Maybe the trickiest part of any budget trip to Japan is getting there in the first place. I live in London, so Tokyo is at the very least twelve hours away – but over five years I’ve found a few tricks for getting there cheaply. This page is updated regularly with the latest deals, and below that more general information on flying in.
The cancellation of Virgin Atlantic’s service from London to Tokyo Narita seems to have had little impact on cheap fares. As usual, flights in October are good value: as little as £500 for Heathrow to Narita if you’re prepared to take a nearly 20 hour route via Etihad, or around the £570 mark for more reasonable routes (Lufthansa via Germany, for instance) – and some of the same rates can be found midweek in September, too. As usual, the summer holidays skew prices up in August – you’re looking at £750 or more on almost any day.
If you’d rather avoid Tokyo, there are a few good rates to Fukuoka via KLM in late October – a 15 hour trip via Amsterdam for around £520. You might also spot a £525 rate from London to Osaka KIX, but beware – it’s a 30+ hour haul via India and Hong Kong.
Getting Cheap Tickets
The cost of plane tickets from London to Japan is very seasonal, with sharp peaks in school holidays. I’ve found March to May and October to be often well priced, with prices occasionally ducking under £500 if you book a few months in advance. I’ll always list the latest deals at the top of this page.
As always, taking a non-direct route will often be cheaper than a direct one. Changing planes in Europe (Lufthansa flies to Haneda from Munich, and there are several Paris to Tokyo options) can get the price down, and I’ve also found Korean Air services to Incheon (Seoul), then a change there, to be a cheap way into smaller Japanese airports.
Where to Arrive
Japan’s biggest international airport is Narita, just outside Tokyo. It’s a busy two-terminal airport, serving mostly international flights but a few domestic ones too. The quickest way into the city is the Narita Express (NEX) train, which serves both Tokyo and Shinjuku stations – but it’s expensive, and has reserved seats only. For a cheaper trip there’s the Keisei railway, which has stops interchanging with several subway lines and runs all the way to Ueno.
Narita’s fine, but given the option I’d always fly into Haneda for Tokyo. It’s older, but located right in the bay, so getting into Tokyo is as easy as jumping on the monorail, which runs right from the terminals to Hamamatsuchou, where you can change onto the Yamanote line. It’s also the bigger hub for domestic flights – both JAL and ANA run dozens of services from the domestic terminal.
Other airports served internationally include Kansai International (KIX), just east of Osaka, and Fukuoka, Kyushu, which is now reachable both via Korea and a direct KLM service from Amsterdam. Fukuoka airport is right in the city, with a direct subway link. Note that Kansai International is relatively poorly served by domestic flights (which go from the old Osaka airport at Itami). Unless you can make your connection via the low-cost line Peach, I’d go via Tokyo Haneda instead.