Virgin Australia launches Cairns–Tokyo flights

Virgin’s long-awaited flights to Tokyo are now on sale ahead of a June 2023 lift-off...

By David Flynn, December 14 2022
Virgin Australia launches Cairns–Tokyo flights

Virgin Australia will begin direct flights between Cairns and Tokyo in June 2023, alongside a “strengthened partnership” with Japan’s ANA, including reciprocal loyalty benefits such as lounge access and other status perks.

The daily Cairns-Tokyo service is due to commence on Wednesday June 28, 2023:

  • VA77 departs Cairns at 1.15 pm to reach Tokyo at 8pm
  • VA78 departs Tokyo at 9.45pm to reach Cairns at 6.15am the following morning

The route is being assigned to Virgin’s new Boeing 737 MAX, which will take on the 7h30m journey between Australia’s 'tropical capital' and Tokyo’s Haneda airport.

Virgin’s Hello Tokyo sale lists Cairns-Tokyo return fares from July 18 starting at $699 for an Economy Lite fare (with only carry-on bags), with Business just shy of $2,000; pricing from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, with connecting flights to and from Cairns, begins at $749.

And as is often the case with newly-arrived routes there are plenty of seats available to be booked using Velocity Points at low Reward rates of 27,800 points in Economy and 59,500 points in Business (with a $91 surcharge from Cairns and $68 from Tokyo).

In addition to the usual complimentary meals and drinks in business class, pointy end passengers will also be issued with a pillow, blanket and amenity kit.

Virgin forged the new route with support from the Queensland Government and Cairns Airport through the Queensland Government’s $200m Attracting Aviation Investment Fund.

“Virgin Australia is a proud Queensland company and we’re delighted to add over 2,000 seats between these iconic destinations every week which means more value and choice for Australians wanting to travel to Japan,” says Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka.

“Importantly, it also means welcoming more Japanese tourists into the Sunshine State to enjoy our unrivalled natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands.”

The Boeing 737 MAX will also offer free inflight WiFi to Velocity Platinum, Beyond Lounge members and business class passengers; if you’re not in that cohort, fees will begin at $9.95 for a 30-minute pass and $24.95 to stay online for the entire flight.

Virgin vs Jetstar

As previously reported, Virgin in in a ‘use it or lose it’ situation regarding a slot assigned at Tokyo Haneda for the start of flights between Brisbane and Tokyo on March 29, 2020 – a route which was abandoned in the face of the Covid pandemic, with Virgin Australia collapsing into administration four weeks later.

A decision by new owners Bain Capital to scrap Virgin’s long-range fleet of Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 jets left the airline without any aircraft suited to restarting Brisbane-Tokyo flights.

Virgin’s sole competitor on the route is Jetstar, with five flights a week on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The Jetstar Dreamliner is topped by ‘business class’ seats which are more akin to premium economy; Virgin Australia has yet to reveal the seating choices for its 737 MAX but has been trialling new business class and economy seats on selected domestic Boeing 737-800 jets, and it’s not expected that the 737 MAX’s business class cabin will see anything close to a flat bed.

That will deliver an edge to Jetstar, not only for premium passengers but also given that the Dreamliner is designed for a better and jetlag-reducing flying experience.

In Virgin’s favour will be the convenience of Haneda, considered a ‘downtown’ airport that’s much closer to Tokyo than the more distant Narita used by Jetstar.

The Virgin brand is also expected to have strong appeal to Japanese travellers eager to visit Australia, either making Cairns their sole destination for a tropical getaway or adding a trip to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne via a connecting Virgin Australia flight to make the most of their holiday.

01 Jul 2021

Total posts 25

This was unexpected.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2014

Total posts 148

I was just searching for flights from Melb to Tokyo for a work trip and the VA flights from Cairns to Haneda came up. They are available to book now. 28th June for example has them listed. 

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 886

It’s all about the seating and space for me, I’d be using the service if the configuration of the plane is right. Let’s be honest, nothing wrong with a 737, Singapore Airlines has configured there’s right.

