Japan Trip 2017 Video #1

Thanks for waiting… here is the first Japan travel video! In this video I focus on my travel experience flying to Tokyo Narita airport.

As this video focuses ONLY on flying, those who want to see what happens after I actually set foot in Japan should wait for the next video…

OTHERWISE, please enjoy this first video, which runs over 20 minutes. You’ll see how I traveled in a premium class of service, thanks to redeeming my American Airlines frequent flyer miles. This cost 60,000 miles to travel in international business class. My connecting flight, from Dallas to Tokyo, was in Japan Airlines’ 787 Dreamliner.

 

Advertisements

Double American Airlines Miles to/from Japan

Announced this week is a promotion for American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier members to earn double the normal number of miles on select routes to/from Japan and a few other cities in Asia that are operated by either American Airlines or Japan Airlines. If you are big on frequent flier miles, this is a promotion you may wish to consider.

The offer is valid on all First class, all Business class, and “select” Economy fares on NONSTOP American and Japan Airlines flights between Tokyo Haneda airport and San Francisco, and between Tokyo Narita and the following cities: Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN), New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), and Vancouver (YVR). Click here to read the full terms and conditions, and to register. You must book and complete all travel by March 21, 2015.

In addition, double miles are being offered on nonstop flights on Japan Airlines from Tokyo to the following Asian cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Dailan, Jakarta, Hanoi, Singapore and Delhi. Click here to read the full terms and conditions, and to register. You must book and complete all travel by March 20, 2015. Blackout dates are: From Tokyo, February 23-March 1, and returning to Tokyo, February 13-18.

Read the terms and conditions carefully, because the most discounted fares are ineligible for the double miles promotion.

For example, if you wanted to fly from New York to Japan in February (from the 4th to the 11th), I sampled a fare of $1,328 round trip, connecting in Los Angeles on the way to Tokyo and connecting in Chicago on the way back. You’d think you’d earn the double miles on the Los Angeles-Tokyo and Tokyo-Chicago legs, right? But upon closer inspection, the prospective flights would be booked in O and Q classes, which are all ineligible for the double miles offer.

To see what would be eligible, we can go to Google ITA Matrix and search for the fares. Pull up the advance routing codes and enter for both legs of the trip:

AA,JL+ /f bc=s

This forces the matrix to search for any direct flight on AA (American) or JL (Japan Airlines) with the booking code of S, which is the least expensive fare bucket permitted for the double miles.

When we search now, we get a result of $1,704 round-trip, which is for the nonstop from New York to Tokyo on JAL, booked through American Airlines codeshare. Quite a hike from the original $1,328 fare quoted!

If we add an X to the routing codes to look for connecting flights, so that it looks like this:

AA,JL+ X /f bc=s

We then get a $1,696 round-trip fare, connecting in Los Angeles. For that, you might as well pony up $10 for the nonstop!

If the matrix does not come up with any results, you can change the S (in bc=s) to the next letter that is permitted, such as V, L, etc.

It turns out that you CAN book this round-trip on the American Airlines website, and the S fare will show up. In case it does not, however, you might have to give American Airlines a call and ask them to make a reservation that is eligible for the double miles bonus, and hold the reservation. Then you can go online to your AAdvantage account to complete the ticketing. I have read some people that have done this to save on the $25 American Airlines telephone charge, but I’ve never tried this on my own.

In effect, you will be paying extra to secure the double miles. How many miles would you get?

Great Circle Distance of 6,745 miles between New York JFK and Tokyo Narita
x 2 (round-trip) =
13,490 miles
x 2 (Double miles bonus) =
26,980 miles

Congratulations, you just earned yourself a round-trip MilesAAver domestic ticket for one person on American Airlines within the contiguous US and Canada! Essentially, any nonstop AA or JAL flight over 6,250 miles booked accordingly will give you enough miles for the free domestic ticket. Boston, Chicago and Dallas flights are over this number, while flights from the West Coast will leave you a little short.

