I’ve yet to do an official “JAL miles” post explaining rules and what not. I did write about the routing rules in mid 2013 in a hidden gem post, but I’ve never had a JAL post of its own. So today’s the day.
Obviously having 7 stopovers is quite a benefit, but people underestimate just how good the award chart is. Any distance based award chart will favor certain city pairs over others, but over all it’s a solid program. Plus, OneWorld has a lot of great options without fuel surcharges, including European airlines.
Earning JAL Miles is slightly more difficult, as I’ll talk about at the end, but the main way to earn JAL miles is transferring from SPG. SPG miles are on high demand, but I think I’ll make a pretty good case for JAL here.
JAL Stopover & Routing Rules
Let’s get the details out of the way and keep em short. I’d rather talk about it in examples. Unlike ANA, JAL allows oneway awards, and they seem to be less strict about returning to a certain region. However…
- Oneways are allowed
- no free one-ways (no transit via point or country of origin)
- Max of 8 segments
- Max of 7 stopovers
- Can only stopover in a city once
- Max one open-jaw (but counts towards the number of stopovers and counts toward distance flown)
- Only 3 stopovers in Europe
- can book up to 330 days ahead (assuming partner awards have been released and are available)
- US and Canada (1-800-525-3663*)
JAL Award Chart
Like most any distance based award chart, you add up the total miles flown (using GCMap.com), and then compare the price with the chart below. (You can also use this JAL tool to help figure out the price).
OneWorld partners without Fuel Surcharges
- Air Berlin (and Niki)
- AA within the Americas
- US Airways within the Americas
While fuel surcharges may vary greatly by airline (like Cathay being less than British Airways), these are the only options for flights completely without fuel surcharges.
It looks really good for flights to South America, but I’d like to give examples of flights to and around Europe. Both because I’ve gone over so many similar examples with ANA in South America, and because Air Berlin and Niki really do have great coverage all over Europe. However, the exact same concept works in South America.
Example of JAL stopovers in Europe (Europe Hopper?)
First thing first, where does Air Berlin fly out of? Where are we routing to and from?
Hubs and “focus cities”
- Berlin, Germany
- Dusseldorf, Germany
- Vienna, Austria
- Hamburg, Germany
- Munich, Germany
- Stuttgart, Germany
- Salzburg, Austria
- Mallorca, Spain
This is just to say that these cities have flights out of them, that aren’t just to another hub. You don’t have to just go to these cities but connect through these cities. We will use this information to find routes that use hubs to get to non-hubby cities.
For example, I might look at what routes are available from Dusseldorf, and what routes go from Vienna. Do they have mutual destinations? I’ll be using the OneWorld Route Map to find out. This tool is especially useful because the hubs and focus cities aren’t the only cities that have non-hub flights. But it’s a good starting place.
Flights from Vienna:
Flights from Dusseldorf:
It looks like both hubs fly to Copenhagen. Therefore I could fly into Dusseldorf and then on to Copenhagen, and then go on to Vienna. Unfortunately, they only allow 3 stopovers within Europe.
This would be the most efficient way of routing things in terms of not wasting segments/connections. You could also use GCMap.com to figure out which routes would have the shortest distances in terms of miles flown.
Getting Across the Atlantic
If we’re sticking to Air Berlin flights, there are only a few options.
- Chicago to Berlin
- New York to Berlin
- Miami to Berlin
- Fort Myers to Dusseldorf
- Los Angeles to Dusseldorf
- Miami to Dusseldorf
- New York to Dusseldorf
Basically, with this strategy you always need to route through Berlin or Dusseldorf. Both cities are splendid for a day trip, but there are many other cities I’d prefer for longer visits. The layovers are forced, and since they are cool cities you can try to get a long one (under 24 hours), but certainly save the stopovers for later.
Also, Miami, New York, and Chicago are all AA hubs. This is actually really convenient. Basically anyone in the US is one flight away from one of the cities. And they are all on the way east, so to speak, and thus they are rarely out of the way.
Adding Up Europe
If we just say that we’ll start in Chicago (since most everyone in the US can connect there) and then head to Dusseldorf. So far it’s Chicago – Dusseldorf – Copenhagen – Vienna – Zakynthos – Zurich – Berlin – Chicago.
This leaves us one more connection, but It’s a pretty filled route so far. And all these cities have points hotels, except Zakynthos. But Zaknythos, Greece is well worth the trip. Trust me.
Anyways, so far that route is 11,648 flown miles and looks like this:
If we take the amount of miles flown (11,648) and scroll up to compare with the OneWorld award chart, you’ll see that the price would come out to 60,000 miles. That is basically the same price as a regular trip with AA miles or United, except here, you could have 3 stopovers and more layovers. I would certainly stopover in Zakynthos, Vienna (can do day trips to Budapest and Salzburg too) and Zurich.
