How to use Avios for domestic Japanese flights – with no taxes!

We’ve run this article by HFP reader Ricardo before.  However, it contains valuable advice for anyone planning a trip to Japan and I like to revisit it every 18 months or so for the benefit of new readers or for people who didn’t have Japan on their radar when it originally ran.

Over to you Ricardo …

“Under the old Air Miles scheme, prior to November 2011, you could redeem for UK domestic flights without paying any tax at all.  The addition of what is now £35 of tax via Reward Flight Saver made these redemptions look less interesting for me.

If you look further afield, Japanese domestic flights with Japan Airlines offer excellent value. The taxes for these domestic flights are usually negligible, around £3 or less for terminal usage fees. Some airports have no usage fee at all, so you are only looking at the Avios cost of 4,500 or 7,500 points per flight.

The real value of these flights has be viewed within the larger context of Japan’s other domestic offerings.  Whilst there are several low cost carriers operating in Japan, these airlines offer nowhere near the value one might expect to find in the European marketplace.

JAL

A promotional ticket with Skymark, now owned by ANA, or Peach Aviation, two popular low cost carriers, is often still Yen 10,000 (£58) each way.  Because the choices are limited, customers readily pounce when a promotion is launched and the cheapest seats can sell out within minutes, leaving only the higher priced seats.  For someone who is flying at short notice, a cheap ticket is very difficult to obtain.

Looking at alternative transport options, the bullet train system (shinkansen) is one of the most efficient in the world, but it’s certainly not cheap.  A ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto (2 hrs 19 min) will cost you close to £100 one way. There is no system of discounted tickets for advance rail bookings in Japan which is another reason why cheap airline seats often sell out quickly.

Here are some typical routes which a tourist might want to fly using Avios:

Tokyo Haneda to Osaka (4,500 Avios each-way)
Tokyo Haneda to Hiroshima (4,500 Avios each-way)
Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo (4,500 Avios each-way)
Tokyo Narita/Narita to Fukuoka (4,500 Avios each-way)
Osaka to Fukuoka (4,500 Avios each-way)
Fukuoka to Sapporo (7,500 Avios each-way)
Tokyo to Okinawa (7,500 Avios each-way)

There is usually excellent availability on many popular routes with four seats being a common number released on each flight for oneworld partners such as British Airways.  Booking at short notice is also often possible, although flights falling on public holidays will need to be booked well ahead of time.

This ba.com screenshot shows that tax of absolutely nothing is payable on a Fukuoka to Sapporo flight:

Booking Japan Air Lines flights on Avios

Another benefit of booking a Japan Airlines redemption flight is the cheap cancellation option.  Whilst BA will charge you £35 to cancel an Avios redemption, this sum is actually capped at the level of taxes you have paid.  With typical Japan Airlines domestic taxes being £3 or less, you effectively have the ability to cancel for free.

One odd quirk with the taxes being so low is that when you fly to / from an airport that doesn’t charge a terminal usage fee, you’ll still get directed to the payment page on the BA website – even though no tax is due!  Not surprisingly, when the website tries to process a payment of ‘zero’ from your credit card or PayPal, it throws up an error and doesn’t let you book the ticket.

You can find your way around this by adding a £1.00 charity donation to your booking just before the final payment screen.  The website will process this one pound transaction and happily generate your e-ticket at the same time.  If you try to ring the BA call centre instead, you may find that the call centre will be unable to issue an e-ticket.  In one instance I was told a paper ticket would need to be issued and that I would have to pay the telephone booking charge.

JAL is a great airline. The staff are always at the top of their game. The customer service is second to none on domestic and international flights. There is no light meal on domestic flights which is one downside, but they do serve a beverage and occasionally a Japanese lozenge of some sort!

If you are planning a holiday in Japan, flying with Japan Airlines could very well save you hundreds of pounds.  You’re sure to enjoy the flying experience and hospitality with JAL while discovering this fascinating country.”

Ricardo

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

What did I learn about loyalty programme fraud on a chilly day in Brighton?
Booking Reward Flight Saver on BA 'Fifth Freedom' routes
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Comments

  1. I flew business class from Tokyo to Melbourne yesterday with Jal in a 787-8. First time I’ve used them. 75k avios plus £58.60 for a 10hr flight. Have to say I was pretty impressed. Very nice seat (although very little storage), all with direct aisle access. Had seat 7K (window) which was very private. Food was decent as well. Only negative was that the crew were a little slow. It took 1hr 40min to get first drink!
    Goes without saying but a vastly superior product to BA Club World.

