The Skymate card, available to anyone between the ages of 12 and 21, lets you fly around Japan on standby for cut rates. It works on all domestic flights operated by Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, and their subsidiaries (such as Japan Air System, Air Nippon, and Hokkaido Air Commuter).

You can get a Skymate card from any JAL or ANA ticket counter (at the very least, they'll point you to someone who can make one for you). In order to get one, you'll need a pair of passport photos, and some form of photo ID showing your age. There's a one-time surcharge of ¥4,000 to make the card.

To actually fly with Skymate, here's what you do:

  1. Arrive at the airport early. For best results (especially on crowded routes like Tokyo-Sapporo), find the first flight out in the morning, and plan to be at the airport two hours before departure.
  2. Give the agent your card and ask her to book you on the flight.
  3. If the flight is full, you'll either be booked on the next flight, or asked to wait.
  4. Once you get a seat, you'll be asked to pay in cash. Skymate fares are half of the full fare published in the timetable (NOT the reduced fares given to the morning and evening flights). For most flights, this will be somewhere between ¥8,000 and ¥20,000.
  5. Check your bags, go through security, get on the plane, and go!
Skymate doesn't work on international flights, and if all the flights are overbooked on a given day (usually during holiday periods such as Golden Week and Bon), you won't be able to fly. Otherwise, it's the cheapest way to get from island to island, and it often works out to be cheaper than the Shinkansen. (If you don't mind killing a lot of time, there's also the handy-dandy JR Seishun 18 Ticket...)

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