If you’re a nerd like me, you will know that Alaska Airlines and Japan Airlines entered into a partnership on June 29th, 2016. As with all new partnerships, there’s a period of transition so that things like award redemptions can be properly figured out. It turns out that it took just over 5 months to get to the point where JAL flights are now bookable using Alaska Miles.
For those that are unfamiliar, JAL is hubbed out of Tokyo, both at Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND) but there are far more routes to and from Narita (56 Direct Flights) than Haneda (25 Direct Flights). While I have never been to Tokyo, all the information I have read suggests that it’s far more convenient to fly in and out of Haneda than it is to Narita, so while it is a bit disappointing that most JAL flights fly to NRT, it’s certainly a plus that there are 81 direct flights that JAL operates. I’ll show you the route maps but keep in mind that there are severe limitations when it comes to booking JAL as an award redemption with Alaska Miles.
Remember how I said that there are severe limitations when it comes to booking JAL? Well that’s because you can only fly from North America to Asia and Southeast Asia using Alaska Miles. So in reality, if you want to fly with JAL, you can stopover in Tokyo for up to 364 days before you connect to your final Asian destination.
Because the routing is quite limited with JAL, using the same metric as I did in my Booking Alaska Partner Awards – Cathay Pacific (Points Per Mile) will only get us so far. We will still do it but don’t expect the same “ah-ha” moment as you might have had with Cathay Pacific.
As you can see from the award chart above, there are only two charts for JAL; Asia and Southeast Asia. You may be asking what is considered Asia and what is considered Southeast Asia. Well wonder no more.
Asia includes Japan, South Korea and India (I know … India?).
Southeast Asia includes Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, China and Taiwan. How China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are considered Southeast Asia, I’ll never know.
To me, these countries seem a little backwards but I guess that’s what JAL and Alaska have negotiated.
Let’s now look at the PPM comparison.
For the Asia routing, we are taking the only Canadian city serviced by JAL (Vancouver), routing through Narita and going to Delhi.
For the Southeast Asia route, let’s look at Vancouver-Narita-Jakarta
Hilariously, the two routes are almost the identical distance.
Because the JAL/AS agreement only covers a couple of geographical locations, the only real sweet spot we see is from Canada to India and even there, we can only get to Delhi because of JALs routing. Obviously, if we are looking at JALs award chart on it’s own, it’s pretty easy to see which routing provides the best value but the real gem that we are trying to decipher come later when we complete all the analysis across Alaska’s partners.
As an example, let’s look at the cost to get to India for Cathay vs JAL.
To make things fair, I compared the routings from Vancouver to Delhi. Obviously each airline will stop in their hub so it’s not an apples to apples comparison because the connection point is different but we’ve addressed that by having slightly different distances used in the calculation.
Turns out here that it is MUCH more economical to fly with JAL to India in Economy and Premium Economy but then we flip the script when it comes to premium cabin service. Cathay is the winner on this one but the numbers are so close that it really comes down to your preference in airline and the availabilty of premium award space on those airlines. The other consideration is whether you would rather lay over in Hong Kong or Tokyo.
Unlike Cathay Pacific, JAL’s backend system plays nice with Alaska’s flight search engine so you can easily use it to find your availability. Just like with any award search on Alaska, you simply search for your route, making sure to choose “Use Miles” as an option.
As with any award search, I would suggest searching segment by segment rather than relying on the search engine to find the flights you want. This is especially important if you are looking to have a layover in Tokyo, as I suspect most of you are.
Like Cathay, JAL is a OneWorld member which means that we have the option to search for availability with other partner airline sites. And just like with Cathay, we are going to rely on British Airways as our default search engine. The reason for this is that you tend to get a lot more detail using BA’s system than if you use Alaska. Specifically, you get to see the number of available seats.
To search with British Airways, log into your account (create one if you don’t have one) at www.britishairways.com and look at the left hand side of the page. In the dropdown menu, choose Book with Avios as your Payment Type.
Just like with Cathay, there is no need to specify the number of passengers or the class as the results will show us everything we need.
