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Introduction to Japan domestic flight ticket

Introduction
Need help on finding the right travel package? Read on.

Rest assured that you have found the right place to begin with. Everyone who are searching or planning a trip in Japan will benefit from reading this article and will walk away happily with a list of hints and securing their reservations within the week, if not at least won't be wondering around not knowing what to do. If you found this article too lengthy or me being longwinded you can jump straight to my guide to making a reservation which I listed out in pointers instead of explaining in details. The first half of my write up is an introduction followed by the insights which I think is extremely useful in helping you find the right package plan and of course saving you money.

Domestic carriers
Let me start by introducing to you all the domestic carriers in Japan. We are refering to domestic routes only, not international. All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL) are the 2 main carriers servicing almost 95% of all routes. Both carriers are regarded as premium airlines to the local by its service standard. Airfares are priced much higher compared to the other airlines on the same route and with both offering identical airfares for decades. They both denied collaborating in price and verbally maintain being in stiff competition. Should you wish to find out among them who fairs better, then I would say ANA has an edge over JAL as seats (same route with 5 min difference in departure time) sell faster than the other. I was also told that large corporate companies do have their preference and would refrain their employees to use a particular carrier for travel. Having pointed out the above, you should know by now that seat availability would be a concern on ANA flights more so when you are making a last minute booking.

Hub airports
I shall briefly touch on the hub airports and the routings. Haneda, Itami, Kansai, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Naha and Shin-Chitose are hub airports with connections to smaller cities and the remote areas in Japan. You are bound to transit at one of the hub airports (at least one) should you travel from one end of the island to the other. It is not uncommon to make 2 transit stops before reaching the destination.

It is less expensive to take a round trip flight originating from anyone of the hub airports to a prefecture city than from a prefecture city to hub airport and back. Unless you are buying 2 one way tickets at its normal price either originating from hub airport or a prefecture city will give the same price. I have seen people having heated debate when trying to get to the reason. Whatever the reason is, consider relocating to a big city with a hub airport should you not want to pay more for your airfare.


Travelling peak
However, those who are planning a trip leaving from Haneda to either Sapporo, Fukuoka or Naha on a Friday should avoid taking the evening flights(after 6pm), where prices are at its highest due to the high number of frequent travellers returning to their home town for weekends. Generally avoid planning a trip on Friday, Saturday, eve of a national holiday and national holiday, and so is returning on a Sunday or on a national holiday. Travel planners also take the opportunity to raise airfares during festive months apart from national holidays.

Unlike most international flights where there could be only 1 to 2 flights a day, there are higher frequency of flights for domestic travel. There are more than 100 scheduled flights in a single day flying from Haneda airport, Tokyo to Shin-Chitose airport, Sapporo and back. It happens to be the world's most busiest route of all. It becomes necessary for operators to manupulate the fare price so that they can spread the load evenly. At the same time airlines practice what they call "yield management" so that they can reap higher profits during the peak time to cover lower returns during lull periods. Other examples of yield management would be the introduction of the advance purchase tickets offering flights during noon time and other least popular flight departure time to capture price-sensitive travellers attention.

This concludes my simple introduction on domestic carriers, hub airports and travelling peak. Next, I shall move on to cover a bit on pricing.


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Pricing and seats

You are certain by now that ticket prices are basically set by the carriers. Seasonality, time, date, supply and demand, oil price, gross domestic income per capital, routing, operating cost, propensity to travel, and so on are a factor of the ticket price. How do airlines sell their seats? It is impossible for airlines to sell all their seats by themselves without the help of travel agents. Can you imagine the amount of calls flooding in the phone line and even with the help of online reservation using the internet, the system will burst into fire.

Airlines do need travel agents to sell their seats. A number of seats are allocated to travel agents acting as wholesalers to package them into inclusive tours (package plan) and excursion fares. They are to be sold as round trip tickets basically and should never be released to the open market as individual one way tickets. However there are loopholes and we do see some of these tickets around. For identification sake, I shall name it the "agent's discount ticket".

