Japan Airlines Might Be Blocking First Class Awards

Filed Under: Awards, Japan Airlines

For now we’ll have to mark this as “developing,” though it sure looks like something may be up…

I love redeeming miles for Japan Airlines first class

Japan Airlines (JAL) first class is one of my favorite first class products in the world, in particular for the amazing food, drinks, service, and wifi.

While Japan Airlines first class isn’t the easiest product in the world to book on miles, the airline is fairly good about releasing award seats (sometimes a couple of first class seats per flight in advance), and this can be a phenomenal use of Alaska Mileage Plan or American AAdvantage miles.

However, it looks like something is changing.

Japan Airlines’ 777 first class

Is JAL now restricting first class awards?

Historically Japan Airlines hasn’t placed restrictions on partner first class award availability. That’s to say that if Japan Airlines made first class award seats available to members of their Mileage Bank program, they could also be booked through partner frequent flyer programs.

That no longer seems to be the case, as noted by Point Me To The Plane:

  • For flights through April 1, 2021, all Japan Airlines first class award space also appears to be bookable through partner programs
  • Beyond April 1, 2021, Japan Airlines first class award space to & from the US only seems to be bookable directly through the Japan Airlines Mileage Bank program, and not through partner programs

What should we make of this?

There are a couple of different ways to look at this development. It’s possible that Japan Airlines has had a change of strategy, and going forward will only make (most?) first class awards available directly through their program.

They wouldn’t be the first airline to have such restrictions:

  • Singapore Airlines exclusively makes first class award seats available through their own program
  • Lufthansa only makes first class award seats available to partner programs at most 15 days out
  • Cathay Pacific releases more award space to members of their own program than to partner programs

But it’s also possible that this isn’t quite as it appears:

  • It could be that this is a temporary technical glitch
  • It could be that Japan Airlines first class award space won’t be blocked altogether in first class to & from the US, but rather may only be made available to partners closer to departure
  • It could be that this restriction is only being put in place for a limited time, given Cherry Blossom and that the Olympics are expected to be in Japan in 2021
  • We’re working with a fairly limited sample set here, since this only seems to be the case as of April 2021, and the schedule mostly only goes as far as May 2021

Japan Airlines’ 777 first class

Bottom line

If you’re hoping to redeem miles for Japan Airlines first class next spring or summer, that isn’t possible through a partner program at the moment. It would appear that all Japan Airlines first class award space to & from the US as of next April is being restricted to members of Japan Airlines’ own frequent flyer program.

Japan Airlines wouldn’t be the first airline to have such a policy. I’m hoping this is just a temporary situation and not a permanent change, though only time will tell. I’ll try to get to the bottom of this and figure out what’s going on, and will update this post if I learn more.

What do you make of JAL’s current first class award situation?

  1. @ Ben — Thank you for being the reasonable one. Everyone else is panicking, but I had same thoughts as you about it being temporary.

  2. I transferred miles to AA to book a First Class award from HND to LAX on 4-1-21 that was showing available, only to find out from AA tech that JAL would not confirm the award. He then told me for another 200K he could book me on AA. I declined.

  3. @Mike, the Olympics begin (if they happen!) in late July. Seems like an odd date for the change if that was the cause

  4. You’re a big name blogger. Have you reached out to JAL or AA/AS? Your odds of getting a response would certainly be better than if a normal person tried.

  5. The First class availability using Alaska points is very limited if any, but AAdvantage and BA Avios awards out of LAX seem to be plentiful. I looked at Apr. 8-18 and they had availability for 2 on 6-7 days.
    Might be an issue using Alaska Mileage Plan use.

  6. I thought that was already the policy of JAL that Mileage Bank customers got their pick of award seats 30 days before partner airlines’ customers.

  7. Hardly a loss… JAL’s First Class hard product is terribly outdated. Very odd that the former seats, despite being narrower, were far more innovative and felt more like true First Class.

  8. Had the pleasure to fly NRT to JFK last year in March on JAL F (the only time I flew first class).
    Since then, I saved up a bunch of AA miles and Alaska miles, hoping to fly JAL F again after pandemic. Hopefully this block is just temporary.

  9. I was recently trying to book mid-April JL awards with AA miles. Both F and J showed up on the AA website, but I kept getting error messages after selecting F that the inventory was no longer available. J booked with no problems.

  10. AA shows many phantom F spaces availability for next April, but I was able to book two F seats from HND to SFO for mid-April next year with AA miles the first day when the award calendar opened in May.

  11. I am also wondering if Cathay are restricting their business awards, nothing Vancouver to Hong Kong for the next 2 weeks which I find quite odd. Really hoping to get back to Sydney (am Aussie) but don’t want to pay circa $2k on an economy fare.

  12. JL is changing the booking class code for award tickets from April 2021 onwards. I work at a oneworld airline and we got a memo from them in late February. This requires us to change our system process and due to covid furloughs this has not been carried out. This is probably why it isn’t working with partner miles so cause for alarm yet.

  13. Olympics were happening in 2020 and I had no problems booking a flight. They may want to be forcing people to pay cash fares now given the low ridership. It’s fine, I’m not in as much of a rush to book an olympics flight this time as I was last time, considering idk if they’re even going to happen.

  14. I kind of agree with David. I think jal first is fine but not sure why so many people love it. Dreary colors, no door, big open cabin etc. much prefer etihad, Singapore, ana, lh, qantas even.

    Mind you great option using alaska miles. Always seems to be available to or from ord.

  15. I also haven’t been seeing any partner award F space on BA between LHR and the west coast from 4/1 onward.

  16. I would like to offer just a couple counter-narrative data points here: searching on the Qantas website for April 12 and April 26 JAL F is available JFK-HND. There may be other dates but at a minimum this suggests whatever has changed we aren’t talking about a principled, total blocking of F awards through partner award networks.

  17. I know this not related to JAL topic but I’ve also noticed that CX is block all award space on AA/AS/BA. I wonder if they are doing this due to COVID-19? Anyone notice that?

  18. @ben f – how do you search on the Qantas site? Sorry stupid question but when I try (logged in of course), it takes me to the US site (of course) but then when I search it finds business – but it is with QF – so JFK to SYD to HAN. Is there some other way? I was actually trying to find SYD to HAN in first with JAL this morning on the Qantas site. I know there are flights but Qantas were not showing them – paid or free. I can’t work it out. I tried the dates you mentioned above and tried economy – same problem. Any suggestions? Clearly I am doing something wrong.

  19. While JAL F may not be the absolute best, the fact is that it’s a very good option for getting to Japan. And it’s possible that option is now off the table. The fewer options that exist, the more difficult it is for all of us to get our award flights. The math isn’t hard to figure out.

    ~ The Honorable Reginald

  20. I agree with @Steve re JAL F availability using AS miles. It was always spotty at the best of times, and there seemed no predictability when something might pop up.
    My major worry is whether JAL miles I need to redeposit due to cancelled flights will expire and disappear due to JAL’s unique way of expiring miles. Haven’t head of any concessions they are making in the current no-fly situation.

  21. Don’t Air France restrict access to La Premiere to their own members ?

    As to the Olympics did they restrict access to F rewards for the games due to happen this year?

  22. JAL changed their release dat of awards some time ago.So instead of being able to book with AA miles easily we now book F awards using QF or BA which have award release at approx. the same time as JAL.So get a 30 day start on anyone wanting to use AA miles.

    Just checked and through QF and 2 F awards available June 3 2021.

  23. I was trying to redeeem on may for next year using QF to look for availability and also CX, got the flights then I tried to redeeem using QR because I got miles expiring but the agent say that the ticket is not available maybe this is the reason why

  24. I think the explanation is simple – fiscal year in Japan starts on April 1 and most of the companies start planning for 2021 (Apr 21 to Mar 22) later this year. I would expect that by end of the summer you can find F class available.

  25. Another perspective … it could also be JAL recognizing that the value of miles vastly fluctuates between programs and countries. Here in Japan, for example, a gold or platinum card may net you up to 20,000 miles upon joining although JAL itself offers a mere 10,550 max. So loyal JAL users can’t compete with Americans who seem to regularly get 100,000 miles for cards. That’s not fair and also a cause of the mileage deflation problem we all face.

  26. Just booked 2 First Class tickets on JAL, roundtrip SFO ~ HND, non-stop, for next April 4th thru April 19th. Used my AA miles and it took some time to finally get them, but, it is still happening with JAL. Many times it showed availability only to get denied after choosing flights. Thanks and I enjoy your site.

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