How to Make the Most of Japan Airlines Economy Class

JAL's roomy economy seats on international flights are some of the best in class.
Andy ShumanJun 3, 2021

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

If you’re flying to Japan in coach, you might want to consider a Japan Airlines economy seat. It’s a long flight, and while your JAL Sky Wider seat won't be as luxurious as the lie-flat ones in business class, the comfort and service in the airline's economy class are superior to a lot of competitors.

People often complain about economy class seats, and for good reason. Shrinking legroom, dwindling widths, disappearing padding — for decades, airlines have been using every trick in the book to reduce weight while squeezing in more passengers. The result: seats that some air travelers are less than thrilled about booking.

What to expect when flying Japan Airlines economy class

Seats

The economy seats on a JAL international flight might be the best out there. In 2019, Skytrax, a well-regarded airline rating website, awarded Japan Airlines the World's Best Economy Class and the Best Economy Class Airline Seat awards — the fourth time JAL has earned the latter award since 2015.

At a time when so many airlines, including premium carriers like Emirates and Japan-based All Nippon Airways, have increased their Boeing 777 density to 10 seats across, Japan Airlines remains wonderfully old-fashioned. It’s the size of the seat and the pitch (the distance between rows) that matter most on long-haul flights. This is where Japan Airlines truly delivers:

  • Seating configuration: 7 to 9 across.

  • Seat width: 17.7 to 18.9 inches (the industry average is about 17 inches).

  • Seat pitch: 33 to 34 inches (the industry average is around 30 to 31 inches).

Food and drinks

More than one Japan Airlines international economy review gives the JAL menu top ratings for economy food and beverages — from Japanese soba noodles to chicken cordon bleu for grub, and from plum wine to whiskey to sake for drinks. An extensive menu of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages is included with your economy class ticket.

Baggage

All economy ticket holders for international flights are allowed two checked bags up to about 50 pounds (23 kilograms) each. Economy domestic flyers can check one bag up to approximately 44 pounds (20 kilograms) for free.

Booking your Japan Airlines economy award ticket

Where JAL flies in the U.S.

  • Boston.

  • Chicago.

  • Dallas.

  • Los Angeles.

  • New York.

  • San Diego.

  • San Francisco.

  • Seattle.

  • Guam.

  • Honolulu.

  • Kona, Hawaii.

Types of award tickets

JAL doesn’t have a basic economy fare, but when it comes to award tickets, your best bet is using “base miles.” Base miles is the lowest rate you can find in the JAL International Award Ticket PLUS award chart (akin to a saver rate in U.S. mileage programs). The other rate, “Plus,” has better award availability, but your ticket might cost an exorbitant amount of miles.

With base miles, Japan Airlines economy flights between the continental U.S. and Japan will likely cost you 25,000 miles each way.

How to book your award ticket online

Booking a JAL award ticket in economy class is easy from the airline's website.

1. Go to the JMB homepage and log in to your Mileage Bank account.

2. Scroll down until you see the Redeem Your Miles section. Click "JAL Group Airlines Award Tickets."
3. On the next page, click "JAL International Award Ticket."
4. Enter your travel information and click "Search."
If flights aren’t available for those dates, you can pick alternatives or click "Go to Calendar." If flights are available, click "Continue." Fill out your payment information and complete the booking.

What if you don’t have enough JAL miles?

JAL miles aren't easy to collect. The main ways to get them are by flying JAL or flying one of its partner airlines and selecting JAL Mileage Bank miles as your earning preference.

Unlike other airlines that let you get miles by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou points, JAL doesn't partner with any major transferable currency programs.

Transfer hotel points

If you have points in certain hotel loyalty programs, like Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors or World of Hyatt, you can convert those points into JAL miles. But it’s not a good value. For example, you’ll get only 1 JAL mile for every 3 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer. However, you get a 5,000-miles bonus for transferring every 60,000 points — so you can convert 60,000 Marriott points into 25,000 JAL miles, which should be enough for a one-way flight between the continental U.S. and Japan.

Use points from partner airlines

If you have miles in the loyalty program of one of JAL’s partner airlines, notably airlines in the Oneworld Alliance, you can use them to book an award flight on JAL. You’ll probably pay more, though. For example, you can fly Japan Airlines with American AAdvantage miles or Alaska Mileage Plan miles, but either will cost you around 70,000 miles round-trip.

If you fly JAL's economy class

When it comes to economy class, Japan Airlines leads the way. JAL serves over 10 U.S. destinations, and its international economy seats are arguably the best and most comfortable you can find for flights to Japan. A one-way award ticket starts at 25,000 miles, which is very reasonable. If you don’t have enough JAL miles, you can transfer points from a major hotel loyalty program or book a JAL flight with American or Alaska miles, although that will likely cost you more.


How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.