The Complete Guide to Booking Japan Airlines First Class

Japan Airlines First Class is one of the world’s leading premium cabin experiences, with an especially distinguished offering in terms of its onboard catering. If you ask me, it’s hands-down the best way to fly to Tokyo. 

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about booking Japan Airlines First Class using points, including the routes, availability, points currencies, and booking logistics.

The Japan Airlines First Class Experience

The JAL First Class suite is extremely comfortable, the lie-flat bed is a heavenly sleeping surface, and the service is marked by the greatest attention being paid to the tiniest of details. But what will truly blow you away is the onboard food and drink.

Japan Airlines serves up by far the best food I’ve ever had on a plane, and if you manage to snag a seat in this First Class cabin, you’re in for a truly transformative gastronomic experience – especially if you have an affinity for Japanese food.

Furthermore, if you’re departing from Tokyo, you’ll get to enjoy the comforts of JAL’s flagship First Class Lounge at both Haneda and Narita airports.

While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of other First Class lounges around the world, its signature made-to-order sushi bar is certainly not to be missed.

Which Routes Offer Japan Airlines First Class?

As always, when planning an ambitious booking, you need to first figure out your desired route and make sure that First Class is offered on that route.

JAL only offers First Class on their Boeing 777 aircraft on long-haul routes, and as of the time of writing, the 777 is being used on the following routes:

Flights to/from Tokyo Narita

From Tokyo Narita, Japan Airlines currently serves three US cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York JFK.

Flights to/from Tokyo Haneda

From Tokyo Haneda, Japan Airlines currently serves four US cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York JFK. In addition, the airline’s European routes to London and Paris are also operated out of Haneda.

JAL also maintains a list of First Class routes on its website, which looks to be updated each month.

For North American travellers, the most useful routes will likely be those between Japan and the US. In this regard, it’s unfortunate that JAL has swapped out the Boeing 777 for the 787 on their routes to Dallas and Boston, thus reducing the amount of total seats available on their Japan–US routes over any given period.

Nonetheless, the remaining four routes still provide you with plenty of options, and you’ll want to look closely at New York JFK given that it has two flights a day to/from Tokyo, compared to only one for Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

How Many Points Does Japan Airlines First Class Cost?

As a Oneworld carrier, Japan Airlines flights can be booked with any number of Oneworld loyalty programs.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Travellers based in Canada will have the easiest time booking Japan Airlines First Class using Alaska Mileage Plan, both because it charges favourable prices and offers an easy way for Canadians to earn miles.

A First Class redemption between North America and Japan, Korea, or India costs 70,000 miles one-way, while travelling to anywhere else in Asia will cost you 75,000 miles one-way. You can have a stopover in Tokyo for up to 364 days as well.

Note that since JAL doesn’t offer First Class on their intra-Asia routes (Jakarta was the last Asian destination to feature First Class, which was discontinued in 2017), the onward flight to your final destination in Asia will be in business class, which is excellent nonetheless.

Also note that Alaska’s partner agreement with Japan Airlines does not allow for redemptions to/from Europe or Australia and New Zealand, so unfortunately you won’t be able to take advantage of JAL’s route network in those parts of the world.

Earning Alaska miles in Canada is made easy by the presence of the MBNA Alaska Airlines Mastercard, which gives a welcome bonus of 30,000 Alaska miles upon spending $1,000 in the first three months, and also earns you one Alaska mile per dollar spent on your purchases.

Furthermore, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to Alaska Mileage Plan at the optimal ratio of 60,000 Bonvoy points = 25,000 Alaska miles. Below this, the transfer ratio is 3:1, but transferring in chunks of 60,000 yields a bonus of 5,000 miles.

For Alaska redemptions, keep in mind that you’re limited to using a single airline partner (JAL in this case) in conjunction with Alaska-operated flights. This is good news for those whose journeys originate in a city that’s served by Alaska (such as Vancouver, Victoria, and Calgary in Canada), but not so great otherwise.

If you’re based in Toronto or Montreal, for example, you’d be best served booking a JAL flight directly out of Chicago or New York, and then booking a cheap positioning flight to fill the gap using another program like Aeroplan or Air Miles.

American Airlines AAdvantage

Another option for redeeming miles on JAL First Class is via American AAdvantage, which requires 80,000 miles for one-way travel between Canada or the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Japan or Korea, and 110,000 miles to anywhere else in Asia.

As you can see, the number of miles required for JAL First Class is significantly higher with AAdvantage compared to Alaska. However, the 10,000-mile premium may be worth it for an award to Japan and Korea if you’re based in a city not served by Alaska Airlines, and can take care of your positioning needs by tacking on an American flight to your AAdvantage award.

The other benefit of AAdvantage is that it allows you to fly between Europe and Asia on JAL’s London or Paris routes, if that’s what your travel needs dictate.

Nevertheless, AAdvantage miles are trickier to earn for Canadians; with no co-branded credit card, the only remaining options are Marriott Bonvoy transfers (again at the optimal ratio of 60,000:25,000), plus the ability to transfer RBC Avion points at an unfavourable ratio of 10:7.

