How To Book Cheap Japan Domestic Flights With ANA & JAL

Japan has an excellent national train network which is efficient, extremely punctual and comfortable to use.

It can also be extremely expensive.

17,600 Yen is around 160 USD. One way.

While travelling between major cities like Tokyo and Osaka the train network may be a no-brainer (albeit an expensive one), Japan is a country made up of several islands, and if you are travelling further afield, it may be sensible to fly instead.

Japan’s two largest carriers are Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA). JAL is a member of the oneworld alliance, while ANA is a member of Star Alliance. Both carriers use both narrow-body and wide-body aircraft on domestic routes. You have a good chance of scoring a 787 Dreamliner with ANA domestically.

Both airlines offer special domestic fares for international visitors, which have the same conditions/benefits:

  • You must be a foreign tourist (either foreign passport holder or Japanese passport holder with evidence of foreign residency)
  • You must have evidence of international flights in and out of Japan
  • While you book can this offer online using the respective airlines websites, your ticket isn’t really confirmed until check-in; this is because they will check you fit the eligibility before actually checking you in, especially regarding the foreign passport/residency (I guess this is to stop locals booking these discount tickets for themselves)
  • Tickets are booked in economy class and payment must be made at time of booking
  • Checked baggage is included, as per international flight allowances
  • Status benefits can be used
  • Tickets are non-refundable, non-transferable and date and routes cannot be changed
  • Tickets will usually accrue miles/points at 100%, as per normal revenue tickets
  • Prices are for one-way domestic flights, within Japan, per flight and include all taxes
  • You can ‘fly ahead’ on the day by checking in earlier and taking an earlier flight at no additional cost, where seats are available
  • If you do not meet the requirements both airlines will charge you the difference before this special rate and a revenue fare on the day before checking you in

JAL Explorer Pass

The JAL Explorer Pass offers fixed prices at three different tiers (per flight):

  • JPY 5,400 (~US$50): Routes within Hokkaido & Routes departing from/to Tohoku
  • JPY 7,560 (~$70): Routes between Tokyo and Osaka, Tokyo and Nanki-Shirahama, Okinawa main island and outlying islands
  • JPY 10,800 (~$100): Routes aside from the above

Here are their domestic destinations from their largest hubs in Tokyo Haneda, and Osaka Itami:

I used this fare a few years back when visiting Okinawa, and needed to fly from Tokyo. Obviously check the price of revenue fares against this offer, but here is an example of a Tokyo to Okinawa fare, if you want to fly JAL (vs. the ~$100 Explorer Pass fare above):

Unfortunately a popular route like Tokyo to Osaka only provides a marginal discount by booking a $70 Explore Japan Fare vs. a revenue fare, and although train travel may be more expensive, it will be far more convenient:

ANA Experience Japan Fare

JAL’s biggest competitor, ANA offer the same pricing tiers, with slightly different routes (per flight):

  • JPY 5,400 (~$50)Sapporo to Wakkanai, Memanbetsu, Nemuro Nakashibetsu, Kushiro, Hakodate, Aomori, Akita, Sendai, Niigata, Fukushima. Tokyo to Odate Noshiro, Akita, Shonai. Osaka to Aomori, Akita, Sendai, Fukushima, Niigata
  • JPY 7,560 (~$70): Tokyo to Osaka (Itami/Kobe/Kansai)
  • JPY 10,800 (~$100): Routes aside from the above

Here is ANA’s domestic destinations. They hub at both Tokyo Narita and Haneda, with secondary hubs at Osaka Kansai and Itami.

Remember, you can use this offer to book flights up to 72 hours in advance, so fairly last minute. Here are the costs of revenue fares on the popular Osaka to Sapporo route, booked 4 days in advance (vs. the ~$100 Experience Japan fare):

A few years ago I took my cousin on a crazy US Airways Guam run. We had our stopover in Tokyo, so had plenty of time in Japan. He gave me the challenge of finding a ‘really remote Japanese beach location,’ which was a challenge I relished. I went searching the JAL and ANA route map, and ended up settling on the tiny island of Ishigaki, which is Southwest of Okinawa and I believe, the most Southwest point of Japan, way down near Taiwan.

No train to Tokyo from here!

There were direct flights available on ANA, which is one of their longest domestic routes. We used a ~$100 Experience Japan fare vs. the equivalent revenue fares:

The X Factor: Upgrades

Domestic premium fares in Japan are fairly confusing. They offer business class on most domestic routes as well as first class on some of the more popular trunk routes. However the premium class is usually just a slightly better seat with no other benefits. On many domestic flights in Japan you will literally receive a glass of water and nothing else, regardless of which class you are in.

Some loyalty programs credit these flights as business or first class in terms of status and mileage earn.

So why would you bother booking premium classes/upgrades? Because upgrades can be available on most domestic flights for as low as JPY 1000 (~$10). Even if its just a better seat this can be a no-brainer. Now while these Discover/Explore Japan fares are always booked in economy, you can pay a small upgrade fee at check-in, where space is available. Remember you need to check-in in person because they will need to check your eligibility for the special fare.

