Tag Archives: airlines

Pooling miles with Japan Airlines

Since discovering the Miles and Points game 3 years ago, Jeriel has now spent a disproportionate amount of time reading the T&Cs of credit cards and frequent flyer programs. His grand plans for round-the-world premium travel has taken a hit since the arrival of his daughter, but he is still determined to fly as far, frequently and luxuriously as possible on Miles and Points. Expect more family-orientated trip reports and travel tips from him!


Pooling Miles – Is it Possible?

I often dream of a world in which my frequent flyer account is overflowing with unlimited miles, and every time I want to travel, award availability on premium classes is always wide open. Sadly, that is not to be. With the comparatively meagre credit card sign up bonuses in Singapore, you’ll probably find yourself having to fly coach more often that you’d like. This is especially so when flying in a group (finding 2 award tickets is hard enough, try finding 4 or even 6), or during peak holiday seasons.

Earlier this month, I brought my family and my parents to Japan to catch the spring Sakura blooms. I furiously searched for award flights for the 4 of us adults on both Star Alliance and One World carriers but to no avail. I got close though; I finally managed to find 3 return award tickets on Japan Airlines (redeemable with Asia Miles) but the dates were not too favourable. Also, I didn’t want to be the only one sitting at the back of the plane (realities of life when you travel with your wife and parents), so that plan was scrapped.

We ended up buying the cheapest economy tickets we could find at that point in time, which also happened to be on Japan Airlines (JAL). My default One World account was Asia Miles, so I had initially entered that in while booking the tickets.

Now I think this is a situation that many families face. When buying air tickets for a family holiday, price is usually the foremost consideration, not earning miles. Even though all my family members have Krisflyer accounts, we would definitely not be willing to pay the price difference (it was about $150 more per person in this case) just to fly SQ to earn those measly couple thousand miles each. I was the only one with an Asia Miles account, and it would make no sense for my wife and parents to sign up for a new AM account only for whatever small amount of miles earned to expire in the end. As such, in all likelihood, those butt-in-seat miles would have been ‘wasted’.

Haven’t you thought to yourself, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if I could credit the miles earned from my family members’ tickets to my account.’? Well, you can! With the JAL Mileage Bank program.

So I was randomly navigating through the JAL webpage when I spotted this:

jeriel1

The JAL Family Club is a program within the JAL Mileage Bank that applies to members residing outside Japan. It seems to be designed to cater to Japanese expats who temporarily relocate their families overseas, but the perks also apply to foreigners not residing in Japan.

The main perk is of course, pooling miles. When signing up, you will be asked to nominate a ‘primary’ member. Miles earned by family of this primary member will all be pooled into his / her Family Club account. Family is defined as the primary member’s spouse, parents and parents-in-law, children (regardless of age) and sons-/daughters-in law, up to a maximum of 8 family members.

jeriel2

There are other perks as well, as JAL FC members are eligible for various bonus miles promos, discounts etc. Additional details can be found here.

Does it work? Well it certainly did for me! Below you can see the mileage balance in my ‘Family Account’ and my ‘Individual Account’.

jeriel3

As you can see, there are 4 times as many miles in my Family account as there are in my Individual account (miles from my wife and parents). There is even a little chart showing you where your miles came from.

jeriel4

Also, you do not need to fly together for the miles to be credited to your family account. Any mile earning flights on JAL (and eligible flights on other One World carriers) flown by any of the registered family members will be credited to your family account.

Is there a catch? Well, signing up for the JAL Mileage Bank program is free, but there is an annual registration fee of 1000 miles per Family Club account (i.e. one fee for the whole family). However, this is offset by the bonus of 1000 miles per FC account when the primary member flies his/her first flight on JAL. You are eligible for this bonus every year after the annual fee is deducted. There is also a one-time registration fee of 1000 miles for each additional family member registered. For me, this fee was waived as there was a promotion when I signed up (that has since ended last month).

The biggest con to me is that, to my knowledge, none of the Singapore banks’ rewards program transfers points to JAL Mileage Bank. Yes, not even American Express Singapore. But most of my credit card point accumulation is geared towards redemption on Krisflyer awards, so this doesn’t really affect me.

The question you are probably pondering is whether it is worth the hassle to sign up for this program (the websites for Japanese carriers are notoriously difficult to navigate). Well that obviously depends very much of the holiday pattern of you and your family.

I don’t know whether this is an isolated experience, but recently I’ve noticed that it is increasingly popular among my friends and family to visit Japan, whether is it for a ski trips, food, shopping, or just a family holiday. I know families who make annual pilgrimages to Japan for various reasons, whether it is to Niseko to hit the slopes, or Kyoto for autumn/spring. If your family falls into that description, then to me it is definitely worth it.

A family trip to the US can also see you accumulating a significant number of miles. When paying for long-haul travel, I tend to gravitate towards SQ because I am biased know I can be assured of a certain level of comfort. However, the experience on JAL, whether it be the hard or soft product, is definitely comparable to the other reputable carriers. Their prices are also reasonable (definitely lower than SQ), and it doesn’t hurt that you get to pool miles!

