We’d always wanted to go to Japan. For me it was a love of all things bullet trains, anime, food and fashion. Anne-So loves nature, food and that sense of spirituality that Japan promises (and was less keen on the trains and me blowing all the spending money on clothes!). Unfortunately a trip of this magnitude requires some serious investment for two average working folk. To cut a long story short we we needed some extra funds and some extra motivation to take the trip we’d always dreamed of.
Luckily in 2018 we had both the motivation and the money for our adventure. Without sharing our entire life stories we just wanted to turn some negative impacts on our life into positive ones. Anne-So suffered two family bereavements over the last few years, plus the (ongoing) uncertainty of Brexit was threatening our freedom to live the way we wanted to. As well as fulfilling a life long ambition, this trip would also gave us a chance to reflect on those who were no longer in our lives for various reasons whilst doing a little something special for ourselves to remember why we love each other so much.
And with that we started to plan our epic trip to (elope to) Japan.
Planning, Routing and Budgets
We started the pre-planning for this trip around 9 months before departure. Initially the plan was to save up enough Avios with a 2 for 1 voucher for a First or Club World (business) ticket on BA direct from London to Tokyo, but as our mileage balance had been run down by an increased amount of necessary last minute flights, we had only enough Avios for Euro Traveller (Economy) and where is the fun in that! So instead, I began to research cash fares. The next couple of months was spent trawling Google Flights and a few of the forums/threads on Flyer Talk looking for that special deal in the hope we could get something affordable and fun as the regular direct fares from London to Tokyo were way beyond our budget in anything other than economy.
The cheapest indirect fares we could find with any certainty were with LOT or Air China and having checked the aircraft typically used on Air China for our routes we decided this was not the best option. Then by magic Qatar had one of their flash sales and our wishes were granted. I spent that entire evening checking through pretty much every city pair from Europe to Japan and eventually there were two great options, Helsinki or Nice. In terms of convenience Nice ticked all the boxes, but in the end we decided on Helsinki. We’d never been to HEL and it too had an easy enough transfer as well as plenty of flights on BA/Finnair if things went a little bit wrong. At this point the only snag was a rather yucky connection in Doha but this was quickly fixed by flying into Nartia and flying out of Haneda. For about £50 extra each we reduced our connection down to about 2 hours each way, enough time for a snack, drink and freshen up in the lounge. It also meant we’d be on the 777-200LR, 787-8 and A350-900 depending on whether or not QR did any of their famous aircraft swaps.
My boss approved the time off for the trip due to the circumstances involved and all that was left was to book our tickets to Helsinki. Unfortunately the £200 business class returns to HEL or TLL from earlier in 2016/17 had long gone so we would be down the back for £100 each after using up a few of our Avios to bring the costs down. With the amount of Avios we’d generate and being only one return to France away from being BA Silver following this trip I had managed to convince Anne-So that this was the best way to get to Japan. So in the end the cash cost was about £1200 each and I reckoned we’d get at least £300 of value or more from the 20k Avios we’d both generate from the trip. We also saved more cash by using some of our remaining Avios for internal flights rather than paying for a 2 week rail pass so that helped too.
With flights booked we purchased our Lonely Planet Guide to Japan, drew up summaries of all the itineraries and price comparisons of what the tour groups were offering not to mention browsing a few Flyer Talk trip reports and some Instagram posts. We slowly started drawing up a short list of places we’d like to visit and after much planning, re-planning which included setting up our own scoring system we finally worked out a trip that would let us see a lot of what Japan had to offer whilst not being too brutal travel wise. Our final itinerary looked like this:
- 1 Night in London – Renaissance LHR
- London (LHR) – Helsinki (HEL) – British Airways (BA) Euro Traveller (Economy)
- 1 Night In Helsinki – Radisson Blu Seaside Hotel, Helsinki
- Helsinki (HEL) – Doha (DOH) – Tokyo (NRT) – Qatar Airways (QR) Business
- 2 Nights In Tokyo – The Gate Hotel
- Tokyo – Hakone – Shinkansen Train
- 1 Night In Hakone – Mount View Hakone
- Hakone – Tokyo (HND) – Sapporo (SAP) – Train/Japan Airlines (JAL) Economy
- 2 Nights in Sapporo – Ibis Styles Sapporo
- Sapporo (SAP) – Fukuoka (FUK) – Japan Airlines (JAL) Economy
- 2 Nights in Fukuoka – Hotel Okura Fukuoka
- Fukuoka – Hiroshima – Shinkansen Train
- 1 Night in Hiroshima – Sheraton Grand Hiroshima
- Hiroshima-Kyoto – Shinkansen Train
- 2 Nights in Kyoto – Ritz Carlton Kyoto
- Kyoto-Kanazawa – Thunderbird Train
- 2 Nights in Kanazawa – My Stays Premier Kanazawa
- Day Trip To Hida Mouintains
- Kanazawa-Tokyo – Shinkansen Train
- 2 Nights in Tokyo – Prince Gallery Tokyo & Palace Hotel Tokyo
- Tokyo (HND) – Doha (DOH) – Helsinki (HEL) – Qatar Airways (QR) Business
- Helsinki (HEL) – London (LHR) – British Airways (BA) Euro Traveller (Economy)
We then spent time booking our hotels and planning any special dinners/lunches and we ended with an average cash cost per night of around £120 which is a little more than we’d normally spend but certainly not crazy money (which in Japan is very easy). So I think now is a good place to join us on our adventure.
