When I was in Japan this past October, I had booked my flight to Hokkaido from Hong Kong as I had always wanted to visit Sapporo but decided to nest a trip to Tokyo in-between.
Domestic flights are sometimes pricey in Japan especially if try to avoid LCCs. Majority of the flights are short and exceptionally good use of British Airways Avios due to distance based pricing.
The paid prices were high due to buying on relatively last minute, although availability was good using BA miles.
Japan Airlines (JAL) allows passengers to purchase space available upgrades to their domestic business and first class cabins at set price, and I decided to try the program out.
Not sure if you can apply for these upgrades before airport but at least I was not able to figure it out. You can request the check in agent to put you on the upgrade list to business or first or both. They apologized both in Chitose and Haneda airports that there were no upgrade availability but I requested to be waitlisted regardless. They give you a stand-by card to go with the boarding pass to show that you are waitlisted.
The standby upgrades are processed late. They must wait until all eligible passengers have checked in or showed up at the airport before offloading the no shows.
In Chitose, one gate appeared to handle all these and I was just asked to sit there and wait while they already started the boarding. The first class was full on the first flight but I was able to get an upgrade to business class for 1,000 yen ($9).
The process in Haneda was more organized. They had stand-by desk with screens.
There was a note that standbys would be processed only 20 minutes before scheduled departure time.
This screen must have shown the upgrade progress and that I was waitlisted. They didn’t have it in English. The first class upgrade came through for the flight back to Sapporo and price was the standard 8,000 yen ($73).
The payment was processed on the spot like in Chitose few days earlier.
Above is the stand by card and the boarding pass for the economy original seat and below the payment receipt and new boarding pass.
The domestic first class was more refined product and came with a dinner.
You won’t get lucky with these upgrades because they post with an ineligible fare class for mileage credit (as they should).
My preferred method of transportation in Japan are high speed trains. They are not, however, really an option for travel between Tokyo and Sapporo.
I felt that both the business and first class upgrades did provide value for money on this unusually long domestic Japan-sector. It is good that JAL doesn’t care about the booked fare type and allows even award tickets to be upgraded.