The Best Miles for Booking JAL Business and First Class
Japan Airlines (JAL) Business and First class are some of the nicest products in the sky. This is unfortunately not from personal experience, but friends who’ve flown them love their premium cabins. Even their long-haul economy can be a breath of fresh air, with 33-inch seat pitch on some aircraft.
Japan 777 First Class offers an thoroughly excellent experience. The service and food complement a very spacious seat. While less spacious, JAL Sky Suites business class product is also an excellent long-haul business class option.
If you’re looking for the best miles to book JAL business or first class, this post provides a full rundown of your options.
Booking JAL First and Business Class
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank opens award seats a whopping 360 days in advance. This is important note if you want to jump on a specific route and date as soon as the schedule opens. Make note of the booking window of the currency you’re using, as this will more likely be the limiting factor (e.g. the AA calendar opens 330 days from departure). The Cathay calendar is another option for earlier booking.
JAL first class seats can be fairly scarce, but I’ve found that there are typically a decent number of business class seats available, depending on the route. I find that if you’re looking to use JAL’s own currency, you’ll find decent space right when the calendar opens.
Japan Airlines is a member of the Oneworld alliance, which means that you can use miles of partners such as American Airlines and British Airways Avios. But there are a couple other partners that could be useful as well. Searching their award inventory can be done on any of these sites. Each has their drawbacks. I actually find that JAL’s own website is a good tool for searching nonstop routes, as it provides all options, plus a weekly calendar.
Now let’s now walk through the best miles for booking JAL first and business class.
Alaska Airlines MileagePlan
While Alaska isn’t a member of the Oneworld alliance, they do partner with a number of Oneworld airlines, including JAL. And the program is a great option for booking JAL business and first class awards. According to Alaska’s chart, JAL premium cabin flights cost:
- 60,000 miles for business class to North Asia
- 70,000 miles for first class to North Asia
- 65,000 miles for business class to Southeast Asia
- 75,000 miles for first class to Southeast Asia
- 25,000 miles for intra-Asia business class
- 30,000 miles for intra-Asia first class
These are the only regions for which Alaska offers awards on JAL. You would think that the price would be less for flights from Hawaii to Asia, but no, Alaska charges the same.
The sweet spot on the Alaska award chart is the price for JAL first class. You’l pay more miles with literally any other currency, making Alaska MileagePlan the best miles for booking JAL first class. The taxes are also not bad with MileagePlan. I priced out a SFO-SEA-NRT itinerary, and the only fees are the $5.60 TSA charge and Alaska’s $12.50 partner award fee, bringing you to $18.10. The same SEA-NRT flight charges $117 in fees using Avios.
JAL award space is searchable online through Alaska’s website, which is one of the better ways to search for awards. The only annoying thing is Alaska’s tendency to present mixed-cabin award where the long-haul is in coach. Other options for search JAL award inventory are British Airways’ and (as of only recently) American Airlines’ website.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
For flights that are just under 5,000 flown miles, you typically cannot do better than Cathay Pacific Asia Miles for booking JAL business class. This applies for routes such as:
- Vancouver or Seattle to Tokyo
- Honolulu to Tokyo
- Helsinki to Tokyo
- Tokyo to SYD/MEL (although there are better ways to book these)
For flights between 2,750 and 5,000 miles, you’ll pay just 50,000 miles for JAL business class and 75,000 miles for first class (although I don’t believe it’s operated on any of these routes). This is an excellent price for their business class on routes just under 5,000 miles.
For routes in the 5,000-mile to 7,500-mile range, prices increase to 75,000 miles for business and 120,000 miles for first (ex-US). Definitely not as good a deal compared to other currencies. But still an option.
One benefit of using Asia Miles to book JAL business and first class awards is that you are allowed a stopover. This could make their higher prices a whole lot more palatable, as you could pay 75,000 miles for business class, stop in Tokyo, and then continue on to Korea, China, or some other destination in Asia. Do note that Asia Miles only allows two segments on the outbound and two on the return with a stopover (as best I understand their complicated award rules).
If you need to book domestic connections to get to your gateway with a JAL flight, you’ll actually be bumped to Asia Miles’ other award chart. Yes, they have two. One is for single partners or Cathay plus one partner. The other is for itineraries of one or more Oneworld partners.
Asia Miles is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Capital One, making them easy to accrue. Transfers from all of these partners take 24-48 hours, so if you find space, make sure you You could also consider picking up the Cathay Pacific Visa issued by Synchrony Bank.
American Airlines AAdvantage
American Airlines is another excellent loyalty program for booking JAL awards. One-way awards between the U.S. and Japan or Korea cost 60,000 AAdvantage miles in business class and 80,000 in first class. If you want to travel to the Asia 2 region, you’ll pay 70,000 miles for business class and 110,000 for first class. This is a significant premium for first over what Alaska charges.