If you are interested in a cheap, better seat I would recommend investing in ExpertFlyer to monitor loads and seat maps, and check-in as early as possible to grab an upgrade.

Bottom line

I would encourage you to experience rail travel in Japan, as it’s a great way to get around. But if you are travelling further within Japan, these two offers can be excellent value and you can choose between the two biggest carriers in the country. Just like when using miles, always check the price of revenue fares for your preferred dates and routes to ensure you are really saving money.

There has been a big increase in low cost carriers in Japan such as Peach, Vanilla and Jetstar Japan, so you will likely to be able to find an LCC fare for under $100 on many routes, but if you prefer a full service main-line carrier, or have alliance loyalties, consider these fares next time you are headed to Japan.

Have you ever booked a special domestic fare with JAL or ANA?

Comments

  1. Thanks for the very useful article James. I frequently visit Japan and didn’t know about this.

    While a Japan rail pass is always going to be the best option for travelling the tourist routes around Honshu, this sounds great for visiting Okinawa, Hokkaido and other remote areas.

  2. Are JAL Yosoko fares still available (maybe you have to call). I believe Yosoko tickets have more flexible change/refund policies.

  3. What about booking JAL using Avios? That was a good option the last time I booked Sapporo to Haneda.

  4. @ LarryInNYC – that would be for a separate post. Basically – beaches weren’t great but people and food were lovely.

  5. FWIW – I always fly the Tokyo-Osaka route rather than take the shinkansen. Even with the airport and transfer time, I’ve always felt it’s much faster (and way cheaper) than taking the train if you’re not getting a country-wide rail pass.

  6. James, worth noting at least for ANA, this books into Y fares. In the past, United would award 1.5 segments for their PQS, but on our recent trip this year, that was no longer the case.

    For ANA though, their Premium Class is much steeper fare upgrade even on the day of departure. USD $10 is for JAL correct?

  7. Great info, James!

    If you’re booking far in advance, you can also book the normal fares (not using a special visitor fare). Both airlines have special 75 day advance purchase fares on their websites that are a great value.

    Also, you really need to mention the phenomenal award ticket values in Japan, specifically UA and BA.

    Using United miles, tickets are available 60 days in advance to purchase, so with the close in booking fee, it gives about a 39 day window to purchase tickets. There are no taxes collected. Fares are 5K for flights 800 miles or fewer (which includes much of the country from Tokyo, including Nagasaki and Sapporo). Flights are 8K for greater than 800 miles, which would be trips to Okinawa and other islands, or something like Nagasaki TO Sapporo.

    All the United flights are on ANA and ANA subsidiaries, and availability is phenomenal. Often the lowest fares online are restricted to certain flights, but there is generally award availability on all flights, so you can go when you want, and more importantly, on the aircraft you want (I love all the 777s and 787s they fly domestically).

    Using Avios is great for flying JAL domestically, with flights starting at 4500 Avios and going up to 9000 points. They collect inconsistent amounts of cash, I’ve found, but under $5 per segment.

    My favorite travel outline in Japan is to fly to Tokyo, spend a few days there, get a rail pass for a week and make my way to the couple of places I want to visit, and then flying back from where I end up. The train is fun, but it is quite a trip to take the train back from Kyushu or Hokkaido, so I like to meander on train to these places, then burn some miles for a quick flight back to Tokyo or Osaka.

  8. Wow. Awesome post James. Had no idea about these. Thanks for saving me a few hundred $$ for my trip next month. Didn’t think I could find a better value than 5k United miles each way within Japan…..then came you!

  9. @James, a slight correction on domestic premium fares.
    JAL offers First Class and Class J.
    ANA offers Premium Class.

    JAL First Class and ANA Premium Class are comparable, although JAL F seems to be superior (I haven’t flown it). They both get priority services, lounge access, bigger seats (~50″ pitch), food, and alcohol. I’d say ANA is more Business Class than First, since they only get access to the bare bones domestic ANA Lounges instead of the superior ANA Suite Lounges (JAL F gets to use their own top tier lounges). ANA Premium Class is more widespread, while JAL F is only available on 4 routes. JAL’s F food service is supposed to be more elaborate, while ANA’s is more like a light snack.

    Class J is more like Premium Economy than it is Business Class. Seats have ~38″ pitch and are wider (2-3 on a narrowbody, 2-2-2 on a 767, and 2-4-2 on 777s). Tons of aircraft have Class J, and each have tons of Class J seats. That’s why they’re so cheap for upgrades. AFAIK, you can also pay to upgrade into ANA Premium Class at check-in, but the prices are most definitely not going to be USD 10.

    JAL F > ANA Premium Class >>>>> JAL Class J.

    To put it into perspective, JAL F/ANA Premium is like US transcon F with VX F seats. JAL Class J is like having a US domestic F seat but without the service.

  10. Great post and I have used this on JAL last year.

    I flew from Haneda to Tokushima (Shikoku) and back.

    Couple things to note. Unlike flying in the 3rd world hellhole of U.S. domestic airline travel, the economy experience intra Japan is one of quiet civility, clean planes and wonderful staff.