  2. It’s true that walk up train tickets are expensive but it’s also true that airports in Japan are not very convenient and quite expensive to get to.

    A Japan rail pass ( and there are a great many of them) arguably is an even better deal than Avios. Offering unlimited travel over a pre determined period, these passes can often pay for themselves in a single trip.

    The passes don’t allow travel on the very fastest trains but do come with some very worthwhile perks if touring this wonderful country.

    The train is very definitely an alternative to flying in Japan as it’s more convenient with city centre stations, no 2 hour checkin, no security and far more reliable.

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      Came here to say this and completely agree. Easy to buy now. Used to have to go to the Japan centre near piccadilly but now you can buy online

      And the view is much better. The only pain is that, if you are doing Osaka, the train station is a fair bit from the centre of the city. Tokyo is a delight, however 🙂

  3. While a bargain, surely anyone who wants to see a lot of Japan ìs going to get a rail pass instead? If you’re valuing avios at 1p each, then 4 flights is costing you roughly the same as the 7 day pass.

    Having said that, it could be valuable for say returning to Tokyo at the end of your trip if your rail pass has expired or you’ve gotten quite far into the South West of far north of the country. I did look at booking Hiroshima to Tokyo on my recent holiday in Japan to save a bit of time, but the benefit was negated somewhat due to the domestic flights that were available all landing at Haneda and I was leaving from Narita

    • Prins Polo says:

      Assuming you’re just doing Honshu, maybe… But on my next trip, with flights like Tokyo – Sapporo or Tokyo- Kumamoto, train is not really an option.

    • If it suits the style of holiday you like then great, but I think people get far too carried away with rail passes in Japan and Europe. To get good value from them you generally have to be regularly travelling – i.e. you’re spending small amounts of time in each place and are spending a large chunk of your time just sitting in trains and train stations.

      I know on my Japanese trip the rail pass made no sense for me – it was cheaper to fly between regions and then travel locally by train/bus between nearby cities.

  4. Supposedly you can upgrade economy tickets to business class for just 1000Y at check in (if there is availability). This is amazingly cheap.
    Boarding in Japan has to be seen to be believed. They start boarding domestic flights about 10 minutes before departure time and still might leave early.
    I did like the rail pass at first but after a few holidays the Shinkansen is not longer exciting and most of the new lines are built in tunnels (Sendai to Aomori is almost continual tunnels) so it was quicker and cheaper to take the plane with these avios tickets.

    • You can do the 1000 Yen upgrade and there often (or even usually) is availability, but the domestic “class J” product is really premium economy. Just a slightly larger seat near the front and a free soft drink. However, you do get 40 tier points if you’re flying on a cash ticket which can make the upgrade well worth it!

  5. I recently bought a pair of one way tickets, Osaka to Haneda, for 4500 miles each and about £2 in tax. When I saw the two tiny charges on my credit card I thought it was fraud, and was about to call Amex, until I realised what it was.

    A great bargain! If only I could say the same about the 240,000 avios plus £1000 tax plus voucher it took to get us to Tokyo in the first place…

  6. We’re heading back to Japan in April, going in First with a 241 and then domestic HND to CTS for 4500 and £1.70 each. I’m more excited about the concept of a £1.70 flight than First, I think!

    Can anyone give advice however on JAL seat booking? I think I saw somewhere they’re only released 90 days or so in advance, but any insight would be appreciated!

  7. The oneworld Yokoso visit Japan fares are also well worth a look. You can book up to 5 domestic flights for ~10k Yen each (some shorter routes even cheaper) and you’ll get tier points plus Avios for them. Better value than using Avios for the longer routes IMO eg. Tokyo – Naha or Sapporo – Fukuoka.

  8. Flying in Japan is such an insult when you’ve got the most ridiculously good high speed train at your service and the cost of the country pass won’t break the bank.

    Unfortunately the deval of the £ will make it a pretty punchy hol these days.

    • Well, I’d argue that if you’re in Osaka and going to Yokohama (like I often have to). Then booking ITM-HND works quite well. It’s 30 minutes to go to the airport and then it’s a short distance from haneda to yokohama…

      The problem of the country pass too is that it’s only 7 or 14 days. Usually I fly to a given city, stay 2 weeks, then go to another city and stay 2 weeks. If you travel with a rails pass, you just end up spending a lot of time just traveling in the train rather than actually discovering the cities…

    • It depends on where you need to go. The train network is excellent, and very good value with the rail pass. However if you need to get from Tokyo to Sapporo for example it will take you 8-9 hours on the train. The flight takes a bit over an hour for 4500 Avios.

