Complete Guide to Redeeming Alaska Miles on JAL

Alaska published their award chart for Japan Airlines (JAL) yesterday, so I figure there’s no better time to cover some of the basics. I’ll include the ways you can earn Alaska Airlines miles, discuss Alaska’s routing rules and some (surprising) sweet spots, and cover the destinations served by JAL.

You can book Japan Airlines flights using Alaska miles online, which is a huge time saver and helps with searching for availability. It also saves you to the non-refundable call center booking fee, which is charged regardless of whether an award is bookable online.

JAL has a pretty good solid Business Class product on most long-haul routes, and in my experience, their service is also impeccable.

Earning Alaska Airlines Miles

Other than flying, there are three major ways to earn Alaska miles. They are a transfer partner with Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), at a rate of a 1:1. However, SPG gives you 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points you transfer. So if you’re transferring in 20,000-point increments, you will essentially end up with a 1:1.25 ratio.

Alternatively, you can also earn Alaska miles from signing up and using their co-branded credit card with Bank of America. Finally, Alaska frequently run promotions on mile purchases. For example, earlier this year they were offering up to a 50% bonus when you buy miles (a net cost of ~1.97 cents/mile).

Of course, you can always earn Alaska Miles from flying. They are partners with American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, so you can always credit your flights to Alaska instead if you’re flying either carrier. While they don’t belong to an alliance, Alaska also has a list of partners around the world, and you can earn miles on their flights too.

Alaska Airlines' Partners

Alaska Airlines’ Partners

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Award Chart for JAL

Alaska Airlines has a separate award chart for each carrier partner, and here is the award chart for Japan Airlines.

  • Continental US to Asia
    • Economy Class: 35,000 miles one-way
    • Premium Economy: 40,000 miles one-way
    • Business Class: 60,000 miles one-way
    • First Class: 70,000 miles one-way
  • Continental US to Southeast Asia
    • Economy Class: 40,000 miles one-way
    • Premium Economy: 45,000 miles one-way
    • Business Class: 65,000 miles one-way
    • First Class: 75,000 miles one-way
  • Intra-Asia
    • Economy Class: 15,000 miles one-way
    • Premium Economy: 17,500 miles one-way
    • Business Class: 25,000 miles one-way
    • First Class: 35,000 miles one-way

For redemption purposes, this is how the regions are defined:

  • Asia: Japan, India, South Korea
  • Southeast Asia: China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam

Japan Airlines only has a First Class product on the 777-300ER, which they only fly to a handful of routes. You can see the routes that feature First Class below.

Japan Airlines First Class Seat. Source: JAL

Japan Airlines First Class Seat. Source: JAL

Routing Rules (And Maximizing Stopovers, even Intra-Asia!)

Alaska allows you to do a stopover on a one-way ticket, which is by far one of the biggest draw of their program. This means you can fly from New York to Tokyo, stop for a few days, and then onto Bangkok, all on the same ticket.

However, you can also create a stopover on an intra-Asia ticket, which is absolutely incredible. This means you can put together an itinerary like New Delhi – Tokyo – Bangkok, and have a stop in Tokyo. That’s over 15 hours of flying in Business Class, for just 25,000 miles. 

You can do a stopover on intra-Asia tickets with Alaska Airlines!

You can do a stopover on intra-Asia tickets with Alaska Airlines!

This is particularly remarkable, because you are not allowed to incorporate a stopover on an intra-Asia award ticket if you’re flying Cathay Pacific.

You are also allowed to have an open-jaw on a one-way ticket, which is equally incredible. For example, you can fly from Delhi to Tokyo, take the train (JR) to Osaka, and then continue onward to Bangkok. All of this costs just 25,000 miles and ~$65 in taxes in Business Class.

You can incorporate an open-jaw even on an intra-Asia ticket!

You can incorporate an open-jaw even on an intra-Asia ticket!

These routing rules mean Mileage Plan redemptions on JAL can be insanely useful in connect-the-dot type itineraries, if you want to hop around in Asia and stop in everywhere for a bit on a longer trip.

Japan Airlines North American Gateways

Alaska has a different award chart for each carrier, so you are only allowed one carrier per ticket other than Alaska. For this reason, knowing the destinations Japan Airlines actually serves is helpful in looking for award tickets.

Destinations in North America and Hawaii served by Japan Airlines

Destinations in North America and Hawaii served by Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines flies to 8 airports in North America. Since flights to/from Hawaii are treated as flight to/from Continental US, I will include them in this section. The ones with asterisks (*) are routes with a First Class cabin.

  • To/From Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
    • Boston (BOS)
    • Chicago (ORD) *
    • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
    • Honolulu (HNL)
    • Los Angeles (LAX) *
    • New York (JFK) *
    • San Diego (SAN)
    • Vancouver (YVR)
  • To/From Tokyo-Haneda (HND):
    • Honolulu (HNL) ends April 1, 2017
    • New York (JFK) * starts April 1, 2017
    • San Francisco (SFO) *
  • To/From Osaka-Kansai (KIX)
    • Honolulu (HNL)
    • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • To/From Nagoya-Centrair (NGO)
    • Honolulu (HNL)

Destinations in Asia Served by Japan Airlines

In Asia, here are the international routes served by Japan Airlines:

Internation routes in Asia served by Japan Airlines out of Tokyo-Narita (NRT).

