Japan Airlines, commonly referred to as JAL, is one of two major Japanese carriers along with ANA (All Nippon Airlines). JAL offers service throughout Asia, as well as destinations to Europe and the Americas. However, it’s Mileage Bank loyalty program does not get much attention because it is difficult to accrue miles.
There is an unimpressive JAL credit card for U.S. customers issued by First Bankcard. Other than that, or by flying on JAL, most Americans are likely to get Mileage Bank miles by transferring points from Starwood Preferred Guest. JAL also offers a Family Club option to pool points between up to eight accounts, but the same pooling option is available with SPG if you were already planning to transfer the points from there.
You can only use JAL Mileage Bank to book travel for yourself, your parents and grandparents, your children and grandchildren, and the spouses of these individuals. The siblings, parents, and grandparents of your spouse are also eligible.
Given these restrictions on redemption and the difficulty of accruing any miles in the first place, one wonders why JAL deserves attention. After all, it’s also possible to book travel on JAL by using partner programs. Alaska Airlines and JAL announced a partnership in 2017, and JAL has long been a member of the oneworld Alliance including American Airlines, British Airways, and others.
However, JAL Mileage Bank has cheaper awards on certain carriers. A common example is travel Emirates. Both Alaska Airlines and JAL are partners with Emirates, but JAL requires fewer miles for these redemptions. While JAL won’t be your first pick for booking most awards, it is worth comparing its award prices with other loyalty programs before making a decision.
Mileage Bank can be used to book flights on Japan Airlines and all other oneworld Alliance members, including:
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Paciifc
- Qatar Airways
- Malaysia Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airlines
There are also some non-alliance partners that include Air France, Alaska Airlines, Bangkok Airways, China Eastern, Emirates, Korean Air, and Jetstar Japan.
Japan Airlines publishes detailed award charts, both for their own flights and for partners. There are actually several charts for different regions and for travel on JAL vs. oneworld Alliance vs. other JAL partners, so there’s too much to list here. I’ve only provided the two partner award charts here to keep things simple.
For travel one oneworld Alliance members:
|1 - 4,000||25000||48000||72000|
|4,001 - 8,000||40000||80000||100000|
|8,001 - 10,000||50000||80000||110000|
|10,001 - 12,000||60000||110000||160000|
|12,001 - 14,000||70000||110000||160000|
|14,001 - 20,000||90000||120000||170000|
|20,001 - 25,000||120000||150000||230000|
|25,001 - 29,000||140000||190000||280000|
|29,001 - 34,000||150000||200000||300000|
|34,001 - 50,000||160000||220000||330000|
For travel on other JAL partners, including Air France, Alaska Airlines, Bangkok Airways, China Eastern, Emirates, and Korean Air:
|Trip Distance||Economy||Premium Economy||Business||First|
|1 - 1,000||15000||25000||32000||55000|
|1,001 - 2,000||20000||27500||35000||60000|
|2,001 - 4,000||21000||31500||42000||65000|
|4,001 - 6,000||37000||48500||60000||90000|
|6,001 - 8,000||39000||51000||63000||100000|
|8,001 - 10,000||40000||52500||65000||105000|
|10,001 - 12,000||50000||65000||80000||115000|
|12,001 - 14,000||55000||70000||85000||135000|
|14,001 - 20,000||60000||80000||100000||155000|
|20,001 - 25,000||85000||105000||125000||200000|
|25,001 - 29,000||110000||135000||160000||250000|
|29,001 - 34,000||130000||160000||190000||290000|
|34,001 - 50,000||150000||180000||210000||330000|
Because all partner award pricing is based on distance, the ideal strategy is to maximize the distance you fly while staying just under the threshold over the next award tier. This will let you redeem the fewest miles for the greatest travel. Also, try to include stopovers and open jaws (as outlined below) to increase the number of trips within a single award.
You can use JAL’s own tool to calculate the total distance of your trip, or you can use an open source tool like GCMap. Finally, be aware that JAL will collect all taxes and fees as well as carrier imposed surcharges (i.e., fuel surcharges) on award travel.
