Mobile payments in Japan
There are several competing mobile payment systems in Japan, all using the FeliCa standard (as opposed to NFC). Of the rail transit passes, JR East is the only only one to create a mobile FeliCa app (Mobile Suica), which can be used and charged at many convenience stores. There are two other national cash-based systems, the original EDY (which erroneously stands for Euro Dollar Yen, apparently), and WAON. EDY is much more widely accepted and is now owned by Rakuten with a tie in to ANA airlines. WAON is owned by the Aeon retail group and tied up with Japan Airlines.
(There are also two competing credit based systems, iD (NTT Docomo/DCMX/Visa) and QUICPay (JCB), but we won't really discuss those here.)
The nice things about these Mobile FeliCa payment systems is that they can be linked to point systems. For example, the EDY card can be linked to any one of these systems, and it can be changed at anytime through the mobile app: 1) Rakuten Super Point, 2) ANA, 3) Ponta (Lawson), 4) gREE, 5) T-POINT (Tsutaya), 6)Yodobashi, 7) EPOS card, 8) Belle Maison, 9) Bic Camera, 10) NEXCO, 11) Matsumoto Kiyoshi, and 12) EdOn.
The WAON android app is hard linked into the JAL Mileage Bank, so unless you fly a lot on JAL, or otherwise accumulate a lot of JAL miles, (we'll come back to that later), EDY might be the better choice.
The bottom line is there's really no reason to use cash for payments if you can link your FeliCa payment app to the point card of your choice. For every hundred mint crunky purchased at the 7-11, you could get a free iPhone case at Bic Camera. Win-win (except for the fact that the iPhone lacks FeliCa).
Convert airline miles to mobile money
Getting to the actual topic of the post, JAL miles can be converted to WAON points and "downloaded" via the WAON FeliCa app directly to your phone*. What makes this interesting is that, until the end of fiscal 2014 (3/31/2014),
- The upper limit on the number of miles that can be converted each year (20,000) is removed, and
- Conversion of 10,000 miles nets an additional 2,000 points. (1 point = ¥1)
While you can convert as many miles as you want, you can only carry up to 50,000 WAON points on your phone at anytime. My washing machine broke. I bought a new one. With points. Converted from airline miles. No, I’m not kidding.
JAL MIleage Bank account holders can apply to convert Miles to WAONs by clicking here. Be warned however, this is all in Japanese and if you don’t read at a fairly advanced level, please get someone to help you along. Conversion is a two step process:
- Convert the miles to points.
- Download them to your phone (or JMB card). Points can be added to a mobile phone via the android app or a “Waon Station.”*
From the next screen, choose the number of miles you want to convert, and then from your phone, download the points.
*All these FeliCa apps rely on a browser plugin that is unsupported by Mobile Chrome. This means they won't function properly downloading points or anything fancy like exchanging money with friends if you disable the native android browser. In this case you'll have to download the points via a terminal, such as a "WAON Station”.
By request, this is the washing machine purchased by WAON points converted from frequent flier miles.