Though we’ve talked about it many times, we’ve have not been back to Japan since we first met seven years ago. Since then, much has changed including airfares and travel references. As we planned our last minute to Japan, we relied a lot on our past experiences as well as some new tools.
Finding the best deal
As with most of our travel, the first place we went to check out rates for flights was kayak.com. We usually go there to get a ballpark figure of what price range we should look at and then go directly to the airline website to see if there is more flexibility with schedule. After a quick search we found that Japan Airlines had the best rate for our route. We found a direct flight that was about $300 less than the nearest competitor. The best part was that it was a flight directly to Haneda Airport.
Recently, JAL has started international flights into Haneda Airport which is great because it is much closer to the center of Tokyo. A typical trip from Narita to central Tokyo takes about an hour whereas from Haneda, you can get there in about half the time. We were thrilled to be able to find a flight on such a great airline but with the convenience, there are a few things to consider:
- From what I’ve heard, in order to be able to fly into Haneda the departure/arrival times have to be at times when there are no flights to/from Narita. For us this translated into later departure times. This worked out great for us because we were able to work a full day before we left the States and our flight out of Japan was at midnight, giving us another full day.
- Given the proximity of Haneda to the City Center, the primary mode of transportation is by rail. From Narita there are a lot of airport limousine (buses) options but this was difficult for us to find, especially given our late arrival time. I even solicited the help of a co-worker from Japan but since we had a lot of luggage and were expected to be in the office early the next morning. we decided book a taxi. For two of us, we spent just over $100 (*exchange rate = 75 yen to 1 USD). A slightly cheaper option could be pack an extra change of clothes in your carry on, send your luggage to your hotel from the airport and then take the train. This is what we did on the way back and it cost about $50 to send our luggage (this included a one week storage fee) and about $10 for the train. The best advice of all would be to travel light and take the train. Traveling light in Japan has a lot of benefits which we will discuss in a future post.
The Japan Rail Pass
The other thing we made sure to do since we were tacking a week of vacation onto the end of our business travel was to get a Japan Rail Pass. If you are going to travel any distance in Japan where there is a JR Line, this is the way to go since trains can be expensive and this pass allows you to take unlimited rides on any JR train, bus and ferry with just a few exceptions. Usually with a round-trip journey from Tokyo to the Kansai area (ie. Osaka, Kyoto) you can get your moneys worth.
Since we booked our trip just over a week before our departure, I bought our passes from a Japanese travel agent, JTB so I could pick up the passes. I did not want to chance not being able to receive the passes in time. The nice thing about the pass is that it is not activated until you take it to one of the designated exchange centers and may be exchanged within three months of the purchase date.