You can estimate the surcharge before looking for award space by using ITA Matrix to find the same itinerary as a paid (or revenue) ticket. The fare breakdown on the final page will include all taxes and fees, as well as a carrier surcharge listed as “YQ” or “YR”. Some taxes may not apply to your award ticket because they depend on the base fare. When you redeem miles, the base fare is zero, so the tax is zero. However, other fees and the carrier surcharge will still apply.
Award Routing Rules
Like ANA Mileage Club, JAL also has very detailed rules — so many that it can be difficult to parse what is significant and what is not. I’ve attempted to abbreviate the most important details.
- Partner awards, including awards involving a mix of flights on JAL and other airlines, are allowed six flight segments in total.
- You are allowed two stopovers (more than 24 hours) in cities along your route in addition to your destination. This means you can potentially visit three cities on a single award.
- You are allowed to depart from and return to different cities (an open jaw), but they must be within the same country.
- You are also allowed another open jaw — or “surface sector” — during your journey. This is an opportunity to travel by land or perhaps book a separate flight.
- If you book a surface sector, the distance of the surface sector will be added to the distance of the total itinerary to calculate the award price. It will also count as one of your stopovers.
How to Find Award Space for JAL Flights
You can book travel on JAL flights as well as some partner flights using the JAL website. I’ll start by discussing the process for flights operated by JAL.
Begin by navigating to the JAL Mileage Bank webpage and log in with your account number and six-digit PIN.
Once you log in, you can choose either a JAL international award ticket or a JMB partner award ticket from the “Award redemption (Air)” menu at the bottom of the page. As mentioned before, I’m starting with a JAL international award. (You cna also see that domestic awards have their own process, which I will not cover in this post.)
Whichever international award option you choose, you can still switch between JAL and partner awards on the next page.
Enter your origin and destination cities, as well as your dates of travel. To keep things simple I will look for a one-way award. You can see this is for a business class ticket from Chicago to Tokyo. If you are booking travel for someone other than the Mileage Bank account owner, be sure to uncheck the box at the bottom.
The results on the next page show several dates with awards for 50,000 miles and fees of about $70. However, some of these dates are for waitlisted awards. Be sure to review the information carefully if you want to secure your reservation today rather than testing your luck on a waitlist.
If you have enough miles in your account, you’ll be able to continue in the booking process to enter passenger and payment information.
How to Find Award Space for Partner Airlines
For flights on Air France, American Airlines, Bangkok Airways, British Airways, Cathay Pacific (and Cathay Dragon), Finnair, Iberia, Qantas, Qatar Airways, S7 Airlines, SriLankan Airlines, and Qantas, it may be possible to book your award online. However, visibility of award space can be unreliable, and if you get no results you should confirm with another website before giving up.
For other flights, you’ll need to call 1-800-525-3663 between 6 AM and 6 PM (Pacific Time), Monday through Friday, or between 7 AM and 3 PM on weekends. If you need to call to book, I recommend you search another website to find award space first. The British Airways and Qantas websites are the most comprehensive, but you can also search on American Airlines or on Alaska Airlines for some JAL partners.
Follow the previous instructions to log into your account and begin the reservation process. However, this time you’ll want to select an international partner award. The process begins by choosing the partner you want to fly. Then enter your dates of travel and cities as before. This time I’ll search for a one-way business class award on British Airways from Chicago to London.
The calendar is not as flexible as the one for JAL flights. However, there is a little more detail provided. Here you can see which flights have seats available. After selecting a flight, you can scroll down to continue.
For a partner award you will see the price on the next page, including the number of miles as well as a breakdown of the fuel surcharge and other taxes and fees.
One of the things I like about JAL is that they even provide some detailed fare rules for your award ticket, including things like stopovers, penalties, and restrictions. Maybe it would be easier to highlight the important details instead of making you dig through the extra text, but award tickets usually have simple rules that shouldn’t be hard to interpret.
Again, you’ll need to have sufficient miles in your account to continue with the booking process to enter passenger and payment information.
In summary, the JAL Mileage Bank website has some awkward functionality. This includes several different award types that can make it challenging to determine the price of your award and then book a ticket. It doesn’t get any easier accumulating miles in the first place. However, there are some deals for cheaper awards than you can book elsewhere. At least keep Mileage Bank in the back of your mind for those times when it’s worth the effort.