Seat allocations are carefully monitored by experts analysing the market trend. They could project the number of seats they are able to sell before allocating them. Seats that are not allocated to agents are kept for their own use. Airlines do need to retain a small number of seats for their premium passengers, mileage redemption program and staff travel use.

One way airfare
Domestic tickets offered by airlines themselves are priced on a one way basis. As such there is no restriction to its validity or the length of stay allowed before making the return trip. Unlike in package plans(inclusive tours, IT fares), the round trip ticket is restricted to a certain duration of stay typically 6 days, 8 days, 14 days and 21 days depending on what plan the tour operators wish to package it. If you exceed the length of stay, the return-leg ticket will be forfeited. I shall come back to cover on this package plan ticket(IT fare) again.

Touching on the types of discount ticket(one way basis) offered by the airlines. There are a wide array of discount tickets commonly the; 1-day advance purchase discount ticket(FT), 7-day advance purchase discount ticket(FX), 28-day advance purchase discount ticket, 2 ways discount fare, 4 sectors discount fare, and others, open to everyone on a first come first serve basis. There are also tickets meant for certain group of travellers, "silver ticket" for senior citizens and you must be age 65 or above to qualify. There are also discount tickets for handicapped travellers.
In particular I would like to bring up the 28-day advance purchase discount ticket, it is priced attractively (similiar to the Yokoso Japan Air Pass) but only good for travellers who can finalised their travel way in advance. The price of a round trip package plan is close to the equivalent of the 28-day advance purchase discount ticket. When you break up the price of a round trip package plan to individual components you will see it clearly.

28-day advance purchase discount(AP28) = around 10,000yen
Package plan with 1 night hotel stay = around 28,000yen
equivalent = 8,000yen(hotel), 10,000yen x 2(return ticket)


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Round trip package plan(IT fare)
Coming back to the package plan ticket(IT fare) which I highly recommend most if you were looking for the cheapest or best price. However do remember it does not work when your trip falls on a peak travelling period(New Year, Obon, Golden week), during national holidays and over the long weekend. It turns out to be more expensive then purchasing 2 one way tickets in some cases. All airlines have package plans available. You have seen ANA, JAL, JTA, JEX, IBEX, Skymark airlines, Skynet Asia airways and AirDo package plans lying everywhere. There are also the least heard of like StarFlyer airlines and Oriental Air Bridge.

What you get in a inclusive tour, or a package plan(commonly called). A package plan will consist of a return ticket plus accommodation with transfers NOT included. Accommodation ranging from budget hotels(commonly refered as business hotels) to 5 star hotels, ryokans and resort hotels. Capsules hotels are also being used. There is bound to be a price suitable for everyone. Breakfast may be thrown in for free or otherwise optional. In recent trend I noticed that JAL and ANA have adopted package plans that exclude breakfast which they don't in the past, they do it to bring down the cost so that the offer price would look attractive sitting together with the other carriers. I would like to make this statement, "what you pay is what you get". And do look closely to what exactly is being offered.

You can expect a few common optional items like rental car, room upgrade, dining voucher, transfers and flight upgrade that you can include together with your plan. It does save you money only opting for things that you wish to include. There are theme or specially tailored package plans which are excellent. Especially the ski package plans that offer everything you need for a skiing vacation.

The good thing or bad thing about package plan is that you have to purchase them at least 10 days before your departure. When you compare it with the 28-day advance purchase discount ticket that I highlighted above, it would be preferable to take the package plan. You would choose the 28-day advance purchase discount ticket when you only require one way ticket, you do not require hotel or your choice of hotel is not available under the package plan or you are crazy about accruing mileage. You earn 50% of its mileage when you purchase a package plan while you will earn slightly more at 75% of its mileage for most one way discount fares.

In other sections of my website I will be introducing to you many package plans. I will be covering those popular ones and suggest to you those that are highly value for money.

