The very first thing you’ll have to do on your trip across Japan is to actually get there, and as Japan is an island country, the easiest way to do that is to take a plane. That is if you’re not always thriving to be different, in which case you can also take a ferry from on of the neighbouring countries.
Photo by aaronw79
Prices & expenses
Flying to Japan isn’t cheap, no matter where you live. A return ticket from Europe or the West Coast of the US will set you back around 800-1000 USD, a return ticket from the East Coast will easily cost up to 1700 USD, and even if you live in China or South Korea it won’t be easy to find anything cheaper than 500 USD.
If you’re used to cheaper-than-cheap low-cost airlines which let you travel across Europe for the cost of a few beers—you’re definitely out of luck when it comes to Japan. In fact, even intra-Japanese flights have price points similar to the ones above.
Also note that the Narita International Airport which handles the majority of international passenger traffic to and from Japan is located about 60 km outside of Tōkyō, and so you should reserve around 100 USD just for the trip from and to the airport. To find out more about Narita Express (the train between Tōkyō and the airport), and Japanese public transport in general, please read the article about Japanese prepaid cards.
Where to find cheap tickets
If you are okay with the prices, and are still set on going to go to Japan—and I certainly hope you are—that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to save on your tickets. Probably the best way to do so is to skip local travel agencies altogether and head directly online. There are many web applications for finding best deals on flight tickets. All do almost the same thing, which is aggregate prices of flights, and send you to the airline’s booking pages, taking a fee from the airlines during the process.
|KAYAK is one of the first travel search engines and aggregators of its kind and allows you to search and find pretty much anything related to travel. Whether you need a hotel, flight, car, or even a cruise, you’ll probably find it there. One nifty feature is called Price Alerts, and allows you to get flight prices by email—very useful if you’re not in a hurry and want to get the best deal possible.|
|Hipmunk, although it serves a similar purpose, is almost the exact opposite of KAYAK. The web app was launched only recently, but positioning itself as a “better flight search” it already generated a lot of interest. At hipmunk, you’ll find neither thousands of functions, nor a myriad of search options, but what it does—helping you to find the most agreeable flight to your destination—it does better than anyone else.|
Once you’ve found the good deals, it’s a good idea to head straight to that airline’s website, without clicking through on the comparison websites, but by going directly, and entering the information afresh. This usually means that you’re getting the very best price, considering there are no ‘middle men’ to scrape off their commission.
How to save even more
Aside from being flexible on your traveling dates, traveling at unusual times, and heading straight to an airline’s website to book, there are few other tricks that you can employ to get the very best price on your ticket.
Choose your time wisely
Flying outside the peak seasons (Christmas, New Year, Golden Week, and summer holidays), can save you a bundle, as this is the time when Japanese families head abroad to visit friends and family, and the whole world descends on Japan. Plan when you’re going to go as far in advance as you can, and start checking prices around eight months before you’d like to travel. By the six-three month pre-flight period, you’ll see the very cheapest tickets get released.
Fly from C to D
Although the biggest, Narita airport isn’t always the cheapest. Think about flying to other destinations and taking the train or an internal flight to arrive at your final destination. Many airlines offer ‘foreigner only’ tickets, which are bought outside of Japan, and used for domestic flights at very favourable rates, sometimes as little as $100USD. Check with individual airlines for details, but you could fly into Ōsaka, have a stop-over in Kansai for a short while and take a domestic flight to Haneda (Tōkyō’s chief domestic airport) for the price that you may have to pay to have a direct flight to Narita in some instances.
Also, when performing your searches, check prices on flights from smaller, local airports in your own country and even neighbouring countries—you’ll be surprised how much a little local or international traveling can save you! You’ll need to take into account the cost of a train to get to the airport, but in many cases the savings can make the trip worthwhile.
Photo by twinleaves
Although searching online is likely to give you the best prices, picking up the phone and calling travel agents is never a bad move. Simply quote the prices that you’re about to book for, and ask if they could price match or undercut the price. If they can’t, simply thank them for their time and try another agent. Even a saving of $10-20USD can make these calls worthwhile.
If opting to buy online, or over the phone considering using a cashback credit card, which will not only offer you greater consumer protection in many countries, but will offer you airmiles, incentive points or even cash for using the card. Of course, this saving is only relevant if you pay the balance of the card in full, and avoid fees.
To save more money, why not try a cashback site (ex. Quidco, if you’re in the UK) to save around 2-5% of your ticket price. These are portals, through which you can claim a portion of the revenue that would otherwise have been spent on advertising dollars. They aren’t always reliable, and occasionally there are conflicts if you use other vouchers, coupons and deals, but, there is nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain.
Have a second holiday
Why not take the opportunity to fly inderect and stop off somewhere? You’ll find that not only is a non-stop flight more relaxing, as it’s an opportunity to stretch your legs, breathe fresh air, and have something proper to eat, but it’s a great way to see another country en-route!
Emirates, for example undercut many of their competition in Europe by stopping in Dubai before continuing to Japan from most of Europe, and I plan to spend a weekend exploring what Dubai has to offer next time I get a chance to leave Blighty and head towards the rising sun. Alternatively, I’ve noticed that a weekend in Rome or Paris may be a cheaper option than flying direct from London. Search around, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can save!
If you’re not too fussed about when you go to Japan, and you can take a break from work or study at any reasonable time, why not sign up to the major airline’s sales newsletters, and get the info on their latest deals by email? Although you’d be lucky to get their headline price each time, it’s an easy way for you to get a general idea of what price you should be looking for when performing your flight searches.
Have you tried any of these tips and tricks? If you have any awesome travel hacks, please feel free to share below!