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Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly Alaska Airlines to multiple destinations using Japan Airlines miles

September 26 2021
6 min read
Alaska Airlines Airbus Interior
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Many TPG staffers love flying Alaska Airlines. And many of these same staffers would argue that Alaska Mileage Plan is one of the best frequent flyer programs. Even so, Alaska Mileage Plan may not be the best option every time you want to redeem miles to fly on Alaska-operated flights.

So, today I'll discuss a lesser-known sweet spot: using Japan Airlines Mileage Bank for multi-city Alaska-operated awards.

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Why it's special

The Japan Airlines Mileage Bank program has a distance-based partner award chart. This award chart is appealing for trips where you want to fly on multiple relatively short Alaska-operated flights. Here's a look at the economy award chart:

  • Up to 1,000 miles trip distance: 12,000 miles
  • 1,001 to 2,000 miles trip distance: 15,000 miles
  • 2,001 to 4,000 miles trip distance: 23,000 miles
  • 4,001 to 6,000 miles trip distance: 37,000 miles
  • 6,001 to 8,000 miles trip distance: 45,000 miles
  • 8,001 to 10,000 miles trip distance: 47,000 miles
  • 10,001 to 12,000 miles trip distance: 50,000 miles
  • 12,001 to 14,000 miles trip distance: 55,000 miles
  • 14,001 to 20,000 miles trip distance: 70,000 miles
  • 20,001 to 25,000 miles trip distance: 90,000 miles
  • 25,001 to 29,000 miles trip distance: 110,000 miles
  • 29,001 to 34,000 miles trip distance: 130,000 miles
  • 34,001 to 50,000 miles trip distance: 150,000 miles

As you can see, the number of miles required for an award ticket depends on your total trip distance. However, there are several complexities to consider, including:

  • One award can have up to six flights and up to three stopovers of more than 24 hours.
  • An award can open-jaw on at most one stopover -- but surface sector distance during this stopover won't count toward the total trip distance.
  • Itineraries with surface sectors may not be allowed as one award ticket in some cases.
  • You can include the same city in an itinerary up to three times, but you can only stop in a city once.

For example, you could start in Seattle and stopover in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Portland before returning to Seattle. This 3,465-mile route would cost 23,000 miles per person plus taxes and fees in economy.

(Screenshot courtesy of gcmap.com)

Or, you could start in Seattle and stopover in Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Jose del Cabo before returning to Seattle. This 7,958-mile route would cost 45,000 miles per person plus taxes and fees in economy.

(Screenshot courtesy of gcmap.com)

You could also start in San Francisco and stopover in Anchorage, Honolulu and Cancun (after connecting through San Diego) before returning to San Francisco. This 11,844-mile award would cost 50,000 miles per person plus taxes and fees in economy.

(Screenshot courtesy of gcmap.com)

In short, the options are essentially limitless if you can find partner award availability for each segment.

Related: Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly to Hawaii for 20,000 AAdvantage miles each way

How to book this award

I recommend searching for (and finding) award availability on American Airlines' website. Then, go to the Japan Airlines website and log into your Mileage Bank account. Click on JAL Mileage Bank on the top menu bar and select "JMB Partner Airlines Award Ticket" under the "Redeem your miles" section. Next, click on "JMB Partner Airlines Award Ticket" under "Book ticket."

(Screenshot courtesy of jal.co.jp)

Now select "Staying in multiple cities" and choose Alaska Airlines as the partner airline. Then choose your travel pattern and enter your flight information.

(Screenshot courtesy of jal.co.jp)

If there's award availability on your dates, you'll see options on the next page after you click "Search."

(Screenshot courtesy of jal.co.jp)

You can also call the U.S. and Canada English-language JAL Mileage Bank Center at 1-800-525-3663. However, there's a $50 ticket service fee when you book over the phone (you won't pay this fee when booking online).

Related: How to search award availability for the major airlines

How to earn Japan Airlines miles for this award

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming to this sweet spot is that it can be challenging to earn Japan Airlines miles. After all, the only major transferrable currency that transfers to JAL MileageBank is Marriott Bonvoy, at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000 mile bonus awarded for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred.

If you're looking to earn more Marriott Bonvoy points, consider opening a Marriott Bonvoy cobranded credit cards. Many of these cards are offering higher than usual welcome bonuses, and can be a great way to top up your Marriott account. Just be aware that you may lose value when transferring Marriott points to an airline instead of redeeming for hotel nights.

There is also a JAL MileageBank credit card available in the U.S: the JAL USA CARD. This card has a lower annual fee version that earns 0.5x points on qualifying purchases and a higher annual fee version that offers 1x points.

Related: Airline miles that are hardest to earn — and why you want them anyway

Bottom line

Since it's often difficult to earn Japan Airlines miles, this sweet spot is easy to overlook. And it won't be a reasonable option every time you want to redeem miles to fly on an Alaska-operated flight.

But if you find partner award availability and can maximize the up to three allowable stopovers on your award, this sweet spot may be appealing. However, note that you can't redeem Japan Airlines miles within the first 60 days of enrolling in the Japan Airlines Mileage Bank program. And you can only redeem miles for travel by yourself and select family members.

Featured photo by (Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees