After getting a taste of the Japanese hospitality offered onboard ANA’s new first class suite, I set my sights on booking a JAL first class ticket which has been on my wish list for some time!
Finding JAL award seats isn’t impossible, but it certainly isn’t easy. Limited routes offering first class means there are fewer choices compared to other carriers such as Emirates.
In this post:
Booking Japan Airlines First Class With Points
When flying, I prefer to get daytime flights where possible. Especially in first class, this means you can really get the most out of the experience.
When JAL released a seat from Sydney to Haneda and then Haneda to London, I quickly jumped on the chance to lock it in.
- Pro tip: I use ExpertFlyer to set up automated award alerts which notify me when seats open up.
Since my main points program of choice is Amex Membership Rewards, the obvious choice for me was to transfer points from Amex to Asia Miles (the frequent flyer program by Cathay Pacific) since you only need 114,900 Asia Miles and AU$323 in surcharges to book business SYD-HND and then onto London in First. In comparison, using Qantas Points, it would have cost me 227,500 points! That’s almost double the cost!
Personally, I earn Amex points from both my Amex Platinum and Amex Business Platinum cards but you could also go for the Explorer or Platinum Edge if you’re looking for an entry-level card with a lower annual fee. All these options allow you to transfer points to Asia Miles.
Note that Japan Airlines often releases seats last minute so if you’re flexible, you can often find them opening up starting at 14 days before departure. In my case, I booked this flight in February 2022 for travel in October 2022.
Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Tokyo
The Japan Airlines First Class lounge in Tokyo Haneda can be accessed by those flying One World first class, One World Emerald Status holders and, of course, first passengers travelling on a JAL flight.
The lounge is pretty large and commands excellent views over the tarmac. There’s a live cooking station, and guests can order anything they want via an online ordering system. While the food is good, the beverage options are somewhat disappointing, so it’s definitely not one of those lounges where you’d want to spend more than 2h.
Boarding JAL B777 First Class
If you’ve never flown Japan Airlines, it’s worth showing up to the gate as boarding commences to watch the little ritual the gate staff do before each flight, where they all stand in formation and bow to the passengers. For me, that sets the service expectations for Japan Airlines, something their competitors can only dream about.
Onboard I was greeted by 3 cabin crew in charge of the first class section. After taking a million pictures of the cabin, I settled into my seat, which was spacious and comfortable. However, the design isn’t exactly something to write home about when you compare it to more innovative products in the market such as the Singapore Airlines A380 suites, Emirates “Gamechanger” or the Eithad A380 Appartments which are making a return this summer.
What Japan Airlines does best, though is the soft product, and I was in for an absolute treat!
Each seat was stocked with an amenity kit and a separate skincare kit by Shiseido. The crew had placed male and female kits by each seat according to the passenger details beforehand.
As I finally sat down, the crew offered me a welcome drink; I asked for a glass of champagne which is my standard choice, but knowing Japan Airlines has Salon 2007 on board, I had high expectations. Instead, I was offered an Ayala brut, which isn’t bad but not exactly what you would expect in first.
The crew later informed me that the good stuff was only opened after takeoff and that each flight only stocks 1 bottle of it!!
After takeoff, the crew of 3 went around the cabin to introduce themselves to each passenger, every time they would bow before proceeding to the next guest.
With formalities out of the way, it was time to start the lunch service and sample some of the fine food and beverages Japan Airlines offers in first.
Starting off with Salon and canapés, we quickly ran out of the good stuff. As a champagne backup, Japan Airlines has the Taitinger Compte 2007 Blanc de Blanc, which is also an excellent drop. For the food, I opted for the “western menu”; the title is slightly misleading as I’d argue that the food on the menu is very Japanese (and outstanding!). After seeing some of the Japanese menus go out to my neighbours on this full flight, I was happy with my choice!
When it comes to presentation, no other airline I’ve flown will come close to the level of perfection Japanese Airlines can provide. It’s actually incredible to think that so much attention to detail is put into airplane food.
On the menu today, I get to try the goat milk bavarois, the uni (sea urchin) couscous,
the marinated Sakhalin surf clam, the lobster & mushroom fricassee
and of course, the wagyu beef fillet with a chestnut macaron and coffee granite to finish!
As you might have guessed, the food was outstanding, the beef was somehow cooked to perfection, and although we ran out of champagne fast, the whole service was spotless.
The Japan Airlines First Class Seat
Although the seat isn’t innovative or new, it’s certainly comfortable and considering its age, the quality of the materials used appear to have stood the test of time.
In bed mode, the Japan Airlines B777 first class seat offers a wide and comfortable sleeping set-up with an added mattress pad for extra comfort.
After lunch, the crew made up my bed, and I napped for a few hours before waking up for a pre-arrival snack.
Since we had run out of champagne, the crew insisted I complete a sake tasting, which seemed like an excellent idea.
One of Japan Airlines’ weak points is, by far, their IFE (in-flight entertainment) system. It was a lacklustre collection of movies and tv shows at best, but who needs a movie when you can work your way through a sake tasting and watch the in-flight map?
Japan Airlines first class has been one of my most memorable flights to date; even though the seat won’t win any awards, the service and quality of food are unmatched. I flew ANA’s new first class suite in 2021 (watch my ANA review here), which was just as incredible, but what set JAL apart was the fantastic crew.
If you get the chance to redeem your frequent flyer points for Japan Airlines in first class: do it! You will have zero regrets.