Japan Airlines arguably has the best all-around first-class product with strong availability for partner booking, but new data points discovered by the team at Juicy Miles leads us to posit a disheartening possibility: Could Japan Airlines be limiting first-class awards to only JAL Mileage Bank Members?
We’ve searched extensively to find JAL space on a wide variety of routes. The Juicy Miles team has been unable to find Japan Airlines award availability at any point past April 1, 2021 on partner programs. Availability is visible on JAL Mileage Bank, but not on partner programs.
On dates prior until March 31, 2021, first class is available and bookable following familiar patterns.
The data seems to point to a theory that won’t prove popular for miles collectors: Japan Airlines seems to be moving to make first-class awards available only to members of its own program and not partners.
JAL Mileage Bank First Availability
Japan Airlines generally opens award booking on its schedule 330 days in advance. That means that April 2021 should start to be available for bookings now. Sure enough, plenty availability is showing up on the JAL Mileage Bank website for first class in April 2021.
No JAL First Partner Awards After April 1, 2021
Since we discovered the issue, we’ve systematically searched through programs partnered with Japan Airlines for the availability visible for JAL Mileage Bank customers. A clear pattern is emerging.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is traditionally a good program for booking Japan Airlines First Class. The miles can be transferred from American Express, Citi, and CapitalOne.
We searched Asia Miles for Japan Airlines availability in April 2021, and we are able to find award space:
Unfortunately, attempting to book the space triggers an error:
We continued going through day by day to see if this was isolated. No space was bookable until March 31, 2021.
British Airways Executive Club
British Airways is another Oneworld partner which has had access to Japan Airlines First Class in the past. A transfer partner for both American Express and Chase Ultimate Rewards makes this an easy points currency to access.
Unfortunately, Japan Airlines First Class is not bookable on British Airways either starting April 2021.
A search on the popular New York to Tokyo route on British Airways brings up an interesting error: “cabin is not operated on this flight.” This is clearly not true as the space is available and bookable on JAL Mileage Bank.
Searches on the British Airways website until March 31 show the space as available and bookable as it has in the past.
American Airlines AAdvantage and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Phantom award space for Japan Airlines First Class has been seen on AAdvantage online search in April 2021, but it is not bookable.
Interestingly, the space only appears using the new AA search. The space is not findable on AA’s legacy search engine as seen below. Starting April 1, Japan Airlines first class space does not come up.
Similarly, no space is available from Alaska Airlines, even leading to speculation that the change was a stealth devaluation of the ever-popular Mileage Plan.
Qantas Frequent Flyer and Other Programs
Qantas is the outlier here. Qantas is still showing space in April 2021 as available, but we haven’t been able to confirm whether the space is bookable (no Qantas miles). If you have Qantas miles, we would appreciate any data points you can share on whether the space is bookable.
We have not tested availability on Oneworld programs other than those listed above and we haven’t tried Emirates either. If you have information on whether these programs are showing Japan Airlines First Class availability and whether they are bookable past April 2021, please let us know.
This is all speculation at this point, but the data does point to the fact that something is changing in the way Japan Airlines releases first class award space. Could JAL be limiting first-class awards to just JAL Mileage Bank members?
This isn’t without precedent: Lufthansa and Air France both already restrict the availability of first-class space to partners.
We obviously don’t know if this is true or not, but the evidence does point in that direction. If it is true, this could be very disappointing for many miles collectors.
For Oneworld frequent flyers, Japan Airlines pulling availability from partners leaves very limited options for first class awards if you’re booking in advance for two. All that would be left would be British Airways, Qantas (a longshot award), and Qatar (on the routes that it is flown). Cathay Pacific generally only releases one seat in their first-class cabin on a flight.
We’ll continue investigating. If you have any information to share, please get in touch or leave a comment. JAL, American, Alaska, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas provided no comments prior to publication.
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