I (almost) banged the computer keyboard with frustration. I was trying to book the best flights for our long awaited family trip to Japan and I had already been searching flight options for over four hours! We had already thrashed out whether to fly direct or travel via South East Asia, but now it was a question of whether to use our Qantas Frequent Flyer points or to just pay for the flights.
We have just gone through the process to book our flights to Japan for our family holiday in September. After spending hours looking at multiple different flight options, including direct flights and routes via South East Asia we came up with a somewhat surprising conclusion. Our local Australian full price airline – ie. Qantas – actually had a pretty good deal!
Flying Time from Sydney to Tokyo
An advantage of choosing Qantas is that the trip consists of only a single flight each way of 10- 12 hours. By comparison the low cost carrier options which travel to Japan via Kuala Lumpur and Singapore each consisted of:
- a first flight of 8-10 hours from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia) or Singapore (Scoot), and
- a second flight of 8-10 hours to Tokyo (both airlines).
And repeat the process to return to Sydney. With the South East Asia options there is also the temptation to stop over for a few days, however as a family who can only current go on holiday during the school holidays and may only visit Japan once in our lives our preference is to maximise our time travelling in Japan itself.
Airfare Costs from Sydney to Tokyo
While the airfares were nominally a similar cost as the Qantas sale option, the low cost carriers also incur a lot of extra costs to add on meals and checked luggage etc, compared to the Qantas option where these items are all included. In addition, the low cost carriers also charge an extra fee to reserve particular seats – and some of them will not guarantee that your party will sit together unless you pay this extra fee. As parents of three young children aged 10, 9 and 6 the only option is for us to all sit together so we can appropriately supervise our children, so we inevitably pay the extra fee.
We managed to find airfares for the September school holiday period at a total cost of $A1250 each for the two adults, and $A996 each for each of our three children. Note that these prices include all taxes and additional charges. The flights we chose were direct on the outbound route, and via Brisbane on the inbound route.
The direct flights cost approximately $A400 more, but the advantage was that by booking the direct flight we are able to depart on the Friday evening straight after the school term ends, and arrive in Japan on the Saturday morning. The other options to save that $A400 meant that we wouldn’t be able to depart until the Saturday and we would lose a day in Japan. On the return trip we were happy to pay the lower amount to travel via Brisbane as it only added a few additional hours onto our return time.
With my husband’s work we are currently only able to travel during the peak school holiday periods, so inevitably we end up paying a higher price for airfares. I eye the cheap non-peak airfare options with envy on a regular basis… but those are our options at the moment, and I am looking forward to fast forwarding to four years’ time when my husband starts to be able to access some additional leave options which will then enable us to travel in non-peak periods…
Qantas Frequent Flyer Point Comparison
How Many Points Are Needed?
We are long-term members of the Qantas Frequent Flyer loyalty program, and accumulate points whenever we shop for groceries etc. Once we determined that Qantas was our preferred airline for our Japan trip, we decided to check whether there could be an option to use Qantas Frequent Flyer points for our trip.
I first checked our points balances (we each have a separate account), then looked up the Qantas Frequent Flyer points calculator and quickly determined that the number of points needed for a similar return trip to Tokyo was 68,000 points – we had enough points for one return flight to Tokyo. I always get frustrated by this points calculator as it cannot tell you how much the additional taxes and charges will cost, and they are usually a significant additional cost.
What is the ‘Real’ Value of the Qantas Frequent Flyer Points?
To determine the real cost of the fare you to first log in to your Qantas Frequent Flyer account, and then go through the booking process after selecting the ‘Search Qantas and Partner Classic Reward’ option to determine those extra fees. After spending yet more time searching I finally worked out that the total cost to book the similar frequent flyer point fare was 68,000 points plus additional taxes and charges of $A424. After deducting those fees from the $A1250 sale price we had identified means that $A826 was the residual cost of the fare, and therefore it would take 82 Qantas Frequent Flyer points to purchase $A1 of an equivalent airfare.
We often use our Qantas Frequent Flyer points to travel to Brisbane to visit family, so we decided to do a comparison to see what the relative value per point was for those trips. We similarly chose a representative flight and selected the ‘Search Qantas and Partner Classic Reward’ option, and then determined that a return flight from Sydney to Brisbane would cost 16,000 points plus $A65 in additional taxes and charges, in comparison to the competitive fares in the similar timeframe being a total of $A298. As a result the residual cost of the fare was $A233, and therefore it would take 54 Qantas Frequent Flyer points to purchase $A1 of an equivalent airfare.
From a value for money perspective you can then see that we get the best value from our points if we retain them for our next Sydney to Brisbane trip.
In addition, while I trialled a few different options on the Qantas website I could not use the online booking tool to book one Qantas Frequent Flyer airfare in conjunction with four fully paid airfares – I would have had to make two separate bookings. And if you think the Qantas Pay+Points option is good value you are definitely dreaming – it is an even worse points to dollar ratio than those above! And if anything happened which required any flight changes it would have therefore increased the complexity to make any changes to our flights. For Qantas, I suggest that you add this issue to your software enhancement list for the future.
We therefore went ahead and booked our flights from Sydney to Tokyo and return using cash only.
In our case we have a good alternative use for the points, but if you are unlikely to use them on a regular basis it may still be worthwhile for you to use them to reduce your direct expenses for your trip.
Qantas Payment Options
Qantas offers a large range of payment options, which come with an associated wide range of fees. We managed to avoid paying any booking fees by using the BPay option to pay for our airfares. Other payment options would have incurred a fee – debit cards used for international airfares incur a fee of $A10 per passenger per booking ($A50 for us), while payment with a credit card would have incurred fees of $A30 per passenger per booking ($A150 for us). Ouch.
The BPay option has zero fees, and once you have completed the initial booking process you immediately receive an email with instructions on how to make the payment, which must be completed by midnight on the day of booking. We apprehensively pressed send on the funds transfer – a rather large sum of $A5,489 – and as per the instructions two days later our booking confirmation arrived in our Inbox.
Heading to Japan!
It feels great to finally be booked in for our Japan trip, but after completing the booking I actually felt a bit numb. I had spent around 6 hours researching options before actually proceeding with booking the flight! But the flights are now locked in, we are all really excited about our trip, and we have now moved on to the next stage which is working out just how many theme parks we really want to visit while we are there (along with many other activities…).
I plan to write a series of articles to detail each step of planning our trip, so please sign up to the Pretraveller Email list to follow our travel preparation journey. My travel philosophy is that half the fun is getting there and I have already had a great time learning more about our options in Japan, and starting to prepare our itinerary in consultation with my family.
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Have you visited Japan with kids? Or have you recently gone through a similar process to book a flight? Please share your experiences in the comments below.