UPDATE: Qantas advises it has discovered that its fares out of Toyko had not been correctly released worldwide, which is why airfare price search websites were showing such high prices. The problem has been corrected, and fares starting at $640 are now available for flights out of Tokyo.
"We have made our lowest fares available without any restrictions on short-term bookings, including a $640 entry level fare published today," said a Qantas spokesperson.
"We completely reject claims of price gouging, which are disappointing given the current circumstances in Japan.
"Qantas continues to operate daily Boeing 747 services between Toyko and Sydney, as well as three flights per week between Tokyo and Perth, and seats on these services are available to any individual, Australian or otherwise, seeking to depart Japan."
Australians who cannot meet the costs of travel from Japan can apply for emergency loans from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Qantas is in close contact with DFAT about the situation and we are committed to providing seats into and out of Tokyo as long as it is safe to do so.
Prices for flights out of Tokyo are currently astonishingly high on some airlines, with Qantas and JAL charging $5,158 for a one-way, economy class seat out of Tokyo Narita airport to Sydney on tonight's flight.
The Australian Government today issued travel advice advising Australians in Tokyo to leave as soon as possible.
After complaints from readers about airfares out of Tokyo, Australian Business Traveller searched online fare websites. The results were staggering, with airlines asking for more than $5,000 for an economy seat on a one-way flight.
Qantas spokesman Simon Rushton defended the airline's pricing, saying "We are offering a range of fares across all flights and seats remain available in all classes."
"We would strongly defend any accusation of price gouging."
Qantas does not allow bookings for flights originating outside of Australia on its normal Qantas.com Australia site, and the Qantas Japan website doesn't allow bookings for flights in the next three days.
Rushton said the airline was looking into why airfare aggregator sites were not showing "the much lower fares we know are available."
JAL said it had not increased its fares after the earthquake, but that it was simply standard airline practice to charge full fare if a traveller books a one-way flight on the day they are flying.
"If the passenger had wanted to purchase an unrestricted ticket one-way ticket last week before the earthquake, he/she would have been looking to pay the same amount. There is no sudden increase in fares," said spokesperson Sze Hunn Yap.
"People are misunderstanding that airlines are charging more at a time like this because before this situation, [they have probably never] purchased one-way tickets at last minute and thus they were not aware of the pricing of normal IATA fares before."
The Australian Government has today issued a warning that Australians still in Japan should leave now, as Tokyo is unsafe. However, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it will not organise special evacuation flights, as there is ample commercial airline seating available.
JAL's comment makes clear that although the airline has not raised prices, it is also not providing discount fare levels for last minute online bookings of one-way tickets.
However, the airline said passengers could still visit ticket counters in airports in Japan to buy return tickets for departure on the same day at discount rates, as long as seats were still available.
The airline did point out that in coming days, cheaper fares were available if booked with some warning. For example, a Narita to Sydney flight tomorrow with JAL would cost around $3,000.
Other airlines such as Etihad, United and Thai are also charging over $6,000 for a seat on today's flights out of Narita, though those airlines can only offer indirect routes today using codeshare airlines with multiple stopovers, which explains the high price.
Yesterday, Australian Business Traveller reported on the case of a customer who wanted to cancel their inbound flights to Tokyo and was told by Flight Centre it would cost $990 to do so.
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