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:
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.
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’.
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.
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!