I agree, the kneejerk reaction of "not flying more than four hours in a single-aisle" is pretty uninformed because it depends very much on the config of that plane. Look at the business class of SQ's 737 MAX and JetBlue's A321LR for example. Sadly, Virgin's 737 MAX will have the same 'new concept' business class as those ex-SilkAir 737s, so while this is better than the current 737 business class it's still really a short-range domestic seat.

I wouldn't fly more then four hours on a domestic configured-narrow body, which is what this is. Give me a plane with proper lie flat J, PTV's in all classes and bathrooms that are bigger then a shoebox and I'll consider.

I wish Virgin well with these new Cairns-Tokyo flights, it's a smart move and obviously heavily underwritten by the Qld Government because Cairns is simply not large enough on its own to support year-round daily flights to Tokyo, and the inbound tourist market can't make up the difference without those QLD $$$.

But I think they're being very optimistic when it comes to advertising fares from SYD, MEL and even BNE  to Cairns and then onto Tokyo. Only an absolutely tragic Virgin loyalist would book those and make two Boeing 737 flights with a stopover to Tokyo and a total travel time of maybe 13 hours compared to say 10 hours on a single flight to Tokyo in a Boeing 787 or Airbus A330 with real business class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 252

Considering business class direct return fares are around $8k to $10k return from Sydney/Melbourne I'd say people wanting a bit extra comfort will pay for the Virgin business seat and stop over for the $2k return current price tag 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2013

Total posts 134

True, but at the same time, there is a difference between paying for seats versus using points for business class (personal trips)! I would rather go Brisbane-Cairns-Haneda on "business class" on the max using points, than trying my luck with QF A330 which usually have no seats for upgrade/classic rewards for the family.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 362

Its not "business" you are redeeming, it's premium economy by international standard although VA will charge you at business rate.

Using Qantas point on JQ "business" is much cheaper than what VA is charging. 

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1193

Except QF redemption flights in international business are rarer than hens' teeth. 

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 91

True but flying Sydney-Cairns-Tokyo for example in Virgin B737 business class versus Sydney-Tokyo in Qantas A330 business class, especially when you think about the overnight leg on the return, I know which one I would rather be in, and I don't think I would out up with the Virgin route just for the sake of a points redemption.

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 232

All that is irrelevant if the QF tickets are 2-3 times the price, and or the redemptions take 2-3 times the amount of  points for a seat, and 3 times the $$ to earn the points in the first place. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 356

With Qantas only 3 days per week out of Brisbane there will be people that will need to travel on the days that a direct service is not being offered from Brisbane. This will then be a decision of via Sydney or via Cairns. At this time, cost and preference of airline will come into it, so I am sure they will pick up some traffic from the East Coast capitals.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Nov 2017

Total posts 114

If the price from say Sydney is $3000 versus $10000 direct on QF, then I'll choose VA in a heartbeat.

My first reaction was that this was more of a 'placeholder' to keep the Tokyo Haneda slot until Virgin could get new twin-aisle jets capable of international flights from Brisbane etc, but seeing how the QLD government aka taxpayers are subsidising this route, it's probably not going to be much of a risk for Virgin and they've probably got the funding locked in for a good 12 months across the 2023-2024 FY. Still agree with ABT above, hard to see any passengers beyond Cairns locals headed to Tokyo, even for Brisbane, if you had a choice between a direct flight on the Qantas A330 or a two-leg stopover on a Boeing 737, who on earth would choose the later?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Sep 2012

Total posts 221

Price sensitive travellers. And with the yen currently being weak against the Aussie dollar, I'd imagine a fair amount of Japanese tourists too.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 356

Agree, but with Qantas only 3 days a week out of Brisbane, there will be people that need to travel on the days that QF don’t operate, so that’ll mean either a stop in Sydney or Cairns.

02 Jun 2013

Total posts 54

Let’s be honest - this is all about re-growing inbound Japanese tourism to FNQ, far less about outbound Australian travel. I think this will do well, especially given the NH partnership and it will give VA some valuable groups revenue onwards from Cairns. It will be interesting to see whether Cairns-Uluru makes an appearance on the VA route map, as that’s a popular routing for the market (alongside Sydney and Gold Coast).

