Suspicious: JAL Shuts Down Award Search In The US

Given how tough it can be to find award space nowadays, it’s important to use all the resources available to you for searching space.

In other words, if you want to redeem American AAdvantage miles, you shouldn’t just look on American’s website for award space, because they don’t show space on all their partners, including Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Japan Airlines. Instead you have to use a combination of other websites to search space, and then if you find saver space it should also be bookable via American (in those instances you’ll end up having to call to book).

Japan-Airlines-First-Class-01
Japan Airlines first class

For oneworld there are four websites I use for searching award space:

  • American’s website — the all around easiest to use, though the “catch” is that it shows award space on the fewest carriers; so it’s the best option for the airlines it does show, but that’s not many
  • British Airways’ website — usually my “go to” website for airlines which American doesn’t show, though the interface isn’t all that user friendly
  • Japan Airlines’ website — the most accurate website of all when it comes to searching space, though the interface is straight out of the 90s
  • Qantas’ website — many like this site since it shows availability on a calendar, though I’m not a huge fan of it since you can’t search just nonstop routes, making it sort of a pain to use if you’re looking for something specific

As anyone who uses the JAL award search tool with any frequency knows, a few days ago Japan Airlines posted a “Notice About System Improvement and Temporary Service Suspension.”

Okay, no biggie, JAL. For how many hours (or maybe even days) will the site be down? Hyatt Gold Passport has some system maintenance in the coming week, and that will take four days, which seems like a really long time.

Hyatt-GP

Well, JAL’s award ticket reservation system will be down for three months, through March 2016. This means if you want to search or book award space through JAL you have to call.

JAL-Award-Search

Admittedly I’m no tech expert, but I can’t imagine there’s any improvement they’re making which actually requires the system to be down for months. I just assumed it was a convenient opportunity to basically lower the number of miles people redeem, since presumably people will redeem fewer miles when it’s more difficult to redeem them.

Tiffany read the notice a bit more carefully than I did, and noticed something interesting (bolding mine):

The following online services are temporarily not available on American region site and Guam region site due to system improvement.

This “system outage” is limited to their website in the Americas.

For example, I used an account registered in the UK, and visited the UK website for Japan Airlines (you can only log in on the site that’s in the region you registered, so you can’t log-in to the UK site with your US credentials).

There I have no problem logging into the award search tool…

JAL-Award-1

…and the award searches work just fine.

JAL-Award-2

Point being, clearly something is going on here. It doesn’t take three months to make “system improvements” (maybe it does to develop them, but not to implement them), and if it did, they’d shut down all the versions of the site, and not just the US ones.

What could explain this outage of the US website? I don’t like to be a conspiracy theorist, but a few explanations I can come up with include:

  • Too many members based in the Americas are using the search tool without booking, and there’s a cost to that, it’s slowing down the site, increasing the load on the servers, etc.;
  • Maybe their internet provider is charging them outrageous rates for data which goes to the US (I know that’s not how it works here, but maybe that’s a thing in Japan?)
  • They could be expecting the number of people searching for award space to get especially bad over the coming months, given the American AAdvantage devaluation coming up in March
  • They’re trying to limit the number of members in the Americas redeeming miles through JAL Mileage Bank, and they think fewer people will redeem miles if members have to call rather than book online

Bottom line

It’s sort of ridiculous that Japan Airlines is shutting down their award search for months. It’s one thing if it was consistent across regions, but it seems pretty likely that they’re intentionally targeting members in the Americas. Ultimately they’re certainly entitled to create barriers to searching space, as their rival ANA does — you need a minimum number of miles to search award space with them. But it just seems disingenuous to claim that a website is down for three months for “system improvements.”

What’s your theory as to what’s going on with JAL’s award search tool?

Comments

  1. It’s not just awards searches, its pretty much all functionality. I have a flight on JAL booked for February 2016, and I can’t log-on to change seat assignments or do anything to my itinerary except view it. I won’t even be able to check-in online when it comes time to take my flight.

  2. My guess is that they want to make it as difficult as they can for people to find award availability before the American devAAluation. I’m glad I already got one final JAL first class trip to Japan booked. Now the question is, did JAL do this by themselves, or did they do so at the urging of American?