      • Exactly, we need to get to Fukuoka. With our 5 year old in tow, after landing into HND from a 11 hour flight, the last thing we want to do is lug our bags over to Tokyo Station. We just hop over to domesticcounter check our bags in get on the bus to the domestic terminal and we are in Fukuoka 90 minutes later….

  9. Slightly O/T but Hilton are running a 72 hour 50% off Sale in Japan and Korea as of today. Website is having a few issues but Chat can book if you want. Thing is it is only for cash bookings. Does anyone know if this is this usual for Hilton? Do they also run sales where redemptions are reduced too?
    Off there next May and was hoping for a Sale to help, but if they never reduce redemption totals then I may as well go book now.

  10. Friend used to be crew on JAL, they said the flights were always quite boring as the passengers didn’t ask for much and when the call bell did go the Japanese crew competed to respond! All other airlines take note!

  11. I am in Tokyo for 4 days at Christmas, any travel tips? The Narita Express will get me from Narita to Shinagawa (staying at the IC Strings adjacent to station), but for day to day travel what is the best option? JR Tokyo pass? PASMO Card? Or Saico card? Do they all work on all the different rail/subway lines? Trying to work out the benefits of each card.

    • The PASMO and Suica cards work completely interchangeably, which one you get just depends on where you buy it, works just like an Oyster card but there’s no daily capping so it can be worth looking at the daily passes which vary in cost depending on which lines you want to use (JR, Metro and Subway).

      You can also use the cards to buy things from vending machines and shops and restaurants but there’s no way to top them up with credit or debit cards as far as I know. One other tip for withdrawing cash, look out the ATMs in the Seven Elevens, they don’t charge transaction fees and give you 1000 yen notes, the other convenience store ATMs charge a transaction fee and some only dispense 10000 yen notes, which can be annoying to be stuck with basically a £68 note!

    • If you intend to stay in Tokyo I would suggest either PASMO or SUICA. Both work on the whole network in Tokyo in a pay as you go method like oyster in London and are pretty much interchangeable from what I recall.
      I don’t think you’d get value from a rail pass unless you’re doing at least one long return journey, e.g. to Kyoto.
      The PASMO /SUICA cards can be bought from machines in the station and returned to get your deposit back. Or keep them for your next trip, they are valid for several years!
      You can also use them to buy items from vending machines in the stations if you have leftover cash on them.

      • Yes to add on to other comment your card will almost certainly not work in regular atms to withdraw cash.
        The two places foreign cards can reliably withdraw cash are 7/11s and post offices.
        Post offices are rarer but seven elevens are very common. Also if you want to use Internet while there, look into data only sims – you can preorder these to your hotel and are quite good value.
        Very useful to have if you want to use googlemaps to navigate the city.

        • I found there was enough free wifi around in the cities that I wouldn’t bother with a data sim as they’re quite expensive. Think I saw some for sale in a vending machine for around £25 for 3gb of data. All train stations had free wifi as well and all the convenience stores. A lot of the neighbourhoods also have free wifi too. It’s not always the quickest but it’s enough to find your way or search for something. It is quite annoying that google maps wont let you download the maps for offline use in Japan like you can elsewhere in the world.

        • navmii is what I use instead of google maps – it has a lot of offline maps.

        • However credit cards are now taken mostly everywhere, so you shouldn’t need much cash. I took more than I needed. I heard stories about nowhere taking foreign credit cards or different to get from cash machines, but was really not an issue. Also look out for tax free shopping that is everywhere, so make sure you have your passport on you. Electronics can still be very good value with no tax even at the current exchange rates. I went at easter when it was about 135 yen now 150 is looking much better!

    • I found Tokyosubway app useful also hyperdia for trains.

      For travel within Tokyo and other cities I just bought tickets when needed at station. Good way if getting rid of loose change. There are English machines and above the machines most stations have network maps in English.

    • One other thing, if you’re not sure how much your journey is going to cost, just buy a cheap ticket and put it in the fare adjustment machine at the exit gates after your journey. It’ll then tell you how much you owe.

