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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
There are plenty of foreign carriers with loyalty programs that should not be overlooked. Flying Blue, KrisFlyer and Korean Air SkyPass offer plenty of great redemption options that get you maximum value from your points. Another example is Japan Airlines’ Mileage Bank, which is often overlooked because it’s not a transfer partner of American Express, Chase or Citi. Today, I’ll show you why you should not only pay attention to Mileage Bank, but should probably make it a priority in your loyalty portfolio.
Earning JAL Mileage Bank Miles
You can’t move any of the major transferable credit card points to your JAL account, but you can transfer Starpoints to your account with the usual 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. You can transfer a maximum of 79,999 Starpoints per day, but you’d never want to move more than 60,000 a day or you’d miss out on an additional 5,000-mile bonus by transferring the maximum.
Earn Starpoints with either the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express. Both cards are currently offering 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 within the first three months.
You can also apply for the JAL USA Card issued by the First National Bank of Omaha. The card has a very poor sign-up bonus of just 5,000 miles after you fly your first international flight with JAL. You earn 1 mile per dollar spent with the card if you choose the premium rewards option, which equates to a $70 annual fee, which is waived for the first year. The card also gives you a 10% mileage bonus for any paid flights you take with JAL and offers a 1,000-mile discount on international award flights.
You can also credit your revenue Oneworld and JAL partner flights to your Mileage Bank account. Check the partner earnings site and look at your airline and fare class to see how many miles you’ll earn. Most economy fares on American Airlines earn between 30-50% of the miles flown. If you’re flying on a cheap fare and don’t hold status with American, crediting to JAL (even at the reduced earning rate) could still make sense.
The final way to earn JAL miles is via a myriad of business partners. You can earn miles on everything from car rentals to in-home maid service. There’s also a shopping portal with limited partners, and as of publish time none of the offers stick out as particularly good deals.
The Japan Airlines Family Club allows the pooling of miles for up to eight family members, all of which must be immediate family plus the parents and in-laws of the primary member. A Family Club membership is good for five years and must be renewed for subsequent five-year periods. Until March 31, there’s a special campaign for new families to enroll in the program and avoid the 1,000-mile fee for registration and the 1,000-mile fee per person joining the club. Also, all people joining during the campaign will evenly split a 5,000,000-mile bonus.
Limited Online Functionality for Americas Members
In 2015, JAL announced that online search capabilities would be limited for a few months for members from the Americas region. The Mileage Bank program was one of the most useful tools for finding Oneworld award availability, but to this day functionality has not been restored. I tried searching with an account registered in the UK, which gave me back some of the JAL-operated award search capability, but it still had issues when I searched the few partners available to book online.
My guess is the program and the ease of booking online proved so popular with Starpoints-rich Americans that JAL wanted to limit the number of award tickets being booked. To find bookable JAL space, use the British Airways Avios flight search tool or Qantas.com.
Booking Award Flights
To book an award ticket with your JAL miles, call 1-800-525-3663. Service hours are Monday-Friday 6:00am to 6:00pm PST and 7:00am to 3:00pm PST on weekends and holidays. You can use your miles to book award tickets for blood relatives described in the following chart:
Award-Routing Rules for JAL Flights
From the start, it’s important to note that Japan Airlines has a complex program. Each webpage is full of dozens of lines of small print, often detailing rather important rules. When doing your research, make sure you read everything on each page you’re reviewing. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the award-routing rules for JAL-operated flights.
For flights operated by JAL, award ticket costs are region-based. The award charts for JAL-operated international flights show round-trip ticket costs. One-way flights can be redeemed for half the mileage shown in the chart. Infant and child award tickets cost the same as an adult ticket. Beginning April 1, award flights for Japan domestic tickets will start at 6,000 miles (currently 7,000 miles) for a one-way flight.
For round-trip award tickets on JAL-operated itineraries:
- For each award, a maximum of 3 flight sectors will be allowed each way.
- Only one Japan domestic sector is allowed per one-way of the journey.
- Award itineraries that include the original departure place or country as a transfer point to a different destination are not permitted.
- The departure and return may be in different cities, but must be in the same area and within the same country.
- The arrival city of the outbound journey and the departure city of the return journey may be in different cities, but must be in the same area and within the same country.
- Canada and the US are counted as the same country/area.
- All cities in Europe (Finland, France, Germany and the UK) are counted as the same country/area.
- China and Hong Kong are counted as different countries/areas.
- Stopovers (stays of more than 24 hours) in Japan are not permitted.
For one-way award tickets:
- The cities of departure and return must be located in different areas. For each award, a maximum of 3 flight sectors will be allowed.
- Itineraries cannot include surface sectors. Only connections in the same city are permitted.
- A maximum of 1 Japan domestic flight sector will be allowed for the total journey.
- Stopovers (stays of more than 24 hours) in Japan are not permitted.
Award-Routing Rules for JAL Partner Flights
In addition to redeeming with Oneworld alliance members with JAL miles, you can book with Air France, Alaska Airlines, Bangkok Airways, China Eastern, Emirates, Korean Air and Jetstar Japan (which has its own award chart). Award tickets on partner airlines are distance-based according to this chart.
The following rules apply to award tickets on partner flights:
- A routing with a combination of Japan Airlines and a partner airline utilizes the partner award chart.
- One-way itineraries are permitted.
- “Point of origin” and “final returning point” may be different provided those cities are in the same country. (China includes Hong Kong and Macau.)
- Itinerary via “Point of origin” is not permitted.
- Itinerary via “Country of origin” is not permitted.
