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I spend a considerable amount of my work week using airline award search engines and reading the fine print of loyalty programs. so I feel like I know almost everything there is to know about booking award tickets. Yet every six months — or about the time my hubris has once again made me think I’ve got a handle on all the airline partnerships that matter — a program I have forgotten about, overlooked or didn’t know once again humbles me.

Last week, while researching the best ways to book award tickets to fly an A380, I came across a partnership I had completely forgotten: using Japan Airlines Mileage Bank miles to book Air France-operated flights. Cross-alliance partnerships are often the toughest to remember, and with JAL in the Oneworld alliance and Air France in SkyTeam, the ability to redeem miles from one to fly on another had long ago left my psyche. The cost for not remembering this partnership? Missing out on round-trip transatlantic tickets that cost only 39,000 miles in economy and 63,000 miles in business, with no carrier surcharges.

Booking Basics

To start, the JAL partner award chart is distance based — you add the total length of all your segments together in order to find out how many miles your itinerary will require.

Here’s a quick refresher on the JAL partner award routing rules:

  • One-way tickets are allowed
  • Each ticket may have a total of three stops greater than 24 hours (your destination plus two stopovers)
  • You can have an open jaw, but it will count as one of the three allowed stops
  • Six segments allowed per ticket (only two with Korean Airlines and four with China Eastern)
  • You cannot back track to your city or country of origin in order to continue the same itinerary
  • You cannot mix airlines for partner award tickets
  • You must book award tickets online by 12:00 (departure city time), 4 days prior to the departure of the first flight sector (not including the day of departure)
  • You cannot book Air France La Première class with JAL miles

In addition to the great award costs, these itineraries are bookable online using the JAL website. You must select the “Americas” region and log in to your JAL account, but you don’t need any miles in your account to find availability.

To search for this transatlantic steal, you’ll want to select “Air France” from the partner list on the JAL online booking engine:

Tremendous Award Itineraries

One-way itineraries between 2,001 and 4,000 miles will cost you only 21,000 miles in economy and 42,000 miles in business. If you double the maximum distance to 8,000 miles in order to make a round-trip, you’ll find prices that are only 39,000 in economy and 63,000 in business, with only government taxes and fess charged as a cash co-pay. This distance encompasses routes to/from Paris (CDG/ORY) to Air France US destinations that include Detroit (DTW), Boston (BOS), Washington Dulles (IAD) and New York (JFK).

Here’s New York (JFK) to Paris Orly (ORY) round-trip in business for 63,000 miles and $131.05:

If you’re going just one-way, the same city pair is 42,000 miles:

Round-trip JFK to Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG) in economy is a stunning 39,000 miles and $82.82:

Or you can go just one-way in economy for 21,000 miles and $5.60:

Unfortunately for one-way itineraries over 4,000 miles (4,001-6,000 miles), the cost for economy jumps significantly from 21,000 miles to 37,000 miles. This includes other Air France US destinations such as Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Miami (MIA), Houston (IAH), San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle (SEA). However, the good news is that the round-trip costs for these destinations isn’t much more than going just one-way, with Los Angeles to Paris coming in at 50,000 miles and less than $100 for the round-trip:

Following that same formula, round-trips from Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and Miami are only 65,000 miles in business (or 40,000 in economy). That’s only a 2,000 and 1,000 mile increase, respectively, from the East Coast destinations. Finally, business class from the West Coast to Paris is only 80,000 miles round-trip!

Also, don’t forget about the great stopover rules for partner awards, which are also bookable online. A sample New York-Paris (stopover)-Athens, Greece (stopover)-Paris-New York itinerary comes in at 9,894 miles in length and will only cost you 40,000 miles and $119 in economy:

Earning Japan Airlines Miles

Of course, in order to take advantage of these rather incredible itineraries, you need Japan Airlines miles. You have three basic options:

  1. JAL is an SPG transfer partner, and for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you’ll receive a 5,000 mile bonus. This means the above Paris and Athens itinerary from New York will only cost you 35,000 Starpoints, and round-trip business to Europe from the East Coast will only cost 53,000 Starpoints.
  2. The JAL USA credit card has a 5,000 mile sign-up bonus after your first international flight and earns 1 mile per dollar on all spend.
  3. The Barlcays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard earns 2x points on all purchases, and points from the card transfer to JAL at a 1.7:1 ratio. You’ll also earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $25,000 on the card in a cardmember year, essentially making the earning rate equivalent to 1.76 JAL miles per dollar spent for that first $25,000 per year.

Availability Trends

Overall, economy space on Air France flights is pretty good, while business class departing from the US is downright tough. If you book far in advance, you can find economy seats within a couple days of your intended departure date. If you want business class, it almost doesn’t exist departing from the US, but is available departing from Paris on occasion. I also found plenty of space departing South America and Caribbean Air France destinations, which do cost a little more because of the additional distance, but are still attractively priced.

An additional struggle I found is that the award space shown for Air France flights on the Flying Blue and Delta search engines does not correlate to the space made available to Japan Airlines. You have to search day-by-day on the fairly clunky JAL engine in order to find valid available award seats.

Bottom Line

The JAL partner award chart is incredibly priced, but somehow almost entirely overlooked. While earning Japan Airlines miles isn’t the easiest feat to accomplish, it also isn’t the most difficult, and paying 39,000 miles for round-trip transatlantic economy and 63,000 miles for round-trip transatlantic business — all with no carrier surcharges — is superb. Add in the online booking capability and ability to build multi-segment itineraries, and I have no idea why I’ve been overlooking this redemption option.

While I wouldn’t count on finding business award space for the outbound segment to Paris, you can find it for the longer return segment if you’re flexible. With fifth freedom routes to the Caribbean also a possibility, as well as all the other worldwide Air France destinations, this particular loyalty partnership holds incredible potential value and is strong enough to make me speculatively transfer Starpoints to my JAL account.

This post has been updated to clarify that the 5,000 mile sign-up bonus on the JAL USA card is awarded after the cardholder’s first international flight, not after the first transaction.

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