I know a number of people who would love to come to Japan, even if just for a short trip, but they don’t. There are several reasons for that but one that usually comes up more than others is money. Japan is an expensive country. Obviously, exactly how expensive it is to you depends on where you are from and how the prices are in your country, but it was not for nothing that Tokyo is usually named as one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Now, if you are not staying in Tokyo (or any other major area) you will find that many things are much more affordable all of a sudden. As for me, I was shocked to see watermelons almost ten times the price I was used to, even though they seem to be an important part of the summer culture in Japan. I found that many items in the supermarket seem to be much more expensive than I would have imagined, turning grocery shopping into a real test of patience. And as a German, don’t get me started on the price of beer.
Now, as a student, me and my friends actually gathered information about how and where you can save money, while still enjoying a nice trip to Japan. For all the people whose only reasons not to go to Japan are the costs, and for those who just want to know how to save some Yen here and there I have put together this guide. Obviously I am not omniscient so I would actively encourage people who have other or better tips to post a comment! Also, please note that while most prices are actually in Yen or in Euro, I estimated in dollars to avoid confusion.
In this series we will cover how to visit Japan on a budget that everyone can afford. Our first topic is how to find discount airline tickets.
PART 1: The flight
Let’s step back for a moment, back to before we are actually in Japan. You will find that most of the money saving process actually happens outside of Japan. Depending on where you live, a flight to Japan might not only be very long, but also very expensive. A two-way ticket might cost more than $1000 in some places and that is probably a low estimate. Though there are always airlines with a lesser reputation that might offer cheaper tickets, that might not always be an option. I myself am terrified of flying in the first place, so I always make sure to book a good company. Well how do we save money then?
I actually went to Japan and back for just around $500, and that includes the way to and from all airports, with a pretty decent company and only a few hours of waiting between flights. The key here is to find a website for your region that will announce unusually cheap tickets resulting from unusual connections or error fares. Error fares are mostly tickets that are miscalculated due to an error on the website or in the offer. While some of these fares are incredibly cheap (ten dollars for a several hour flight) the company might refund you instead of actually giving you the ticket if the price was too low. But a lot of people have gotten away with it, so you should definitely keep it in mind.
Other tickets sometimes come cheap if the first and the last airport are not the same. In my example, I flew from Amsterdam over Rome to Japan, and from Japan over Rome to Budapest. And that made my flight incredibly cheap (around $420). Even with the connections to Amsterdam and from Budapest I have to say it was a pretty sweat deal. And these tickets were available a few more times after that. Though you could find these fares and tickets yourself if you are willing to check all the airlines or search engines regularly, but I would advise you to search the Internet for a website that will report these flights for your general area. For all the Germans or German speaking Europeans out there, check out exbir.de and urlaubspiraten.de
Plan your trip a few months in advance. It also helps a lot if you are flexible on time. For example, if you want to go to Japan for two weeks, considering a bigger time-frame (for example, two months) might actually help you to find a cheaper ticket. That obviously means that you can not plan anything else until you got your ticket, but if you plan in advance you should still have enough time left. For our example, we are booking the flights that I mentioned above.
Money used: $500
Now we have a flight, but where are we going to stay? In our next article we will discuss budget friendly accommodation options.