As you can see from the picture above, we can see that there are 4 Business Class seats available from YVR-NRT on December 4th. You can also use the calendar feature of the search results to quickly look for alternative dates close to your original date of search.
For those of you that use ExpertFlyer, unfortunately, JAL does not play nice with the tool so stick to British Airways as your method of search.
While I have never personally watched for JAL availability, the general consensus is that JAL releases award seats fairly randomly, which is not great for people booking award travel. If you already have your plans in place, I would suggest searching 330 days before your date of departure and continue to search if you can’t find your availability. JAL has also been known to release award seats close-in, meaning about a week before the date of departure (T-7). If you are looking for First Class seats on JAL, I would suggest using the close-in search strategy for the best results.
JAL Sky Suite
One of the reasons that you may want to consider flying JAL is their excellent hard product. In December of 2016, JAL announced their new Sky Suite, which will be available in their 777-300ER, 787 and 767 aircraft. If you are looking for the routes that these suites are available, I would suggest you read JAL’s marketing materials. While I could easily post the information here, I have no idea when you might read this article so I would rather have you click a link than post out of date information.
Taxes and Fees
JAL does not charge Fuel Surcharge (YQ) so your taxes and fees are simply Alaska’s Partner Award Booking Fee ($12.50) and the airport taxes which are obviously dependent on the airport(s) you fly to and from. As an example, I have posted the taxes for a routing from Vancouver to Delhi.
As you can see, you can go one-way from Vancouver to Delhi in Business Class for 60,000 miles and $91.78 (USD) in taxes and fees with a free stopover in Tokyo for up to 364 days.
As a comparison, Aeroplan would charge you 75,000 Aeroplan Miles and a ton more taxes.
The taxes here are 3x what they were on Alaska and we don’t even get Business Class all the way. Also keep in mind that that routes through Japan so you aren’t charged the typical taxes and fees so the $367.91 is an artificially low number. I would expect it to be higher.
Get In On The Action
As I hope you are starting to see that Alaska provides extreme value in their redemptions, especially for those out west but that doesn’t preclude those out east from getting in on the action as I demonstrated with my post on Cathay’s Award Availability.
Now if you want to get in on the Alaska redemption train, I would suggest you first read my review on the Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard. I have a couple of reasons for this.
- I want you to make an informed decision on whether the card makes sense for you before you sign up. I’m not a blogger that believes on flogging afilliate links to make a buck. I truly am interested in helping you make your dream trip a reality. If it works for you great, if not, keep reading the blog as I hope to be able to find a solution for you as well.
- The review provides a way for you to get the card for a $15 annual fee, which is regularly $75. This $15 gives you 25,000 Alaska Miles and will quickly get you on your way towards redeeming on Alaska and its partners.
PointsNerd reader Soltatio is flying Cathay to Asia in December of 2017 but having a hard time finding availability back to Toronto on Cathay so another option is through Hainan Airways, another of Alaska’s partners. I’ve never looked for availability with Hainan but I’ll take a shot at breaking down the opportunities that exist with Hainan. As always, we will look at their routes to and from Canada, the hubs and how to find availability.
You are rapidly becoming the go to Canadian site for information on travel hacking. Keep up the good work.
Thanks for the kind words John! Cheers
Hey Jayce, thanks for the helpful info! I am looking at trying to get first class LAX-NRT or SFO-NRT and it looks like the most reliable strategy is to wait until 2 weeks out to book. My question is how would you book first class on the return leg? Would you book say a business class flight on the return leg and hope for first class to open up 1-2 weeks before you get back? Does Alaska allow you to make changes once travel has commenced? Thanks!
Thanks for the kind words. You are exactly right. Book the Business Class flight and watch the flight for First to open up. Alaska allows you to upgrade the ticket with points. By the letter of the law, it’s a change and attracts a fee but in practice, I have heard that most people are able to upgrade without paying a fee as long as the flight doesn’t change and it’s just a class of service change. Hope that helps.