Why and How: Booking Japan Airlines Award Flights with Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles

JAL First was great. Then again, so was JAL Business.
Direct routing is key.

News broke today that Virgin Atlantic miles can be used to book one-way ANA awards. That’s good, but as much as I appreciate more options I still think ANA is a challenging carrier to work with in terms of award availability for a family.

As we’re prone to here at Milenomics, we’re zigging when others zag. Instead of talking about ANA here I am talking about JAL.

It’s uncertain when Japan will reopen for tourism. But a lot of us are booking future trips there.

Much has changed since we visited Japan in February 2020, and I’m not just talking about the pandemic. For that trip, I used a combination of AA and Alaska miles right at 330 days to get award seats for a family of four in Business/First Class .

See: Tips and Tricks: Booking JAL Premium Cabin Awards for a Family of Four

But since booking those awards Japan Airlines has started opening their schedule 360 days out. This creates a situation where you’re potentially late to the party if you’re trying to use AA or Alaska miles at 330 days.

In this post I’ll describe how to use Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles to book awards on Japan Airlines metal in premium cabins at up to 360 days out.

Why Use AsiaMiles for Japan Airlines Metal?

Kyoto’s Higashiyama District

If you’re flush with AA or Alaska miles and you’re booking less than 330 days and see the award availability you’re looking for by all means use AA or Alaska miles.

But if you know your dates of travel a full year an advance and are looking to get more than a couple seats on specific dates AsiaMiles are worth looking into because:

  • The AsiaMiles (and JAL) booking window opens 360 days out (much better than AA at 330 or Alaska at 325)
  • 75,000 AsiaMiles pp one-way from North America to Japan in Business Class (compare at 60k AA/Alaska, and strangely they charge 85,000 miles on Cathay Pacific metal to Japan)
  • 120,000 AsiaMiles pp one-way from North Ameirca to Japan in First Class (compare at 80k AA/not possible w/Alaska)
  • Taxes & fees are reasonable (In Business Class $28 USD Boston – Tokyo, $73 USD Tokyo – Boston)
  • Awards can be cancelled and redeposited for $120 or 12,000 AsiaMiles (not as favorable as AA)
  • Award dates can be changed online for $25 USD up to 1 year from date of issue
  • AsiaMiles expire 18 months after they’re earned, but activity resets the clock

Perhaps most importantly, AsiaMiles are arguably easier to accrue than AA or Alaska miles. They’re an instant 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points. There’s also a co-branded Cathay Pacific credit card with welcome bonuses that historically go between 40,000 and 60,000 miles.

Especially if you’ve been shutdown by AA or have difficulty churning BofA Alaska cards, it’s worth looking into alternatives like this for getting to Asia.

How to Book Japan Airlines Business/First Class with Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles

Step 1: Create an AsiaMiles account

Direct Link

To perform award searches you need to create an account. They ask quite a few questions but their site is pretty user friendly compared to some foreign carriers in my opinion.

Step 2: Perform an award search to confirm availability

Direct Link

This link is important because the default/most obvious landing page for award flight searches struggles with partner awards. Spencer Howard from Straight to the Points gave me that tip some time ago and it’s a helpful bookmark.

To hear more from Spencer check out his appearance on Episode 21 of The Manifesto.

Step 3: Transfer Bank Points

Transfers from Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points should be instantaneous, and in my recent experience actually do appear right away. If you don’t see your mileage balance increase when refreshing the page, log out and back in before beginning a booking search.

Step 4: Complete Booking

If all goes well you should be able to complete your booking online. If you have difficulty they do have a Chat function and you can also try calling their US Contact Center:

(866)892-2598

Tips

Broadening perspectives by experiencing different cultures

It seems like every award booking I’ve ever done has some wrinkle to it where things don’t go quite as planned.

I know as a reader that it can be frustrating to read blog posts about how “easy” it is to “simply” follow the instructions and complete an award booking. So mostly in the spirit of comisseration and trying to be helpful, here are some tips for when things go wrong.