A quick look at the JAL award chart for JAL Group flights, and Partner flights show that it is comparable to the Asia Miles chart. 35,000 miles for a round trip redemption on JAL from SIN to Japan in Economy is means you’re getting 1 free flight for every 10 flown. It also helps that in general, award availability on JAL flights is much better than the other more popular carriers. Although you can’t transfer your credit card points to this program, you also can buy JAL Mileage Bank miles through SPG, albeit being slightly complicated. JAL is also a partner with Emirates, and with the recent Alaskan Miles devaluation, perhaps buying JAL points through SPG is now the best way to get to shower in the sky.

In summary, this program probably isn’t for everyone, especially if you don’t travel (or have no plans) to Japan or the US with your family. However, if you have a relatively big family and travel together often, you might very well find this a very attractive alternative to the Asia Miles program.

What do you think of this feature of the JAL Mileage Bank? Would you sign up for this? I don’t profess to be an expert on this topic, but it would be great to have a discussion in the comment section below!

Major Lifemiles improvement- mixed cabin redemptions

Lifemiles, everyone’s favourite South American FFP, has quietly launched a major improvement to its program.

It used to be that mixed cabin bookings were not possible. That is, your ticket would have to be flown in all First Class, or all Business Class, or all Economy class. This created routing problems. Suppose I wanted to fly First Class from Singapore to Europe. Because SQ does not release first class award space to partners, I’d need to try and book on another carrier that did, eg TG or NH. But getting to that “gateway city” would be a problem because although SQ allows business class partner redemptions on its A330 regional business class flights, Lifemiles would not allow that mixed class booking.

What I can do now is book an award ticket that goes SIN-BKK-FRA (For example), with SIN-BKK on SQ business class in their A330, and BKK-FRA on TG first class in their A380.

Or to show another example visually….

lifemiles1

Prior to the Lifemiles revamp the mixed cabin options shown here would not have been available. (OT: Am I immature for sniggering at Fukuoka’s airport code?)

While this doesn’t change the “cost” of your booking, it certainly opens up more possibilities to include airlines that do not offer First class products  (EVA) into your routings, and should improve the availability situation overall.

Remember that Lifemiles has frequent sales, and I’ll keep posting whenever they come up.

L10100051-1024x576
ANA First Class Suite- thanks to Lifemiles!

Happy routing!

My experience with the Etihad upgrade system

I’m currently working on a project in Abu Dhabi and shuttling back and forth between Singapore. SQ used to fly to AUH but stopped doing so sometime in 2012, making Dubai the only port of call in the UAE.

dubai abu dhabi

Dubai isn’t that far from Abu Dhabi, all things considered. It’s roughly 90 mins by car, although this time can be doubled in heavy traffic (the kind I encounter on Thursday afternoons heading to the airport for the 8pm SQ 495 flight). But it’s definitely less convenient than flying into AUH directly.

So I’ve been looking at Etihad options for my journeys to and fro. Yes, they’re not part of Star and therefore I don’t earn any lovely Krisflyer miles by flying them, but remember that orphan miles in Etihad don’t need to go to waste either.

My company allows premium economy travel on flights 6 hours and longer. It’s roughly 7.5 hours from Singapore to the UAE, so it qualifies. Unfortunately, the flight options in premium economy from SIN-AUH or SIN-DXB are, shall we say, not convenient.

premeconomyprice

So my dilemma is- should I fly full fare SQ to Dubai and hope to upgrade with my own miles especially for the dreaded red-eye flight back home, or should I fly Etihad to Abu Dhabi for the added convenience of getting there faster?

I’ve learned that Etihad is engaged in aggressive FCM (first class monetization- referring to selling off unsold premium cabin seats at discounts to prevent the seats from going to waste). On its website it lists numerous upgrade options.

etihadupgrade2

I figured that if I could get my economy seat + upgrade bid to be below what I would have otherwise paid for premium economy, I could get the best of both worlds.

So, how does the math for this work? My base economy fare from SIN-AUH is S$1,070, or $753 USD. The cap on my spending is $2,063 USD

etihadprice

Etihad operates a bidding system for upgrades called Etihad Select (Plusgrade is the operator). It operates on a sliding scale- there is a minimum bid, which in my case was 2,500 AED and the upper limit of the bid was the fare difference I would have paid had I upgraded to business class from my existing ticket at full fare rates.

I forgot to take a screenshot of this but the image below from AusBT shows you what it’s like

ausbt

~48 hours before I was due to fly, I received an email saying that my upgrade had cleared.  My bid cleared at 2,595 AED, or $706 USD.

On my particular flight there were still 5 business seats unsold at T+72, so I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot of interest. Even after I won my bid, inventory showed 4 seats available, meaning I could probably have won with the minimum bid.

etihadupgrade3

Total fare= $753 USD + $706 USD = $1,459 USD < $2,063 USD

Take that, expense policy.

So I’m looking forward to my very first EY business class experience soon! I’ll be flying on their latest product, the Business Studio on their B787-9 jet. etihad1

eithad2

For those of you keen on this, Flyertalk has datapoints on successful bids for upgrades on EY.

cover photo by woodysaeroimages