2015 has been a difficult year for Oneworld alliance mile collectors. In April, British Airways Executive Club increased the price of Business Class award tickets by up to 50%. American Airlines AAdvantage briefly became even more appealing, until announcing their own devaluation that will take place in March 2016.
On the hotel side, Marriott is taking over Starwood Preferred Guest. Although it is still too early to say for sure, I doubt that many of SPG’s best features will survive the merger, most importantly the mileage conversion option with dozens of airlines at an attractive 20,000 Starpoints –> 25,000 miles.
I have always attributed significant option value to Starpoints. The programme was run responsibly so the points would retain their value. You could leave your points with SPG until needing a top-up of miles of any number of programmes. In my case that was usually a Miles & More conversion for one of the monthly discounted awards, or ANA Mileage Club when it had the quirky total-miles award chart that allowed members to combine a bunch of short one-way flights into one cheap award.
This situation won’t last more than a few months longer, so a decision needs to be made. Depending on the conversion ratio from Starpoints to Marriott Rewards points, people might need to make some quick decisions about where to transfer those Starpoints. Looking around, an interesting option might be Japan Air Lines Mileage Bank.
JAL Mileage Bank offers the usual Oneworld suspects as partners, but also allows awards on Emirates and Air France. JAL Mileage Bank also offers three stopovers on a partner award. I haven’t figured out all of the nuances yet, but the award chart looks pretty good:
Poring over award charts might bore some people to death, but let’s take a look at a couple of options that require 100,000 JAL miles. Why 100K? Because 80,000 Starpoints will convert cleanly into 100,000 miles, either through two Nights & Flights awards, or two standard 40,000 Starpoint –> 50,000 mileage conversions.
In Business Class, 100K JAL miles will get you 20,000 miles of actual flying in Business Class. Unfortunately that’s not quite enough to get from Europe to Australia and back, but it’s good enough for a return ticket from London to Buenos Aires or Singapore on British Airways.
Most readers are much more familiar with British Airways Executive Club’s award chart.
Both Buenos Aires and Singapore fall into Zone 8, which costs 87,500 – 105,000 Avios for a ONE-WAY in Business Class. Some readers might have an American Express 2-for-1 voucher, but otherwise spending Avios on these destinations might require more than double the miles of JAL.
That is even before getting creative. 20,000 flown miles and three stopovers offers a lot of opportunity. Imagine you are visiting Asia. You could organise an award from Seoul to London, stopping over there for several months, before continuing on for another holiday in the Caribbean, let’s say Antigua. After your Caribbean holiday you return to London – it’s acceptable to transit the same city more than once – and have another stopover there before continuing to virtually anywhere else you can think of, but let’s keep in simple and just return to Seoul. Stopover 1 in London, Stopover 2 in Antigua, Stopover 3 in London. All that in Business Class for 80,000 Starpoints. Just for fun, the Avios required for a Business Class return to Zone 6 (Antigua) and Zone 7 (Seoul)? 275,000 Avios off-peak and 330,000 Avios peak dates!
Start this itinerary somewhere like Brazil or Hong Kong, which have legislated low or non-existent surcharges, and the whole itinerary should be amazingly cheap, even on British Airways! The difficulty will be finding award space…
100,000 JAL miles doesn’t get us nearly as far in First Class (only 10,000 actual flown miles) but still… Let’s assume something simple. London to Dubai on Emirates in First Class. Only 100K JAL miles would be required for a return ticket in First Class on the 3,400 mile flight.
A return on British Airways First Class to Dubai? 160K Avios…
Even with only 10,000 miles to play with, I suspect awards could be structured to get you beyond Dubai to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, etc. within the 10K maximum distance, perhaps by positioning to a continental European starting point.
The above chart is based on awards on what I believe to be a single partner carrier. There is a more expensive chart for Oneworld partners, which I believe allows mixing and matching of partners. However, the Oneworld chart also offers up to seven stopovers, which is great for round-the-world and other very creative itineraries.
The main problem for most people, however, is that it is rather difficult to accumulate JAL miles outside of flying and Starwood Preferred Guest transfers. There are no credit card options – even in the U.S. AFAIK which is probably a good thing for non-Americans – and of course no local partners in the UK such as Tesco.
But if you have a big stash of SPG points, JAL Mileage Bank might be worth a really close look in the next few months…