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I'm trying to find the cheapest flight I can from ROC, Rochester, New York, to one of the airports in Tokyo for a six week study abroad in Kobe. I'm wondering what the cheapest, OR easiest routes from one side of the earth to the other. What connections should I take? Where should I start looking? What prices should I expect? Would it be easier to fly through the US then directly to TYO, or through another country? I should be leaving at the first or second week of June and returning the end of July.

EDIT: I've been advised to clarify my question a bit. What I'm really interested in is ways to reduce the price of whatever I will have to pay, when is the best time of the fly, what sites should I look at to book with, what fees will I have to contend with, should I connect through a foreign country or try to go through the US only.

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If you're studying in Kobe, I don't know why you'd fly to Tokyo, which is on the other side of the country and an expensive train ride or long bus ride away. Kansai International Airport (KIX) near Osaka has many international connections. A domestic connection to Kobe (UKB) or even Itami (ITM) near Kyoto would put you much closer to your destination.

  1. The question of choosing cheap versus easy cannot be answered definitively. Each person has a different standard for what is not cheap enough or not easy enough to justify. I will say that as there are many flights between North America and Japan, I would be surprised if you had to make more than two connections. For in-flight services, sites like Seat Expert are handy for comparing airline offerings.

  2. Since you are starting from the U.S., I would also say it makes relatively little difference whether you connect domestically or internationally. As an international transit passenger in Canada or South Korea, for example, you would not be required to process through customs and immigration, provided you do not leave the terminal during your connection. In this respect, flying through YVR would be no different from flying through SEA unless you wanted to leave the airport.

  3. You will be traveling in the Northern Hemisphere summer, which means bargains will be hard to come by. Note that there is no canonical "best time" to book, as fares fluctuate constantly based on anticipated demand and actual purchases. You can, however, look up historical fare information based on purchasing a seat today through tools such as Bing Travel (formerly FareCaster) or Kayak's fare charts. As in all things, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

    Flexibility is key in finding discount fares, and you'll have to balance the costs of arriving in Japan a few days early or leaving a few days late against the difference in airfares. For example, it is easier to find cheaper flights that depart on Tuesdays and Wednesdays than those departing on the weekends or Mondays, because those are heavy travel days for price-insensitive business travelers.

  4. It has been a couple years since I have searched for fares to Japan, but historically the best deals could be found through airline consolidators specializing in Japan.

    A consolidator is broker who agrees to sell a certain number of seats from the major airlines, usually to some niche market where they have expertise promoting to (e.g. religious pilgrims, or emigrants and ethnic communities). There are many consolidators out there— and many are shady— so it may help to work with a travel agent who specializes in flights to Japan.

    Flexibility, as noted, is very important. ROC may be too small a market, and you'd have better luck from someplace like ORD or JFK, though of course the cost of getting from ROC to a major gateway may negate the savings.

    The usual caveats about working with third parties apply. Review your itineraries and the fare rules carefully, and be aware that the fare quoted may including only the base fare, excluding airport fees, taxes, and fuel surcharges— the last of which can add hundreds of dollars to the price on an intercontinental trip.

  5. I'll add a note on airfare search engines as a tool for fare discovery.

    One of the best tools any traveler should learn how to use are the Advanced Routing Codes on the ITA Matrix Airfare Search. This will let you see what published fares are possible on various dates and with various routings. You cannot book tickets from this site; you must find another website which will sell you a ticket, but it is a good way to uncover that the cheapest possible ticket might be $1200 if you tweak your search a certain way, as opposed to $1500 if you simply plug in a simple search.

    Beyond that, there's no single site that's guaranteed to give you the best deal; what's available will depend on what other people are buying and when and where they're doing it.

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The reference to YVR brings up an interesting question. I'm assuming that somebody in Rochester would consider driving to Toronto (it's just across the lake, maybe 3 hours' drive). Transit visas could get more interesting then... –  Affable Geek Sep 29 '13 at 11:48
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