Japan Airlines (JAL) will be the newest international partner for Alaska Airlines. This will include a codeshare agreement and the opportunity to earn and redeem miles with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
It’s an important step for a carrier that is trying to dominate the West Coast market with its acquisition of Virgin America. Alaska is already partners with Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, and Hainan Airlines, so this brings the number of Asian partners to four — and there are other partners that also offer flights to Asia as part of more diverse route networks.
The codeshare agreement will take effect June 29 pending government approval. The opportunity to earn Alaska miles for travel on JAL will follow shortly after, and the ability to redeem Alaska miles for travel on JAL will come sometime after that. (This is similar to the rollout of partnerships with Icelandair and Hainan Airlines.)
I wouldn’t read too much into the deal about the possibility of new routes by JAL to/from the Pacific Northwest. Although Portland and Alaska are two of Alaska Airlines’ biggest hubs, there are several existing partners that don’t have flights to those cities. Cathay Pacific is just one example.
However, Los Angeles and San Francisco are expected to become more important hubs for Alaska after the Virgin America merger is complete. Both airlines also operate flights to Honolulu, San Diego, Vancouver, Dallas, Chicago, New York, and Boston. Connecting on Alaska Airlines to a JAL flight should be straightforward.
Alaska Airlines negotiates its award charts separately with each partner, so we can’t know yet what it will charge for award travel on JAL. For example, travel on Emirates was generally more expensive than on other partners serving the same destinations, and that was before the Emirates business and first class award prices doubled overnight. So more options don’t necessarily mean affordable options.
But I do suspect that they’ll be priced similar to what we see for Cathay Pacific — which is a relative discount when booked with Alaska Airlines miles since American devalued the AAdvantage program. Alaska also permits a stopover with few other restrictions (only one partner airline per award ticket).
One major question is if Alaska will have a single price for travel on JAL to any destination in Asia, as they do with Cathay Pacific, or if they’ll break it up into multiple subregions. Furthermore, will they offer award travel within Asia, or to other continents besides North America and Asia? These are less common awards in general, but Cathay Pacific is an exception (Alaska offers an award for nearly every route that Cathay Pacific operates).
Given the high quality of JAL’s service and its closer location to the West Coast compared to Hong Kong, I’m glad to see another great option for travel to Asia. I’ll have a trip report coming up soon that includes a review of JAL’s first class service from Tokyo-Narita to Los Angeles, and the trip report I’m currently writing includes a review of JAL’s first class lounge at Tokyo-Haneda.