New Japanese Low-Cost Carrier Offers Nonstop U.S.-Tokyo Flights From $325 One-Way

Tokyo-based startup airline Zipair is launching a new route between San Francisco and Narita Airport in June, joining its existing service from California hubs Los Angeles and San Jose, as well as Honolulu.

Buildings at night with lights in central Tokyo

Maybe this is a sign that it’s a time for a trip to Japan.

Photo by Louie Nicolo/Unsplash

In all honesty, Zipair—a low-cost carrier from Japan Airlines (JAL Group)—isn’t entirely new. It quietly launched in 2020 during the height of the pandemic and has been slowly growing its domestic, regional, and more recently its international flight network ever since. The latest addition is a newly announced flight that will launch in early summer between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT), with one-way fares as low as $325.

The new five times weekly San Francisco service will take off on June 2, with tickets already available for booking. Flights will depart SFO at 5 p.m., local time, and arrive in Tokyo one day later at 8:05 p.m., local time. Flights will depart Tokyo at 9:35 p.m., local time, and arrive in San Francisco at 3 p.m., local time.

The San Francisco route joins Zipair’s existing flights to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Southern California and Northern California’s San José Mineta International Airport (SJC). The carrier also flies to and from Honolulu International Airport in Hawai’i.

Zipair uses Boeing 787-8 aircraft for its transpacific routes and offers three classes of fares: the “Zip Full-Flat Value,” the low-cost carrier’s version of business class with lie-flat seats (and one-way fares from $885); “Standard Value,” or the equivalent of economy (with one-way fares from $325); and “U6 Standard Value,” discounted tickets for children ages 2-6 (for which one-way fares between the U.S. and Tokyo are as low as $91).

Like many low-cost carriers, the model follows a classic “à la carte” style, meaning the initial fare has almost no inclusions, and then travelers have the option to add on things like the ability to select their seat or get an inflight meal and check their luggage—for an additional fee.

Front exterior of a Zipair airplane

If you’re looking for a no-frills option for flying to Japan, Zipair might just be the ticket.

Photo by Shutterstock

Also, let it be known, that it took us a few tries to be able to actually get all the way through to being able to book a flight. Here’s what finally worked for us. First off, we had the best luck when using the Firefox browser. Then, we needed to create an account. So, we went to the “Login” tab at the top of the Zipair site and then went to “new member sign-up” to create a new account with login details. Once logged in, we were able to completely get through the booking process, albeit in Japanese yen, which will then be converted to dollars via your U.S. account, according to AFAR’s associate editor for destinations Chloe Arrojado, who flew Zipair from Tokyo to Los Angeles last month.

Here’s what she thought: “Zipair’s a great, no-frills option to get to Asia from the United States and vice versa. My one-way Standard Value ticket from Tokyo to Los Angeles was only $458.70, including the roughly $50 I spent for a checked bag. I was surprised with how much legroom I had considering I didn’t opt for any [additional] flight perks like choosing my seat,” says Arrojado.

Even though there was no complimentary food and beverages, Arrojado notes that “the attentive staff and comfort of the plane felt worlds away from some budget airlines out there.”

That being said, some of the amenities didn’t exactly exceed Arrojado’s expectations. For example, the only option for internet was the carrier’s free in-flight Wi-Fi, which worked for just a few minutes over the course of the entire 10-hour flight.

On her flight, Zipair offered two free carry-on items for all passenger at no extra cost, “but throughout the check-in process the attendants were very strict about making sure the combined weight of the bags was below 7 kg [15.4 pounds]. Most of the people in line had to do some sort of repacking at the counter—so travel light or prepare to wear some layers,” advises Arrojado.

But equipped with a sleep mask, some snacks, and some good books to read, “you should have a smooth flight,” she says.

Zipair also flies to Seoul, South Korea; Bangkok, Thailand; and Singapore.

Zipair’s global route expansion comes as Japan continues to relax border restrictions. Starting on May 8, 2023, visitors to Japan will no longer be required to provide proof of vaccination or have a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival. The move follows the latest relaxing of measures this past fall, when Japan dropped the need for U.S. visitors to obtain a tourist visa. (When Japan reopened in June 2022, travelers were also required to obtain a visa, which U.S. leisure travelers had been exempt from prepandemic.)

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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