- When different classes of service are involved in 1 round-trip journey, the required mileage for the higher class will apply.
- A maximum of 6 sectors excluding surface sector will be permitted in whole itinerary.
- One surface (open-jaw) sector is permitted in the whole itinerary.
- For each award, a maximum of 3 stopovers (a stay of more than 24 hours or surface sector) is permitted in the whole itinerary.
- “One city” can be included three times at the maximum for the whole itinerary, however, stopover at “one city” is permitted only once in the whole itinerary.
- A surface sector is counted to be “one stopover” regardless of the sojourn time.
- The distance of the surface sector is included in the total distance of award itinerary.
Below I’ll show several examples of itineraries that can maximize some of the more interesting mileage requirements from the distanced based chart.
Special Promotions and Campaigns
Another unique characteristic of JAL Mileage Bank are the constant and numerous mileage promotions — each of which, of course, has its own complicated and cumbersome rules and dates. However, they are often valuable and worth pursuing. Here’s a list of current promotions:
- International Award Tickets Discount Mileage Promotion — Up to 15,000 miles off international tickets booked on JAL.com. (Obviously not helpful for Americans, as our online functionality was taken away.)
- JAL Card International Award Tickets — 1,000 miles off for JAL cardholders
- Limited Days of the Week — North America to Japan for 80,000 miles round-trip in business and other discount prices
- AirBerlin Discount — Save up to 8,000 miles on award tickets booked with AirBerlin on itineraries up to 4,000 miles in distance.
- Bangkok Airways Promo — Save up to 10,000 miles on award tickets booked with Bangkok Airways on itineraries up to 4,000 miles in distance.
- Discount Upgrade Promo — Save up to 6,000 miles on eligible upgrade fares. Don’t get too excited, as the fares required for upgrades are almost full economy fares (and expensive business fares are required to upgrade to first).
- SriLankan Airlines/Maldives Promo — Fly from Tokyo to the Maldives via Colombo (where a stopover is included) round-trip for only 30,000 miles in economy or 65,000 miles in business.
- S7 Russian Promo — Redeem domestic Russian flights on Oneworld partner S7 for as little as 5,000 miles.
- LATAM Promo — Hop around South America, saving up to 10,000 miles on one-way trips.
Maximizing Japan Airlines Mileage Bank Miles
Looking at the region-based award chart for JAL, in conjunction with several of the ongoing promos, there are some easy sweet spots to focus on. Round-trip business class from North America to Japan for only 80,000 miles on “limited days of the week” is a fantastic deal. That equates to only 65,000 Starpoints with the transfer bonus included. You can compound that by visiting two cities in Japan with a permitted open jaw. The means you could fly New York – Tokyo (open jaw) Osaka – Tokyo – New York and see both Tokyo and Osaka on one ticket. You could do that same itinerary in economy for only 40,000 miles or 35,000 Starpoints.
Other good deals for JAL-operated flights include (all prices are round-trip):
- Hawaii to Japan for 40,000 miles in economy
- Japan to Europe for 70,000 miles in premium economy
- Japan to Australia for 40,000 miles in economy
- Manila to Sydney in business via Tokyo for 90,000 miles
For partner-based flights, the key is to create an itinerary with two stopovers that maximizes the distance-based zones where mileage allowed is increased but the miles required only increase slightly. Use the JAL award sector milage calculator to figure out the official length of your itinerary. Remember that the open jaw, or ground sector, of the itinerary is included.
I try to create itineraries in the 9th zone of the distance chart which is itineraries between 14,001 and 20,000 miles in length. It gives you another 6,000 miles allowed on an itinerary over zone 8 but only increases the cost between 5,000 and 20,000 miles depending on the class you want to fly.
Taking into account the two stopovers allowed, you could fly the following itinerary on partner Emirates via its fifth-freedom route to Europe: New York – Milan (stopover) – Dubai – Bangkok (destination) – Dubai (second stopover) – Milan – New York all for only 60,000, 100,000 or 155,000 miles in economy, business or first, respectively. Find Emirates availability on Alaska.com or Qantas.com.
Using partner Alaska, you could start in Seattle and see Hawaii, San Diego and Cabo for only 39,000 miles in economy. The itinerary is 7,996 miles, putting it in the fifth zone of the award chart. The trip would fly SEA-HNL (stopover) LAX-SJC (Destination)-SAN(stopover)-SEA.
Next, you can move to South America and partner LATAM to take advantage of the promo extended to the end of March. Award space can be tough to find, but you can use BritishAirways.com to find available award seats. By booking two tickets for a total of 45,000 miles during the promo, you can start in New York and see São Paulo, Iguazu Falls and Rio de Janeiro. Ticket #1 costs 15,000 miles and is GIG-IGU-GRU. Ticket #2 costs 30,000 miles and is JFK to Rio and back from São Paulo.
Once you move into Europe, you can take advantage of the AirBerlin promo and see three cities in Europe for as little as 9,000 miles. You could also get creative with European Oneworld members Iberia, AirBerlin and Finnair to really see a lot of Europe with two stopovers and a destination. When it comes to partner airlines, there’s almost unlimited potential for what you can do with JAL miles.
If you’re willing to sit down and study the different promos, routing rules and award charts for the Mileage Bank program, you can get pretty far for very few miles. There are several zones in the distance-based award chart for partners that make little sense when it comes to the incremental cost increases. They are ripe for creating itineraries that maximize the allowed two stopovers and the allowed combination of multiple Oneworld partners. Researching this post alone has made my head spin with all the wonderful possibilities to maximize my JAL miles!
How would you use Mileage Bank miles?