Thanks to high-speed “Shinkansen” trains traversing the country from Hakodate in the north all the way to Kagoshima in the south and more than ten airlines connecting dozens and dozens of airports in a dense network of domestic flights, there is probably no country that is easier to get around than Japan.
On top of that, if you happen to be a foreigner (or a Japanese residing abroad) visiting Japan, you will also have access to a variety of discounted tickets. Perhaps the best known of those is Japan Rail Pass which lets you ride on trains as much as you want to during the validity of your pass. Lesser known, but depending on your situation no less attractive, are discounted domestic air tickets that both of the two largest Japanese airlines – ANA and JAL – offer.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at ANA’s Discover Japan and JAL’s Japan Explorer Pass fares. At the end of the article, we’ll look at whether (and when) the discounted flights are worth purchasing.
Are you interested in trying business or first class for the price of economy?
If so, you might want to check out Four Ways to Try Business Class Without Breaking the Bank - a free guide that I put together detailing some of the ways I was able to do so - and experiment with some of the methods mentioned in it.
ANA Discover Japan Fare
While in the past, ANA’s main domestic fare targeted at foreigners was the Experience Japan fare, that one seems to be only available until the end of June 2019. Instead, it’s main such fare nowadays is the Discover Japan fare.
How Much Are Discover Japan Flights?
In general, Discover Japan flights cost anywhere between 3,241 yen and 65,093 yen. I know that’s a significant range – but that is because there are two types of Discover Japan fare: “Super Value” and “Value.” The cheaper one of those, “Super Value,” can be booked up to 30 days before departure while the other one can be booked up to 7 days before departure.
With the “Super Value” fare, the tickets are generally anywhere between 3,241 yen (about 30 dollars) – in theory at least, since I wasn’t able to actually find a flight for that price – and about 10,000 yen (about 100 dollars) depending on the route.
The “Value” tickets are generally between 50% and 200% more expensive than the “Super Value” tickets.
Just as an example, below are some examples of the cheapest one-way “Super Value” flights between selected city pairs:
- Tokyo – Akita starts at about 50 dollars one-way
- Tokyo – Osaka starts at about 75 dollars one-way
- Tokyo – Ishigaki starts at about 100 dollars one-way
- Tokyo – Sapporo starts at about 100 dollars one-way
Note that the number of Discover Japan seats on each flight is limited, and there are also flights where no flights at these fares are available.
Who Is Eligible to Use the Discover Japan Fare?
Unlike JAL’s Japan Explorer Pass fare that I’ll talk about next, there are no special requirements to book ANA’s Discover Japan fare other than having to book it through one of ANA’s international websites or through a non-Japanese travel agent.
The easiest way to book the tickets is, of course, through one of ANA’s international websites – such as the US one. Whichever site you choose, you will be charged the equivalent of the Japanese yen price in the site’s currency.
What Other Things Should You Know About ANA’s Discover Japan Fare?
While neither of the two Discover Japan fares can be changed after booking, they both allow switching to an earlier flight on the date of departure if there’s an empty seat. As for refunds, the “Super Value” fare is non-refundable, but the “Value” fare can be refunded for a 50% fee.
Both of the fares can be upgraded to Premium Class on the day of departure if a seat is available. The upgrade fee varies depending on the route – you can check the price list here (for flights departing up to October 26, 2019) and here (for flights departing between October 27, 2019, and March 28, 2020).
Finally, with the Discover Japan fare, you cannot check-in for your flight online, but you can use the automated check-in kiosks at your departure airport.
JAL Japan Explorer Pass Fare
JAL’s main domestic fare targeted at foreigners is the Japan Explorer Pass. It can be used on all domestic flights operated by Japan Airlines, Japan TransOcean Air, and J-Air (but not other JAL’s subsidiaries and partners), and it offers flights throughout Japan at fixed prices.
How Much Are Japan Explorer Pass Flights?
the following fixed one-way prices:
- 5,400 yen for flights within Hokkaido (e.g. Sapporo – Kushiro, Hakodate – Okushiri, etc.)
- 5,400 yen for flights to and from Tohoku (Akita, Aomori, Hanamaki, Misawa, Sendai, Yamagata)
- 7,560 yen for flights from Tokyo to Nanki-Shirahama and Osaka
- 7,560 yen for flights within Okinawa (Naha to Kumejima, Miyako, and Ishigaki)
- 10,800 yen for all other eligible routes
Depending on the route you are flying, the price might be slightly higher since passenger facility charges for the airports that charge them are not included in the above prices. Also keep in mind that child discount is not offered on this fare.
The number of seats available for purchase as Japan Explorer Pass seats is limited as well, and so, even if a certain flight has empty seats, it does not mean all of those will necessarily be available for purchase at the prices mentioned above. Japan Explorer Pass tickets can be booked up to 72 hours before departure.
Who Is Eligible to Use the Japan Explorer Pass Fare?
Before getting a Japan Explorer Pass ticket (you can do so here, on JAL’s dedicated website), make sure you fulfill both of the criteria below as otherwise may not be able to board your flight without repurchasing the ticket at a much higher fare.
To use the Japan Explorer Pass fare, you must:
- Reside in a foreign country and have a non-Japanese passport (or a residency card or similar proof if you are Japanese)
- Be flying internationally (on any airline) to and from Japan prior to and after using the Japan Explorer Pass ticket
You will have to provide your passport number and your international ticket number at the time of purchase You might also be asked to present your passport (or a proof of foreign residency if you are Japanese), as well as your international ticket when checking in for the domestic flight.
What Other Things Should You Know About JAL’s Japan Explorer Pass Fare?
One thing to keep in mind – especially so if you think that your travel plans might change, is that Japan Explorer Pass fare is non-refundable and changes are not permitted either.
Also, because of its eligibility requirements, you cannot check in online or using the automated kiosk if you are flying on the Japan Explorer Pass fare. And, you cannot select your seat in advance.
On the other hand, while you can only book an economy class Japan Explorer Pass ticket, you can upgrade the ticket into Class J (extra 1,000 yen) or First Class (extra 8,000 yen) on the day of departure if there are seats available.
Summary: (When) Is It Worth Using ANA and JAL’s Discounted Domestic Flights?
ANA Discover Japan and JAL Japan Explorer Pass fares can be anywhere between a few dollars and tens (and even hundreds) of dollars cheaper than their non-discounted equivalents. Depending on the route, date, and time of the flight you want to take, they can even be cheaper than flights with low-cost airlines.
Add to that the fact that the ANA and JAL flights include checked luggage and depart from the more central Haneda and Itami airports in Tokyo and Osaka as opposed to Narita and Kansai airports used by low-costs (which cost more time and money to get to), ANA’s and JAL’s discounted fares are well-worth taking an advantage of.
While the Japan Rail Pass is a good alternative if you are planning to travel fairly frequently in a set time period (1 week, 2 weeks, or 3 weeks), the discounted flights are better if you need to get between distant cities only every now and then. Especially so, if you can work with a fixed schedule.
Finally, as far as picking between ANA’s Discover Japan and JAL’s Japan Explorer Pass goes, it will mainly depend on how far in advance you can plan and which airline you prefer.