Etihad A380 First Class (plane with a shower!)
JAL Mileage Plan, a frequent flier program for a Japan-based airline, is often used by travel aficionados for its lucrative award flights. Historically, the program has offered excellent partner awards, utilizing a distanced-based chart, but the process for redeeming the awards was difficult and often involved long phone conversations with JAL’s call center. One of my favorite uses of the JAL Mileage Plan was to book medium- to long-haul Emirates award flights because the miles required were reasonable and JAL did not impose fuel surcharges. Unfortunately, that changed about two weeks ago–JAL now imposes fuel surcharges on Emirates award flights.
JAL recently increased the amount of miles required to book some award flights but the changes were relatively minor. By calculating the total distance of your desired partner award flight (I use milecalc), you can figure out how many miles JAL will charge. For example, a one-way flight from IAD (Washington DC) to MLE (Maldives) on Emirates (layover in DXB – Dubai) is 8,953 miles. A business class ticket would cost 65,000 JAL miles (plus over $800 in fuel surcharges). Here’s JAL’s partner award chart:
Booking Award Flights
Recently, JAL revamped its website which now allows you to book many partner award flights online without need to call JAL’s award center. This change may not seem significant but the call center wait times definitely are. When you log in to your Mileage Plan account and try to book an award flight, you should see this screen:
Select “JMB Partner Airline Award Tickets” to book an award flight. Only the following partner award flights can be booked online:
If you want to book an award flight on Emirates, you will need to call the JAL Mileage Plan award center at (800) 525-3663. You should be comfortably seated and prepared for an adventure. The last time I called, I was on hold for 40 minutes before I was connected to an agent. The entire call (including the wait time) lasted over 90 minutes as the agent tried to use JAL’s new partner award booking system.
Emirates Fuel Surcharges
Until recently, JAL did not impose fuel surcharges on Emirates award flights. Now, for a one-way flight from New York to Dubai, JAL will charge over $800 for fuel surcharges on award flights booked in either business or first class. You can approximate the fees that JAL will charge on Emirates award flights by using ITA Matrix.
For example, you can search for a first class ticket on the Emirates A380-800 that files from JFK (New York) to DXB (Dubai). This plane is special because it contains a shower in the front of its first class cabin!! Showering on a plane is definitely a cool experience and allows you to hit the ground running after a long flight.
Step 1: insert your route into ITA Matrix. I searched for a one-way flight on January 1, 2018.
Step 2: select your flight. You may need to select Emirates from the top search box to limit the search results (depending on the route). I picked the top option.
Step 3: locate “EK YQ Surcharge (YQ).” In this case, the amount is $812. This amount gives you an idea of the fee that JAL will charge for an award flight (JAL may actually charge a nominal amount on top of the $812).
AlaskaAir Mileage Plan
At this point, AlaskaAir Mileage Plan does not impose fuel surcharges on Emirates award flights and may provide a better value for Emirates business and first class awards. In addition, unlike JAL, you can book Emirates award flights on AlaskaAir’s website (the last time I called JAL I was on hold for 40 minutes before I was connected to an agent).
For the above route, AlaskaAir charges 82,500 miles and $19.50 for a business class award ticket and 150,000 miles and $19.50 for a first class ticket. JAL charges approximately 63,000 miles and $820 for a business class award ticket and 100,000 miles and $820 for a first class award ticket. Given that I value $800 more than 19,500 (business class) and 50,000 (first class) AlaskaAir miles, I would prefer to book this flight with AlaskaAir miles.
You should run the numbers for your specific route as fuel surcharges and the miles required can vary.
JAL’s new fuel surcharges definitely devalue the program given that Emirates first class award tickets were historically a great value (and the only reason I joined JAL Mileage Plus). Given that AlaskaAir does not impose fuel charges on Emirates award flights and you can book award flights online, you should consider running the numbers yourself to see whether you should book through JAL or AlaskaAir. Depending on the distance flown, AlaskaAir could very well provide the better value.