Japan is a notoriously expensive destination in which to travel but after coming across an unmissable deal on flights came along we couldn’t say no and were determined to make it work. The schedule would be fast paced, the travel time would be extended more than we’d like but even with extra travel plans in place and accommodation booked, we’ve still come in under the budget of the cheapest return tickets for two people from the UK to Japan which means we now have more money to put towards pricey Shinkansen passes and drinks at the Robot bar!
Here’s how we did it.
It all began with a Facebook post from Holiday Pirates, a company dedicated to finding the best deals in travel including mistake fares. We’d heard of mistake fares through various blogs and podcasts teaching the ways of travel hacking. Mistake fares are exactly how they sound. Airlines will accidentally post an incorrect price for an airline ticket which they don’t necessarily have to honour if you book it however rarely do people have problems.
We’ve seen people manage to get a long distance mistake fare for under £1. Now that’s crazy and hopefully one day we’ll be online at the exact moment those super-low deals appear but for now we settled for one which, although an amazing deal, is considerably higher!
The original Facebook post showed a potential low fare of £143 return. We opened the link in an incognito window on Google Chrome so that we avoided tracking cookies sent out by the booking site upping the price any more. If you don’t know what that means, a cookie is essentially a packet of data that a website will embed in your computer thereby ‘remembering’ what you’ve looked at previously. Travel sites can take advantage of this by raising a ticket price if they figure out you’re interested for example. This is the reason we do all travel booking in incognito windows on Chrome (you can use the equivalent on your browser) so there’s less chance of the booking site remembering us thus giving us more chance at finding a better price.
The price of the booking had already gone up to over £240 by the time we clicked the link. We refreshed in the hope the price went down again however it only went up. We refreshed a few more time until the price had gone down again (flight tickets vary wildly in price in the space of minutes due to demand etc.) We got to a point where we were happy with the price and started the booking process until… we realised we’d left our passports in our car!
Steve ran out to grab them and returned to find the price had gone up again. Chrome’s autofill feature came in really handy at this point. We realised that by the time we’d put in out passenger details the price had gone up again! Once Chrome remembered our basic details (name, address etc.) it was a simple case of copy/pasting passport numbers in. After at least an hour of refreshing and going through this process-the price for two tickets varying by up to £600 minute to minute- we managed to book our flights!
Two returns from Brussels – Madrid – Tokyo – Madrid – Frankfurt for £324! To put this in perspective, sale flights for one person go for around the same price and outside of the rare sales, tickets from London are at least £440 while most are around £600 meaning we saved anywhere from £500- £900. We jumped up in happiness. Our first successful mistake fare booking! Of course we now had to find a way to Brussels on the outbound journey and from Frankfurt on the return journey. We hadn’t checked whether we’d done the maths correctly, assuming that flights to these hubs of Europe would be cheap as so many Ryanair and Easyjet flights are.
After some research, we found the only airline flying to Brussels is Brussels Airlines however there is only one flight time and we couldn’t make it from work. We’d also have to travel to Brussels a day early as neither the Eurostar or the airline would get us there before our morning flight departed. We decided to go for the next cheapest for the day before which ended up being the Eurostar. £112 one way for two people.
So far, the total cost lay at £436.
The return journey also turned out to be problematic. The only real option was a flight with Lufthansa for the day after our flights from Japan got in for a total of £158.52. We’re really not sure how Frankfurt and Brussels both have such limited options being major centres of European commerce and government.
Now we could see the total for transport lay at £595.52.
You could argue that if we’d waited for a sale price from London we could have purchased more direct flights for around £20 more but who knows when a sale is going to come around.
We decided to arrange all our accommodation via AirBnB as the prices were far lower than hotels within the same areas. We wanted the personal experience too and our past AirBnB experiences have taught us that you really do get to see parts of a location you wouldn’t normally think of exploring. We’re also not a fan of dorms and a lot of places in Japan (especially the older places) don’t have bathrooms- you have to go to a nearby onsen (bathhouse). Screw that on a cold morning in the rain with a tight schedule!
Our first accommodation in Tokyo backs on to a tree lined canal with a rooftop view, is in the coffee/sumo wrestling district, close to Akihabara (famous electronics district) and handy metro stations. In Kyoto, we’re a little further from where we want to be but our host is offering free use of bicycles with which we can travel to the majority of the major sights in the city within ten minutes. In Nara, we’re staying right across from Nara park which is famous for the deer you can feed. Judging by some reviews on the AirBnB listing the deer are often right outside the apartment! Back in Tokyo for our last night in Japan we found a spot right in Shibuya. The place has a cool traditional yet modern style and due to the location (and rooftop view of Tokyo) it was slightly pricier however we had some credit from referrals so that bought the total to under a third of the price.
Total cost for accommodation is £300.
The total for transport to and from Japan and accommodation for both of us together totals at £895.32.
We’re pretty sure you could do it for a lot less using resources like house sitting or Couchsurfing, possibly waiting for an actual flight sale, and staying longer to reduce accommodation costs (the mistake fare wasn’t that flexible and neither were our holidays from work). The other factor is that we’re heading to Japan during the Autumnal Koyo period which can be just as busy as Sakura (Cherry Blossom season) in the Spring due to the stunning colour changes as the leaves turn all manner of rusty shades. Avoid a major festival period and your accommodation options will increase tenfold while the prices will fall.
Still, we found a damn good deal and in organising the trip we learned more and became more disciplined in our search tactics. And don’t forget, you can help us out by joining AirBnB for free via this link. You’ll get £25 credit and so will we.
We hope this gave you some idea of what to look out for and techniques by which you can get a better deal. Now it’s your turn. How much money can you shave off your costs?
Have you found a crazy cheap fare in the past or do you have any tips to share? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
Until next time, happy travels!