Help me travel to Japan!
February 6, 2013 5:06 PM   Subscribe

My sibling, mother, and I want to go to Japan (Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, and Kyoto) in late July. I am getting overwhelmed by trying to book tickets. Help!

1. We are all coming from different locations (St. Paul, Chicago, and Boston), but obviously would like to fly the majority of the time together. It seems like it would be cheapest for us all to meet on the West Coast (L.A.?) and fly from there to Narita? Or am I mistaken?

2. I have been thinking that it may be worth paying more $$ to fly a non-American airline -- is this true? Any particular recommendations? We will not be flying first/business class and cost is of some concern, but we are willing to pay a few hundred more if the experience is going to be much more pleasant on one airline versus another.
posted by Bebo to Travel & Transportation around Japan (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
2. I have been thinking that it may be worth paying more $$ to fly a non-American airline -- is this true? Any particular recommendations? We will not be flying first/business class and cost is of some concern, but we are willing to pay a few hundred more if the experience is going to be much more pleasant on one airline versus another.

I'm paying slightly more this summer to fly to Narita on ANA (instead of United). I always do this where possible. Foreign carriers tend to be much nicer in my experience. Plus it feels in a small way like you start your tourism earlier.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:12 PM on February 6, 2013

1. Yes fly into LA or SF, and then fly out together (to Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya would all be fine; Osaka or Nagoya may be cheaper but you'll end up passing through anyway). This will likely involve two separate flights, rather than connecting flights, so book a night in your West Coast City of Choice in case someone's flight is delayed. When I flew from Hometown to SF, my flight was cancelled due to the fog is SF, and I got bumped to the next DAY (there is a daily flight from SF to Nagoya; I lived there for a year).

You could also meet in Honolulu and try Jetstar - they're pretty cheap too. (I haven't flown with them yet, but will be in July).

2. I would avoid United (lost luggage, no individual TV, etc.). I fly regularly between Sydney and California, and all the various airlines use pretty nice planes for long-haul flights. My husband (6'3") has flown on Japanese/Chinese airlines and warns that the seats are smaller and closer together (leg room) - may or may not be a problem depending on how petite y'all are. My in-laws have flown on some of the Middle Eastern carriers (Etihad) and agree that they are very nice, as are Virgin and Qantas.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:27 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to add my data point: I flew from LA to Narita on Singapore Airlines last October and it was the best flight that I've had in a long time, on various airlines. It didn't cost more than US airlines, but I may have just been lucky.
posted by bread-eater at 6:13 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Start with Kayak to get a good idea of carriers and price.
posted by Xurando at 6:35 PM on February 6, 2013

This is just a heads up that there are two airports serving Tokyo--Narita and Haneda--so you want to enable the 'airports within 70 miles' option when you search. Most of the flights are into Narita, I think, but I ended up going to Haneda on Delta. I don't know of a reason why you'd prefer one to the other, aside from price.

I personally wouldn't pay more than, oh, $75 more for a non-US airline. I haven't flown an Asian airline, though, and they seem to have better reputations than European airlines. Trans-pacific Delta is a major upgrade over domestic Delta (it's nicer than trans-atlantic Delta, too, but not by such a large margin).
posted by hoyland at 6:40 PM on February 6, 2013

Or, instead of searching for Narita and airports within 70 miles, TYO gets you all/both Tokyo airports. It should pop up as an option if you type 'Tokyo' into Kayak, as well.
posted by hoyland at 6:42 PM on February 6, 2013

When exactly are you flying out in July and for how long? I would use the ITA matrix to find a flight from the west coast (similar to Kayak). It has a really handy calendar search, and you can ask it to search for airports within a certain distance of a place (50, 100, 300 miles etc). Best price I saw from some intial snopping from LAX is a flight on July 22 - August 2 with Malaysia Airlines for $882, which seems to be a pretty decent price.
posted by snowysoul at 7:01 PM on February 6, 2013

If prices are similar I'd try to get the trans-pacific flight from ORD -- less flying (& hopefully transit) time.

ORD - SFO - NRT: 6950 miles
ORD - LAX - NRT: 7180 miles
ORD - SFO: 6260 miles

However, Haneda is much closer to Tokyo than Narita.

In general I'd choose an asian airline over US one any day. They can be very strict about enforcing all rules (cabin carry-on, etc.) though.
posted by zeikka at 7:12 PM on February 6, 2013

Keep in mind there's plenty of US/foreign code sharing too. I booked a LAX->Seoul, Tokyo->LAX ticket recently via Delta but the planes are actually Korean Air, for example (but I get Delta SkyMiles, which is nice, and this was by FAR cheaper than any other airline I found).

I use for all my flight searching.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:17 PM on February 6, 2013

memail me if you need more detailed help about travel within Japan.

The Wikitravel article for Tokyo is relatively correct.
posted by xmts at 8:16 PM on February 6, 2013

Oh, by the way - avoid mid July to mid September if at all possible. It is EXTREMELY hot and humid in Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto. Japan is a country that expects you to walk for 20 min whenever you go somewhere. It will be constantly rainy in mid June to mid July. It is better to go before mid June, or after mid September.

