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

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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 – and fully update – 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 £35 of tax via Reward Flight Saver (economy) made these redemptions look less interesting for me.

(Recently British Airways has been trialling variable pricing which includes £1 taxes and fees + a larger pile of Avios – see here.)

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 6,000 or 9,000 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 or Peach Aviation, two popular low cost carriers, is often still Yen 8,000 – 10,000 (£75) 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 (economy):

Tokyo to Osaka (6,000 Avios each-way)
Tokyo to Hiroshima (6,000 Avios each-way)
Tokyo to Sapporo (6,000 Avios each-way)
Tokyo to Fukuoka (6,000 Avios each-way)
Osaka to Fukuoka (6,000 Avios each-way)
Fukuoka to Sapporo (9,000 Avios each-way)
Tokyo to Okinawa (9,000 Avios each-way)

Prices have gone up with the recent increase in British Airways Avios partner redemption pricing, but it is still based on miles flown.

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. Note that Avios redemption tickets are only made available 60 days in advance.

This ba.com screenshot shows that tax of absolutely nothing payable on a Fukuoka to Kochi flight (click to enlarge):

JAL domestic Avios redemption 6000 Avios and zero taxes!

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.

Using Avios for domestic flights in Japan

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.”

(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.)

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Comments

  1. I was planning to use Avios to go from TYO to OSA in December, and realised I can finally use some orphaned AAdvantage miles that I have been keeping alive. 7500 + £0 through AA instead of 6000 + £5.50 through BA.

  2. After visiting Japan for the first time and using a Japanese Rail Pass, upon my 2nd and 3rd visit, the use of Avios to reach more distant and inaccessible places was where the real value became apparent. It’s true to say that you can see a great deal using the rail pass but to reach far flung areas such as Northern Hokkaido or Miyazaki and Kagoshima in Kyushu, you will spend a larger amount of time on the train, losing possibly a day of sightseeing in the process. There are of course many islands which are only accessible by airplane or ferry, this is where the use of Avios also makes sense. With several flights per day to many cities across Japan, an early flight would still leave you with half a day at your destination. Another idea would be to use a Japanese Rail Pass in conjunction with a one way flight back to the airport you fly out of and meander your way up or down the country on the train at a leisurely pace using the quicker flight option to make it back for your flight home.

    • I would agree, flying in Japan is best for long flights.

      The Japan rail pass is outstanding covering not only the bullet train but smaller regional services and ferry services. I seem to recall it could previously be used on the Hakone trail but it isn’t anymore.

      One draw back is the inability to make seat reservations unless your are physically in Japan but this may have changed too. My experience is 5 years ago. This was awkward as it was also high season but I travelled on the days I wished.

      One reason the rail pass works is that getting to airports, which can be some distance from centres, can be time consuming and costly. In contrast train stations are very well connected and central.

      There are pros and cons for both but before be propelled at speed in a metal tube, consider taking in the sights by train, enjoy a bento box and….. pay for green car. It’s all part of the experience,

  3. Gutted..
    Off to Japan in Feb…called BA…” Sorry no avios availablity” It be good if call center staff actually knew of the 60 day rule..i thought seats were all gone 🙁

  4. This is really useful….

    A question to those who know Japan. I’m there next May. My trip finishes in Osaka but I then have a 10pm EK flight from NRT in the evening. I had planned to spend the day making my way by train from Osaka to NRT but have no idea how long this takes, how expensive or simple this is?! Is it easier to catch a flight?

    Opinions welcome

    • WWW. Japan-guide.com

      Links to almost everything you need as a tourist in Japan. If it’s not there google it. For example Osaka to NRT by train shows a journey time of 4:31 and a cost of around 16,000 yen

      I

    • Osaka to Narita is 2 trains. It’s 2hr30 from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo Station. Then it’s about another hour on the Narita express train to the NRT.

      Flying will be cheaper (unless you have Japan rail pass) but not too much quicker.

    • timezonehopper says:

      For planning train travel in Japan I’d recommend using hyperdia.com which is a useful search engine with lots of options. I’m a regular to Japan and I use this site all the time for train travel.

    • Personally, I didn’t find the Hyperdia web site easy to use. But I strongly recommend getting the Navitime App on your phone. Hyperdia will give you station to station directions, times and prices. Navitime gives you point to point directions. Its a brilliant app to use on the go, and makes travelling around Japan very simple. It tells you what platform your train will leave from (even if you are planning a journey well ahead of time!)

      Note that the JR pass doesn’t cover the very fastest Shinkansen (bullet train). There are three services between Tokyo and Osaka. Fast (Nozomi, approx 2:30), semi fast (Hikari, approx 3:00), and slow (Kodama, approx 4 hrs).

      The Navitime app has a filter that allows you to see only the trains that your JR pass is valid on.