Penalty
Most discount tickets do not allow for change after issuance and the lower the ticket price very likely the more harsh it is the penalty for cancellation. The penalty for cancellation of a package plan will be in effect 20 days before its departure date. It is set by the travel operator following the guidelines of the travel law. Consult the penalty tables below. There are also certain package plans penalty for cancellation kick in 14 days before its departure date.
• Cancellation penalty policy for package plans
Cancellation penalty policy for package plans
• Hotel reservation cancellation policy (1-14pax, 15-30pax and 30pax or more)
Cancellation penalty policy for hotel reservation
As for one way discount fares, there are various penalty terms all set by its airlines. Often, travellers did not bother or were not being told clearly as to what ticket types were offered. My strong advise is do take note the penalty terms from now on when you decide on the ticket type. It is part of making good decision on ticket purchase.

A small number of vendors do implement their own penalty system. They do it for standardization of the penalty terms as there are too many variations or find it too difficult to explain to their customers. Some are doing it to mark up for small profits. I don't know if this is against the regulation, the decision is up to you whether you wish to buy from them or not.

Changeable normal fare ticket
This subject is short and easy to understand. Both normal fare ticket and child ticket are changeable. The child fare is half the price of the normal price ticket. All package plans are non changeable and do not offer the use of changeable ticket. Do not confuse package plans with child price as they are entirely different.

There is no fee for making changes even you change it a hundred times. And when you cancel this ticket, most one way tickets there is a small handling fee of 420yen (500yen for some carriers), for cancellation of an issued ticket. You will not be charged though a reservation is made and the ticket is not issued.

Surcharges and additional information
In addition to the ticket price there is a 300yen insurance surcharge and 50yen-100yen airport facility charge(for use of certain airports only) levied on all passengers including children except infants. Surcharges are all added to the offer price for all package plan while tickets offered directly by airlines are added separately. There is no fuel surcharge for domestic travel. Now that you know this could be the only extra charge you need to pay, this should help take away the fear in buying air tickets which some people have.

Infants are age 0 to 3 yrs old for domestic travel different from international travel(0 to 2 yrs). And there is absolutely no charge for infants. Infants must be accompanied by an adult. There is no bassinet for infant and the parent will have to carry the baby at all times. To qualify for child fare, a child must be not more than 11 years old. There are times where package plan with child price will be cheaper than 2 one way child ticket or the other way around. You gauge by yourself which ticket suits you better.


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Who to choose

Travel agents
There is no single agency who has access to all hotels, tour packages and tickets. Given the sheer massive number of what's available and more to be added, it is never possible. Agencies that you are in contact with do not own the products as they only act as a reseller. They earn a commission (5%-10% for domestic tickets and package plans) for selling a product or service. The commission level varies according to one's annual sales, retailing level and other variable factors (perhaps negotiation skill or whether they favor the agency). I often use the word favor, as I often can't find the logic behind certain things.

Agencies with good contacts and large network is able to get you what you are looking for. Not necessary the BIG agency will have what you want (this is not a race where you choose the biggest, strongest or fittest), smaller agencies might have them too and to your surprise can offer you better price (often by undercutting) and prompt service. Depending on its field of specialization. When there is no specialised person to oversee and follow up a certain product, chances are they are not updated with the latest offer. Take for instance, have you ever been told to wait a few days before getting a quotation for travelling somewhere? And when you try asking for another, probably a week has passed with all that you asked for were 2 price quotations.

Price disparity
When one agency is not specialised or not dealing with a ticket type at all, here comes a big price disparity. Some companies immediately tell customers that they do not engage in the sale of this product as they find it meaningless to work on such a deal with the closing of the sale uncertain or too time consuming not worthwhile in profit, while there are others who try to attempt to clinch the deal. They first approach partner companies to see if one happen to have access, good if they can. Then they will split the commission among themselves. If profit is too thin, they might price it up a little. Most of the time they end up contacting one of the authorised travel agents paying full price and then mark the price up before offering it. Is it right or wrong? It is just part of one person's transaction costs. Now that you found me, you will never be paying more than the ongoing rate ever again.

