Guest

      Not really a historical site, but if you're a fan of trains, there is a train museum believed to be the largest in Japan. Would probably be a great way to kill a couple hours (or even more). I haven't been there but I have visited its sister museums in Nagoya and Saitama. Their model railway is to die for.

  3. InternationalTraveler Gold

    Congratulations to you wedding anniversary !

    Oh my gosh, time flies. I still remember reading your “trip” report and I can’t believe it has been five years. It took me a bit to dig up the report for the benefit of the newer readers:
    https://onemileatatime.com/i-got-married/

  4. John Guest

    Ben, what are some good ways to collect Alaska miles? It seems like they have great redemption rates, but I don’t live somewhere they fly, and as far as I can tell they’re not a transfer partner for any major bank currencies. Thoughts?

  5. Fed UP Guest

    Nothing like flying halfway around the world … to a rich cultural country like Japan and Kyoto. and straying in a US Chain hotel

    I am sure you were enriched by the local experience ….. why bother

    1. Mapoosi Ann Makrak Guest

      Personally, I’m just disappointed that he didn’t fly Lufthansa’s award-winning product there.

    2. JS Guest

      He will only stay at US chain hotels so he can get his avocado toast every morning!

  6. Super Diamond

    Curious to see your review of the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto. When I stayed it was almost entirely staffed by young westerners, which was an oddly jilting experience.

  7. SamG Guest

    I LOL'd at your jet lag comment - I think we're about the same age and I definitely feel it more and more! What is worse is my travel is usually work related now and I try really hard to keep trips very short as I've got 2 toddlers at home so recovery time is not an option.

    What I hadn't expected was that they'd also get so jetlagged, 3am with two kids hyped and ready to go in Singapore really makes you question your life choices.....

  8. Mark Guest

    Following this one - I've been to Tokyo and thereabouts a couple of times and loved it and I've been meaning to go to Kyoto for years now but never quite made it.

  9. Jonathan Guest

    Hey, as a not so new father myself (18 months now) I'm curious for how long you left the baby, and who it was with? Since he was born myself and my spouse find it impossible to get away together more than one night, and when only one of us is going not just the other is doing all the heavy lifting, but the baby's behavior is nightmare. I will appreciate any advice.

    1. JJ Guest

      return it and get a new one. Your model may be malfunctioning more than normal.

  10. Andrew Diamond

    Can't wait to read the detailed reviews of the hotels! Congrats on 5 years!

  11. Keith L Guest

    We just returned from a two week trip to Japan. We hit Tokyo, Kanazawa, Kyoto and Ise Shima. In Kyoto we stayed at the fairly new The Hotel Mitsui Kyoto. We absolutely loved it, especially the thermal springs in the spa. The rooms were beautiful. Be sure to check it out.

  12. D3kingg Guest

    An early Checkin in Japan requires bowing five times to the hotel manager. He who bows last is in a closing elevator.

  13. Mick Guest

    Mind you… japan a different story this summer. They were like automatons (“um check in is 3pm”). Yes. But can I try for earlier? The hotel seems empty?

    “We’ll call you at 3”

    Not big on rule breaking there !

  14. derek Guest

    The Starlux flight arrives at 5:30 am, typical of most flights from the US to Taiwan (with some exceptions). This is too early for hotel check in. However, it's 5:30 pm Eastern Time so in a few hours, it's easy to be sleepy. There is no good remedy. Perhaps, it's to book a room for the previous night and check in very early the next day. Or maybe an airport hotel?

    For Ben, he has...

    The Starlux flight arrives at 5:30 am, typical of most flights from the US to Taiwan (with some exceptions). This is too early for hotel check in. However, it's 5:30 pm Eastern Time so in a few hours, it's easy to be sleepy. There is no good remedy. Perhaps, it's to book a room for the previous night and check in very early the next day. Or maybe an airport hotel?

    For Ben, he has a connecting flight to Osaka so he can nap on the plane. That flight arrives roughly 12:50 pm, which is around midnight Eastern Time in the US. One could either fight to stay awake or check into a hotel at 3 pm (2 am Eastern Time) and maybe nap for 45 minutes. An alternative is to fight to stay awake and sleep at 7 pm (which is 6 am Eastern Time).

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ derek -- It's a pretty bad situation no matter what! For these kinds of arrivals at TPE, I imagine a good percentage of passengers are either connecting or live in TPE (and therefore don't have to worry about hotel check-in times). However, for those of us who are terminating there and need a hotel, there's merit to booking a room for the night before. Potentially waiting until a 3PM check-in time is simply brutal after such a long flight.

    2. Mick Guest

      When I was in Taiwan I landed from Sydney at around 5am. No jet lag as similar time zones. They let me use the gym and pool for an hour then had my room ready around 7am for I think a $100 fee. I had the same experience at the four seasons in Shanghai. Worth trying

  15. David Diamond

    Looking forward to the reviews!

    Unfortunate that Roku did not make the review list in the end, but I guess it was already a pretty long list of different hotels in Kyoto. Should give Roku and Aman next door a review if you ever get the chance.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ David -- We had intended to stay at Roku Kyoto, but ultimately decided to spend the night in Nara instead (at a Marriott property). We'll do Roku next time, as I did want to check it out.

    2. tom Guest

      Roku Kyoto is far better than the Park Hyatt, in my opinion. I stayed at both hotels. The staff, service, and settings are spectacular.

  16. Schar Diamond

    I hope you were able to review PS LAX since you were flying through LA!! We need an updated review!!

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Schar -- A good idea for a future trip! But didn't do it this time around...