Don’t Use an Amex Card to Pay for Taxes & Fees

Maybe it’s just me, but every time I’ve tried to pay AsiaMiles award taxes & fees with an Amex card it has malfunctioned due to “SafeKey” going off into the weeds. I mention it because when it fails, it fails so badly that subsequent attempts with a Visa or Mastercard don’t work either.

If your booking fails when paying it tends to be associated with your account to the point where a phone or chat agent can help patch it up. A phone agent can send you an email link to pay and a chat agent can send you a link to complete the booking after logging out and back in. Whew – that was stressful each time it happened. No more Amex for me.

I discussed these follies on Episode 117 of the podcast.

If You Don’t See Business Availability Try Searching for First

This was a crazy one. I was watching dates like a hawk and just absolutely didn’t see space opening up. So I tried searching for First Class on a route that only has Business Class (Tokyo to Boston). And wouldn’t you know it, the Business Class award space then appeared?

No idea why this was the case. Even the AsiaMiles chat rep couldn’t see it when I needed help patching up the booking mentioned in the previous point. But it’s worth a shot…

Kids 12+ Are Considered Adults

I bumped into this while piecing together an itinerary as award space gradually opened up. I was thinking it would be a hassle to book for our 13 year old online without an adult on the same itinerary. Turns out it’s no problem as 12 and up is considered adult.

I’m unsure how to book a ticket for 11 and under when you’re on the same flight but a different itinerary. You’d probably have to call?

JAL Reliably Releases 2 Seats in Each Cabin

The same pattern I observed last year while booking JAL metal with AA/Alaska holds true when booking with AsiaMiles: I have always seen two partner award seats in each cabin appear right when the schedule opens.

This makes it possible to book two in First, two in Business on the same flight.

Try switching who gets to experience First in either direction. I thought it was fun to compare the standard of service in First vs. Business.

Cancelled Award Tickets Tend to be Released Immediately

When AA shut me down last year and cancelled my award tickets a couple days before departure, I was immediately able to book those same seats with AsiaMiles.

This presents an opportunity of sorts where it might be possible to book tickets with one currency, hold them for some period of time, release them, then catch them again. A “release and catch” of sorts

We discussed this way back in Episode 22 of the podcast. Surely another great way to get your frequent flier account shutdown.

Bottom Line

There’s so much more to an award than the number of miles required.

For me, it all comes down to:

  • Viability
  • Alignment with my home airport
  • The ability to accomodate my family

For these metrics, JAL works infinitely better for me than ANA for getting to Japan.

I’ll follow up soon with another post discussing the pros and cons of using JAL Mileage Bank miles head-on for booking flights on Japan Airlines metal. We discussed a limited time opportunity that enables this in Episode 118 of the podcast.

Bamboo forests near Fushimi Inari in Kyoto
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About the author

– Written by Robert Dwyer, contributor at Milenomics. Connect with me on Twitter @RobertDwyer

Comments

    1. Not sure whether it was announced, but around August 2020.
      Look for example at JFK-TYO this coming Saturday April 10 on AA and Alaska.
      AA shows availability in First, Alaska does not.

      1. Thanks, I was wondering the same thing. With Cathay only releasing a single first class seat to Asia per flight and Emirates out, are there any good (non-AA) first class awards for two seats at acceptable prices with Alaska miles?

  1. “ Especially if you’ve been shutdown by AA or have difficulty churning BofA Alaska cards” Don’t Bank of America‘s anti-churning rules mean that it’s impossible to rack up AS cards nowadays?

    1. The business version of the card lacks churning restrictions, but I agree it’s a lot harder to accrue Alaska/AA miles than Membership Rewards and ThankYou Points.

        1. It seems to vary. If you have difficulty I’d recommend opening a BofA business checking account in branch first. That seems to help.

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