JAL Blocking Seat Selection On Award Tickets

I’m returning from Bangkok after Songkran next year, and it’s a long flight. Over the past two months, I just earned a ton of American Airlines AAdvantage points through generous credit card signup bonuses. However, no sooner had I earned them than the program started rapidly devaluing by moving to a dynamic award pricing scheme for flights on American Airlines. Given my lack of trust in AAdvantage at this stage, I decided to make burning these points a priority.

JAL recently started service to Seattle on their new 787, which is configured with Apex Suites (they brand it SKY Suites). And better yet, there was a more or less perfect itinerary returning from Bangkok which was bookable with AAdvantage points. Because it’s a partner flight, it’s also still bookable at the old (pre-devaluation) AAdvantage rates! So, using the brand new capability to reserve JAL flights on the AAdvantage Web site, I booked the flight.

With these seats, seat selection matters. Window seats in this configuration are much better and more private than aisle seats. So, I went ahead and called American Airlines to get the JAL confirmation code, which I then plugged in to the JAL Web site to pick seats. I was super disappointed to see the following maps:

No window seats. None at all. Right?

Only aisle seats were available to select. However, this didn’t sit right with me. This is a brand new flight to Seattle, and April isn’t exactly peak season to fly to Seattle. Who would be buying out every single good seat on the plane, in a premium cabin?

So, in a separate incognito browser window, I assumed my trusty alter ego of “Fo Do” and went back to the JAL site. This time, I was buying a flight, rather than assigning seats on an already ticketed flight. Lo and behold, when you’re not booking a partner award but are buying a flight from JAL, the seat map is totally different:

Just look at all those window seats!

Exasperated, I took a note of all of the open seats (any of which would be acceptable) and called JAL. Naturally their US office was closed, so I called their Tokyo number and reached an astonishingly dishonest agent (I’m used to being lied to in many countries in Asia, but not in Japan). First the agent lied and said the first two seats I asked for were “under airport control.” OK, fine, I gave him two alternates. These were “reserved for elites.” OK, fine, I gave him the last alternate. “This seat is not available.” Why isn’t it available? “I’m sorry, it’s not available.”

The agent was clearly uncomfortable with the conversation, so I explained exactly where I was looking at the seat map, and that the seats were clearly available. So why, when I already have a ticket, am I not able to pick one of those seats? Was there possibly a technical problem? Might it be possible another way (in Asia, always provide a face-saving way for someone to solve your problem)?

Nope. The agent wouldn’t budge. The seats weren’t available and that’s that. So I asked some very sharp questions. Is seat selection blocked for partner award tickets? For award tickets in general? And with that, I got a clear answer: yes, it’s blocked by fare class. The only way to pick a window seat on an award ticket is to check in online 24 hours in advance and hope one is still there.

This is incredibly frustrating. I went out of my way to fly JAL, and paid quite a bit more, to enjoy the excellent SKY Suites experience. For me, it’ll be considerably less excellent in an aisle seat.

8 thoughts on “JAL Blocking Seat Selection On Award Tickets

  1. AlohaDaveKennedy says:

    Odd, when flying on an Alaska JAL first class award out of Chicago we were able to select seats. Maybe JAL doesn’t block first class seats or only blocks seats for American awards?

  2. Jon W says:

    I had the same issue when booking JAL award flights with Alaska miles. On a flight I booked with one intra-Asia segment in business and the transpac in first, I only could choose aisles even though it was months before and I could see open windows on expertflyer or when doing a fake revenue booking. I got similar pushback when calling. During online check in I still couldn’t select anything but aisles and even at the airport they couldn’t help me (despite checking in several hours early for my first flight, which was many hours before the ex-nrt flight). While sitting in the lounge I could still see windows available ex-NRT. I suppose it could have been lounge food (I didn’t have much and didn’t have any alcohol on the flights) but I wound up vomiting on the long haul several times.

    I recently booked another award ticket on JAL and got the same BS about seats so I cancelled it and flew Eva home.

    1. TProphet says:

      That’s interesting. I also have an intra-Asia segment, I wonder if this is what triggers the block?

  3. Paul LoBo says:

    My daughter and I are flying HND-JFK Monday, we booked thru AS, and we both have windows. Maybe just new route? Maybe just AA?

  4. Andy Shuman says:

    Did you try to HUCA? I applaud your persistence, but it might be a good idea to talk to a couple of other agents.

  5. Jon W says:

    @Andy – On my mixed Business/First itinerary acquired with Alaska miles many months in advance, I called multiple times and got the same answer. Additionally I tried the airport before the first segment and although I saw open window seats in First for the Trans Pacific that would leave more than 12 hours later, airport couldn’t change. I’m not sure if they were outsourced or JAL employees though. With a business-only ticket acquired with Alaska miles, I just tried once and cancelled when they said no.

  6. William says:

    While the fact is true that seats are being blocked by fare class, there is another way around it – assuming the itinerary involves a US point.

    Assuming you have some sort of valid disability that *might* require any sort of accommodation, you can call the special assistance desk and they have the ability to unblock those seats.

    I had luck calling the desk directly in Japan during their business hours – the conversation was done through a translator on their end, and I got the restricted seats unblocked. I was not asked for proof of the disability, but I do in fact have it.

    General reservations can’t do this from what I understand.

    I don’t encourage doing this unless you do genuinely have some sort of disability (keeping in mind that this definition is quite broad), but it *is* possible. Whether that’s a bad knee, Autism, or something like that, it might work.

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