British Airways Avios

If you happen to have a large stash of British Airways Avios, you can consider redeeming them for Japan Airlines First Class. The pricing isn’t nearly as favourable as with Alaska Mileage Plan, but Avios are arguably much easier to earn.

Avios relatively easy to come by in Canada. American Express Membership Rewards and RBC Avion transfer to Avios at a 1:1 ratio, while HSBC Rewards transfer at a ratio of 25,000:10,000. There are often transfer bonuses of 30–50% with each program.

RBC has a co-branded credit card, the RBC British Airways Visa Infinite, with which Avios may be earned through spending and welcome bonuses.

Flights between Japan and the US West Coast price out at 103,000 Avios. With a 30% bonus, this equates to only 79,230 Amex MR or RBC Avion points, and with a 50% bonus, the same First Class flight would only cost 68,667 Amex MR or RBC Avion points!

This rate rivals Alaska Mileage Plan, although for any routes aside from the West Coast, the cost increases from there. Furthermore, using Avios will incur a much greater amount of taxes and fees.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Lastly, it’s possible to redeem Cathay Pacific Asia Miles for Japan Airlines First Class, though this option got a lot less interesting when Cathay Pacific eliminated stopovers on one-way awards in 2020.

Earning Asia Miles is relatively easy, as it’s a transfer partner of Amex Memberships Rewards at a transfer ratio of 1:0.75, RBC Avion points at a 1:1 ratio, and HSBC Rewards at a ratio of 25,000:8,000. RBC also offers the co-branded RBC Cathay Pacific Visa Platinum Card.

Redeeming Asia Miles for Cathay Pacific flights is subject to a distance-based award chart. 

Los Angeles–Tokyo would cost 110,000 Asia Miles, while New York–Tokyo would cost 130,000 Asia Miles. Even with the occasional 10–15% transfer bonus in play, these award rates are a fair bit higher than booking via Alaska. 

Perhaps the sole interesting angle with Asia Miles is how the program prices mixed-cabin awards, which is based on a weighted average of the mileage costs in each cabin of service based on the distance of each segment.

Therefore, if you book a Japan Airlines First Class segment followed by an economy class segment on the same itinerary, that can lower the overall cost of the itinerary to the region of 90,000 Asia Miles, which is a lot more palatable.

Japan Airlines First Class Award Availability: One of the Easier Ones

Getting the miles in your account is the straightforward part; the search for availability is where the fun really begins.

The good news is that you can quite easily search for award availability on JAL using Alaska’s search engine. Simply select “Use Miles” and enter your desired city pair to see what comes up.

Japan Airlines is pretty good about releasing seats very far out as possible. In fact, if you’re booking nine or more months in advance, you have pretty good odds of finding something that works for you, providing that you’re flexible in terms of your exact departure date and the airport to or from which you’d like to fly.

However, the airline typically only releases two First Class seats per flight during the initial phase, so if you’re travelling with a larger party, it may be necessary to split up the team over multiple flights. 

It’s more tricky to snag JAL First Class seats – especially if it’s more than one seat you’re after – once you’re within the 4–6 month range from the date of departure. However, the good news is that JAL also releases plenty of last-minute availability, depending on how good or bad the flight has been selling in revenue terms.

So if you’re okay with leaving things up in the air until the last minute, you can often find some wide-open award space often for more than two passengers!

Logistics of Booking Japan Airlines First Class

If you’re pursuing the optimal strategy of redeeming Alaska miles for JAL First Class, the great news is that the booking process is typically very easy, because it can be completed online on the Alaska website.

Simply select your desired flight and click through to the checkout process to complete the booking. Surcharges are fairly low on these flights, and you just have to pay any airport taxes and partner booking fees that apply.

If you’re planning to have a stopover in Tokyo and continue onwards to other parts of Asia in business class, it’s probably easiest to search each segment individually and locate the space first, before punching it all into the multi-search tool to complete the booking.

In September 2020, Alaska Airlines joined a chorus of US-based carriers that permanently waived change fees, and as of May 1, 2021, the airline also permanently waived cancellation fees for award tickets.

Thus, what used to be an already generous cancellation policy has now become amongst the most generous in the loyalty landscape. If your JAL First Class plans change or your need to make a late change to a different flight with last-minute availability, you won’t have to pay extra cancellation fees for your troubles.

Conclusion

On the whole, Japan Airlines First Class is one of the easier aspirational First Class products to book.

The Alaska Airlines–Japan Airlines partnership offers the best avenue to securing a dream flight in JAL First Class: award space is decent as long as you’re flexible and plan well in advance (or feel comfortable leaving things to the last minute), and the booking process on the Alaska website is easy and hassle-free.

All things considered, it’s a straightforward process if you’d like to get a taste of Japan Airlines First Class – and I mean that quite literally, given the airline’s superb onboard gastronomy – for yourself.