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

04 Aug 2017

Total posts 11

Add to all of the above the lack of a lounge in Cairns after VA cut it once in administration. Will be interested to see how it goes. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

09 Aug 2016

Total posts 28

7.5 hours on a 737 (Max or otherwise). I'll pass on that

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

12 May 2022

Total posts 11

I'll be booking flights with VA to Toyko this week now this is live.

No issues with the stop in Cairns, nice to break up the travel time a little (I will depart Melbourne).

29 Feb 2016

Total posts 26

Hmm yes, its already a long way from Syd, Mel and certainly Hba to Cns before then embarking on a further 7 hrs, even in J. Went trans-Tasman a few times with old VA and that 4 hrs in J proved to be a long-ish time relative to the same flt up the pointy end with QF or NZ. The elbow room, IFE options and more extensive food & drink offerings in larger a/c make a big difference wch wont be compensated if VA just doing a warm-over job with new J seats and wifi.  

But with direct Syd to Tko J fares in the range of $8-10k return, I suppose there will be takers.      

 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 147

Yep, it is half the current price and about the same as premium for QF and JL, the other option would be something like CX or MH who will send you to Tokyo cheaper than a direct to their home base...

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 886

Interesting point is Cairn tourists then into Brisbane / Gold Coast, very strategic thinking here that will work and should I say subsidised by Qld Government. Bain Bain.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 681

Shhhhh! Is that the gnashing of teeth in Mascot I hear ? LOL

Yes, there will be people who criticize VA for this. Who wants to fly CNS to HND (and vv), insufficient market size, too long on an NB frame, not comfortable enough, no *real* business class etc. But these people are missing the point entirely. 

Virgin's decision is based purely on 'strategy' and wisely so. A lot of people writing this off before it even starts. Yes, marketing can do some preliminary research and market projections, but to be honest, it takes most airlines approximately 12-15 months (minimum) from international route startup, to determine whether that route will actually be successful / profitable. There's the questions of capacity, frequency, seasonality, loads at both ends, operational issues, market size and response, advertising, pricing, service quality, promotions, FF seat allocations, flight economics etc. Changing any of these variables can affect the parameters of operation.

Lots of people want VA to run out and buy / lease wide bodied jets to resume international service. Think about it this way .. its an awful big call, if your *only* known profitable international destination is LAX. Earlier, I said that Virgin's decision is strategic. First, how often does the grant of rights into HND (Tokyo) come up? Just ask QF. I bet they've lost count of the years this has taken to achieve. So yes, Virgin is being 'strategic' here. Don't operate the CNS-HND-CNS flight and the route authority could easily be handed to QF. 

By choosing to operate the route, VA can evaluate the route under 'worst case' scenarios, tinker with it's efficiencies over. say, a 12-15 month period. That keeps the route authority in VA's hands and if the route proves successful, it might just tip the scales for VA in terms of whether they make the substantial investment to restore LAX by investing in WB's. Close international such as New Zealand, Fiji,  Pacific islands and Bali can also be done on narrow bodies - but if WB investment is practical and indeed profitable on a subset of routes, this may be the step required to re-establish a wider international network.

Some of the 'arguments' proffered above are quite humourous. Who wants to fly 7-8 hours on a NB? People do that every day across the Atlantic ~ and on more routes than just JFK-LHR. No / small market between HND and CNS? Think back about 10-15 years ago when there were daily flights into CNS - and on B747's, to boot. Yes, the market has changed a bit in that time. It is now more Australia-based, rather than Japan-based. The Japanese economy has been moribund for the last 20 years and is now beginning to re-emerge. All those 20/30/40 yr old younger Japanese have a sense of adventure, which fits the CNS / Great Barrier Reef mindset. The days of hordes of Japanese weddings on the steps of the Sydney Opera House has diversified.

Given that VA's only competitor is JQ, there is no reason why VA can't grab a solid slice of JQ's business market. Hell, no-one even knows how VA will equip the J section of the MAX. When you see VA put up a highly creditable J product against QF on domestic routes, it shouldn't take too much effort to trounce JQ's premier cabin.

