Take Advantage of a Glut of Japan Airlines Last Minute First Class Award Space
Oneworld member Japan Airlines offers one of the world's most impressive first class experiences aboard their flagship Boeing 777-300ERs. These are the only planes in JAL's fleet to feature a first class cabin, and you can currently find them flying between Tokyo Narita (NRT) and New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD) and Los Angeles (LAX), as well as between Tokyo Haneda (HND) and JFK and San Francisco (SFO).
JAL's first class cabin consists of 8 seats spread across 2 rows in a 1-2-1 layout. TPG contributor Eric Rosen had the chance to fly JAL first class last year and was blown away by the better-than-restaurant quality food and expensive champagne choices.
JAL normally releases one F award seat per flight when the schedule opens, and then potentially a few unsold seats in the last week or so before departure. But at the moment, the airline has a large amount of first class award space available for departures over the next few days.
New York-Tokyo, 8 First Class Seats on May 9
JAL flies twice daily from JFK, once each to Narita and Haneda. On May 9, there are a total of 8 first class award seats open across the two flights, which means out of the 16 total first class seats that day, half are available for mileage redemptions. Busy on May 9? No worries, there are another 4 first class award seats on JL5 to Tokyo-Haneda leaving the following day.
Chicago-Tokyo, 4 First Class Seats on May 7
Anyone up for a last minute trip? If you pack your bags quickly, you can snag one of the 4 available first class awards seats on tomorrow's flight between Chicago and Tokyo, and arrive just in time for the tail end of cherry blossom season.
San Francisco to Tokyo, 3 First Class Seats on May 8
There's only one daily JAL flight between San Francisco and Tokyo, but you can currently find 3 first class seats on it for May 8. There are also 2 first class seats available the next day on May 9.
How to Book
I've confirmed these seats are actually bookable (and not just phantom space), so you can either use 80,000 AAdvantage miles (110,000 if you're connecting on to somewhere other than Japan or Korea), or 70,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles to get them. Alaska will even let you build in a free stopover in Tokyo before traveling on to another Asian city at no extra cost, making this the ideal way to book if you have the miles. SPG is the only flexible point program that partners with Alaska and American, and Starpoint transfers may take more time than you can afford for these last minute flights. So you probably have to already have the miles in your account to book these.
Cash prices for these flights are hovering around $13,000 one-way depending on your departure city, so if you book with Alaska miles, this would give you a value of 18.5 cents per mile (or 16.25 cents per mile if you booked with AAdvantage). Either way, that's nine times higher than TPG's latest valuations, which an absolute steal no matter how you book it.
Finding Award Space
This current glut of award space is appearing about 4 days before departure — flights any further out than that have at most one F seat. If you're planning on using Alaska miles to book, you're best off searching directly on the Alaska website, which displays all JAL availability. Just be careful not to book a mixed cabin award by accident — the blue seat icon (in the bottom right of the image below) indicates that not all segments of the itinerary are in the same class of service.
You can also use the British Airways website to search for space, but it comes with its own set of pros and cons. One plus is that BA will show you how many seats are available on a given day, as opposed to Alaska which will just show any available options that match the number of seats you searched for. On the downside, BA forces you to search one day at a time and its website can be downright clunky at times.
When you're trying to book a coveted first class award ticket like JAL, you need to be either really early or really late. Some award space is usually released about a year in advance when the flight goes on sale, and then the airline has a habit of releasing more closer to departure to help fill any unsold seats. But what we're seeing right now — the ability to book half the first class cabin with miles — is pretty impressive.
In addition to the dates mentioned above, there are several flights with one or two first class seats, as well as a good amount of business class availability. JAL's 777 business class is incredibly private and comfortable, and arguably the best business class product that isn't fully enclosed.