When You Find That *Perfect* Award Seat…

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the next five trips I have booked. Since then I’ve already taken two of those, which means I still have three to go. As much as I’m excited about the upcoming trips, I’m also pretty exhausted at this point.

Fortunately my next major trip will be slow paced, as Ford and I are going to Southeast Asia for his birthday. We’re stopping in Singapore to start the trip, and then going to Cambodia and Laos, which I’m super excited about. While I’ve visited most major cities in Southeast Asia, it will be my first time to Cambodia and Laos.

As I explained in the previous post, I hadn’t yet decided how we were going to get home from Asia. I had put tickets on hold for us in Korean Air first class, which is always a great backup plan to have, since they let you hold tickets up until shortly before departure without penalty.

Korean-Air-First
Korean Air first class

I would have loved to review something new, as I still have quite a few new products to try. That being said, generally I prefer to do those trips alone, as I don’t think a trip on Biman Bangladesh connecting to Air India sounds like the most glam way to end a birthday trip.  😉

Anyway, I was looking at award availability the other day, and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that there were two ANA first class award seats from Tokyo to Los Angeles. As anyone who keeps an eye on ANA award availability knows, it can be very tough to find first class award availability, let alone two seats on one flight.

ANA-First-Class
ANA first class

I reviewed ANA back in 2013, though am keen to try them again. My last several flights on Japanese carriers have been on JAL, and they’ve all been fantastic.

It used to be that ANA was considered Japan’s premium carrier, though that perception has very much shifted, as JAL is often now considered to be the premium carrier. I’m curious what my experience is like this time around.

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

On top of that, I’m excited that our flight from Vietnam to Tokyo is operated by a longhaul ANA 787, featuring their staggered business class product, which I’ve been meaning to try for a long time.

ANA-Business-Class

I managed to book this with Avianca LifeMiles, which I purchased for ~1.3 cents each. At the cost of 99,000 miles one-way with a perfect connection, I’d say that represents a very good value.

Anyway, I just had to share my excitement. While I’ve planned a lot of awards, there’s still something exciting about finding that rare award seat that opens up on your perfect date at a perfect time with a perfect connection, without even having to actively monitor for it. Best of all, in my case this even lets me review a new product (ANA’s new business class) and revisit a product I haven’t flown in years.

To those of you who have flown both carriers lately, are you on #TeamANA or #TeamJAL?

Comments

  1. I think you’ll enjoy the NH J seat (window side at least) as it gives a good amount of privacy and space. Aisle aligned seat does have an exposed feeling to it, but overall a solid hard and soft product. We are flying ANA F IAH to NRT next week and if it’s anything like our last F trip in April it will be great. Look forward to the review

  2. definitely TeamANA. i’ve flown ANA F three times and experienced top notch service. Flew JAL twice and both times the service was just so-so.

  3. ANA 787 biz (sjc-nrt) was the first biz class I ever flew. Still remember how excited I was leading up to it. Kinda narrow seat when in the flat position but great service and food. They serve Hibiki 17 in biz which I believe is what JAL first class serves.

  4. Not sure what Lucky has been smoking but in my experience ANA was and very much is superior to JAL. The ANA service is far superior and in general so is the catering. Hard product is great on both. When choosing I would always side with ANA (not that JAL is not also great but ANA holds the edge. )

  5. Where are you going/staying in Cambodia? I have 3 nights booked at the LM in Siem Reap next February. Would love to hear your take on it.

  6. Try to go up to Luang Prabang in Laos… it’s extremely atmospheric, walk-around city, excellent food, very romantic. Vientiane is a close second. In the vicinity of the French, excellent cuisine prevails. L’Addresse in Vientiane is over the top. Let me know if you want hotel recommendations.

    Get your visa before entering the country for smoothest experience; it will take up an entire page in your passport.