To be even more honest, no-one here knows what VA's plan is. Frankly, VA may be prepared to experiment on the (subsidized) route for 12-15 months where the opportunity cost / profit / loss may be marginal. It might be a very small price to pay in order to hold onto the route authority while making larger network / fleet decisions. 

I wish VA luck with this route and I hope it can prove the ' critics' wrong. They have a highly efficient frame, a great partner (ANA) and minimal competition on the route (JQ). Now, add the ability to offer a quality J Class product, a J Class fare that might have QF / JQ worried, and a solid schedule. There's not too much that could go wrong. The big question will be how the J Class will be configured.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1193

Well said.  It is purely a business decision.  VA had the option of doing what it has done to preserve its rights into Haneda or lose them forever.  There is no indication that Japanese authorities have any plans to increase slot allocations at HND in future and, even then, no guarantee Australia would be granted any of them anyway.  It's not as if Qantas would ever surrender such a precious right so it is a now or never decision for VA.  Yes, the current solution is not perfect but business decisions rarely are.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1027

Without additional expansion works at HND (both to the airfield and T3) or more airspace handed back to Japanese control from around the USAF base at Yokota, it is unlikely that there will be another slot release, at least not for day slots.

The last slot allocation was allowed by opening a Domestic/International swing gate area at T2 (ANA domestic) and returned airspace near Yokota.

The airport is maxed out with currently released slots unless new taxiways are built.

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 129

Virgin can strategise until the cows come home, but they won't get me as a customer on an overnight flight unless they have a proper lie flat seat. Several other airlines, including 'low' and 'moderate' cost carriers can and do do it in the MAXs.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1193

2 different products at very different price points.  I just picked 2 random dates next July for a MEL-HND trip.  The return J class fare on VA via CNS was $2297.  On the same dates QF was $6459 with only the return sector being non-stop.

VA has indicated that it has no intention of adding lie-flats in J on their 737 fleet and, unless they believed they could then charge Qantas J level fares with lie flats, you can see the logic in their decision.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Nov 2017

Total posts 114

Yep, I reckon Mr Joyce is none too happy. I, on the other hand, would be very happy to pay one-third of QF's flat bed fare for VA's limited J product ex SYD. What a bargain, with the bonus of decent customer service thrown in. Think of the status credits you'd earn - requalify SG in one go.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 886

With the proper seat config (Flat Beds) could we see a MAx 737-10 doing Cairns - Los Angeles even if it was via Hawaii?

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1193

Highly unlikely.  Crew costs of doing a route like this would be prohibitively high as it would be over 7 days away from base.  

MAX10 doesn't have the range of a MAX8 so any longer haul flights such as CNS-HND will probably always be with the smaller plane.

As has been said numerous times, VA are unlikely to fit any of the NB fleet with lie-flats.  They just use too much space for the revenue VA can earn from them.

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 129

So Copa Airlines - a low cost carrier - has lie flats in their MAXs.

JetBlue Mint - another low cost carrier -  has lie flats in their narrow bodies (albeit A321s, but similar operating economics).

So these airlines have obviously put up a business case that stacks up, to have their executives and boards agree to do this. With Virgin it may be more a lack of competition driving their absence, and a corresponding corporate decision.

Recall that Qantas was originally going to 'upgrade' the A330s on the transcon runs with new 2-3-2 seating until the Borghetti version of Virgin brought their superior 'The Business' product to the market in their A330s. It's all about competition, or the lack of it in this case. It's looking like a race to mediocrity, really. Probs the same reason that Qantas is not putting lie flats in their regional A321s - there's no real competition in the regional narrow body business class seating stakes  in this part of the world other than the odd route served by Singapore.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1193

JetBlue Mint is only offered on a subfleet of their A321s dedicated to trans-continental flying and they sure aren't low-cost.  VA, with a smaller fleet than B6 wants to avoid subfleets as much as possible.  With only a very small part of their network being operated as back-of-clock services, they just wouldn't generate the revenue to justify the real estate consumed.