International routes in Asia served by Japan Airlines out of Tokyo-Narita (NRT).

  • To/From Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
    • Bangkok (BKK)
    • Beijing (PEK)
    • Busan (PUS)
    • Dalian (DLC)
    • Hanoi (HAN)
    • Ho Chi Minh City (SGN)
    • Hong Kong (HKG)
    • Jakarta (CGK) * (First Class ends February 28, 2017)
    • Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
    • Manila (MNL)
    • New Delhi (DEL)
    • Taipei-Taoyuan (TPE)
    • Seoul-Incheon (ICN)
    • Shanghai-Pudong (PVG)
    • Singapore (SIN)
Internation routes in Asia served by Japan Airlines out of Tokyo-Haneda (HND).

International routes in Asia served by Japan Airlines out of Tokyo-Haneda (HND).

  • To/From Tokyo-Haneda (HND):
    • Bangkok (BKK)
    • Beijing (PEK)
    • Ho Chi Minh City (SGN)
    • Guangzhou (CAN)
    • Hong Kong (HKG)
    • Kaohsiung (KHH)
    • Taipei-Songshan (TSA)
    • Seoul-Gimpo (GMP)
    • Shanghai-Hongqiao (SHA)
    • Shanghai-Pudong (PVG)
    • Singapore (SIN)
  • To/From Osaka-Kansai (KIX)
    • Bangkok (BKK)
    • Shanghai-Pudong (PVG)
  • To/From Nagoya-Centrair (NGO)
    • Bangkok (BKK)
    • Shanghai-Pudong (PVG)
    • Tianjin (TSN)

A Geographical Sweet Spot for Redemptions on JAL

For the most part, you can use fewer miles for the same destinations when you redeem them on Cathay Pacific, assuming you’re only interested in the destination. This is because Alaska charges just 50,000 miles one-way for Business Class from the US to Asia on Cathay Pacific.

This is a big assumption, of course, because with Alaska’s routing rules, you can have a stopover en route. If you redeem miles for travel on Cathay Pacific, you have to stop in Hong Kong; meanwhile, redeeming miles for travel on JAL means you can stopover in Tokyo.

However, how Alaska categorizes each airport into specific regions bring us a pretty unique redemption opportunity. As you may have noticed above, Alaska categorizes India as part of “Asia” and not “Southeast Asia” in their chart. This actually doesn’t make a whole of sense, geographically speaking, since Delhi is an 8-hour flight away from Tokyo. But I’m not complaining about a sweet spot!

Fly from Delhi to New York with a stopover in Tokyo for just 60,000 miles one-way in Business Class!

Fly from Delhi to New York with a stopover in Tokyo for just 60,000 miles one-way in Business Class!

As you can see from the example above, you can fly from Delhi to New York with a stop in Tokyo for just 60,000 miles one-way in Business Class. That’s a pretty sweet redemption!

JAL Award Availability

Japan Airlines isn’t very predictable as far as award availability goes.  For the past few months, I have noticed pretty good award availability in Business Class far in advance, especially out of Boston. Alaska flies there from Portland (PDX), San Diego (SAN), and Seattle (SEA), and you can of course always position yourself there in other ways.

First Class awards on Japan Airlines are notoriously hard to get, and the fact that it’s only available on a handful of routes make redeeming First Class awards even more difficult. They do have a tendency to release seats closer to departure (starting ~2 weeks out), but it’s not as reliable as say, Cathay Pacific, which almost always release 1 – 2 seats in First Class far out, and basically releases all but one unsold seat for award travel last-minute to fill the cabin.

However, JAL releases a ton of award space for travel within Asia (however Alaska defines it), both in Economy and premium cabins. Since that’s how I’m mostly likely to use my Alaska miles anyway, I count it as a win.

Change Fees and Redeposit Charges

Many of you may already be familiar with the fees that Alaska charges, but I figure I’d include them here for completeness sake.

Alaska charges a $12.50 partner award booking fee per ticket, which is non-refundable. They also charge a $15 call center booking fee, which is also non-refundable and charged even if the award isn’t bookable online.

Alaska allows changes and cancellations for free up to 60 days before the first departure on the ticket, which is a very generous policy. If you need to make changes or redeposit your miles within the 60-day leading up to your flight, it costs $125 per ticket.

Conclusion

I am excited that Alaska is fulfilling their promise of opening redemptions on Japan Airlines by the end of 2016. Unfortunately, you can only use miles to fly to/from/within Asia, and the rates are higher than what Alaska charges for some other partners.

However, there are still some sweet spots in the chart. You can incorporate stopovers and open-jaws in Japan, even when on a one-way intra-Asia ticket, which is really good news in my opinion. Additionally, the fact that Alaska puts India under the “Asia” (cheaper) category will also open the door for some pretty great itineraries.

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