    Biman Bangladesh is, well, pretty much a work in progress, although they did buy a couple of new 737 recently, which Boeing wouldn’t release as the carrier didn’t have the cash to make the final payment… eventually the government stepped in. That gives you a hint as to the financial condition of the airline, and the likely expenditures on maintenance and cleaning…

    With Biman, and also Air India, being exceptionally sweet and understanding with the staff works wonders. Just hold your breath onboard and hope for the best. Go-arounds at night on approach to DAC are routine. You get the idea…

  7. We flew to Tokyo this spring in ANA First and it was unquestionably the best meal I’ve ever eaten in the sky. I wrote a trip report for it so I could detail all of the dishes they served for their kaiseki service. I’ve also flown their staggered Business Class product and it’s nice too, except that sleeping mat is a little awkward and uncomfortable. Luckily their Ippudo ramen is available as a snack in either cabin – so good!

  8. #TeamANA of course.
    Have flown with ANA several times both intra-Asia and long-haul, I’ll say the long-haul biz is one of the best biz in terms of service, and intra-Asia biz only looses in seat. Will fly their 787-9 biz from MUC to HND and really looking forward to it! For JAL…well, flew with them only once with a angled flat seat from JFK to NRT with some not-thoroughly heated movie snack, and their intra-Asia biz seats are not very up-to-date anyways…even worse than what ANA has to offer…

  9. Managed to snag 2 in F IAD-NRT-SIN (F the whole way) on the exact date I wanted. Similarly almost fell out of my chair. Flying home in SQ F on exact perfect day. Also used Ford’s prompt services to book 9 nights at StR Langkawi 🙂

  10. Just flew ANA’s 787-9 HKG-HND yesterday and the business class seat is different from the original Business Staggered seat (as pictured) that’s on the 773ER and 787-8 (at least the one that does NRT-YVR). The seats are no longer complete forward facing but have like a 5~10 degree angle from straight ahead. The side table loses the cool blue frame lighting, is finished in a blonde wood veneer and has an odd, very minor slope forward to it.

    The meal tray table swings out from underneath the side table instead of from beneath the television. I think that gives the foot/leg chamber more vertical space but the overall width seemed less compared to the 773ER, though the seat unit might be overall thinner from the total cabin width. The under foot ottoman storage of the 773ER can accommodate a full 20″ carryon but the 789 cuts off midway and clearly only designed for shoes or something small. The shoulder space was comparable in the bed position or better than the original Business Staggered seat.

  11. I know you probably don’t want to post this here, but where are you staying in Cambodia, at least in Siem Reap? I stayed at the Park Hyatt, and it was really nice, but not quite up to full Park Hyatt quality. While the Park Hyatt is more centrally located to the actual town of Siem Reap, the Aman resort is only like 5-10 minutes out of the center (and on the way to the Angkor complex) and it would be a festive birthday treat Also definitely take a Siem Reap Food Tour: http://www.siemreapfoodtours.com/ (the tour guides are a couple who have gone to great lengths to interact with the local community, and their tour was probably the most local interaction I got on my SE Asia trip) and have dinner at Cusine Wat Damnak: http://www.cuisinewatdamnak.com/menu/. Its a fabulous restaurant and the full tasting menu costs $28 pp (Cambodia pretty much uses dollars as currency, ATM’s won’t give you local money).

    Also, if you are going to Hanoi (unclear), you have to stay at the Sofitel Hotel Metropole, which is a Virtuoso and FHR resort. Ask for the grand deluxe room with a balcony in the historic wing (but stay in the historic wing regardless, its worth it). It’s kind of a small room, but you have a great view of the grounds and a giant balcony.

  12. I’ve had really good luck with ANA F out of both JFK and ORD. A decent amount of availability, but perhaps I just got lucky.

  13. i have that perfect redemption come March 2017. Initially it was that Swiss 777-300ER first class award window back on June 2nd …. i grabbed LAX-ZRH F for 110,000 UA miles one-way. Then I realized US-Japan is the same number of miles for partner F as US-Europe, so I appended it with ANA F :

    LAX – (LX F 77W) – ZRH – FRA – (NH F 77W) – HND

    for the same 110,000 miles, essentially making ANA F the “free add-on”.

