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When traveling long distances in Japan, airplanes are usually more convenient than bullet trains. This article introduces the features of nine Japanese domestic airlines. Read on to learn more about their prices and unique services.
Transportation fees comprise a significant portion of your total expenses when taking a trip.
Maybe you're thinking of traveling from Tokyo to Osaka by Shinkansen (bullet train). However, a one-way fare for reserved seating can cost as much as 15,000 yen.
At times like this, we'd like to suggest air travel as a viable option. For example, a one-way fare to Osaka on a low-cost carrier (LCC) can sometimes be less than 5,000 yen!
This article introduces the unique features of Japan's three leading airlines and six low-cost carriers (referred to as LCCs from here).
When you mention Japanese domestic flights, Japan Airlines (JAL), All Nippon Airways (ANA), and SKYMARK Airlines usually come to mind. These three major airline companies operate travel routes throughout the country and offer many flights daily.
The one-way fare can cost 10,000 to 20,000 yen more than for LCC trips.
However, these major airlines offer superb services, including food, beverages, and amenities. There's even in-flight entertainment, such as movies and music. Seating is also more spacious than in LCCs, so passengers can relax and enjoy their flight.
First, let's look at the services, air fare, and differences among these three major airlines.
Japan Airlines (JAL) is Japan's oldest airline company. Their total number of passengers on domestic and international flights ranks top among Japanese airlines. JAL is also well known overseas.
Domestic flights operate from Haneda, Narita, Itami, and Kansai Airport.
JAL also offers a first come, first serve (sakitoku) early reservation discount. Use this service to save money on your air ticket after finalizing travel plans.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) is another airline that many are familiar with. It ranks second in terms of the number of domestic flights in Japan.
Domestic flights are operated by the hub airports of Haneda, Narita, Itami, and Kansai Airport. With these four airports at the core, ANA continues to expand its major domestic routes. As of now, they operate a total of 136 routes.
Similar to JAL, ANA offers an early bird discount called ANA SUPER VALUE. Depending on seating availability, you can purchase your ticket at a very low price.
SKYMARK Airlines is Japan's third largest airline company. Since international destinations are limited to Saipan and the Republic of Palau, it's not well-known outside of Japan. However, it remains a favorite among air travelers.
Ticket prices are cheaper than the two airlines mentioned above but more expensive than LCCs. For this reason, it's referred to as a middle-cost carrier.
SKYMARK's seating is the same size as JAL and ANA, and in-flight service includes complimentary coffee and a KitKat chocolate bar. We recommend SKYMARK for those looking to save money but expect a reasonable level of service.
SKYMARK operates flights to all parts of Japan, spanning from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Haneda Airport and Kobe Airport serve as the hub airports.
In addition to the three major airlines, there are LCCs (low-cost carriers) and regional airlines. Some regional airlines also operate code-sharing flights (*1) in cooperation with JAL and ANA.
Compared with major airlines, LCC seats are smaller and charge customers for in-flight food services. Another disadvantage is that LCC flights usually leave late at night and early in the morning, with a minimal number of daytime departures.
In addition to ticket prices that are considerably lower than major airlines, LCCs and regional carriers frequently run discount sale campaigns. Each of these carriers also features unique services.
Next, we'll look at the features of six Japanese LCCs and regional airline companies.
*1 Code-sharing flight: an aviation practice in which two airlines share the same flight operated by a single airline company.
Spring Japan, formerly known as Shunju Airlines, is a Chinese LCC and presently a subsidiary of Japan Airlines.
In Japan, Narita Airport serves as its hub and operates three domestic routes: Narita to Sapporo, Narita to Hiroshima, and Narita to Saga.
Spring Japan is the only carrier among LCCs and regional airlines that flies to Hiroshima. After choosing a suitable flight plan that fits your pocketbook, let's enjoy some air travel!
Jetstar is a popular airline with a large number of domestic and international routes. It's also a subsidiary of JAL.
