I'm currently deep in the weeds planning for a Thanksgiving trip to Japan, where I'll soon get to experience Korean Air First Class, enjoy Toro for breakfast, and make some monkey friends. On this trip, I plan on starting in Fukuoka and making my way north through Kyoto, Nagano, and Tokyo. While I'm looking forward to the Shinkansen, I'm also quite interested in reviewing an intra-Japan flight with my eyes set on Japan Airlines or ANA, Japan's flagship and full-service carriers. As I began to research flight options, I quickly ran into a pricing discrepancy between fares posted domestically and Internationally.
The Challenge + Dilemna
For my intra-Japan flight, I decided to fly from Tokyo (TYO) to Fukuoka (FUK), and naturally, I turned to award travel options. As an American Airlines Executive Platinum member, I wanted to support Japan Airlines given their joint-venture and affiliation with Oneworld. The best method to redeem JAL award is via British Airways at 4,500 Avios points + $3 in taxes and fees. That's unbeatable and luckily, British Airways allows you to search JAL award space directly on ba.com.
However, there were a few inherent problems: 1. The new BA award booking tool has been recently updated from a clunky and temperamental tool - to an equally unintuitive tool with a new UX design. 2. JAL operates near hourly flights between Tokyo and Fukuoka, however, the search results simply would not display flights beyond 2:10PM and I was hoping to book a 7PM departure from Tokyo-Narita (NRT). And 3. BA only has access to Economy Class seating on intra-Japan routes, and I was hoping to try out First Class.
The Alternative Option
Out of curiosity, I turned to Google Flights to price out the ticket. After a quick search, I discovered a one-way flight on JAL for just $84, which was great and figured I could use the mileage too, even if I booked in Economy.
I proceeded to JAL's US website to complete the booking and discovered the price had jumped from $84 to $365.67! I was in utter and complete shock. I'm not the most technically savvy person but it was clear the API between JAL and Google Flights was pulling the fare from another source, so, I was determined to do a little investigating.
I am a big fan of Google Flights and find it to be the best tool for finding the best fares across the web. I knew the system discrepancy was likely caused from JAL's side, which led me to my hypothesis: the system was likely pulling the fare from another part of JAL's website. So, I decided to enter the site from their main page at www.jal.com, rather than their US site at www.ar.jal.com/arl/ja.
After plugging in my travel dates, I discovered the fare class and fare listed below at ¥9,540 or $84, and for an additional ¥700, I was able to upgrade to First Class for a grand total of ¥10,240. I was able to successfully complete the booking and will be crediting the flight to my American Airlines AAdvantage account.
While just speculation, my first instinct tells me this particular fare, the TOKUBIN21 fare class, is likely a promotional fare intended for people living in Japan. According to the fare rules, this is an advanced fare which must be reserved at least 21 days before departure and void of any changes, cancellation, etc.
The second possibility is that Google Flights is plugged into one global API, pulling fares from JAL's central fare system versus their regional system.
A final guess for the discrepancy (since I enjoy sets of 3) is for tax and international currency purposes. It's likely fares between different country regions will need to vary, except the Google Flights tool does not have your origin country.
All-in-all, I'm thrilled to be flying in JAL's domestic First Class on a fare that saved me over $265 by using a simple trick. What this tells me is that airlines will likely post more attractive fares on their domestic website than regional ones, which is a worth a try the next time you're flying with a foreign carrier.