Haneda Airport Tokyo 8

Flights to Japan: The Crazy Post-Covid Prices

⏱ 6 minutes

As the economic world is worrying about inflation since the beginning of 2022, prospective travelers have been hit by how extraordinarily expensive flight tickets to Japan have become, especially since the recovery of tourism in the archipelago. Some prices have even doubled compared to pre-Covid 🦠 times!

Whereas in 2019, you could easily find direct flight costing from 800 to 900€, now you are lucky to find one below 1,200€ round-trip from Europe. We've observed that, it has become increasingly more frequent to find flight tickets upwards of 2,000€, a price that used to be reserved for a Premium Economy seat.

As tourism in Japan resumed, travelers now fall 🍁 into 2 categories:

  • Those who want to make the most of the advantageous fares they got thanks to our advice of booking or postponing their flights before the reopening announcements since spring; and,
  • The others, who, understandably, have waited for Prime Minister Kishida’s speech on September 22 to rush buy their tickets, and discover the new expensive prices.

💸 Why are flight tickets so expensive?

There are several concurrent reasons behind the price uptick.

💣 War in Ukraine

Shortly after the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict in early 2022, Russian airspace has become a no-fly zone for commercial aircrafts.

Formerly, since the Earth is round, planes flew over Siberia for a shorter route passing near the North Pole. Ever since the outbreak, planes must fly tracing the southern route resulting in a longer flying time. Therefore:

  • A flight from Paris to Japan could last 11h30 to 13hours, depending on the direction and the strength of the winds;
  • Now flying time is longer by 2 hours, namely 13h30 to 15 hours in the plane ✈️ to go to Tokyo and that's if it's a direct flight.

Such modifications involve recruiting more on-board staff, with a logical increase in paid staff, as well as an additional expense for fuel.

⛽️ Rise of kerosene prices

Moreover, about ~15% additional quantity of fuel is necessary to fly, while the kerosene prices is deeply impacted by inflation.

Thus, 1 U.S. gallon of kerosene has fluctuated over time:

  • It cost slightly less than 2$ between late 2017 and early 2020 (very good years for tourism in Japan);
  • It dropped to 0,6$ in April 2020, when the lock-downs were at their peak;
  • It exceeded 4$ in early summer 2022!

Note that, it is 100 % increase between the pre-Covid period and Japan's tourism recovery, a cost that naturally airlines passed on to their customers.

🔥 Explosive demand and diminishing supply

Since the announcement of Japan’s full reopening on October 11, 2022, and aside from the short period where a chaperon guide was mandatory this summer, there is a sense of urgency: many already have or are going to complete their re-scheduling of their trip to Japan, to discover or return to this fascinating country.

Currently two types of travelers are trying to book tickets:

  • The "last minute" type who already have or will take off:
    • On the day of the reopening (there were more than expected!)
    • During the autumn school vacation (last week of October and first of November)
    • On the second half of November and early December, to enjoy the red maple trees’ foliage
    • Or during the year end holidays.
  • The "2023" who are waiting for more interesting periods:
    • The blooming cherry trees in late March, early April;
    • May, after the Golden Week, and before the rainy season tsuyu ☔️;
    • Summer, especially families who don’t have other choices for their yearly holidays, or for 3 to 4 weeks trips; and,
    • Even next fall to prepare in advance.

The surge in demand and the still relatively low number of available flights trigger the airlines’ yield management system which results in overpriced fares.

It is even more important as airlines have lost revenue over the past 2 years, with long-haul flights and flights to Japan in particular. They are now trying to compensate for their loss in revenue.

📊 Will the price of flight ticket decrease in the future?

Obviously, no one knows the answer to this question.

😥 No improvement in sight

It seems there is little hope of improvement regarding the 3 critical points explained above.

The war in Ukraine is lasting, even bogging down, and the nuclear threat seems more imminent than an actual settlement, at least on short or middle term.

Kerosene prices have been decreasing since July, however, nobody knows what the future holds, especially with other threats looming:

  • The possible financial recession affecting many leading nations
  • The risk of a real estate crisis in the United States and in China, or of a more systemic crisis looming according to the most pessimistic experts
  • The possible outbreak of diplomatic conflicts: Taiwan vs China, North Korea and its missile launches...

The frequency of flights between Japan connecting Western countries are on the rise, but at an annoyingly slow pace and the airlines, who are short of cash-flow, may do it cautiously.

Furthermore, there is no indication that they would lower their prices as long as their flights are full. As for discounts, they can be considered at the moment as beautiful memories of better times.

🧑‍🏫 Advice for purchasing flights to Japan in 2022 and 2023

It seems unrealistic to wait hoping that prices return to their previous levels. At best, they should stabilize or slightly decrease.

Admittedly, Chinese tourists (previously the third of the international travelers contingent in Japan) are barred from leaving their countries for traveling, at least until spring 🌸 2023.

Admittedly, many other Asian countries cannot take the opportunity of the Yen 💴’ weakness as their own currencies remain quite weak.

In the meantime, Westerners have quickly and broadly regained their willingness to go to Japan. The demand is far from letting up and it's even possible that the spurt in tourism will quickly overtake 2019 figures.

To quench your thirst for Japan without going bankrupt because of logistical costs, there are several solutions.

1️⃣ Naturally, first and foremost, check the days prior and after the desired travel dates. Some days offer more affordable prices and can help saving big by just adding or reducing 1 or 2 days on the length of the trip. As usual, make sure to avoid the weekends, school holidays and the peak touristic periods in Japan.

2️⃣ Then, give up the habit of booking multi-destinations flights, such as your airport-Tokyo / Osaka-your airport. What was a cost-saving tip has now become one of the most expensive choices! Consider primarily buying a simple round-trip flight and combine it with the unavoidable JR Pass.

3️⃣ Also, avoid last minute purchase, as prices seem to increase when the departure date is nearing. Flight companies seem to capitalize on travelers’ new behavior of delaying their purchase in fear that Japan closes again (which is unlikely).

4️⃣ As before, flights with stopover(s) offer cost-saving flight tickets. However, with the new flight itineraries, the total flying time is longer and it is not unusual to have 20 hour long flights for only one way. If you choose a flight with a layover, don’t forget to pack your patience...

5️⃣ Pay attention to the options! Checked baggage, that was usually included in long-haul flight prices, is now surprisingly a paying option, the same for choosing a seat in the aircraft. So check details carefully when booking! In the same vein, make sure to study the conditions for modifying / canceling the flight depending on the circumstances.

6️⃣ Lastly, if meta-search engines / flight comparators (such as Skyscanner) offer a great overview of the preliminary search, it is often more interesting to directly book on the airline's website, to avoid commissions and benefit from the best options.

Have a nice flight!

Updated on August 21, 2023 Le prix délirant des vols Japon post-Covid