Novice international travelers need help!
July 14, 2012 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Need advice about airline tickets please: LAX to Okinawa.

The plan is that probably this November, I'll fly from Virginia to Los Angeles, spend a day or two with a sister, then we both fly out of LAX to visit my nephew in Okinawa. Neither of us has flown internationally before, but we've both gotten shiny new passports and (per a previous question here!) we know we won't need to get visas. So far, so good.

However: neither of us has particularly strong computer skills, and quite frankly the plethora of online travel aggregators (Priceline, Orbitz, et al) just confused the heck out of us.... HELP!!!

From talking to people who have flown across the Pacific, I understand the trip will probably be in two legs, from Los Angeles to Tokyo and then Tokyo to Okinawa (and of course vice versa to return), and that the LAX to Tokyo legs will be about 12 hours long. Okay, we understand that, but as, ahem, a couple of older broads, there's no way we want to be stuck in itty-bitty seats with zero knee room in the cattle car seats --- oh sorry: "tourist class" --- for 12 hours.

So: where should we look for the best ticket prices, hopefully at least one step up from the cheap seats and with a bit of room? Specific websites, airlines, and anything else (should we just find a travel agent and dump the arrangements on them?) you can think of VERY welcome!
posted by easily confused to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't advise you too much except to say that international seats are more spacious than domestic. The typical cheapest economy seat on an international flight is comparable to domestic business class, in my experience.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:57 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

SeatGuru can help you find the comfiest seats -- once you determine the airline. Since it's your first time flying internationally, I think using a travel agent is a good idea. Plus the travel agent can help you out in case there's any trouble (I read Christopher Elliot's travel column a lot, and he's a big one for using travel agents.)

Happy travels!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:07 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: JAL and Cathay Pacific are both pretty nice back in steerage, tbh. They both have a level of customer service that will frankly astound you as compared to US airlines. And their business class is comparable to a domestic USA first class flight.
posted by elizardbits at 4:11 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I believe almost all airlines offer "choice/preferred" seats (they are not business or first class) which may have a more leg room or other amenity--If it is at all affordable for you I would pay the premium on any flight over 2-4 hours. They may run $50-$150 more per seat. You or your travel agent should be able to book them.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:25 PM on July 14, 2012

The markup on "premium economy" transpacific is $1,000 or more round trip, sometimes as much as $3,000. Those seats are roughly comparable to domestic first class: wider, more legroom, but not much recline or leg rest. They are getting nicer all the time -- if you buy this make sure you're getting a very up to date version.

Business class transpacific is very nice -- seats that recline flat to sleep, privacy barriers, many other bells and whistles. Far better than domestic first class. Prices range wildly - $4,000 or less if you're lucky, well over $10,000 if not. (The flights with $12,000 business class seats are the ones with $4,000 premium economy.)
posted by MattD at 4:39 PM on July 14, 2012

Best answer: I've had good luck purchasing flights to Japan through Amnet USA:

IACE USA is also supposed to be a reliable discounter, but I've never used them.
posted by notyou at 4:44 PM on July 14, 2012

Best answer: Be prepared for major sticker shock if you want to fly business class. My rule of thumb when traveling internationally to and from the US, is never to fly with a US airline. Sadly they are the worst (seats, amenities and service). Also make sure that your flight with a non-US airline isn't a code share. This sometimes means it uses the US airline for one leg. I got caught out that way once, and ended up on United LAX to Sydney. Gah!

