The Guide to Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines is a member of the Oneworld alliance, but it's not easy to earn its miles without flying.
Andy ShumanOct 1, 2021

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If you’re planning to fly to Japan, and especially if you want to pay for your ticket with miles, Japan Airlines can be a great choice. Known as JAL, Japan’s flag carrier offers four classes of service — economy, premium economy, business class and first class. As for Japan Airlines' U.S. routes, you’ll find JAL nonstops to Japan from airports in 11 U.S. locations: Boston, New York, Chicago, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Honolulu, Kona and Guam.

JAL has four hub cities: Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Okinawa. But depending on your U.S. point of departure, you can book a nonstop flight to either Tokyo-Narita, Tokyo-Haneda or Osaka-Kansai, with lots of places to connect to from there.

JAL isn’t the biggest airline in Japan — that honor belongs to ANA — but with well over 200 aircraft flying over 180 routes, there are lots of reasons some consider it the best airline to fly to Japan.

This guide to Japan Airlines should help you harness the power of the airline’s frequent flyer program, called Mileage Bank, and understand all your other options for flying this popular carrier.

JAL’s business and first class cabins

If you’re redeeming miles, first check to see if you have enough to book your flight in either JAL’s first or business class cabin.

The first-class seats are called JAL Suites, and though they’re not fully enclosed suites, they’re still private and very luxurious. JAL Suites are available on the following U.S. routes:

  • Chicago to Tokyo-Narita.

  • Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita.

  • New York to Tokyo-Haneda.

  • New York to Tokyo-Narita.

  • San Francisco to Tokyo-Haneda.

JAL business class seats are excellent, too, especially on long-haul flights. They are comfortable and innovative, and the window seats afford a lot of privacy as well.

Use Mileage Bank or a partner airline's miles to book

There are two ways you can get that coveted JAL award seat:

  • Book with JAL Mileage Bank miles.

  • Book your JAL flight using the miles of a partner airline.

JAL is a member of the Oneworld alliance, which means you can book a JAL award seat using your miles from the frequent flyer program of any of the Oneworld member airlines. JAL also has non-alliance partners, such as Hawaiian Airlines, and you can use their miles to book JAL flights too.

As a general rule, when you want to use miles to fly a specific airline, you’ll find more award seat availability if you’re paying with that airline’s own miles instead of a partner airline's miles, especially in premium classes.

How to earn JAL Mileage Bank miles

Earn by flying

JAL flights

The best way to earn Mileage Bank miles is by flying JAL regularly. You earn miles based on the physical distance you fly, which the airline calls “sector mileage,” plus the booking class of your ticket.

For example, if you fly premium economy on a W class ticket or if you fly economy on a Y class ticket, you’ll get a 100% mileage payout. This means that you'll earn 1 Mileage Bank mile for every physical mile flown. Some first-class tickets will pay you 150% of the mileage flown. If you fly a deeply discounted economy fare, you might be earning as little as 30%.

A one-way flight between Boston and Tokyo on the cheapest economy fare will likely yield you only 2,010 Mileage Bank miles (plus 2,010 Fly On points, which apply toward elite status).

Partner flights

You can also earn Mileage Bank miles when you fly on one of its partner airlines — including Hawaiian Airlines, Korean Air and Emirates — and credit your flights to JAL Mileage Bank.

Earn by spending on credit cards

JAL USA

There are two JAL USA credit cards, but the earning potential with either one is limited. Both versions get only a 5,000-mile welcome bonus, and they both have an annual fee. The cheaper, $20-annual-fee card lets you earn 1 mile per $2 spent, while the $70-annual-fee version allows you to earn 1 mile per $1 spent.

HOTEL CREDIT CARDS

Several hotel-branded credit cards offer sign-up bonus miles that you can convert to JAL Mileage Bank miles. If you maximize the card welcome bonus, then transfer the hotel points you earn to JAL, these cards can offer a more expedient way to collect JAL Mileage Bank miles than the JAL USA card.

Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card: For a Limited Time Only! Earn 60,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus earn up to 14 points per dollar spent at Marriott family properties, 2 points per dollar on travel and 1 point per dollar on other purchases.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card: For a Limited Time Only! Earn 125,000 Bonus Points and 1 Free Night Award (value up to 50,000 points) after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Earn 6 Bonvoy points per $1 spent at Marriott hotels and 2 Bonvoy points per $1 on other purchases.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points and a bonus Free Night Award after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Resort fees may apply. Terms apply. Offer expires 11/3/2021. Earn 6 Bonvoy points per $1 spent at Marriott hotels, 3 Bonvoy points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2 Bonvoy points on all other eligible purchases. Terms apply.

Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $5,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. Terms Apply. Plus earn 7 points per dollar spent at Hiltons, and 5 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations. Earn 3 points per dollar on all other purchases. Terms apply.

World of Hyatt Credit Card Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 More Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent.: Plus earn up to 9 points per dollar on qualifying Hyatt purchases, and 2 points per dollar on transit, commuting, restaurants, flights purchased directly from airlines and gym memberships. You'll get 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Convert other programs’ points to Mileage Bank miles

You can’t get JAL miles by transferring points from major programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards® or Citi ThankYou. But you can transfer points from some hotel loyalty programs, including Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt.

For example, Marriott points transfer to JAL Mileage Bank at a 3:1 ratio, and you get an additional 5,000 miles as bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer. In other words, you’ll get 25,000 JAL miles for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer into the program.

You can transfer Hilton Honors points at a 10:1 ratio. Transferring 10,000 Hilton points will get you 1,000 JAL Mileage Bank miles.

Convert other points to miles through a 2-step transfer

Don’t have Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt points? You may still have options for getting JAL Mileage Bank miles. Chase Ultimate Rewards® points can be converted into Marriott points, which can then be converted into JAL miles. Chase points transfer to Marriott at 1:1 ratio.

American Express Membership Rewards can be converted into either Marriott points or Hilton points, which can then be converted into JAL miles. Choose Marriott points. They get you much better value: 1 JAL mile for every 3 Marriott points, compared with 1 JAL mile per every 10 Hilton points. So convert your AmEx points to Marriott at a 2:3 ratio, then convert those Marriott points into JAL miles at a 3:1 ratio. Terms apply.

How to redeem Mileage Bank miles

For JAL flights

The airline has a chart showing how many miles you’ll need to book a flight on JAL. On this region-based chart, “base miles” are the equivalent of saver awards in U.S.-based frequent flyer programs. They’re the cheapest awards, and you should try and find base mile availability whenever possible.

For flights on partner airlines

When you search for partner awards, the prices you see will be based on one of two different charts. The JMB Partner Airlines Award Ticket Chart for American Region is a distance-based chart showing you how many JAL miles you need for a flight on almost every partner airline, including Oneworld and other partners (but excluding Jetstar Japan, which has its own chart). When you book an award priced from this chart, all segments of your trip will be on the same airline.

  • American Airlines.

  • British Airways.

  • Cathay Pacific Airways / Cathay Dragon.

  • Finnair.

  • Iberia.

  • Malaysia Airlines.

  • Qantas.

  • Qatar Airways.

  • Royal Air Maroc.

  • Royal Jordanian.

  • S7 Airlines.

  • SriLankan Airlines.

  • Air France.

  • Alaska Airlines.

  • Bangkok Airways.

  • China Eastern Airlines.

  • Emirates.

  • Hawaiian Airlines.

  • Korean Airlines.

  • LATAM Airlines.

  • Vistara.

There’s also the Oneworld Award Tickets Chart for American Region. When you book partner awards priced according to this chart, your choices will include itineraries on two or more airlines from the Oneworld chart. This means you may have some options to mix and match carriers. You can also add Japan Airlines when your itinerary includes Japan domestic sectors.

  • Alaska Airlines.

  • American Airlines.

  • British Airways.

  • Cathay Pacific Airways / Cathay Dragon.

  • Finnair.

  • Iberia.

  • Malaysia Airlines.

  • Qantas.

  • Qatar Airways.

  • Royal Air Maroc.

  • Royal Jordanian.

  • S7 Airlines.

  • SriLankan Airlines.

