Since I started making the trip to Japan a somewhat usual thing, my dad and I have become quite skilled at hunting for low fares online. It really is a mixed bag, though. I won’t recommend any singular site, since it constantly changes. I have had luck with asia.com, atiflights.com, and airlineconsolidator.com. I know they aren’t the big guys like expedia or travelocity, but the price of airfare is contingent on many, many different factors other than what website you’re buying your tickets from. Heck, one time I even bought my tickets directly from Delta and it was the cheapest out of every site I’d been to. You really really have to do your homework.
I’ve decided that it’s time that I share these things with you guys, so you too can learn to travel like a pro! I guess I’ll include some general travel tips in here, too. I’ve gotten really good at packing (although not on this particular flight. I wanted to bring back some shampoo that I can’t buy in Japan so I had to check my bag. remember: no liquids above 3 oz.! I also packed an extra set of sheets and some new jeans – talk about bulky.)
When you travel (especially internationally) Its important to keep in mind these things:
★ How far in advance you book your ticket. If it’s too far ahead or too soon, you may end up paying more. Sometimes you can get deals by booking at the last minute because the flight isn’t full and the airline wants as many people on a flight as they can fit. It’s cost-effective. The more people they can shove into their flying cigar cans = less flights = less gas money. Basically all of the airlines in the U.S. are bankrupt or close to it, which is why they’ve resorted to treating people like… well.. cargo. Remember, you can’t always be guaranteed deals at the last minute, so if you can, always ALWAYS ALWAYS book ahead of time.
★ Buy round-trip tickets. It’s always cheaper to get round-trip tickets. I cannot stress this enough, people. I could get a one-way ticket to Japan for $1800 and stay indefinitely, but since I know when I can take my vacation days, and my family does SO enjoy it when I come home, I book my return flight super far ahead in advance for only $1300. I guess if you don’t want to go back home go ahead and get your one way ticket – we don’t want to see you again anyway. (I kid, I kid.) If you don’t know when you’ll be coming back, just take a good guess and you can always call your airline and have it changed (well.. for a fee, of course.)
★ What day & time you book your flight for. If you can help it, don’t book your flight on a weekend, a Friday or a Monday. Especially between 8 and 11. Go for the middle of the week at a weird time, like… 7:20 AM on a Tuesday morning. Yeah I know it’s early, but it will save you the hassle of trying to make your way through snaking security lines, and the nameless rabble of human cargo wandering throughout the terminals. Also, airport bathrooms are super clean at 6:00 in the morning. Even at JFK!
★ The number of connecting flights and the times between them. Sometimes airfares are cheaper if you agree to get tossed around for a bit. For example: You can take a flight from New York to Minneapolis, then to Portland and THEN to Tokyo. If you are into doing this, remember that some airports are MASSIVE and you need time to navigate from gate to gate. If you are making a connecting flight in any major hub (Chicago-O’Hare, Atlanta, DFW, JFK, LAX…. etc.) make sure you have at LEAST two hours between connecting flights. The flight I just made would be a perfect example of what not to do: I booked a flight to Tokyo with a one hour layover in Dallas-Ft. Worth. We arrived at ten till 9 and we didn’t make it off of the plane until 9:30. THEN I had to make my way around to the opposite end of DFW on the little train to the right terminal. I ended up having to run to my gate. If I had gotten lost (thank goodness I didn’t) I’d have totally missed my flight. By the time I found my seat and called my dad to let him know I’d made it to the gate, we were already starting to taxi the runway.
★ You don’t really need to take all of that crap on the plane. I mean you really don’t. You can barely get at it if you fly in coach – what, with all of that spacious one foot of leg room and a seat mate who is four times your size. Take a good book (or magazine) your iPod and ONLY absolute necessities (like prescriptions, eyeglasses, tampons, cell phone, whatevs.) You can always buy stuff whenever you get to where you’re going. I don’t think you’ll need to re-apply your lipgloss 50x on your 15 hour flight, chiquita, sorry, but you’ll be just as grody and disgusting as the rest of us once that recycled air gets into your pores. If you ABSOLUTELY must have it, put it in your checked bag, like if you want to follow my bad example of stuffing your favorite shampoo into your already overstuffed luggage. Just wait to buy it there. That way you can lighten your load, and not worry about liquids while you go through the TSA lines or anything potentially leaking all over your checked bag.
★ I guess as far as airline food goes, American Airlines had the best. We had pizza (which was actually really really good) and Thai Chicken & rice with ginger carrots. United would come in second – they gave us instant ramen for the “light snack” on my first trip to Japan. I forget what we had, but I definitely didn’t find it disagreeable. Northwest’s food was comparable to United’s and.. well.. Delta’s food was just.. unappetizing at best. Just take some breakfast bars or something on the plane. Since it’s such a long flight, it’s hard to not eat anything.. but some of that airline food man… it’s gross, but you HAVE to eat something on that 12 hour flight.
★ Bring a scarf, sweater or hooded sweatshirt to wear on the plane. It gets super cold when you're 36000 feet above the Bering Sea. Also, wear something comfortable. I mean, you don’t have to look like a total piece of trash (I.e. your dirty old UGGs and sweats that are cut up beyond recognition. We aren’t going to go cheat on our Soc001 test at PSU, ladies. This is international travel. Who knows who you’ll meet? You need to look comfortably gorgeous.). I wore a dress made of cotton jersey, black leggings and a cardigan sweater. I brought along my fringed square scarf for extra warmth and black flats because they are easy to slip on and off at security checkpoints. I guess the other thing not to wear (besides your gross boots and massacred sweatpants) would be any super conspicuous jewelry or accessories. There’s a pretty good chance if you go around flashing your Fendi luggage and aren’t super reverent over it it’ll get stolen. Especially at a place like JFK… wretched hive of scum and villainy.
★ So far, I’ve flown on United, Northwest, Delta and American Airlines to Japan. I’ve joined all the frequent flier programs and somehow I still don’t have enough miles to do anything worthwhile. I guess I just haven’t flown around the world enough times to be deserving of redeeming award travel yet. I guess it’s a good idea to join, though. It makes check-in easy and also if you need to change your reservations and you booked through a third party (like… expedia or orbitz) it makes things slightly easier. You can also sign up for up-to-date flight notifications, that can be sent right to your phone, just in case they decide to change the time of departure or just completely cancel on you. Remember – these companies are all basically bankrupt and they will do ANYTHING to save a dollar. Even straight up lie to you and say the weather is bad in order to cancel a not-full flight to Pittsburgh so they can throw you on standby in the morning *cough*Delta*cough*. Also, if you do end up missing a flight or need to like.. re-book or whatever, think about making fights with more than one connection. It’s an easy way to rack up your miles and re-enact the John Candy classic: “Trains, Planes, and Automobiles.”
★ Be nice to your flight attendants. Say “Please” and “Thank you.” They appreciate it!!
Finally, use your good common sense, be safe, stay hydrated, don’t overpack, if you can help it avoid JFK (have you noticed I don’t like that airport?) and O’Hare (not at peak travel times, anyway) at all costs, and most importantly, have fun. Traveling is fun! You’re up in the sky! How many times do you get to fly like a bird?! You get an awesome view, you get to sample the rare delicacies of airplane food, flip through the duty free catalogs, watch the in-flight movies and TV shows. kick back, take your shoes off, put that tray table down and recline your seat! It’s gonna be a good flight!