      Works the same if you don’t have enough credit on one of the smart cards

    • We got one of these which covered both underground lines for our 3 days in Tokyo, just doesn’t cover the JR ring route – which you don’t need to use, but is sometimes useful:

      http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/travel/

      1500 yen for 72 hours, about £10. This will work out much cheaper than the Pay as you go cards, assuming you will be going to a number of sites.

      You need to buy at the airport, Bic camera/Softmap or some hotels, mainline stations etc. You can’t get them at the normal underground stations – there you can only by the Tokyo underground version that does’t include the Toei lines. Normal underground are 600 yen for 24 hours.

      We bought ours with the Keisei skyliner train from Narita, 5,400 yen for a round trip and 72 hour pass, these are separate passes and the 72 hours doens’t start until you first use on the underground.
      http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/airport_bus/index.html

      All the options are on this page:
      http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/index.html

      • We got one of these which covered both underground lines for our 3 days in Tokyo, just doesn’t cover the JR ring route – which you don’t need to use, but is sometimes useful:

        http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/travel/

        1500 yen for 72 hours, about £10. This will work out much cheaper than the Pay as you go cards, assuming you will be going to a number of sites.

        You need to buy at the airport, Bic camera/Softmap or some hotels, mainline stations etc. You can’t get them at the normal underground stations – there you can only by the Tokyo underground version that does’t include the Toei lines. Normal underground are 600 yen for 24 hours.

        We bought ours with the Keisei skyliner train from Narita, 5,400 yen for a round trip and 72 hour pass, these are separate passes and the 72 hours doens’t start until you first use on the underground.

        You can find out more info on the Tokyo Metro site: http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/index.html

    • Thanks for all the replies and tips, really useful.

  12. WhiteManVan says:

    Used this neat little trick to book HND-CTS in February to go see the Yuki Matsuri, would highly recommend it if you’re in Japan around that time of year…!

  13. Ian Booth says:

    But the Japanese government is widely reported to be considering a departure tax so book quickly

  14. Ruth Findlay says:

    We are off to Tokyo on a 241 in F in February. Need to get from Tokyo (FS Marounuchi so near the station) to Tanba (about an hour on a local train north west of Osaka), then to Kyoto FS and then on to Tokyo FS again. It would be great to use some avios for internal flights but with only a week in total it looks like the train will be quite a bit quicker. Shame!

    As others have said the only annoyance about the Shinkansen apart from cost is having to change stations in Osaka for onward train travel. As it’s my husband’s first trip to Japan he’ll probably want to take the train.

    • If you’re there a week the rail pass will be cheaper than 2 one ways on the trip between Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto and you’ll get free transport on many local trains and to/from either of the Tokyo airports

      • Ruth Findlay says:

        Thanks Lumma. The rail pass is great value but doesn’t include the fastest trains (Nozomi I think) which is the one we want to take. We will probably end up stumping up for
        Nozomi and then buying a 2 or 3 day Kansai rail pass of some sort.

  15. You can get a discount if you are travelling on the Tokaido Line by using the Platt Kodama offer:
    http://www.jrtours.co.jp/kodama/en/
    This is like advance ticket for National Rail which means must book a day before, no change or refund and must be on a specific time.
    Reading through JPRail website, you can get the following saving:
    Segment Regular fare
    for Nozomi Platt Kodama Your saving
    Tokyo to/from Shin-Osaka 14,450 yen 10,500 yen 4,150 yen
    Tokyo to/from Kyoto 13,910 yen 10,300 yen 3,810 yen
    Tokyo to/from Nagoya 11,090 yen 8,100 yen 2,990 yen
    Nagoya to/from Shin-Osaka 6,560 yen 4,400 yen 2,160 yen
    Nagoya to/from Kyoto 5,800 yen 4,300 yen 1,500 yen

    You can also book them at the local station.

  16. OT – no bits today so trying my luck here… are there any options to redeem direct flights London – Riga apart from using Air Baltic PINS? I have avios and MR.

    • guesswho2000 says:

      Nope, only airBaltic, Wizzair and Ryanair from London I think. With Avios, I believe you can redeem LHR-HEL-RIX with AY, but that’ll almost certainly be more hassle than it’s worth.

  17. The JAL domestic lounges are peaceful and have self pour draft beer and a few spirits, but serve no food aside from rice crackers and sweets.

  18. Tel Anaw says:

    Enjoyed a JAL domestic earlier in the year on Avios. Flew a 777 on the 30 minute flight from Tokyo to Osaka and… and the crew still managed to serve a free beverage to everyone. Both flights took off to the second. Highly recommended.