Virgin Australia is gearing up to begin daily flights between Brisbane and Tokyo in March 2020. It's a pleasing alternative to the current Brisbane-Japan monopoly enjoyed by Qantas, with the added advantage that Virgin's flights will use Tokyo's Haneda Airport, which is considerably closer to the city than Tokyo's Narita Airport used by most other airlines.
Travellers headed beyond Tokyo will also welcome the new partnership between Virgin Australia and ANA, which will open up seamless connections at Haneda to some 38 destinations across Japan including Osaka, Sapporo, Hiroshima, Okinawa and Fukuoka.
When will Virgin's Brisbane-Tokyo flights start?
Virgin Australia plans to begin its daily Brisbane-Tokyo flight on Sunday 29 March 2020, with tickets for the nine hour trip now on sale.
VA77 leaves Brisbane at 11:40am and reaches Tokyo Haneda at 8pm – perfect for a business traveller to get up at a reasonable hour and spend much of the flight working onboard with Virgin Australia's international WiFi, as long as they don't mind a late hotel check-in and supper.
VA76 pushes back from Tokyo Haneda at 9:45pm, before speeding along to Brisbane to land at 7:45am the next morning: once again, fairly reasonable timing for travellers to have a productive day in Tokyo and enjoy an uninterrupted block of sleep for at least 6-7 hours en route before a hearty breakfast pre-Brisbane.
Both flights are timed to allow connections to and from other major Australian airports, although Brisbane Airport requires a bus or train transfer between the domestic and international terminals, much like Sydney.
What aircraft will be used?
Virgin's Brisbane-Tokyo/Haneda route will use an Airbus A330 fitted with 20 business class suites and 255 economy seats (including eight Economy X seats). At least four of these jets have fast international satellite WiFi fitted, as of December 2019.
CEO of Virgin Australia, Paul Scurrah, revealed that the Melbourne-Hong Kong route will be suspended in 2020, with this Airbus A330 now being free to start the Brisbane-Tokyo service in late March 2020.
How much will fares cost?
It's already possible to redeem your Velocity points for business class seats on the new Brisbane-Tokyo Haneda route.
A business reward seat will need 59,500 Velocity Points plus roughly A$140 in taxes each way. From Sydney or Melbourne, that bumps up to 71.500 Velocity Points and more in taxes due to having more flights.
Business class fares start from A$3,494 return while economy sale fares start from A$698 return from Brisbane.
Virgin's Brisbane-Tokyo business class experience
The 20 business class seats on Virgin Australia's Airbus A330s feature the airline's signature offering, which is also seen on Virgin's Boeing 777s to Los Angeles.
Christened 'The Business', it's a spacious and well-appointed seat offering direct aisle access for every passenger.
Whichever part of the journey between Brisbane and Tokyo happens to take place overnight, travellers will appreciate that the seat converts into a 2m long fully lie-flat bed dressed with a mattress topper, which the crew will make up while you nip into the WC and change into the complimentary business class pyjamas.
There's also be the option to stay connected via Virgin's WiFi service – something which Qantas doesn't offer on its international flights.
Based on the pricing for Virgin Australia's Hong Kong flights, inflight Internet on the Brisbane-Tokyo route should cost around $9 per hour or $20 for the whole flight, which is of course much better value.
As for inflight dining, expect the Luke Mangan-designed menu to take on a distinctly Japanese flair, similar to the fusion dishes found on Virgin Australia's Hong Kong flights and now filtering onto the domestic business class menus occasionally as well.
The Tokyo flights are likely to feature two meal services each way, the first being a proper three-course affair with each dish being brought out separately.
The second service is done before landing, all on one tray. For daytime flights, it will be a light supper (as shown below); for overnight flights, it will be hot breakfast.
Getting around Haneda Airport and Tokyo
The flight from Brisbane will arrive and depart from Haneda's International Terminal (soon to be called Terminal 3). There are two other domestic terminals – JAL uses Terminal 1 and ANA uses Terminal 2.
Two rail links connect Haneda Airport to Tokyo Station: the Tokyo Monorail goes via Hamamatsucho and the privately-run Keikyu Railways line connects via Shinagawa. Both journeys take around 30-40 minutes and will cost you around ¥600 (A$8).
By road, travellers can take 'limousine buses' (from 50 minutes, ¥930/A$12.5) or taxis and private cars for the most direct transfers (from ¥5,000/A$66 depending on the final destination).
Passengers connecting between Virgin Australia and ANA domestic flights can transit through special airside buses organised by ANA, or get a free pass to use the Tokyo Monorail or Keikyu Railways train between the terminals.
Lounge access for Virgin's Brisbane-Tokyo flights
Virgin Australia's business class guests along with Velocity Gold and Platinum members will begin their journey at the recently-opened and independently-operated My Lounge in Brisbane's international terminal.
It features a wide range and high quality of food, albeit in a slightly cramped space.
Ahead of the return flight from Tokyo, those same passengers will be able to enjoy some time as ANA's Haneda business class lounge.
Benefits of the Virgin Australia-ANA alliance
Virgin Australia's partnership with ANA will include a 'codeshare' arrangement which will let Virgin Australia customers book flights from Australia to their final destination in Japan (if they're travelling beyond Tokyo) on a single ticket, all under Virgin Australia flight numbers – flying Virgin from Brisbane to Tokyo, and then ANA to their next destination.
Also on the cards are Velocity Frequent Flyer points on ANA flights, along with access to ANA's domestic lounge network across Japan.