      Whether or not the JR pass is suitable will depend on how long you are going for and how much you will use the Skinkansen. For a two week trip flying in and out of the same hub, it can make sense. Flying into TYO and home from OSA (or vv), not so much. Note also that paying as you go can give you more flexibility. For example, the JR pass isn’t valid on private rail lines.

      I wouldn’t bother with Green Class. You are meant to reserve a seat before boarding, which means spending time in the booking office, and rules out jumping on at the last minute. And green class isn’t available on local trains between Osaka and Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, or Himeji.

      Standard class on JR from TYO to OSA isn’t very comfortable. Seating is 2+3, so quite narrow, but with good leg room. The windows are small, airline style, so not a great view. I was glad to get off. The Shinkansen from Osaka to Hiroshima are better, with 2+2 seating. I did Osaka to Hiroshima without a reservation easily enough. Most of the coaches on the Shinkansen are reserved seating only, but there are three (I think) which are unreserved. An orderly queue forms on the platform.

      Note that the Narita express is reserved seating only. It only runs every 30 minutes, and it takes over an hour to get to Tokyo.

  5. Check out the JAL Japan Explorer Pass. Can be really good value.

  6. My partner and I used these super cheap options in 2013 (to Sapporo and Okinawa) and in 2016 (to Sapporo in winter for our Niseko skiing trip). They were even cheaper back then – 4500 and 7500 respectively. Availability was good (and seats available well before 60 days I should say – I booked flights for October in March-April, might have changed since then though). On one leg, there was absolutely no availability and we had to succumb to buying a cash ticket, and my god, it was eye-watering – in the region of £150 for one-hour flight.
    You can upgrade at the airport which we did a couple of times. For Y1000 (£7) you will get to Business (just a better seat at the front of the plane), and for Y7000 (£50), you will get First class – with wide seat, nice service and full meal. But even in economy they serve very nice drinks, including yummy yuzu lemonade and hot consommé. You will never find these on European airlines.
    Thanks for covering this guys and I hope many of you will enjoy this really good Avios redemption option in the Olympics year and beyond

  7. I know that a donation of only £1 gets around the inability to book on BA’s website but the fact that the website can’t handle a booking with zero fees is poor. Does JAL’s website also fail and cause you to make a donation to book a zero taxes flight? If not what programming tweak should BA implement to mimic JAL’s website?

    That failure in BA’s IT system should allow BA to waive the telephone booking fee.

    • If you are paying with Avios, you can’t do it on the JAL site. You do it through BA because that’s where your Avios are! (Or possibly IB or EI?)

      • Just checked IB and EI (actually avios.com). Neither lets you book domestic flights in Japan. Only option to pay with Avios is through BA.

      • Sorry I think my post has been misinterpreted. I wasn’t suggesting trying to book a BA Avios redemption directly on the JAL website. I was saying the JAL website must be able to handle reward bookings with no fees for its own FF scheme. This suggests that the way JAL’s website works is better than BAs. I was suggesting someone in BA IT works out how JAL’s website works and copies that programming into BAs website. Thereby allowing you to book a reward flight with zero fees and without having to make a £1 donation to get it to work.

    • Jonathan says:

      The BA booking website is heavily out of date, and they need to heavily invest in it. I remember one time I was making a booking, I could select Premium Economy for on leg of the journey then regular Economy for the other (I wanted it this way to get the 2x bag allowance on both flights and upgrading one legs of the journey was cheaper than paying twice for additional baggage), I tried to add a car rental or hotel night with them as well (I can’t remember which of them it was though) and the ability to book one leg Premium Economy and other leg regular Economy wasn’t an option.

      It would also be good if you can select your booking class yourself, since there’s two types of Economy discount tickets types, one earns more Avios and Tier points than the other, even though the general cost of both tickets will be roughly about the same.

      • Jonathan says:

        Just as I finished putting this last comment of mine up, I remembered reading an article that Rob wrote about a little while ago about ‘Open Jaw Avios Redemptions’ and these types of bookings cannot be done via the BA website, and you’ve got to call their sales helplines to get a booing like this made.

  8. It was a shame about the recent devaluation from 4500 to 6000 Avios for the majority of domestic legs in Japan (under 650 miles).

    However given the current exchange rate it does bring your £ to Avios value back closer to what it was a few years ago.

    You can also book any domestic leg for 10,800 Yen on JAL which is worth a look for the longer routes or if you want tier points (using the 1000 Yen upgrade at the airport you get 40 tier points and J Avios).

  9. Does anyone know how driving insurance for non citizens works?

    I’m off there in a month and would like to buy an old Japanese car and go on a few trips out there and either send it back to the U.K. or resell it.

    Is insuring it going to be an issue?

    • If you have a fixed address for registration, a passport or residence permit, a proper international driving permit and driving liscence, and can speak+read Japanese you won’t have a problem.

  10. Brings back memories of eating JAL’s excellent signature beef curry at NRT business lounge last year.

  11. Are F and J award flights a good deal for domestic JAL?

    In the US on AA they are generally 15K Avios with low fees.

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