    Upon leaving Tokushima I had a nice handwritten note from the check in staff on my small check in bag and I can not remember if I asked, or they offered but to buy a 1 way upgrade was 1,000 yen. Yes. $10. J class was bigger seats, no meal service, just drinks, but for $10…not sure if that is the normal pricing, but Japan is always buy the book so I do not think I received anything special, I would ALWAYS ask about this if you are doing a intra Japan flight…$10 for J upgrade, unreal!

  11. Given the special requirements (need to be a foreign tourist), is there a special site for booking these or can I just use Expedia/etc?

  12. In the article’s 3rd paragraph, it states: “if you are travelling further afield, it may be sensible to fly instead.” The correct word is farther, not further. Farther refers to anything involving distance, further to everything else (as in “I need to study this further.”).

    Best to use the correct word.

    Great article !! Thanks.

  13. As others have said, on my trip to Japan I found it better to use my Avios than to buy these fares. If you’re heading on a long flight, like to Okinawa, though this seems like it would be better value.

  14. Not sure about when you went, but Ishigaki isn’t exactly off the beaten track now – there are direct flights from places like HKG on LCCs.

  15. Went from ICN to NRT the long way — could:
    a) take the KOREX / JR RAIL joint pass (train from Seoul to Busan, hydrofoil ferry to Fukuoka, train to Osaka/Tokyo)

    b) booked the cheapest flight to Japan ($30 to Saga HSG on a budget carrier), spent a few days in Kyushu (e.g. Nagasaki, Kagoshima) then flew on a mostly empty ANA flight to Tokyo.

    If you have time, its a great way to accrue cheap segments for partner status, while seeing the less touristed parts of Japan!

  16. JPY17,600 for Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto??? Which site was that? The standard rate (they have high and low season rate, which differ only a couple hundred yen) for unreserved seat/reserved seat/green (business class) seat is JPY13,080/13,910/18,690. Unless it’s the high season you are almost always guaranteed a seat in non-reserved section anyway. And with Nozomi (fastest) train running 6-10 trains per hour per direction, if you can’t get a seat there’s always next train soon.

    Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s NOT that expensive. I know this is beside this article point though, but there’s also many discount tickets (which is in Japanese only, unfortunately, as they seems to want all foreigners to use the Japan Rail Pass).

  17. @James (not the author)

    Merriam-Webster definition of PEDANT

    1 obsolete : a male schoolteacher
    2 a : one who makes a show of knowledge
    b : one who is unimaginative or who unduly emphasizes minutiae in the presentation or use of knowledge

    Wikipedia:

    A pedant is a person who is excessively concerned with formalism, accuracy, and precision, or one who makes an ostentatious and arrogant show of learning.

  18. @Matt so nice to see you are up to two syllable words! Of course commenting on @James’s correct use of the English language isn’t going to make your willy any bigger.

  19. @Belinda

    “Of course commenting on @James’s correct use of the English language isn’t going to make your willy any bigger.”

    Now I’m REALLY disappointed!!!! lol

  20. @innocenant

    Agreed, Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo isn’t 17,600. Just took the Nozomi this morning on the same route and paid around 13,900 for a reserved seat.

  21. Another thing about ANA Premium Class – I’ve always received extra miles, even if paying for an upgrade at check in. And they definitely serve more than water 🙂

    Also, they updated their upgrade fee chart. It used to be ¥9,000/segment but now it’s different for each route. Some (like ITM-MYJ) are only ¥4,000 while longer and more popular routes are more (ITM-HND is over ¥10,000!).

  22. Thank you
    That is a great info. I am heading for 4 weeks Korea Japan and back to US trip. Great timeing!

  23. I just found out about these a week or so ago. Well I found out about ANA’s $70 fare and booked that; though I wish I knew about JAL’s. I got a free trial of AA gold status and I am going to be a few EQDs short of keeping it. Oh well, I am glad this gets these fares out there; the price of rail passes are crazy if you are not taking tons of train rides and this is a way more affordable option.

  24. You know how a lot of morons (and I say “morons” in the *nicest* way possible! 🙂 ) make comments like “I WON’T READ THIS BLOG ANYMORE BECAUSE THESE ARTICLES DON’T SPEAK TO ME PERSONALLY?!”

    This comment isn’t one of those. But I will tell you, while this particular entry is not helpful to me, this is one incredibly invaluable post for those who spend time in and around Japan. Seriously, James, I don’t know how much they’re paying you for your contributions, but I do believe you have a case for asking for double your current rate (sorry Lucky!).

    I’ll also point out that while this piece is of no material interest to me, I read the entire thing, top-to-bottom, because the information is actually interesting on its own.

    Keep up the great work, James!

  25. Any idea what exactly do they check at the airport? I am a foreigner living in Japan, and I have a “foreign residence card.” If I don’t flash that, no one knows I am a resident. On my passport, I only have one sticker that indicates the date when I first arrived in Japan. That could be a clue for the check-in staff. I always have an outbound ticket because I always have a round trip originating from Taiwan to Japan. Basically I want to know if they are checking the stickers in your passport?

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