I like flying in the pointy end of the plane. There, I said it. I have annoyed my family to no end talking about it. Arguably, I have a problem.

My friend and I are going to Japan using the frequent flyer miles and credit card points I’ve built up. We booked Japan Airlines business class for 60,000 AA miles. I should have been happy with that.

Except American Airlines allows free changes to awards in certain circumstances. So I was faced with the option: be happy with what I have, or check every day for award seats in First like some kind of obsessed person.

You can guess which option I chose.

A Japan Airlines 777-300

Why I Did It

Here is the AA award chart for a one way ticket from the Mainland US or Canada to Asia 1 (which includes Japan). Since it is difficult to find saver award availability on AA flights, the award chart is most useful when booking partner airlines such as Japan Airlines.

Cabin Miles (off-peak) Miles
Economy 32,500 35,000
Premium Economy - 50,000
Business - 60,000
First - 80,000

First Class costs 20,000 miles more than Business Class. You get a lie flat bed with both, and the window seats in business class on Japan Airlines’ intercontinental 787s and 777s are amazing, but I thought the extra 20,000 miles per person would be worth it for the experience, especially with a friend.

There are some other notable programs that allow booking JAL. In addition to the oneworld airlines, you can also book with Air France / KLM Flying Blue and Emirates Skywards (and it seems possibly China Eastern and Bangkok Airways).

The JAL Method of Releasing Award Seats

Ah the culture of Japan… there are a lot of convoluted systems. From what I have been able to piece together from around the internet and my own observations, it seems there are three phases involved in JAL’s award inventory:

  • Phase 1: 360 days before the flight, JAL will release between 0-2 award seats. However, American Airlines will only book award seats 331 days out, so they will often get booked pretty quickly. This award inventory seems to be rather stable.
  • Phase 2: About 9 months before departure, JAL will close all of the seats from Phase 1 and instead randomly open a different set of seats every day. There doesn’t seem to necessarily be a system behind which seats are opened.
  • Phase 3: About 2 to 3 weeks before departure, JAL will open most of the unsold seats – often this is all but one seat in First.

My flights were for August, so I was in Phase 2 and I checked for award availability in First every day until I found it.

The Bottom Line

It is ultimately rather inconsequential, but it’s nice to be in First, especially when traveling with a friend.