It always felt like this trip report could quite easily have been called three weddings, two funerals and some new jobs! But come on that’s rather wordy. The day before our not so big, big day was my last day in my job before moving on to a completely different job which I was both nervous about and really looking forward to. The funny thing was that my friend S was near enough in the same boat, her wedding that we would sadly miss was coming up at the weekend and she too was starting a new job. My other friend T who had been highly contagious with Wedding Fever all year long also just got married and was also soon to start a new job (though at the time she did not know what that job would be). Especially with the power to look back this trip was definitely the end of one era and the start of a brand new one.
For our pre-wedding dinner we went to the restaurant where Anne-So and I went on our first date and fun fact number two that was also the place I went to eat with my family when we came to visit Canterbury for the very first time! I don’t think that the Olive Grove has got worse in the last 20 years or so, but I know my tastes have changed somewhat. From a diet of Pizza, Pasta and Potato (Jacket, Curried, Chipped or Mashed) to almost all the various culinary goodies the world has to offer. Anyway, it was a good chance for S & S to get to know each other and for my S to have a little look around our home city of Canterbury.
On the day itself, everything went to plan, there were no objections and S & S did a great job as witnesses and photographers before we moved on to what is possibly the best located Wetherspoons pub in the entire country for some much needed caffeine and a quick beach side photo shoot. It was a beautiful day so why not!
After some romantic looks out to sea and a few more shots we’d had enough and called our ride back to town as it was time for lunch (and for S to sneak in an afternoon nap).
Whilst the night before was all about old memories, lunch was all about making new ones. We headed to our favourite lunch spot, The Ambrette for 3 courses of exquisitely spiced cuisine from India via Britain. Stuffed and unable to move we summoned some energy for the bill… somehow they had charged us for 8 people, which soon became 7 and finally after much laughter 4!
With everyone fed and happy it was time for one final photo shoot with S&S in fine form.
We returned home to finish off packing and to send my S back home to London. We’d all had a wonderful day so far.
It was soon our turn to take the High Speed Train to London. Heading out in to the bright city lights it was time to say farewell to S number 2, leaving her with the bouquet in hand (wedding number 4 please!) to head north and us to the wild west of London’s Heathrow Airport!
Initially I had wanted to book some place fancy 5 star place in town but after I had over spent on the Japan hotels we made do for a much more sensibly priced airport option. Having missed the rush hour and the football crowds the only crowd we got were a gang of people who had unfortunately not been shown how to use a London bus. In through the front door, show your ticket or tap your card and out the back door, not so hard. Sadly, these poor ladies and gentlemen bundled on through the back door and up the stairs. The driver had thankfully spotted their faux pas and called them back down again so they all politely got off the bus and charged through the front door without showing the tickets in their hands and sped back upstairs again much to everyone’s frustration.
Still our short bus trip from Hounslow West to the Renaissance (now not a dump! – or maybe not as we found out a year later) had time for more drama as a man arose from his seat to berate the adjacent bus driver for not letting him on at the previous stop. Fun times!
Hotel: The Renaissance LHR
Status: Bonvoy Gold
Room: Executive Runway Room
We had a one minute walk from Mondial Way to our hotel and as a valued Gold Member we’d been upgraded to an Executive Room. The main difference being the higher floor and closer proximity to the Executive Lounge that my Gold membership included (as of May 2018).
We still had time to sneak in a trip to the Executive Lounge for a happy hour beer, wine and slice of Black Forest gateaux whilst watching the planes fly off to destinations far and wide in the fading light. I also had time to leave my suit jacket in the lounge…
And with that it was time to call it a day, a night, the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
The first day proper of our trip began with breakfast in the Executive Lounge. We enjoyed some fruit, pastries, coffee and juice as well as some plane spotting. The lounge was lovely, quiet and only half full.
We checked out around 9:15 and I have to say every member of hotel staff was polite, friendly and welcoming from beginning to end. They had set the bar for this trip nicely.