(STAR) By Therese Jamora-Garceau - Thought you would never be able to visit Japan on the cheap? Now you can, thanks to leading budget carrier Cebu Pacific (CEB), which launched its low-fare flights to the Land of the Rising Sun last Nov. 20.

Cebu Pacific’s inaugural flight 5J828, which departed for Osaka that Thursday from NAIA Terminal 3, marks CEB’s return to Japan’s air travel industry after introductory flights in 2003. Offering direct flights to Osaka’s Kansai International Airport (KIX) three times a week, Cebu Pacific’s 179-seater Airbus A320 departs from Manila every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 1:40 p.m. and arrives at KIX at 6:35 p.m. The return flight takes off from Osaka at 7:20 p.m. and arrives in Manila at 10:15 p.m.

Cebu Pacific’s lowest year-round fare for this route starts at P3,999 one-way, 40 percent lower than the current fares offered by other airlines for this route. (Fare does not include applicable surcharges and government taxes.)

“The addition of Osaka to our international network makes us the only ASEAN budget carrier to date that services three major North Asian countries, namely China, Korea and Japan,” said Lance Gokongwei, president and CEO of Cebu Pacific Air. “A convenient, affordable and reliable connection between Japan and the Philippines makes it easier for Japanese residents to enjoy the attractive medical tourism, wellness and golf tourism packages that our country has to offer.”

Gokongwei himself was one of the passengers on the maiden flight, as was Department of Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano, who launched four new DOT campaigns selling the Philippines in Osaka and Tokyo.

“For Philippine tourism, this means 28,000 new air seats every year between Japan and the Philippines,” Durano said. “I think this is Lance’s or Cebu Pacific’s way of giving Philippine tourism an early Christmas present. It will go a long way in our effort to bring in more visitors from Japan and more Filipinos to experience Japan as well.”

With a brand-new fleet of planes that serves 27 domestic and 15 international destinations,

Cebu Pacific has steadily increased its passenger traffic over the years. This year Gokongwei expects passengers to exceed 6.7 million, which CEB has done by enticing a large number of first-time travelers with affordable fares available all year round, like the recently launched “Go Lite” fares that take an outright P200 off airfares if, upon booking, customers indicate that they won’t bring any check-in luggage.

“Likewise the Philippines is now much more available to foreign travelers of various economic backgrounds and, in fact, Cebu Pacific this year will carry more than 1.4 million international guests,” Gokongwei said.

Also at the flight’s launch from NAIA 3 was Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Makoto Katsura, who praised the new service for providing international travelers with a budget option when traveling between “these two very important cities.”

“Half a century ago, only 20,000 people traveled annually between our two countries,” Katsura noted. “Now it has increased to 600,000, so many convenient, comfortable Manila-Osaka flights on Cebu Pacific will contribute significantly to increasing passenger traffic in this route.”

When inaugural flight 5J828 landed at Kansai International Airport, KIX Authority chairman Hajime Miyamoto welcomed Gokongwei and Durano, accompanied by a throng of Japanese press, who asked why Osaka was chosen as Cebu Pacific’s first touchdown point.

“Well, number one, the airport authority was very helpful with Cebu Pacific’s entry into Japan,” Gokongwei replied. “Two, there are 100,000 Filipinos in the greater Osaka-Kansai area with no low-cost alternative to fly to the Philippines. Three, it’s a very big opportunity for Filipinos to come to Japan. Kobe is beside Osaka, and it’s a very beautiful area to visit. The Philippines has a lot to offer Japanese tourists as well.”

Since the air treaty between Japan and the Philippines has reached its maximum, Gokongwei urged that air talks between Japan and the Philippines be made so more access can be provided both ways. There are no more landing rights available for Tokyo Narita airport, for instance, so Gokongwei is looking at airports in Haneda and Nagoya as possible access points to Tokyo.

Travelers flying Cebu Pacific will be reassured to know that even if they’re flying “budget,” the experience can be pleasurable and fun. There’s no in-flight meal per se but there is a choice of snacks and superb coffee drinks costing just P50 to P150. In place of the usual in-flight entertainment, CEB crew hosts games and provides Smile, a free travel and lifestyle magazine.

“Cebu Pacific really exemplifies the budget model,” says RG Orense, the airline’s corporate communications manager. “We have all-inclusive fares, no hidden taxes or charges. People who already know how to work the system book a year in advance and the most traveled routes are Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and Korea.”

Gokongwei says the new service can also open avenues for more business collaborations as well as trade and investment opportunities. “Our role is to meet our commitment of being a partner in nation building by helping tourism become an even more vibrant sector,” he said.

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For flight bookings, visit, call reservations at 702-0888 (Manila), (032) 230-8888 (Cebu), or consult your travel agent.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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