Why is it people somehow magically believe VA would be able to offer a lie-flat J seat and at the same time maintain their value proposition against QF?  It is fantasy.  As VA discovered with The Business, unless you can fill the seats with revenue paying pax at Qantas fare levels  (reward redemptions don't count), lie-flats are a ticket to losing money.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 147

There is no business market and how much leisure travel is tropical zone to tropical zone? Would the capital city market take 2 or 3 flights to get to the US, doubt it when you can go direct on a plane that is cheaper to run (like a Jetstar 787 to Hawaii, that could do MEL-LAX )

26 Mar 2020

Total posts 63

No thanks not on a 737 - i find toilets on narrow body on long haul flights cant handle the capacity and there is hardly anywhere to walk around.

I do feel more trapped (even if its just merely psychological) 

08 May 2020

Total posts 82

Still no news on local international travel to New Zealand with Virgin Melbourne - Auckland. I have to continue to fly with the arrogance of 2 Airlines with their vast elevated prices. Tokyo is not on my priority list at present.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1193

I don't think VA are that interested in returning to trans-Tasman other than Queenstown.  They will always be a minnow on these routes compared with NZ and QF so will be forced to be a price taker.  They rightly figure they can make a lot more money using their 737 fleet in the cosy domestic duopoly

21 Apr 2019

Total posts 28

Lets hope there are 2 meals served in Business Class plus pillows & blankets.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1193

Given the length of the flight, you'd expect that there will be one full meal and a smaller snack sized meal prior to arrival.  Given the red-eye return sector, many are likely to give the second snack a miss if they can sleep instead.

03 Aug 2022

Total posts 5

Flights are really cheap, but if this is a 737-800, then there has been lots of negative feedback on the web.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1193

It is a 737MAX8.  I doubt if there have been any reviews of Virgin's MAX8s positive or negative given they don't currently exist.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1027

VA had better hope that IASC will approve an extension then.

IASC had been extending the HND day slot start by requirement for both QF and VA throughout the pandemic border closure. In early July, VA asked for an extension from the already granted 30 October 2022 to 30 June 2023.

They were given an extension to 26 March 2023, the same date IASC gave QF for full utilization when QF asked for an extension in mid October.

Nothing has (yet?) appeared on the IASC website detailing a VA request to again extend the deadline to June.

bsb
bsb

21 Jul 2011

Total posts 95

The JQ Japan CNS daily flights are FULL of Japanese tourists, not a spare seat to be had.  They are flocking to CNS. 

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 451

I would be happy with this.although a schedule has yet to be announced.If I can combine Cairns and Tokyo into one trip why not.my only concerns would be connecting home.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Mar 2018

Total posts 27

Virgin has rocks in there head. Half the time Bali flights can’t depart without offloading at a few or as seen today in Brisbane 30 passengers. The 737 should NOT be flown on flights over 5 hours at a push, not to mention Virgin will just off the pathetic buy on board menu.

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 232

Nothing wrong with you booking QF at 3 times the price.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 791

Always interesting to read the opinions of the armchair airline CEOs. I hope VA find success with this route and increase inbound Japanese tourism to Australia. 

Fond memories as a teenager taking the dual-branded JAL/QF 747B QF69 from CNS-NRT. 

21 Dec 2016

Total posts 1

Is there any talk of re-opening the Cairns airport to cater for this?

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 451

Except for the schedules I would not have a problem with this flight.Out of Tokyo returning to Adelaide it would require two stops home unless by some Miracle there's a flight Cairns to Adelaide which leaves around 4pm getting in at the other end 7:45pm nonstop.I'll stick with Singapore Airlines via Singapore in that case with an 8:50am also ex Haneda arrives in just after 3pm which has me in Transit till 11:40pm arriving next day 9:05am on a bigger combo of 777-300er and a350-900.the schedule over stinks if connecting beyond Tokyo within Japan.I would be forced over on Singapore Airlines Adelaide to Osaka via Singapore as the opposition Jetstar services are crap.that's for 2024.It would be in 2025 when I go again into Tokyo and Out of Osaka the reverse.


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