Got JAL miles?

October 6th, 2009 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Spend ’em while you can.

If new transport minister Seiji Maehara has anything to say about it, Japan Airlines will not go bankrupt, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the country’s flaship carrier is out of the woods or won’t someday merge with some other airline. Because of all the panicky speculation, no one had brought up the touchy subject of all those frequent flyer miles that JAL customers have socked away.

Is it possible they could be rendered useless? There are precedents. When it was liquidated in 2002 Australia’s Ansett Airlines suspended its frequent flyer program and since no other airline came in to pick them up, all points that were accumulated completely lost their value.

In a recent article, Shukan Post offered some advice for JAL Mileage Bank members. For one thing, if you’re planning an overseas trip any time in the near or even distant future, book it now and use your miles, since you’re more likely to get the best value for them. You’re allowed to book up to 330 days in advance for an international flight, and though you can change the date up to a day before you leave, you can’t change the route.

There are fewer seats allocated for JMB customers on domestic flights so it’s more difficult to book them. And you can’t book a JMB seat more than two months in advance for a domestic flight. However, if you’re not planning on flying right away you might want to consider exchanging your miles for coupons, which can only be used on domestic flights up to 13 months after they’ve been purchased. The problem with coupons is that you only get 1.5 yen per mile as opposed to 2 to 8 yen per mile when you use your points to buy a ticket directly, but, again, if JAL goes under before you have a chance to fly then you may lose those miles. Coupons, on the other hand, can be transferred to other airlines.

Another way to insure that your miles don’t vanish into the wild blue yonder is to redeem them for something other than air tickets. JAL has deals with a number of credit card companies, so you transfer points to your credit card. You can also transfer points to Suica, Tokyu Point Cards, JTB’s travel point program, and even Lawson convenient stores. In these case the redemption rate is one yen per mile. All these processes have to be carried out through the JAL home page, which, fortunately, is also in English.

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