Spicing up Europe with some Caribbean Routes
Air Berlin also has some flights to the Caribbean via Dusseldorf.
- Puerto Rico to Dusseldorf
- Punta Cana to Dusseldorf
- Cancun to Dusseldorf
This is pretty cool, and can be utilized one of two ways.
The first way is to route through one of these places, like Puerto Rico. All these places are AA destinations anyways, so this won’t be too hard. In fact, we can leave the route above exactly the same, except we’ll make San Juan, Puerto Rico our first stop.
This little flight ended up increasing the total miles flown by a lot. This new route adds up to 13,986 flown miles. Scrolling up and comparing with the award chart I see that it’s not actually a large increase, as the flight is now 70,000 miles. 10,000 extra miles to tack on Puerto Rico is still a great deal.
Option 2 – starting from the Caribbean
Technically, you can use your open-jaw to return to Chicago but actually start in San Juan. Surprisingly, this bring the flight back down to it’s 60,000 mile price. This is only preferable if you have Southwest points and a Companion Pass. After all, Cancun, Punta Cana and San Juan are all Southwest Destinations. And on top of that, our recent flight from Atlanta to Cancun was only 3,000 Southwest points.
The Problems With A “Europe Hopper” Flight…
The above example teaches the concept to figure out JAL miles. The first big problem that’s most particular to Europe is the fact that they only allow three stopovers in Europe
One way to get around this is just fly to places that aren’t Europe. It will end up costing you a little more miles in most cases but a trip to Israel or North Africa for 10,000 more miles could be worth it. If you have the time and are really trying to get the most of your miles.
Oddly enough, JAL allows oneways. Huge loophole for the stopover limit, right? Well, it depends on the route. In this case we were pricing out at 60,000 JAL miles but half the distance would be 40,000 miles. Not as good. Except the range of miles flown to be priced as 40,000 miles goes all the way up to 8,000 flown miles. Which, would include all of this:
Combine a few tactics and you’ve got a lot of stopovers.
The big problem with hopper trips in general, made worse in Europe, is adding up the airport taxes. Airports such as London can climb close to $100… which is a lot if you’re just trying to do layovers. Just too much. This should cause you to be intentional about your routing and not just want to layover in a city because you can. Add it up first.
Using BritishAirways.com is a decent way of checking availability and getting an idea for taxes, since AirBerlin doesn’t have YQ to pass on. A quick search shows a lot of examples around $50. Vienna to Rome is $42, for example.
So if you keep to just the stopovers in Europe, you can come away with spending less than $200. Think of it as $50 per stop, and this is mostly true in Latin America too. Using 6 stopovers, can cost $300 (give or take a lot depending on the airport).
JAL Miles for the Latin Hopper
I’ll just give a quick example to show the power of JAL miles.
Chicago – Cancun – Lima – Cusco – (layover in Lima) – Santiago – Guayaquil – Miami – Chicago
This trip is 11,411 flown miles and would price out to 60,000 JAL miles. Similar amount of miles as any other airline except here I have 6 stopovers worked in. An incredible trip for an incredible price.
Flying OneWorld (the hard way)
Unfortunately earning for partner “discount economy” flights is low, 30% – 100% for economy. Most people end up buying cheap discount economy flights that would earn 30% or 50%. A “Y” flight would earn 100%, and other earnings are normal, but for most people the earning is quite low, but worth checking.
Credit Cards (the easy-ish way)
Unfortunately there is one card that transfers to JAL, which is SPG. This is unfortunate in all kinds of ways. The bonus is typically lower (25k), you can only get Amex cards once, and there are no spend category bonuses for SPG. I’m tempted to keep my SPG card this year just because of the value of SPG, but I hate paying annual fees. Meh, I’ll cancel and hope they change their mind.
I know some people MS with the SPG card, and unless it’s absolutely free and there would be no other bonus available, I don’t understand this at all. However, the SPG card is a great daily spender. It can transfer 20,000 SPG points to 25,000 miles, so it has a value of 1.25 miles per dollar, so to speak. But also, the real “value” of SPG that’s underplayed, is that you can’t get JAL miles other ways. You can’t get a lot of miles except via SPG. So for the extra value of 7 stopovers, I’d say its value is more than the apparent 1.25.
JAL miles might not be the easiest miles to get a hold of, but they have very competitive prices and a heck of a lot more stopovers. This is a great program for seeing more places with less miles. The major disadvantage is passing on fuel surcharges, which can be beat simply by booking on the right airlines. Within the Americas and on Air Berlin/Niki, you won’t have any fuel surcharges to add up.
Pure and simple, 7 stopovers. The more you fly the more you pay. Avoid fuel surcharges. Book on the phone. That’s pretty much it.