Other ways to redeem Mileage Bank miles

Just like other airline programs, JAL Mileage Bank offers you several options to redeem your miles on items and services other than flying. You can redeem miles on e JAL Points that allow you to pay for flight tickets and package tours. However, this doesn't get you good value for your miles.

You can also redeem Mileage Bank miles for hotel rooms, car rentals or merchandise. You can even redeem miles for Amazon gift cards, but this doesn't give you the best value either.

JAL’s 2 elite status programs: Fly On and Global Club

When you sign up for the Mileage Bank program and complete an eligible flight, you earn points toward Fly On elite status. If you fly often enough, you’ll be invited to join a more exclusive paid elite program called JAL Global Club. Both programs have different levels with different perks.

Fly On elite status

Fly On has three elite levels: Crystal, Sapphire and Diamond. Here are the most notable benefits you get at each level.

Crystal

  • Priority waitlist.

  • Advance front seat assignment service on JAL international flights.

  • Mile-up bonus.

  • Priority check-in.

  • Extra checked baggage allowance.

  • Priority standby.

  • Priority boarding.

  • Oneworld Ruby benefits.

Sapphire

Crystal benefits, plus:

  • Higher mile-up bonus.

  • Higher checked baggage allowance.

  • Bonus Fly On points promotion “for a month of your choice.”

  • Access to participating airport lounges including Oneworld lounges.

  • Oneworld Sapphire benefits.

Diamond

Crystal and Sapphire benefits, plus:

  • Higher mile-up bonus.

  • Suspension of mileage expiration.

  • Priority security lane.

  • Access to JAL first class lounges (at Haneda and Narita airports) and Sakura lounges.

  • Complimentary in-flight Wi-Fi service on international flights.

  • Oneworld Emerald benefits.

How to reach the different status levels

You can earn elite status by flying JAL Group and Oneworld alliance airlines. Here are the tiers and how to reach them.

Meet one of the following conditions during the prior calendar year:

  • 30,000 Fly On points (including 15,000 Fly On points on JAL Group flights).

  • 30 flights (including at least 15 JAL Group flights) and 10,000 Fly On points.

Meet one of the following conditions during the prior calendar year:

  • 50,000 Fly On points (including 25,000 Fly On points on JAL Group flights).

  • 50 flights (including at least 25 JAL Group flights) and 15,000 Fly On points.

Meet one of the following conditions during the prior calendar year:

  • 100,000 Fly On points (including 50,000 Fly On points on JAL Group flights).

  • 120 flights (including at least 60 JAL Group flights) and 35,000 Fly On points.

Global Club elite status

JAL Global Club membership is available by invitation only to members who have met Mileage Club Sapphire or Diamond requirements. There’s a fee, which you can pay in miles. The initial and renewal fee for most members is 5,000 miles, but the renewal fee will be waived if you earn at least 35,000 Fly On points or fly at least 14 qualifying JAL international flights.

Japan Airlines is a king of stopovers

For most people, one airline ticket equals one destination. If you want to see more places during your trip, you usually pay for additional tickets. But a unique feature of award travel versus buying tickets with cash is that airlines often allow you to squeeze more than one destination into your award itinerary.

Japan Airlines has an amazing stopover allowance, and unlike many other airlines that don’t exactly advertise their stopover policies, JAL wants you to know all about it.

Up to 3 stopovers on a Japan Mileage Bank partner airline award ticket

With a JMB Partner Airline Award you’re limited to one partner airline, but you can make three complimentary stopovers on the way to or from your destination. Here is an example from the JMB website: London to Paris to Helsinki to Los Angeles to New York.

Up to 7 stopovers on Oneworld award tickets

With a Oneworld award you can make up to seven stopovers, which is almost unheard of in the world of award travel.

If you fly JAL

JAL is one of the best airlines to fly to Japan, and its miles can help you travel all over the world due to its partnerships. JAL’s first and business class cabins are among the best in the world, too.

Earning Japan Airlines Mileage Bank miles isn’t easy. But using the right credit card or flying partner airlines can help you collect JAL miles to enjoy some unique benefits  — most notably JAL’s extremely generous stopover policies.


How to maximize your rewards

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