  17. jallan Gold

    Lucky, I hope you'll talk about your thinking in only allowing 75 minutes to connect at LAX on your return. Thanks!

    1. Matt Guest

      I'm also curious why you didn't fly from Miami to LAX the next day, since you're departing flight was so late/ early. It seems very interesting to have booked so long a layover on the outbound, and so short on the return.

    2. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Matt -- At the end of the trip, we just wanted to get home. The reason for the layover on the outbound was to be on the safe side in case of irregular operations. JetBlue's two flights from MIA to LAX were either early in the morning (leaving an uncomfortably long connection) or late in the evening (leaving an uncomfortably tight connection). So at that point we figured we might as well spend the night.

    3. MattBallAZ New Member

      Thanks! We fly from LAX to Europe next May; flight leaves at 9:10pm, so we're taking a noon flight direct from Tucson to LAX. (Actually booking 2 on points and will cancel the one we don't need.) But staying over in LA on the way back because the flight from Madrid gets in late.

    4. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ jallan -- Well with Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, I figured we could easily get from plane door to plane door within 30 minutes (at absolute most). So as long as we weren't delayed significantly, we'd make the connection with time to spare. Given the on-time record for this Japan Airlines flight, I figured that wouldn't be an issue.

      The issue is that the next flight from Los Angeles to Miami after the one...

      @ jallan -- Well with Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, I figured we could easily get from plane door to plane door within 30 minutes (at absolute most). So as long as we weren't delayed significantly, we'd make the connection with time to spare. Given the on-time record for this Japan Airlines flight, I figured that wouldn't be an issue.

      The issue is that the next flight from Los Angeles to Miami after the one that we took would have been a red eye on a domestically configured aircraft. I would much rather risk it and get home many hours earlier in a more comfortable product.

  18. RetiredATLATC Diamond

    I found an ANA last minute fare in the spring ATL-IAH-NRT-IAH- ATL two days before the flight, with only 40 hours in Japan.

    I was one of two people in business class from IAH-NRT and the food onboard was amazing (I had the Asian options both ways).

    I didn't get to see a ton of Japan but the graciousness, beauty, food and culture has put Japan on our list for our next big trip.

    The...

    I found an ANA last minute fare in the spring ATL-IAH-NRT-IAH- ATL two days before the flight, with only 40 hours in Japan.

    I was one of two people in business class from IAH-NRT and the food onboard was amazing (I had the Asian options both ways).

    I didn't get to see a ton of Japan but the graciousness, beauty, food and culture has put Japan on our list for our next big trip.

    The NRT ANA lounge was outstanding and the apron views were wonderful.

    I agree, the jet lag was an asskicker, but what a two day trip.

  19. ArnoldB Guest

    How do all these recent trips work without Miles? Can you leave a toddler for so long, multiple times? Or do you bring him with you and just don't mention it? Not asking in a judgy way, just geniously curious how that works.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ ArnoldB -- Fair question! Generally we take Miles when traveling domestically, and leave him at home when traveling internationally (because it's easier for everyone). We're lucky that we have family who love to help take care of him, so he's in good hands and very happy.

      Keep in mind that for me, I'm lucky that travel is also my "job." I'm usually home three weeks per month, and work from home and see Miles...

      @ ArnoldB -- Fair question! Generally we take Miles when traveling domestically, and leave him at home when traveling internationally (because it's easier for everyone). We're lucky that we have family who love to help take care of him, so he's in good hands and very happy.

      Keep in mind that for me, I'm lucky that travel is also my "job." I'm usually home three weeks per month, and work from home and see Miles all day long. Then for a week I'm usually traveling.

      Compared to someone who works a 9-5 at an office, I figure we have a lot of quality time to spend with him, and therefore I don't feel guilty about it. Now, when he gets a year or two older and travel is more enriching to him, then we're definitely excited to take him on some longer adventures.

  20. Mike O. Guest

    I like a lot of readers are still waiting for an ANA A380 trip report. Next time you plan to go to Japan, try Hokkaido or Okinawa, a traditional Japanese Onsen experience, and some street food. And while you're at it, I'd love an Air Premia review.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Mike O. -- The ANA A380 is on my top five list of products to review, so stay tuned!

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ ArnoldB -- Fair question! Generally we take Miles when traveling domestically, and leave him at home when traveling internationally (because it's easier for everyone). We're lucky that we have family who love to help take care of him, so he's in good hands and very happy. Keep in mind that for me, I'm lucky that travel is also my "job." I'm usually home three weeks per month, and work from home and see Miles all day long. Then for a week I'm usually traveling. Compared to someone who works a 9-5 at an office, I figure we have a lot of quality time to spend with him, and therefore I don't feel guilty about it. Now, when he gets a year or two older and travel is more enriching to him, then we're definitely excited to take him on some longer adventures.

8
Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ jallan -- Well with Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, I figured we could easily get from plane door to plane door within 30 minutes (at absolute most). So as long as we weren't delayed significantly, we'd make the connection with time to spare. Given the on-time record for this Japan Airlines flight, I figured that wouldn't be an issue. The issue is that the next flight from Los Angeles to Miami after the one that we took would have been a red eye on a domestically configured aircraft. I would much rather risk it and get home many hours earlier in a more comfortable product.

4
InternationalTraveler Gold

Congratulations to you wedding anniversary ! Oh my gosh, time flies. I still remember reading your “trip” report and I can’t believe it has been five years. It took me a bit to dig up the report for the benefit of the newer readers: https://onemileatatime.com/i-got-married/

2
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