See this previous question about this time of year.
posted by xmts at 8:25 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

2. I have been thinking that it may be worth paying more $$ to fly a non-American airline

My partner and I flew United when we went to Asia last October and it was fine. We did United from San Francisco to Shanghai, ANA from Shanghai to Tokyo, then United again from Tokyo back to San Francisco. Interestingly, the return flight from Narita was on a newer plane with much better amenities like personal in-flight entertainment systems. International flights on American carriers are less fraught with peril compared to domestic flights, but I'd definitely recommend booking the most direct possible flight. So even though Singapore Airlines or Malaysian Airlines economy may be far more comfortable, if there's a layover at Changi or KLIA, you would be extending your trip by another 7 hours or so.

That said, we very much enjoyed our Shanghai-Tokyo leg on ANA, and will splurge on ANA the next time we go to Japan. If you're thinking of leaving from California, ANA departs from both SFO and San Jose Mineta.
posted by peripathetic at 9:15 PM on February 6, 2013

You might have more flight options from California, but in terms of flight time, it's not as much less as you might think. I fly between Nagoya (farther than Tokyo) and Detroit in about 11-13 hrs, but LAX to NRT is still 10-11 hrs (because from Midwest/Northeastern US, the flight path takes more of an arc over northern Canada to shorten the distance). So I'd also look into prices from Chicago - I think JAL or ANA do direct flights from there.
posted by p3t3 at 10:03 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

not related to flights, but something to note...if you want to get the shinkansen rail pass (for the bullet me you want this) at half price, you must buy them BEFORE you go google it, i guess...nice itenerary btw...if you're going to kyoto....friday night around sunset is the time to see geisha...they go to the big pagoda temple near the ginza district...the graveyard sorta nearby was the inspiration for the ones in the legend of zelda series...definitely a must see...also, about an hour south of kyoto by train is one of the more magical places on earth...Nara...worth at least a day-trip...there are deer all over town, the worlds largest wooden building (a temple) and i saw a BLUE koi
posted by sexyrobot at 10:04 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had good luck booking through amnet-usa (
posted by notyou at 11:20 PM on February 6, 2013

For travel within Japan, get a rail pass. I can't stress highly enough how great a deal this is if you're doing any travel at all in Japan. I prefer to travel in the green car, though if cost is a factor then you can skip that.
posted by Runes at 7:08 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here are a few things worth noting about visiting Japan.

1. If traveling by rail, there may be no room for luggage, as it is customary in Japan to ship baggage from your home to your destination. So pack light!

2. I flew on an American Airlines code-share on Asiana from LAX, through Seoul to Hiroshima. Probably one of the BEST flights I've ever been on. We got fed at midnight, kind of a Bi Bim Bap, the tube on the side wasn't toothpaste, it was hot pepper paste (just an fyi). Breakfast was chicken and noodles. Plan accordingly.

3. Bring snacks on the plane. You'll be discombubbled by the time difference and you might be starving between meal services.

4. Your best bet for a flight might be from Minneapolis, via NWA/Delta.

5. When my parents lived in Japan, my mom would routinely carry around about $500 in yen. Most of Japan is cash-oriented. So don't rely too much on your credit or debit cards.

6. Visit Mr. Donut.

7. The food is consistantly good throughout the country. You don't have to spend a jillion dollars to get great stuff. The curry at the train station will be as good as a curry you'd sit down for in a restaurant. Ditto noodles on the street, or food at the 7/11. (I'm not kidding, 7/11 is EVERYWHERE!) McDonalds will have Ramen.

8. 100 Yen shops are dollar stores and EXCELLENT sources of all kinds of cool souveniers.

Have a great time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:25 PM on February 7, 2013

I fly Tokyo to Chicago at least once every two years, sometimes more often, ad I've been doing it for about 13 years. My advice: avoid US carriers. ANA before JAL, and either one before United, United before Delta/Northwest, and swimming before any other carrier.

For the most part, the fleet run by JAL and ANA on international flights is more modern than the US fleets, the service is better (you're not goin to run into active hostility from a cabin attendant on a flight run by a Japanese airline), and the experience is better. You also might be shocked to find that, occasionally, they're cheaper, too. I've seen $1000 flights (off season, July will be much, much more) for JAL, while the same date, the cheapest United ticket was $1600. Look around.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:06 PM on February 7, 2013

I'm Japanese, live in Japan, and travel to the US 4-5 times a year. I always prefer ANA or JAL vs. a US carrier. The service is better. The food is better. They are fewer delays. etc.

I don't know if it is cheaper but I do know that Hawaiian Airlines has a few flights to Japan from the West Coast that may be inexpensive.

Lots of good info here already.
posted by gen at 12:33 AM on February 8, 2013

Credit cards are more often accepted these days but you certainly do want to have a lot more cash on hand in Japan than you would in the US. Thankfully, personal safety is less of an issue in Japan so there's less of a problem in having more cash on your person here.
posted by gen at 12:36 AM on February 8, 2013

If you have a choice between NRT and HND for the Tokyo airport, always choose HND. It's much, much closer and cheaper to get to your destination in central Tokyo.
posted by gen at 12:38 AM on February 8, 2013

« Older Custom portrait in old masters style?   |   My sister has a hobby my spouse finds offensive.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.