ANA vs. JAL: Which Is Better?

Neither offers a workable co-branded card for U.S. travelers, but both carriers provide a stellar experience.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 
Updated
Edited by Meg Lee

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Japan-based All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines (also called JAL) offer some of the best experiences in the skies. But which airline comes out on top in the ANA versus Japan Airlines battle?

Let's review five categories — from route maps to add-on fees — to determine the better airline.

Where they’re based and where they fly

Winner: Tied

Both ANA and Japan Airlines operate nearly an equivalent number of international routes. ANA offers a slightly larger worldwide network, but Japan Airlines operates to more destinations in the United States.

ANA

From its hub in Tokyo, ANA currently flies to 43 international destinations in 22 countries. Among those destinations are eight routes to the U.S.:

  • Chicago-O’Hare.

  • Honolulu.

  • Houston-George Bush.

  • Los Angeles.

  • New York-JFK.

  • San Francisco.

  • Seattle.

  • Washington D.C.-Dulles.

Japan Airlines

Tokyo-based Japan Airlines currently operates flights to 39 international destinations in 21 countries. That includes 10 routes to the U.S.:

  • Boston.

  • Chicago-O’Hare.

  • Dallas-Fort Worth.

  • Honolulu.

  • Kona, Hawaii.

  • Los Angeles.

  • New York-JFK.

  • San Diego.

  • San Francisco.

  • Seattle.

Travel credit card availability

Winner: ANA

Both airlines offer a rather unappealing credit card for U.S. residents, so the difference comes down to transfer partners. ANA's partnership with American Express gives it the edge in this category.

ANA credit cards

ANA offers a single credit card in the U.S., but the simply named ANA Card U.S.A isn't compelling for U.S.-based travelers.

Instead, the card is intended for Mileage Club members who have newly relocated to the U.S. and don't have a credit history. New cardholders earn 5,000 bonus miles after their first purchase and 1 mile per dollar spent on all purchases.

However, the ANA Card U.S.A. isn't the only way to earn ANA Mileage Club miles through credit card spending.

ANA Mileage Club is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. That means you effectively earn 5x ANA miles on eligible flight and hotel purchases using The Platinum Card® from American Express or 4x ANA miles at restaurants and grocery stores using the American Express® Gold Card.

Terms apply.

Japan Airlines credit cards

Like ANA, Japan Airlines offers a rather meh U.S. credit card. The basic JAL USA Card offers just 1 mile per $2 spent, although you can upgrade to the premium rewards card to boost that earning rate to 1 mile per $1 spent.

The sign-up bonus on the card is just an additional 5,000 miles on your first international flight on Japan Airlines.

Japan Airlines only partners with one major transferable points program: Marriott Bonvoy. Travelers will get 1 Mileage Bank mile per 3 Bonvoy points transferred, plus a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring at least 60,000 Bonvoy points.

Airline loyalty programs

Winner: ANA

Thanks to its incredible redemption rates, ANA Mileage Club miles are the most valuable miles in NerdWallet’s most recent analysis.

Add in a relatively straightforward online award booking process, and ANA easily wins this category.

ANA Mileage Club loyalty program

The ANA Mileage Club is quirky but one of the most underrated loyalty programs in the points and miles ecosystem.

The sweet spots of the ANA Mileage Club program are many. For example, travelers can book business class awards between North America and Japan for as few as 75,000 miles round-trip. That's a similar price to what other programs charge each way.

In NerdWallet’s analysis, we found that the value of ANA Mileage Club miles are worth 2.8 cents per mile. The main limitation of the ANA Mileage Club program is that travelers can't book one-way awards.

Japan Airlines JAL Mileage Bank loyalty program

Japan Airlines miles can be pretty valuable, but the program is often overlooked because collecting a significant balance of JAL Mileage Bank miles is hard.

Among Japan Airlines' sweet spots are creative multi-destination hops through the U.S. and longer-distance premium cabin awards on Japan Airlines or its partners Cathay Pacific and Emirates.

For instance, fly Emirates business class from New York to Dubai for just 110,000 JAL Mileage Bank miles round-trip.

Extra fees

Winner: Japan Airlines

Both ANA and Japan Airlines include everything you may need in the cost of your ticket — from free checked bags to onboard meals.

However, ANA charges for standard seat selection on discount economy tickets, while Japan Airlines only charges for extra-legroom exit row seats.

ANA

When flying on ANA, you can get at least two free checked bags weighing up to 50 pounds (23 kilograms) per piece, plus one carry-on bag weighing up to 22 pounds (10 kilograms).

Business- and first-class passengers get even more checked bags and can check bags weighing up to 70 pounds (32 kilograms) each.

Economy passengers on certain discount fares (booking class V, W, S, L and K) have to pay to select certain types of seats. For flights between Japan and North America (except Honolulu), Europe and Oceania, the cost is:

  • Exit row seats with extra legroom: $55.

  • Other types of seats (window/aisle): $25.

Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines' policies are almost identical to ANA. All passengers get at least two pieces of checked baggage weighing up to 50 pounds (23 kilograms) each, plus one carry-on bag of up to 22 pounds (10 kilograms).

Japan Airlines doesn't charge for standard seat selection. The only seats you'll need to pay to reserve are extra-legroom seats in exit rows. These cost $100 per segment for flights between Japan and Europe, North America, Australia and India.

In-flight experience

Winner: Tie

Sure, you can nitpick the differences between the two. But ANA and Japan Airlines offer some of the best in-flight experiences in the skies — regardless of the cabin.

ANA

From economy to first class, ANA offers a top-notch experience. In economy, passengers get a better-than-average 34 inches of pitch, various movies and audio programs and surprisingly good food. ANA premium economy passengers get more-spacious seats and even airport lounge access.

The experience gets even better as you move forward on the plane.

The experience in ANA business class varies depending on which aircraft type you're flying. But, ANA's new "The Suite" first-class product is widely regarded as one of the best first-class experiences in the world.

Japan Airlines

Like ANA, Japan Airlines offers an incredible onboard product.

Japan Airlines' economy was recently recognized as the World's Best Economy Class, and anyone that's flown the airline can understand why.

Economy seats live up to the "sky wider" nickname as Japan Airlines only uses eight seats per row on Boeing 787 aircraft — versus nine seats wide on almost every other airline.

Likewise, Japan Airlines premium economy, business class and first class are all considered some of the top experiences in their respective classes.

ANA vs. Japan Airlines recapped

ANA scores an ever-so-slight victory in the competition of ANA versus Japan Airlines.

However, travelers really can't lose with either option. Both airlines provide travelers with a much-better-than-expected experience onboard, and you won't be nickel-and-dimed on either.

That makes either airline a great option for flying between the U.S. and Japan — or beyond into Asia.

The only downside is that both ANA and Japan Airlines offer a rather unappealing credit card for the U.S. market. However, ANA's partnership with AmEx allows travelers to earn very valuable Mileage Club miles effectively.


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