Japan Airlines has started flying the Airbus A350-1000, featuring an all-new passenger experience. I just shared my experience flying the carrier’s new first class, and it’s spectacular, in my opinion. The airline is expected to roll out this product on additional routes in the coming months, so I can’t wait to see this available on a more widespread basis.
Now, understandably OMAAT readers probably have one most common question — how do you redeem miles for Japan Airlines’ new first class? The good news is that it’s absolutely possible to redeem miles for Japan Airlines’ new A350 first class. The bad news is that it’ll take a bit of effort.
In this post:
Japan Airlines first class award space when schedule opens
Currently, Japan Airlines seems to make one first class seat available as an award ticket when the airline first opens its schedule. This not only applies to routes operated by the carrier’s old 777s, but also to routes operated by the carrier’s new A350s.
Japan Airlines opens its schedule 360 days out, so you’ll immediately see one award seat available at that point. It’s not only bookable by Japan Airlines Mileage Bank members, but also by members of select partner frequent flyer programs.
So this brings us to the challenge, as I’ve written in the past about when airlines open award seats. While Japan Airlines opens its schedule 360 days in advance, American AAdvantage only opens its schedule 331 days out, and Alaska Mileage Plan only opens its schedule 330 days out.
In other words, you couldn’t use Alaska miles or American miles until those respective windows, meaning you have a roughly one month delay with accessing that award space. In almost all cases, that first class award space will be booked by then.
I’m finding that more often than not, that one first class award seat on a particular flight is snagged within hours of becoming available, and sometimes within minutes.
One has to wonder if those seats are being legitimately booked, or if there might be some brokers somehow locking in these seats, and then finding a way to monetize that. The consistency and speed with which these are being booked makes me think there might be some funny business going on.
Why Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is probably your best bet
While it would be nice to directly have Japan Airlines Mileage Bank miles, the reality is that those miles are hard to come by, as the program doesn’t partner with any major transferable points currencies. So you want to find a points currency that partners with Japan Airlines and transferable points currencies, and that opens its schedule 360 days out.
There’s one program that fits the bill — Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. The program opens its calendar 360 days out, Cathay Pacific also belongs to oneworld, and the frequent flyer program partners with Amex Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One, and Citi ThankYou.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles allows Japan Airlines first class awards to be booked directly through its website, and you’ll usually find a Japan Airlines first class award seat right when the schedule opens.
For example, an award between Tokyo and New York will run you 135,000 Cathay Pacific miles in first class, plus a few hundred bucks in taxes and carrier imposed surcharges. So it’s not quite the same value as if you were redeeming American miles (80,000 American miles plus no carrier imposed surcharges), but at least you have access to availability.
A couple of other important things to note:
- While Cathay Pacific’s award search feature often says “only a few seats left,” that’s not actually accurate, and it says that even if there’s only one award seat available
- In the calendar function you’ll see the price of 160,000 miles listed, but that’s the pricing in the event that there were first class award space on Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines hasn’t formally scheduled the A350-1000 for the winter schedule yet, so you’ll see all routes show as being operated by the 777-300ER; however, I’ve written about the carrier’s planned A350 routes, and we know what to expect
What about award space closer to departure?
If you don’t want to (or can’t) snag a Japan Airlines first class award a year out, do you have any shot of still finding space?
Back in the day, Japan Airlines would consistently make unsold first class seats available as awards as the departure date approached. Unfortunately as of mid-2023, that’s no longer the case, and the airline doesn’t generally release unsold seats as awards as the departure date approaches. For the most part, the airline just seems to release the one first class award seat when the schedule opens, and that’s it.
So, do you have any chance of scoring a first class award through American AAdvantage? In theory, it’s absolutely possible. If someone cancels the award they book right when the schedule opens, it could be bookable through another partner program as well at a later date.
However, at the moment it seems to be nearly impossible to find first class award space this way. I imagine this comes down to how few award seats there are, combined with the amount of competition for these seats. Still, it’s always worth keeping an eye on availability, because you never know what you’ll find.
Japan Airlines has introduced one of the world’s best first class products, in the form of its new A350 first class. The good news is that it’s absolutely possible to redeem miles for this product, as the airline makes one first class award seat available on each flight as soon as the schedule opens.
The trick is that Japan Airlines opens its schedule 360 days out, so you’ll need miles with a currency that also has access to award space 360 days out. This is why booking through Cathay Pacific Asia Miles might be your best bet, because the program has access to award space right away.
You can expect to pay 135,000 Cathay Pacific miles one-way for first class to or from Tokyo, plus there are some carrier imposed surcharges. So while this isn’t the world’s greatest bargain, it is the best realistic option for booking this space.
What’s your take on Japan Airlines’ A350 first class award availability?