Low Cost Tokyo Airlines – Revolution or Evolution?

Greg Lane

Tokyo Airlines - Jetstar A320

While famous for speed and being on schedule, domestic travel within Japan is anything but cheap.  There are a few exceptions, but travelling cheap usually means being cocooned into an overnight bus (the curtains are usually sealed shut with velcro) or going a bit more adventurous with something like the Seishun 18 ticket.  Air tickets on the two big airlines (JAL and ANA) to the far flung reaches of Hokkaido and Okinawa have typically set you back about 35,000yen for a return trip.  The entry of three major low cost players to the market this year looks like it will finally stir up real competition and bring the prices down to what flyers in North America and Europe have enjoyed since the 1990s. At least that is the promise.

The good news for tourists is that the two new Tokyo airlines (the third is based in Kansai) will be based at Narita Airport.  The bad news for Tokyo residents is that the airlines will be based at Narita Airport. As with any ‘low-cost carrier’ (LCC), there is a convenience-cost trade off.  On these new airlines at least, there will be an extra couple of hours on the train, but the savings should be significant.

The new carriers out of Tokyo will be Jetstar Japan and AirAsia Japan while existing LCCs are Starflyer, Skymark, Solaseed and AirDo.

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So here’s a run-down of both the new and old players.

Jetstar Japan

Tokyo Base: Narita Airport

Destinations (minimum one way prices in yen/no. of daily flights)

Sapporo (4,590/4 flights), Osaka (4,590/2 flights), Fukuoka (5,990/4 flights), Naha, Okinawa (6,990/2 flights)

Available: From July, August 2012

Website bookings in English: Yes.  Domestic Japan flights can be booked on all localised sites. Japanese is the only language option for Japan, but if you switch to a different country you can use the site in that language.  Flights can be booked right now.



URL: http://www.jetstar.com/au/en/home

The lowdown:

Jetstar Japan seems to have everything in place and are ready to go.  They also look like they’ll really leverage their international network to provide low cost options to foreign tourists.

AirAsia Japan

Tokyo Base: Narita Airport



Destinations (minimum one way prices in yen/no. of daily flights)

Sapporo (NA/4 flights), Fukuoka (NA/2 flights), Naha, Okinawa (NA/1 flight)

Available: From August 2012

Website bookings in English: Yes.

The lowdown:

Even though they’re starting in August, AirAsia Japan still don’t have fare info out. If its sister airline Peach Aviation (based in Kansai)  is any indication, minimum fares will be slightly higher than Jetstar.

At the moment, the  website is also a bit flaky – clicking on ‘Ask AirAsia’ in Japanese gives an English page while clicking on the same link on the English site takes you to a page in Chinese!  AirAsia Japan also have another small problem as their international hub is at Haneda Airport in central Tokyo – about a 90 minute train ride from their domestic terminal!

URL: http://www.airasia.com/jp/en/home.page

StarFlyer

Tokyo Base: Haneda Airport

Destinations (minimum one way prices in yen/no. of daily flights)

Kitakyushu (10,800/12 flights), , Fukuoka (9,800/5 flights), Osaka (10,520/4 flights)

Available: Currently operating

Website bookings in English: No.

The lowdown:

Like most of the other established LCCs, they don’t have booking available in English although they do at least have schedule information available in their 1 page English web site.  Also I wasn’t able to find fares at anything close to the minimum when I searched for a fare 3 weeks in advance.

URL: http://www.starflyer.jp/en/

Skymark

Tokyo Base: Haneda Airport

Destinations (minimum one way prices/no. of daily flights)

Sapporo (8,800/9 flights), Kobe (9,500/5 flights), Kita-Kyushu (8,800/1 flight), Fukuoka (9,800/10 flights), Nagasaki (8,800/3 flights), Kumamoto (8,800/3 flights), Kagoshima (8,800/4 flights), Naha (9,800/4 flights)

Available: Currently operating

Website bookings in English: Yes.