Compared to other LCCs, Jetstar operates out of many hubs, including Narita Airport, Kansai Airport, and Chubu Centrair International Airport. There are also many major routes from Narita to Kansai Airport.
In addition to its unique services, Jetstar is known for being affordable and safe. Its convenient mobile boarding pass—a first among domestic LCCs—lets passengers make a reservation, book their ticket, and check-in all at once using a Jetstar app.
Peach Aviation is recognizable by its colorful pink airplanes. It's a subsidiary of ANA and the largest domestic LCC.
It has routes from major cities to remote islands and regional cities such as Niigata and Matsuyama. This unique airline company offers many flights daily and is based out of Kansai International Airport (Osaka). This explains the Osaka-ben (dialect) greeting of "Okini" upon landing at destinations.
With its affordable prices, Peach is popular among business travelers and international visitors in western Japan.
AIR DO is an airline that connects airports in Hokkaido with the greater Tokyo area.
Regarding price, AIR DO is positioned between major airlines and other LCCs. In addition to Hokkaido's largest airport, New Chitose Airport, flights operate from all Hokkaido cities to Haneda Airport. These cities include Hakodate, Asahikawa, Obihiro, and Kushiro.
Some residents in Hokkaido's outlying areas have suggested that it might be faster to fly to Tokyo's Haneda Airport than head to Hokkaido's biggest city of Sapporo.
Additionally, AIR DO has formed a capital tie-up with ANA. So if you buy an ANA ticket bound for Hokkaido, there's a high probability that you'll be able to board an AIR DO aircraft.
Solaseed Air is a Kyushu airline company. Haneda and Naha Airports are its hub airports.
Solaseed Air operates routes from Tokyo to Kyushu (excluding Fukuoka and Saga). It also flys from Okinawa to Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya, and Kyushu (excluding Nagasaki, Saga, Oita, and Kumamoto).
Compared to other LCCs, Solaseed Air offers superior in-flight services with complimentary beverages. We recommend Solaseed for business trips and travels to and from the Kyushu area.
STAR FLYER has impressive black airplanes. Kitakyushu Airport in Fukuoka Prefecture serves as its hub. Tickets cost less than other airlines but more than LCCs.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, STAR FLYER operated an international route from Kitakyushu to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. The main domestic routes are Haneda Airport to Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Yamaguchi-Ube, and airports in the Kansai Region.
STAR FLYER also offers a unique service unavailable on other domestic airlines. Passengers can board the plane with their pet (cats and dogs). Pet owners will be delighted by this convenient service.
Using ANA as an example, passengers can check in online from 24 hours up to 75 minutes before their departure time. Regarding final check-in, passengers can check in 30 minutes before departure if they go directly to the counter. Boarding will be ten minutes before takeoff.
Some LCCs, however, require passengers to check in and board the plane earlier.
Even when flying with JAL or ANA, you might experience delays due to traffic congestion or accidents when heading to the airport. It's best to plan arriving an hour before your departure time.
When boarding a domestic LCC flight, please be aware of luggage weight restrictions. Most airlines have these restrictions. Each passenger is allowed two pieces of carry-on luggage with a total weight of 7 kilograms or less.
Passengers with lots of luggage should check them at the counter ahead of time to ensure they're within the required limit.
We've introduced various airline companies in this article, but comparing each of their costs is time-consuming.
For code-sharing flights, the price can vary depending on the airline reservation site—even for the same flight.
In these cases, our writer recommends Skyticket for MATCHA readers. Skyticket will automatically look up and compare prices from various reservation sites for you. It's easy and convenient to use, so please give it a try!
Many visitors to Japan travel around the country by train or highway bus as these transportation means are very efficient. However, in many cases, air travel is less expensive and time-saving!
By booking your ticket early and taking advantage of discount options, you'll be able to visit additional places and make your trip more enjoyable.
All pictures courtesy of PIXTA