Is Japan Airlines Ending First Class Award Redemptions via Partner Programs?

by Giovanni

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.

Related: Japan Airlines Leads In Passenger Satisfaction, Study Says

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.

JAL Mileage Bank shows First Availability 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:Asia Miles shows JAL F space in April 2021

Unfortunately, attempting to book the space triggers an error:

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Error JAL F

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.

Executive Club says JAL First cabin not operated April 2021

Searches on the British Airways website until March 31 show the space as available and bookable as it has in the past.

Executive Club JAL First March 2021 is available and bookable

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.

AAdvantage JAL First Class legacy

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.

The Upshot

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?

Photo of Japan Airlines 787 in the air

Could JAL be limiting first-class awards to just JAL Mileage Bank members? Photo courtesy Japan Airlines.

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. 

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

10 comments
1

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10 comments

Gene June 15, 2020 - 10:26 am

With Qsuites, who needs anyone’s First?

Reply
Leo Guam June 15, 2020 - 11:58 am

Found some F space SYD-HND in April, but didn’t try booking.

Reply
wissam h hamou June 15, 2020 - 12:01 pm

on march 7th I booked 2 F class JFK-HND through AA for april 1st. Guess I was the last one

Reply
Christian June 15, 2020 - 1:44 pm

Thanks for the information, although this sucks huge. I’m trying to find two first class seats from SE Asia to the central/eastern US in May and JAL was my big hope. Has anyone from Juicy Miles contacted any of the airlines involved to seek more information?

Reply
Japan Airlines Might Be Blocking First Class Awards | One Mile at a Time June 15, 2020 - 2:51 pm

[…] That no longer seems to be the case, as noted by Point Me To The Plane: […]

Reply
Christian June 15, 2020 - 3:34 pm

I’m trying to reconcile your response with my question on whether anyone from the blog or booking service had reached out to the pertinent parties. They would certainly have a better chance of getting a straight answer than a normal person.

Reply
Giovanni June 15, 2020 - 3:43 pm

Hi Christian, as noted in the last sentence, we have reached out to JAL, American, Alaska, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas to ask what’s going on but they have not commented. We will definitely update this post if we hear back!

Reply
Christian June 15, 2020 - 9:41 pm

Apologies, I misconstrued the last sentence.

Reply
Japan Airlines may block top-notch awards – destinationhacker June 15, 2020 - 7:47 pm

[…] This no longer appears to be the case, as stated by Show me on the plane:: […]

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Your First Class Trip May Not Be in the Cards | MilesTalk June 17, 2020 - 10:02 am

[…] Point Me to the Plane reports that after March 31st, 2021, partners appear unable to book JAL First Class awards. This means […]

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