The lowdown:

Unlike the others, they actually have a comprehensive English website (even though it looks like it was designed in 1998) and you can also book online in English.

URLhttp://www.skymark.jp/en/

Solaseed

Base: Haneda Airport

Destinations (minimum one way prices in yen/no. of daily flights)

Miyazaki (9,700/7 flights), Kumamoto (9,700/4 flights), Nagasaki (9,700/4 flights), Kagoshima (9,700/4 flights), Oita (9,700/3 flights)

Available: Currently operating

Website bookings in English: No.

The lowdown:

Solaseed predominantly links cities in southern Kyushu with Tokyo.  The bad news if you don’t speak Japanese is that there is absolutely no way for non-Japanese speakers to get info or book online!  Perhaps you could try calling? Their number is 06-7637-8817

All routes currently offer a 28 day advance fare of 9,700yen.  Although I usually ignore ‘special’ prices as they might not be relevant when you read this, this fare lasts until the end of June.  However, with the increased competition, starting from July it’s likely that they will have something similar after that.

URL: http://www.skynetasia.co.jp/

AirDo

Base: Haneda Airport

Destinations (minimum one way prices in yen/no. of daily flights)

Sapporo (9,870/10 flights), Asahikawa (13,670/3 flights), Memanbetsu (13,670/3 flights), Obihiro (12,970/3 flights), Hakodate(11,970/2 flights)

Available: Currently operating

Website bookings in English: No.

The lowdown:

AirDo is the Hokkaido version of Solaseed.  They also don’t have any kind of information or ability to book in a language other than Japanese.

URL: http://www.airdo.jp/

New vs. Old LCCs

As should be fairly apparent, the established regional LCCs have a lot more capacity and frequency than the new players – but their prices are closer to the old fuddy duddies – ANA and JAL.  They also have the advantage of operating from Haneda.  Given the extra cost (about an extra 4,000yen) to get to Narita vs. Haneda, the savings are a lot less.  For example, a return fare on Jetstar to Sapporo including costs of rail transport to the airport will cost you about 10,500yen versus about 11,500yen on Air Do.  So that’s a 1,000 yen saving for a less convenient schedule and an extra 45 minutes of travel each way.

One big advantage the new players have is their international networks.  In the eyes of foreign tourists, the four airlines above hardly exist.

Bait and Switch

As is the case with these airlines everywhere, there are always a very limited number of fares at the lowest tier.  Unless you book well in advance, you’ll likely pay more than the minimum.  It will be interesting to see which airline will offer consistently lower fares rather than just a few at a lower rate.  Something else that will be interesting to see is if the Shinkansen (bullet train) network responds to the price pressure from the LCCs.

Viva la Revolution

Although it’s a significant change for a more or less closed market, we’ll have to wait to see the overall impact. Even with these new players, the capacity and number of routes of all the Low Cost Carriers is still relatively small.  Both Jetstar (connected with JAL) and AirAsia Japan (connected with ANA) will have to fight hard with their parent companies for more routes.

While hopefully it will encourage a whole lot more people to take short trips around Japan, until capacity is increased and routes added, the low cost revolution is still a little way off.


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8 Responses to “Low Cost Tokyo Airlines – Revolution or Evolution?”

  1.  I recently flew Narita -> Asahikawa roundtrip with skymark cost ¥11,600.
    Also worth noting that included cabing luggage plus up to 15KG of luggage in the hold, a welcome freebie from a low cost carrier.

  2. mrkirkland

     I recently flew Narita -> Asahikawa roundtrip with skymark cost ¥11,600.
    Also worth noting that included cabing luggage plus up to 15KG of luggage in the hold, a welcome freebie from a low cost carrier.

  3. CheapoGreg

    Wow, that’s cheap.  Was it through an agent? What did you do with the 15kg luggage allowance? I didn’t think you owned that much stuff!

  4. CheapoGreg

    Wow, that’s cheap.  Was it through an agent? What did you do with the 15kg luggage allowance? I didn’t think you owned that much stuff!


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