“You’re flying a low-cost carrier from the United States to Japan? Are you crazy?” No.
But today I’m sharing the truth about flying ZipAir to Asia! Stay tuned for all the details.
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What is ZipAir?
ZipAir is a low-cost subsidiary of Japan Airlines that launched mid-way through 2020. Their entire fleet is composed of Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners. Like domestic budget carriers, they offer low-priced, no-frill flights across the Pacific to destinations like Tokyo, Manila, Bangkok, Seoul, and Singapore.
What makes them such an attractive option is that they offer full lie-flat, business class-style seats and standard seats at an unbeatable discount. For example, we recently flew their full-flat product to Tokyo for only $200 more per person than the cheapest basic economy seats I could find on traditional carriers!
What Was the Experience Like?
I truly thought it was fantastic! Given that business-class seats on traditional carriers were going for $7-8,000/person and first-class was an eye-watering $15,000+/person on our dates, ZipAir proved to be an astronomical value.
Beyond our seats, we opted for a bundled package that included seat selection, baggage fees (both checked and carry-on), an amenity kit, and a meal. We packed a few extra snacks, a water bottle, and tablets for entertainment.
Amenity kits were distributed and the meal was served shortly after take-off. In the amenity kit, we received a cozy, fleece blanket, plush eye mask, slippers, earplugs, and a U-shaped neck pillow. Our only minor complaint was with the pillow. The same amenity kit is available to economy passengers and, I’m guessing that’s why they went with a neck pillow, but for lie-flat customers, a flat pillow would have made more sense.
Meal & Food Options
While the meal may not have been the most visually enticing, it tasted pretty good. And the cookies (shown below) were amazing! Certainly on par with standard airline fare although a substantial notch below a traditional carriers’ business or first class offering.
When booking, you’ll have about 5-7 meal choices. Additionally, you can order some items mid-flight via a QR code and their complementary wifi. Prices are reasonable (for reference, 1000 yen equals not quite $7). The only caveat is that inventory is limited and you risk the airline running out later in the flight.
The seating compartments were very well thought out. The cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone pattern and we had seats in the middle section. There was ample storage, the aforementioned charging station, a reading light, coat hook, and privacy screen (if you‘re traveling alone).
The seat itself is covered in black leather/leatherette that felt clean and modern. The recline controls were easy to access, and each seat goes completely flat.
It felt so good just to get my feet up! And even better, I managed to doze off not once, but twice during our flight out and slept nearly the whole time on our return. Natty Guy missed the thin mattress pad they lay down before you sleep on first-class flights but, honestly, I didn’t notice much difference.
Note: Bathrooms were slightly roomier than average and well-maintained throughout the flight.
So, What’s the Catch?
Well, as with domestic low-cost carriers, there are a few things to be aware of.
- Just as with domestic budget carriers, everything is charged a la carte. The amenity set, meals, seat selection, baggage, and even good ole H2O!
- There is no on-board entertainment system, however, there are charging outlets at every seat so load up your tablet with movies, etc. and you’ll be ready to go.
- No pets – service animals only.
- No refunds or itinerary changes. Check and double-check your arrangements when booking and buy independent trip insurance to cover the flights.
- Because they only operate out of a handful of US cities and do not codeshare with other airlines, you’ll need to arrange transportation to one of their hubs on your own. This also means you will need to check in twice – once to get to their hub and again on ZipAir.
- Unless you are at an airport, customer service is all of the “virtual” variety. I contacted them via online chat once to add our KTNs to our itinerary without any issue but if you have a more severe problem, this might be frustrating. Reddit contributors seemed to share the most complaints.
If I lacked the miles for a first or business-class award ticket on a traditional carrier (or if it was just a poor mileage valuation for the product) I would most certainly fly ZipAir lie-flat seats again! The value for money spent is just unbeatable and being able to stretch out/put your feet up on trans-Pacific flights makes such a big difference in how you feel the next day!
Lastly, we had a chance to try their standard seats on a short flight from Seoul to Tokyo. They are of the same black leather and are both modern and comfortable. If you are looking for a dirt-cheap way to get to Asia, this would be an option to consider. Standard seat round-trip fares from SFO-NRT currently start at a little over $700.
What do you think? Would you be willing to risk flying a low-cost carrier to Asia? Let me know why or why not in the comments below!
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