If you have an American Airlines credit card, you can earn bonus miles from the cost of the airfare… 3,408 miles in the New York-Tokyo example.

Is it worth it to pay the extra to secure the miles bonus? In an era where other airlines are switching miles-earning to a revenue model, which to many is making American Airlines the more frequent-flier airline (failed grammer of the day on that one), this is an offer to seriously consider. Then again, if you are more price-conscious, don’t worry about double miles. Besides, for February 4-11, the cheapest fare is still $1,328 on American. 🙂

As always, I disclaim any responsibility if you decide to do some fare-hunting. Corrections from any savvy travelers out there would be greatly appreciated! The fares in this post are correct as of January 24 2015,12 Noon Eastern Time, and are always subject to change.

A few Christmas gifts from ANA and Japan Airlines

I have some interesting news to report from the two Japanese airlines, All Nippon (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL), which are sort of a little Christmas gift for those interested in using those airlines to fly to Japan… though you are going to have to wait one or two months if you want to take full advantage.

Star Alliance carrier ANA has announced wonderful news that they are going to increase their free checked baggage allowance from one piece of luggage to two pieces. This is a revision from a policy announced last year that reduced the free checked baggage allowance. But don’t itch to get your ANA tickets right away.. the policy applies only to economy tickets purchased on or after January 8, 2015. So if you purchase a ticket prior to that, you will still be allowed only one free checked bag. The new two bag policy is wonderful news for those who want to bring home more souvenirs from Japan, given the weakness of the yen and the new tax refund policy for foreigners. The new policy matches the current policy of JAL and a few other carriers, but keep in mind that ANA’s checked bags in Economy must weigh no more than 23 kg/50 lbs each, and size must not exceed 158 cm/62 inches for the total of length, width and height.

On another ANA-related story, they will be launching nonstop service from United’s hub in Houston to Tokyo in June 2015.

You may have heard in the news that while crude oil prices have reached a 5 year low, many airlines are still keeping their fuel surcharges high and are not dropping them … prompting some in the US congress to consider launching an investigation. But if you are a fan of Oneworld’s Japan Airlines, you will be happy to know that they are the first airline to reduce their fuel surcharges. JAL monitors fuel costs every two months and revises their fuel surcharge policies on that same frequency. They recently announced that they will be amending fuel surcharges for tickets issued between February 1 and March 31, 2015. This means of course, if you purchase your ticket BEFORE February 1, you will still be subject to the higher fuel surcharge. Examples: The current fuel surcharge of US$259.00 for flights from North America, Europe and Oceania to Japan will be reduced to US$173.00 in February and March. The surcharge from Hawaii would drop from US$166.00 to US$105.00, and the surcharge from the Philippines would drop from US$80.00 to US$49.00.

Whether it’s the new two bag allowance on ANA or the reduced JAL fuel surcharges (one would expect ANA to follow suit on that, too), good things come to those who wait…. to purchase their tickets.

Tokyo to Kyoto for $21… and other cheap ways to transit Japan

Thanks to everyone for reading this hobby blog of mine for the last few years. For some reason or another, everyone keeps reading and commenting on my post about traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto for 2,300 yen (under September 2014 exchange rates, about $21)… So because so many people are interested, here is a list of some ways that you can travel around Japan on the cheap!

– Bring a few friends to Japan and travel with the Seishun 18 Ticket 

If you bring a few friends, or know a few friends willing to travel around with you, the Seishun 18 Ticket – a travel ticket offered at certain times of the year – could be your best friend. Literally translated “Youth 18” and initially targeted to those traveling on school breaks, the Seishun 18 is actually offered to everyone. The ticket has gone up in price slightly this year because of the national tax rate hike, but it’s still a value at 11,850 yen per ticket. The ticket is valid for unlimited travel on LOCAL trains all around the Japan Railways network – this means, you cannot use the bullet trains, you cannot use premium “limited express” services that run on conventional railways (with one exception), and you cannot use most overnight trains. You can also use the ticket for the JR Ferry that runs to the island of Miyajima (typically a 180 yen trip).