JAL awards are now searchable online at aa.com, although I find American’s new user interface egregiously bad compared to their old. The little note that says “American Airlines flights may be listed first”? Believe it. I had to scroll through tons of terrible options for 155,000 miles until I got to the JAL awards. But they are there. Do a general search elsewhere and only log into aa.com when you’re ready to book.
AAdvantage has other sweet spots in their program if you’re not flying between the U.S. and Asia. Specifically, American offers some of the best miles for JAL business class between Australia and North Asia. You can book awards between these regions for 40,000 miles. Flights between Tokyo and Sydney clock a full nine hours, giving you plenty of time to have a meal and then sleep through the night before landing in the land down under.
You can earn a full 60,000 miles by picking up the Barclaycard Aviator Red Mastercard, which offers this sign up bonus after a single purchase and payment of the $95 annual fee. It’s like buying a one-way business class ticket for $100, which is an incredible deal.
Personally, aside from American rolling out a new and far more frustrating search experience, I think picking up a couple AA cards (one Citi, one Barclays) is the quickest way to land yourself enough miles for JAL business or first class. Alaska miles are great, but without being able to churn their cards anymore, even 40,000 miles doesn’t go as far as it used to.
JAL Mileage Bank
JAL’s own currency, Mileage Bank, is still one of the best miles for booking JAL business and first class flights. JAL uses a distance-based award chart for partner flights, but for awards on their own metal they price by region.
JAL charges 50,000 miles for business class between the United States and Japan, which is an excellent deal. Taxes and fees aren’t too bad, at $113. This covers all their destinations, from the 9-hour haul to Vancouver to the 13+ hour trek from NYC.
First class is also an excellent deal at only 70,000 miles between North America and Japan.
The primary difficulty with JAL’s own currency is how hard it is to accrue. It is easier than it was, as JAL is a transfer partner of the Barclaycard Arrival Premier. However, this isn’t a fantastic product overall, and the transfer ratio is 1.7 Arrival Premier point to JAL mile. With an ongoing earning rate of 2 points per dollar, you’re only earning ~1.17 JAL miles per dollar spent. This is better than the JAL USA credit card. Never heard of it? Don’t bother.
The other option for accruing JAL miles is by transferring Marriott Bonvoy points to JAL Mileage Bank. The best way to transfer Bonvoy points is in batches of 60,000 so that you receive the 5,000 bonus miles. This effectively gives you 25,000 JAL miles per 60,000 Bonvoy points. Considering what you can do with JAL miles, this is a very good value redemption.
If I was flush with Marriott points from hotel stays and didn’t have a use for them, Mileage Bank is the best transfer if you’re looking to book JAL business or first class.
British Airways Avios
British Airways Avios can work for booking JAL premium cabin flights with miles, but I list them last since the value is simply poorer than most other options across the board. The only benefit I see with Avios is being able to take advantage of the occasional transfer bonus (reducing the overall cost of the award), plus the fact that they are relatively easy to accrue. There are multiple co-branded credit cards that earn Avios. They are also a transfer partner of Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
For flights less than 5,500 miles (Seattle, Vancouver, SFO, LAX), British Airways will charge you 77,250 miles for business class. I haven’t the foggiest idea why this isn’t 75,000. I didn’t think they changed the upper tiers in their recent tweaks, but this is hardly more than what you paid before. The same $117 in fees that you see booking with JAL itself is passed on.
For the flights over 6,500 miles (e.g. NYC), you’ll pay a whopping 108,705 Avios, hardly a deal. First class is 33% more.
One benefit of using Avios is that the cancellation fee is lower, at only $55 per ticket. If you’re not settled on your travel plans or want the flexibility to change to a better date, Avios might be the way to go. Aside from that, they are the least useful currency of the bunch. Then again, when you can pick up 100,000 from one card at times, they are one of the easiest to earn.
With a number of options on the table, deciding on the best miles to book JAL business and first class awards should just be a matter of settling on the program that best suits your needs. American AAdvantage and Alaska miles are certainly the easiest, although Asia Miles and JAL Mileage Bank are some decent options if you can accrue the miles.
If you need a nice balance between mileage accrual and redemption rates, Asia Miles are probably your best bet. With multiple flexible currencies that can be transferred to Asia Miles (and the occasional bonus), as well as a co-branded credit-card, the earn potential for Asia Miles is the highest. Plus, their website has improved greatly, and you can book JAL online rather than waiting forever for a Cathay agent to pick up the phone.
Get out that Blue Business Plus and Amex Gold to earn 2x to 4x Membership Rewards to turn into Asia Miles. You’ll be booking JAL business or first class in no time!