Wholesalers and vendors
You will be asking why don't agents ask the wholesalers directly so that they earn the full commission. Wholesalers don't simply allow agents to sell their products. First they need to have the required licence and there are category levels segregating the travel license (10,000,000yen as security deposit for category 1 travel licence) issues by the Land and Transport Ministry. Having own a travel licence does not gurantee you rights to selling, wholesalers often ask vendors to enter into contract with them. They may have to pay a lump sum (another 8 figure sum), lucky only a security deposit before being qualified to sell the product and given reservation system access. Reservation system may be optional by paying a rental fee if wished to set up. The agent who bought the system may move towards being a minor wholesaler-retailer himselves reselling it to other agents.

Now you see there are many levels, big and small. It doesn't matter who you buy from as all vendors will be selling you the same published price but the vendors are earning different percentage of commission though. The selling price must be maintained otherwise the retailing channel will collapse. So, wholesalers and big vendors cannot sell products below the published price but small agencies can undercut the price without the big guys knowing.

Who are the real wholesalers actually? They are the one who deals directly with the airlines, allocated with a certain number of seats. This guarantee money making business unfortunately whose privellege is given to the pioneer travel agencies only, most of them a subsidairy of the airlines or having a large exchange of shares with the company. If you are curious to know them check out my listing on the top 10 agencies in terms of market capitalization. If you have gone this far you might as well have a look at the company profile on those companies. You will see names of one another appearing under its stockholding companies. Must have been like a family gathering for its shareholders meeting.

Chained stores
I always say that package plan deal will save you money for buying the return ticket plus accomodation altogether. When we speak of package plans, where are they and how they look like? They are actually in brochures piling up high on the racks of every single agency you see commonly located at the train stations or departmental stores with a decent shop front. Very often they are a chained travel agency operating under its flagship big brand name. I like visiting them and basically use them to gather information of all the package plans. They have all the basic things like the package plan of all major carriers, many good best selling bus tours and rail package plans. Fair and decent establishment serving a large group of customers but sadly no matter how much you spend you hardly get any discount.

Discounted ticket stores
I observed that such companies are growing in numbers. They are hybrids running other businesses not just ticketing alone. They do have proper travel licenses own them or borrowed. It is the opposite to my description of a chained travel agency. They are often located away from the street level or primary floors. You won't see brochures everywhere the office and they only concentrate on selling certain products. Usually they do not have a proper shopfront as sales are mostly done over telephone or using the internet. They tend to "cherry pick", offer only the cheapest package plan and have their ways to get discount tickets. During the peak travelling season, they focus on selling one way tickets (combining the use of JAL or ANA shareholders discount coupon), while during the lull period, they offer all the cheapest package plans around. They have served the price-sensitive passengers well.

Visit Japan Air Passes
Before ending this topic on "tips on travel price hunt", I will review on the Visit Japan Air Passes offer by JAL and ANA only. These air passes unforturnately are nowhere to be sold inside Japan. According to the Airlines' condition for these special tickets, they have to be purchased in conjunction with your international flight ticket prior to entering Japan. They must also be purchased in advance and are not available during certain peak travelling months. At the price of 10,000yen-12,000yen for a sector, it was once a good bargain to me but not anymore with the introduction of some advance purchase tickets, the price is almost the same. Also, there are the package plan deals which wasn't made widely available or heard of by foreigners before, now travellers from everywhere can get their hands on more easily. Thanks to some vendors and agents who have made the effort, pumped in a some money to create bilingual websites/reservation systems and sell these tickets. Bear in mind that Japan being the 10th largest population in the world, domestic market alone is self sustainable and do not see the foreigner market as being lucrative yet. Thumbs up to them.


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