It’s important to note that the ticket can only be purchased and used during school holidays. There are three periods of the year when the ticket is offered:

Spring: Purchase between February 20 and March 31 for use between March 1 and April 10
Summer: Purchase between July 1 and August 31 for use between July 20 and September 10
Winter: Purchase between December 1 and December 31 for use between December 10 and January 10

There are five “spaces” that are stamped by manned station staff every time the pass is used, with one space representing one person traveling in a single day (midnight to midnight). By maximizing the spaces used, you can save a considerable amount of money. If you are a solo traveler and chose to make five long trips in five days (which don’t have to be consecutive), each trip would cost only 2,370 yen! If you have four friends and make a long trip over the course of a day – such as Tokyo to Kyoto – each person pays only 2,370 yen! There are many combinations possible as far as usage – a group of four, for example, can travel a long distance in one day on the pass for 2,960 yen.

It’s important to do some research to see if the Seishun 18 is best for you. Long-distance journeys such as Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka will pay off, but if you’re only doing a short trip from, say, Tokyo to Yokohama, it’s not worth it.

A few other notes: You are permitted unlimited stopovers on each day, and the price of the Seishun 18 is the same for children and adults – there are no discounts for kids.

– Buy a local ticket that allows stopovers

On any day of the year, buying a long-distance local ticket can save on per-day travel costs because under Japan Railways rules, the longer you travel from point-to-point, the longer you have to make the journey.

The rules are: Within a major Japanese city or for all journeys 100km or less, you have one day to make the trip, and in many cases stopovers are not allowed. From 101 to 200km, you have two days. From 201 to 400km, you have 3 days. For each additional 200km traveled you get one additional day.

To find out the distance of your trip, look it up on timetable search engines such as Hyperdia, being sure to clear the checkmarks on everything except “local train” and “Japan Railways” otherwise you will see a few bullet trains and airplanes!

A few examples:

Tokyo to Nagoya is 366km over the Tokaido Line at a cost of 6,260 yen. You can take the trip over a course of 3 days, so if you decide to stop and spend a night at two cities along the way you will be paying about 2,086 yen per day, and if you spend one night along the way it’s 3,130 yen per day.

Tokyo to Kyoto is 513km over the Tokaido Line at a cost of 8,210 yen. You can take the trip over 4 days! So, traveling over the course of 2 days splits the cost to 4,105 yen…. 3 days is 2,736 yen…. 4 days is 2,052 yen per day!

With this plan, you can direct the money saved on travel into reasonably-priced hotel accommodations along the way – many of which will be considerably cheaper compared to staying in larger cities. This will also allow you to enjoy more of Japan, including some areas that many foreign tourists will pass over.

You are allowed unlimited stopovers along the route that you are taking – it’s important not to stray from the route that you paid and are ticketed for, otherwise there may be a difference in fare. You’ll also want to know that since these are regular fares, there are discounts for children!

Also, major cities in Japan are designated into certain “zones”, and travel in between two major cities is sometimes designated as traveling from one zone to the other. For example, a trip from Tokyo to Osaka would be defined as the Tokyo ZONE to the Osaka ZONE. Stopovers are NOT allowed in zones of your origin or destination, but are permitted anywhere in between. Kyoto is close to Osaka, but since Kyoto has it’s own ZONE you could technically stop over in Kyoto on the trip from Tokyo to Osaka without any extra charge, as long as it’s within the days permitted to travel and, as mentioned earlier, you don’t stray away from the path ticketed. Once you stop anywhere in Osaka and get out of the system, the ticket is considered USED.

Please visit Takeshi’s JP Rail page which gives a lot of great information about this.

