6 Things You Need to Know about Making Travel Plans to Japan
So you’ve decided to make the journey to go to Tokyo Disney Resort? Excellent! First read our guide for first timers. Then comes time to lock down those plans and book your trip.
For some people, travel planning is an exhilarating experience complete with the thrill of hitting that “confirm” button as they charge hundreds or thousands of dollars in flights and hotels to their credit card. For others, it’s a daunting task that leaves a lump in their throats and their hands quivering because it’s all so stressful.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, here is some advice for booking your journey to Japan!
1. You don’t have to fly in to Narita.
While most people tend to think of Narita – the sprawling international airport on the far eastern edge of Tokyo – as the main point of entry to Japan, there are other options worth looking at just to be sure you’re getting the best deal.
Using the airport code TYO when using sites like Kayak or Expedia will not only fetch results for flights to Narita (NRT) but also for the other international airport in Tokyo – Haneda (HND). Air Canada, British Airways, Delta, Cathay Pacific, United Airlines and JAL are just some of the major carriers offering flights to Haneda in addition to Narita, and sometimes these can go on sale. There are regular limousine bus services which operate transfers to Tokyo Disney Resort from the airport.
If Tokyo Disney Resort is part of a bigger trip to Japan, Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka might also be an airport you want to check prices on. While Osaka is about 2.5 hours away from Tokyo Station by Shinkansen, it could be a great alternative if you had plans to also buy a Japan Rail Pass to travel across the country. Air France, Air India, Alitalia, Jetstar, KLM and Lufthansa are some of the carriers which offer regular service to Osaka, making it a great option for visitors from Australia and Europe. Also, while in Osaka, you might want to make a detour to visit Universal Studios Japan!
2. Set up a price alert.
It’s not easy keeping tabs on flight prices. They fluctuate day-to-day, hour to hour, even minute to minute. While many people become frustrated with this irregularity, the reality is the airline industry sets fares based on supply, demand, and proximity to the date of departure. Each airline has a complex formula they use to determine these prices, and while some websites will tell you there’s a magic number of days to book your flights in advance, the reality is you can never be sure when you’re getting the best deal. It takes a leap of faith to hit that buy button.
One of the best ways I’ve been able to set my mind at ease is with data. The more information you have at your fingertips, the better equipped you are to make a decision. Flight price alerts are the answer to this, and thankfully the travel booking site Kayak (which has both an app and a website) can keep you in the loop. Both versions of the travel booking site will allow you to set price watches for specific routes and dates. If you’re using the mobile app, you can receive notifications on your phone or tablet daily with the latest price for the route. The website will send you a daily e-mail with the same information.
While you might have no intention of booking your flight using the Kayak app, it provides a great way to track valuable data to make sure you’re getting the best price for the flight you want to take.
3. Keep an open mind on airlines.
We all have our “preferred” airlines. Maybe it’s because we are a part of their loyalty program, or our credit card gives us points toward flying with one airline over another. However, being open to other airlines can save you money, and possibly give you a better routing to get to Japan.
If you’re afraid of not earning those frequent flier miles on a long-haul flight like one to Tokyo, fear not. Even if your preferred airline is more expensive than the least expensive options, you can always look to fly with one of their alliance partners and (likely) still earn your points. Check the list of member airlines for the Star Alliance, oneworld, and SkyTeam global networks to see if your preferred carrier is included.
4. Read the details when booking hotels.
If you’re staying off-resort, many major Japanese hotel chains like Hearton, Chisun, APA and Hotel MyStays all sell rooms on English booking sites like Expedia. As a result, booking your rooms are not much more complicated than booking a stay in North America or Europe. However, take time to read the room descriptions carefully so as to not be disappointed with what you get. All four of the chains I mentioned provide exceptional accommodations, although you will find rooms are smaller than what you’d expect to find from American chains like Hilton or Sheraton.
If you have your heart set on staying at Disney’s Ambassador Hotel, Disney’s Hotel Miracosta or the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, you will need to make your booking on the Tokyo Disney Resort website. An English reservation system is available, but does take some patience to use as the format it uses to ask for information (like your address) is unusual and require some patience. Also, read carefully – prices are quoted in yen.
When you arrive at the resort hotels, be sure to bring the credit card you made the booking with. It needs to have a properly working magnetic stripe in order for you to checked in.
5. Budget for trains.
Tokyo is a sprawling city with so much to see and do outside the resort. But unlike visiting the parks in Anaheim or Florida, renting a car really isn’t an option and cabs are very expensive. You can take tour buses to some places, but the reality is you’ll be spending a lot of time using trains to get around.
Japanese trains are fast, efficient, and economical. There’s a reason they’re so crowded – they get you where you need to go in very short periods of time. And while they are “economical,” they still do come at a price.
Because the cost of traveling through the Tokyo area can vary wildly, it’s hard to give a precise dollar figure on what to expect to pay. Using a site like Google Maps will let you plan out trips from one part of the city to another and see the transit fare for it (by clicking on the transit button.)
For example, a one way trip from Tokyo Disney Resort to Shinjuku Station costs ¥390, while the shorter route of TDR to the Odaiba shopping and entertainment district can cost ¥430 one way (this is because one of the train lines you’ll use is operated by a private train operator which charges a higher fee.)
I typically budget about ¥2,000 for a day of travel around Tokyo. This is mitigated somewhat by buying a Japan Rail Pass which allows unlimited travel on all trains in the country operated by JR Rail. This does not include non-JR rail systems like those run by Odakyū, Seibu, Keisei or many other companies.
However, I’d only advise in purchasing the Rail Pass only if you plan to travel outside Tokyo at all. A 7-day pass costs US$255, which would mean in order for it to pay for itself you need to spend at least ¥3600 on trains per day. A roundtrip journey to Osaka from Tokyo on the Shinkansen makes the pass pay for itself, but if that’s not in your plans then you’re better off paying for the trains as you go.
If you choose to buy the Japan Rail Pass, you need to do so before leaving for Japan. You can order it online.
6. Overwhelmed? Work with a travel agent.
This is supposed to be a holiday, right?
While the Internet has turned us in to DIY travel know-it-all, not everyone is comfortable with the technology.
If you feel the least bit hesitant about making bookings online, make contact with a reputable travel agent in your community. Interview them and find out how much they know about international travel – and specifically travel to Japan.
This doesn’t mean you should be completely hands off in the booking process. Keep watch on price alerts, and if you see a good deal come up, give your agent a call to see if they can make the booking for you.
A little planning goes a long way in making for an enjoyable trip – and there’s no reason not to be excited about going to the Tokyo Disney Resort!
If you’re looking for more general trip planning advice, be sure to check out my blog. I’ve written a few articles on the topic – and will be adding more as time marches on!
Agreed! I think #1 is especially important because often the flights into Narita from the West Coast don’t arrive in time for you to make the last limo bus of the day to TDR. Next time, we’ll probably fly into Haneda. I also like how you pointed out that the Japan Rail Pass is not for everyone. I can’t tell you how many times people asked us if we were getting these, and I had to explain how they didn’t make sense for a trip spent exclusively in Tokyo.
Haneda is beginning to become better and better with international flights. Which was not the case a few years ago. We have told people the same thing where the Rail Pass is not worth it if you are just sticking to one area and not taking the Shinkansen. Thank you so much for reading!