Summer Getaways: Budget Travel Options for Teachers in Japan
To my fellow English teachers across Japan: congratulations! You made it, term one is finally over.
Depending on the type of arrangement you have, whether it’s with a local board of education, a private school or a dispatch company, you may be looking at as much as five weeks holiday—or as little as three days.
So, what can one do with this holiday time?
As I mentioned in my previous post, a great many teachers in Japan enjoy the benefit of an extended holiday, they must contend with a greatly reduced or even non-existent salary for the month of August.
This would seem to torpedo any plans for that long-awaited summer getaway.
However, all is not lost. One of the few good things to come out of the aviation industry in recent years has been the advent of the budget airline. Companies such as Easy Jet and Ryanair have been flying as low-cost carriers (LCC) in Europe for more than a decade now. In Japan, however, the two main domestic carriers—Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA)—seemed to have pretty much carved up the market between them. In much the same way that Docomo, AU and Softbank have conspired to keep mobile phone prices artificially high in Japan for years; some have leveled similar allegations at the two major airlines.
Thankfully, as is beginning to happen with the mobile phone market, airfares in Japan are also becoming more competitive. Following the Easy Jet model of stripped down services and cost cutting wherever possible; two new players have emerged in Japan to satisfy the market’s desire for a low-cost carrier: Peach Aviation and Jetstar Japan.
Though based in Osaka’s Kansai Airport, Peach also runs a series of flights from Tokyo as well. It primarily services other parts of East Asia, offering flights to Taipei, Hong Kong and Seoul. It also covers pretty much all of Japan.
Peach have also stated that it intends to move into the mainland Chinese market and should start offering flights to major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in the near future.
Jetstar Japan is an off-shoot of the Australian budget carrier Jetstar. As well as covering many of the same locations as Peach, Jetstar also offers flights to the Philippines with a new route to Manila set to commence later this year. One advantage Jetstar offers is a tie-up with JAL, meaning that you can accumulate JAL mileage points in pretty much the same way you would with a regular JAL flight.
So, now let’s get down to some important numbers. How much does it actually cost to fly with these airlines?
The prices offered by both carriers are pretty similar. As an example, when I flew to Hong Kong at the end of June for a weekend, the price offered by both airlines was around ¥22,000 for the round trip. This rose to around ¥25,000 if you were taking the evening flight as opposed to the daytime one.
It’s important to remember that this is just the cost of the flight itself. If you want to buy an in-flight meal then this will cost about ¥1,000 each way. If you want to check in baggage, add around ¥2,500 per piece up to a maximum of four bags. However, the allowance for carry-on luggage is quite generous. You are allowed one small case or hold-all plus a separate laptop or tablet PC bag.
For a short stay traveler such as me, this was more than adequate to pack enough clothes and essentials for a few days, so paying for extra bags really wasn’t necessary.
Something else to consider, though: in order to get these “preferential” prices for extra bags, you will need to reserve them at the time you make the flight booking. Turning up at the airport on the day with an extra bag or two will cost you even more.
I would recommend that you pre-book your seat, too, as this will make things run far more smoothly. This requires an additional nominal fee in the region of ¥500-800 for a regular seat.
By now, you’re probably thinking: “Oh, there are so many hidden extra charges here!”
To be honest, though, this doesn’t really amount to that much. Even with the meals and a couple of beers on the flight, my total bill still came in at less than ¥25,000.
Of course, this was June and not by any means a peak season for traveling. Japan’s two budget airlines haven’t inherited the rabid greed that besets their larger contemporaries at this time of year. Prices do go up a little in August, but provided you avoid the main obon holiday week—when travel everywhere becomes insanely expensive—the difference is only ¥1,000 or ¥2,000 and easily manageable.
My experiences with Japanese budget airlines have been overwhelmingly positive. Booking is easy and can be completed and paid for at the local convenience store, even if you don’t have a credit card. Check-in was automated and if you are flying with Peach from Kansai they even have their own designated departure area, allowing you to check-in up to one hour before the flight.
The only question that remains is: where will you go?