  3. It can’t be because of the AA devaluation. Have their website operating during that time won’t limit people searching their site to use their AA miles. Anyone “smart” enough to use the websites Ben mentioned will likely be using (or will know to use) BA to see what’s available. It’s not like you’re having to call JAL to book your AA award ticket.

  4. I think its just system upgrade that just takes for a while. I can’t do online check-in, seat selection, etc, so I don’t have too much worries 😉

  5. Ben, none of the theories you mentioned really make sense (especially #2, that’s not how data works, even in Japan). Parts of their outdated American website actually are down, including OCLI. Since you’ve experienced the UK version of the website, you should be able to see that both the UK and the Japanese website are far superior to JAL’s current American website. Hopefully the March refresh fixes some of the bigger issues they have.

    For an example of how terrible the current website design is, you can only book paid travel originating in a particular non-Japan region using the website specifically that region.

  6. @ Ben — Is the workaround as simple as signing up for a UK (or wherever) based account? You would have immediate access? Or, even better, can’t I just change my address in my JAL account?

  7. I have an award flight on JAL booked with AA miles (EWR-DFW-NRT, r/t). Will checking in for my domestic leg on AA site check me in for the JAL portion from DFW-NRT as well? I imagine it would, but if not, how do you recommend checking in online for JAL flights?

  8. Regarding searching ANA site, I have zero miles with ANA but I’m still able to use the site to search for award space on Star Alliance partners.

  9. chasgoose – I logged onto the main JAL website (where you choose country and language) and chose “Korea” and “English”. I was then able to find my itinerary with my JAL PNR and choose seats. Don’t know if this will work for other functionality.

  10. If it takes JAL that long to upgrade aspects of their antiquated yet largely functional website, imagine how long Avianca’s LifeMiles site would be out of action if they took it into their head to leap into the 21st century! Would be measured in years I imagine!

  11. A lot of airlines are built on rather ancient mainframe systems (especially pricing and fare systems), with many layers of more modern code on top of them to get them to work on the web.

    My guess is that the cost for them to update it while keeping it live was far greater than the cost to take the site down for a bit, given their relatively small presence in the US.

    Not everything is a conspiracy. It’s probably simply a way to save costs with whatever they are updating.

  12. Still
    (a) EY completely stops releasing USA to AUH awards (reverse direction unaffected)
    (b) AA agents can’t see EY awards any more; we need to call Australia
    (c) CX cutting back on releasing awards, especially F
    (d) JL
    (e) BA—no recent change in fuel surcharge even though gas is $2/gallon, there should be a fuel cashback.
    Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.

  13. It could be any of the options you list, except for the outrageous price for data to the US option you list. Data can go anywhere, it’s not like an international phone call. And if it really did work like that (which I’m about 99.7% sure that it doesn’t) they could use a cheap CDN to get around that.

  14. FYI: if you want to change your address on the JAL website, it is only possible if your new address is within the same region (“America” for example). If you move from “America” to “Europe”, it requires to download a form on the JAL website, fill it in, fax/email it back to JAL support.

  15. Maybe they are piloting a new site for us customers before rolling it out to everyone so any bugs/issues are with their US customers instead of their core business.

  16. @ Rory

    That totally worked thanks! Now if only JL would release window seats on their F flights to non-elite members…

  17. This is really helpful. I’ve been able to collect a lot of flying blue miles lately. Are there other places to search for flying blue award space besides the flying blue website?

  18. Let’s be fair here: The tech guys have to spend most of their time at the mechanized sex robot shows, and shopping for school girl underwear vending machines.
    Give them a break. It’s not like they can visit Fukushima beach for a relaxing weekend anymore.
    THIS COMMENT WAS NOT AAPROVED BY GILBERT GOTTFIRED

  19. @losingtrader (your #tag gives it away, hey?)
    Someone with a chip on his shoulder here! Completely inappropriate post dude!

  20. I have been checking the BA site regularly for a first class flight from ORD to NRT using AAdvantage and every night about 2 seats were released at 7 CST until around the beginning of January. For weeks now, no first class seats show up. Every so often one will show up but then if I refresh the page it disappears. I was scouting it out to book a flight for end of January 2017, but am really annoyed that I did not book the flight sooner since it seems like now it is not possible unless a last minute first class seat open up.

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