Btw my opinion is that Singapore is about the best airline you can fly to Japan with, but it is more expensive than the Japanese carriers. You get what you pay for!
posted by Joh at 5:01 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the "don't fly US airline or codeshare to Asia" unless you're really committed to your frequent flyer program or something. If your sister is local in LA she might have good luck finding a package fare through a Japanese travel agency. The first one that leaps to mind is on Sawtelle near Olympic: H.I.S. Los Angeles
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 9:52 PM on July 14, 2012

If you're interested in a specific travel agent recommendation, I'm fond of Cranky Concierge. I've been a customer of theirs for about 2.5 years now (primarily with monitoring and interrupted travel assistance; never with planning). They provide personalized service to handle questions like which airline(s) offer the best products, prices, schedules, comfort, and in-flight entertainment.
posted by germdisco at 10:16 PM on July 14, 2012

Best answer: A couple tips -

- You probably already know this, but Naha is the name of the capital of Okinawa, and so may not pop out at you right away on airline/airport websites.

- Booking this all as one ticket means that it might be more expensive, but you'd end up with the security of knowing that if your first leg is delayed/cancelled, the airline HAS to get you to Okinawa. The piece of mind is nice.

- Okinawa is extremely well-connected to all of Japan (as well as Taiwan, which is just a quick hop away, and Hong Kong, which is a bit further). You can get from LAX to both Tokyo airports (Haneda and Narita), as well as Taipei and Hong Kong, nonstop. So your options are more than just changing at Tokyo-Narita.

- The website of China Airlines of Taiwan (note: not Air China of the mainland!) says a week's stay in Okinawa in economy, from LAX via Taipei, is about $1200 in economy, for some random dates in November.

- The suggestion of using IACE or Amnet is a good one.
posted by mdonley at 6:21 AM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: So even if we were to get our usual economy class seats, for this international flight they'd be larger than the usual US airline torture-device seats? Wonderful! (But yes, we'll make sure to confirm that when we reserve the specific flight.) Not that either of us would object to first class, but that'll have to wait until one of us wins the lottery. ;D

All in all, it looks like we'll be better off with a single non-US airline (no code share): it'd probably be extremely amusing to the folks watching if we got mixed up, but they'll just have to do without our version of 'Abbott & Costello: Lost in Tokyo'. And yes, it looks like we should probably use a professional travel agent --- there are times, like this one!, when it's worth spending a little extra to be sure it's done right.

Bonus question: money.... should we change some here before we go (and any recommended amounts?), change it in Tokyo, or wait till Okinawa?
posted by easily confused at 10:50 AM on July 16, 2012

Best answer: Seats

While roomier than domestic seats, the international economy class seats, even on great carriers such as KAL and Singapore, are still no picnic.

In October 2010 we went over for the F1 race at Suzuka and flew Singapore. At the time they were using 747s. The seats were configured into three rows -- banks of three along the windows, and a big pile in the middle. That pile in the middle is no fun on a crowded flight. Conversely, that pile in the middle is fantastic on a less crowded flight since one can raise the armrests and stretch longitudinally across three or four unsold seats.

Anyhow, at the back of Singapore's 747, where the fuselage narrows, there is only room for 2.5 seats in the window rows. Since they can't yet wedge .5 seats in there, they instead leave a largish gap between the window seat and the actual window, which, if one can arrange pillows artfully against the center armrest, turns out to be a good space to (almost) stretch one's 36" inseams.

I figured that out by looking over the diagrams on Seat Guru. You may be able to infer something similar by looking over the seat plans for your own flight.


Can't speak for Okinawa, but it's easy to change money at Narita. And it isn't a complete rip-off there, either. Still, when I've gone, I've always changed a few hundred bux worth here for bus and cab fare and whatever, rather than have one more thing to deal with after the long flight.

You can also change at Japanese post offices using the ATMs there, which usually offer an English option on the touch screen. You'll pay a fee to your bank and the card people, but it's convenient.

Lots of places in Japan only accept cash (weird, hunh? but cards are becoming more widely accepted), so it's a good idea to keep plenty handy. Cheaper, too, for travelers. I'd assume it's the same story in Okinawa, although the large contingent of American military service types may have led to faster adoption of cards (and cheaper service fees for the handling the international exchange?).
posted by notyou at 11:25 AM on July 16, 2012

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