Delays, lack of choice still pose problems for low-cost carrier
TOKYO -- Budget airline Jetstar Japan on Wednesday launched a new fare option to make flying more convenient for business travelers, aiming to broaden its customer base.
The so-called Flexibiz bundle costs an additional 2,000 yen ($17.84) each way for domestic flights and 3,000 yen for international flights. Customers who buy the add-on can switch to a different flight on the same day in case of sudden changes to travel plans. A passenger looking to fly on a different date can cancel the reservation and receive a voucher worth the price of the original ticket.
Before Flexibiz, customers on Jetstar's cheapest fare plan had no way to switch flights or get refunds for canceled tickets. Like other budget airlines, Jetstar -- whose major shareholders include Australia's Qantas Group -- has fare options that allow ticket changes, but these require passengers to pay additional fees or cover the difference between the original price and the new fare.
Traveling to Hakata Ward in the southwestern city of Fukuoka from downtown Tokyo by bullet train during the day costs about 23,000 yen each way and takes roughly five and a half hours. Flying there from Tokyo's Haneda Airport on a major carrier takes less time -- four hours or so -- but sets passengers back around 40,000 yen. A Jetstar flight from Narita Airport outside Tokyo with the Flexibiz add-on would arrive in about five hours while costing less than 10,000 yen.
But this option comes with its own problems. More than 20% of Jetstar flights were delayed for at least 15 minutes in the first half of fiscal 2016. All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, which have better repair facilities and more spare aircraft, have kept delay rates at around 5-10% in recent years.
Jetstar also does not serve Haneda, the closest airport to downtown Tokyo's business districts. And while ANA and JAL each operate a total of nearly 1,000 domestic and international flights per day, Jetstar runs just over 100. Travelers may steer clear if they cannot find convenient flight options.
Budget carriers such as Jetstar and Peach Aviation began cropping up in Japan in 2012, drawing notice with fares 30-70% below those of the major players. Yet budget carriers are believed to carry only around 10% of fliers in northeastern Asia, compared with 40% in Europe and more than 50% in Southeast Asia, suggesting that substantial room for growth remains. These airlines will need to provide more punctual and convenient service while finding ways to attract more passengers.