– Use the Japan Bus Pass for cheap trips on highway buses

The Willer Express Japan Bus Pass was introduced for foreign tourists in Japan a few years ago. At a cost of 10,000 yen for 3 days of bus travel and 15,000 yen for 5 days, you can make considerable savings over regular bus costs. There are many other bus operators in Japan, including those operated by branches of Japan railways, but the Willer web site allows reservations and bookings in English. Rather than go through a lot of the details, simply read my recent post about the Japan Bus Pass.

– Fly to Japan on a Star Alliance or oneworld airline and take advantage of domestic air passes for tourists

If you travel to Japan on a certain airline, you may qualify for an air pass for tourists. The Star Alliance Japan Airpass is valid for travel on All Nippon Airways (ANA) and can be used if you travel on Star Alliance airlines (including ANA, United, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa). The Oneworld Yokoso Japan pass is valid for travel on Japan Airlines (JAL) and can be used if you travel on oneworld airlines (including JAL, American, British Airways, Qantas).

For each pass, you can take between one and five trips by plane, with each trip costing just 10,000 yen plus tax. It’s a great and quick way to travel around several regions of Japan. You will always find flights from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Osaka’s Itami Airport as they continue to compete with the bullet train – but longer distance flights can pay off if you don’t have much time to spare – Tokyo to Fukuoka or Tokyo to Sapporo are great examples. Note though, that there ARE a number of blackout dates where these passes cannot be used.

If you do not qualify for these fares, i.e. by traveling on a different airline, both ANA and JAL offer regular tourist passes – up to 5 trips at a cost of 13-14,000 yen per trip. A minimum of two trips is required.

– Fly domestically on low cost airlines

Over the last few years, the low cost airline concept has boomed in Japan. A number of carriers are springing up offering tremendous fare discounts. Some of the top airlines that you can make reservations with in English include Skymark, Peach Aviation, Jetstar and Vanilla Air.

As these are low cost carriers, services and amenities are reduced compared to carriers JAL and ANA, and the airlines sometimes serve airports that are not close to the center of the city… but the airfares are sometimes hard to beat.

A random fare search for a weekday in November yielded these one-day fares:

Skymark: Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo for 8,500 yen
Peach Aviation: Tokyo Narita to Osaka Kansai for 3,390 yen … ?!?!
Jetstar Japan: Nagoya Centrair to Sapporo for 6,590 yen
Vanilla Air: Tokyo Narita to Okinawa for 8,200 yen

– Use a Japan Rail Pass

If you’ve got a limited amount of time and intend to visit a lot of places around the country, a Japan Rail Pass is still a great way to go around. You get unlimited travel on Japan Railways, and unlimited seat reservations on nearly ALL bullet trains and limited express services for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. Prices start at 29,110 yen for seven consecutive days of travel, or about 4,160 yen per day. The 14-day pass starts at around 3,300 yen per day, and if you do the 21-day pass it’s about 2,800 yen per day. Green class (first class) passes are higher.

– Use a Japan Rail Pass and stay on the cheap

Utilizing a Japan Rail Pass when traveling between major cities, you can make an intermediate stop at a small city along the way and potentially save with hotel rates that are cheaper than in major cities. For example, if you travel from Tokyo to Osaka by bullet train, you could opt to begin your travel in the evening and stop at one of the intermediate bullet train stations such as Hamamatsu. In Hamamatsu there are hotels where you could spend as little as 4,800 single occupancy or 6,800 yen double occupancy, complete with your own bed, bathroom and shower – then just move on the following morning to Kyoto and Osaka. (The quote is from the Toyoko Inn, a national chain of business hotels)

– RESEARCH!

The best way to save on your trip is with research. I’ve presented you with a few options, but these just scratch the surface. There are so many deals out there that one can take advantage of in Japan. The key is to price what you want to do (transit, food, lodging), and do price comparisons to see what is best for you.

Of course, if you ever need advice about your next trip to Japan, leave a message and I’ll be happy to reply when I can.