    (yes, I know it’s a super dumb way to get from LA to Tokyo)

  14. I haven’t flown ANA, so I will pick team JAL, which I did last month. It was fantastic! I even had SFO-HND all to myself. NRT-SYD was full, but just as lovely. They even made little gifts for my kids since my daughter made a picture “for the pilot” (the FA’s got it instead).

  15. I just put an epic around the world trip in business class for 145,000 miles for 3 people EWR-VIE-PVG-NRT-HKG-EWR NONSTOP between all cities with a stopover in each city, so I know *exactly* how that feels!

  16. I’m #teamANA though it’s really close. I found the crew on my ANA flights to be warmer and friendlier than on my JAL flights. ANA also has bidet toilets in Y

  17. ANA First is super attentive and very competitive (although not world’s best overall, it’s fairly close). Plus I would have thought, given your love of Krug, a win to ANA.

  18. PH Siem Reap is magical. Breakfast on the swings in the courtyard is tough to be beaten. Ask for the suite with an outdoor shower.

  19. @chasgoose – I also stayed at the Park Hyatt and my suite had a courtyard in the middle, it was wonderful!

  20. I have to agree with everyone else but Lucky…that ANA F is definitely better than JAL F. We’ve flown both (3x ANA F, 2x JAL) from/to LAX and SFO…and there is no question. ANA wins for its much higher service level and a slight edge in the comfort of the ANA F seat and bed and food quality. JAL ain’t bad…but ANA is better.

  21. When I was caught researching on this off topic, I realised why ANA doesn’t call themselves All Nippon Air Lines…

  22. Don’t think most people see JAL as more premium than ANA… impression among business people in Japan is still that ANA is the gold standard. It has a special place in Japanese culture (both for flying and for working).

    In personal experience, also found ANA > JAL in almost all dimensions. JAL has better pajamas though 🙂

  23. ANA F is amazing, just don’t have the western menu. Japanese is really fantastic, but the Italian-ish direction of the Western menu leaves a lot to be desired.

  24. Ah this is a hard one since I’ve always had a fantastic experience when flying ANA. However, I have to say Team JAL since JAL was the first airline I ever flew on back when I was 6 years old. In addition, JAL was the airline I flew with my grandmother (got upgraded to business class!) on her last flight.
    Enjoy the ANA flight!!! I love ANA but at the same time, I somehow felt claustrophobic when I sat in the Square seat. I’d still fly ANA F in a heartbeat and hopefully will do so again sometime in the future.
    Safe travels!

  25. I’m flying ANA F for the first time in a couple of weeks and can’t wait (IAH-NRT). I did JAL F twice last year and it was amazing. Can’t wait to be able to compare both of them.

  26. ANA partners with top restaurants around the world year-around, and service has definitely been through a big upgrade since 2013, including cutlery and plates. I fly their F regularly on a route to the US and can always eat and rest well. Seasonal drink on the menu is a must (has been matcha for the past two seasons), and definitely order the porridge in the second meal. I never order Western set for the second meal, and my experience with regional C Western was terrible. Usually I order something from the Western appetizer selection as well, because usually it was designed by a stared chef. With that being said, execution still can be sub par at times.

  27. also on the NRT-SFO route is United. So using United miles, which is the best value-(trying to economize points here)? UA Biz (upstairs 747 w/Polaris service) for 65K, Nose of the 747 UA first for 80K, ANA biz 75K or 110K ANA first?

  28. i meant to say thank you for alerting me to LAX-VIENNA non-stop for 2017.
    I booked a round -trip for May ’17. 140 000 miles for BC.
    Would have never thought about this before;purely impulse,thanks to you guys.

    And while i’m at it i am also a fan of ANA bus.class,LA to BKK.
    Used to fly UAL and tried upgrading but got so disgusted with their gaming and
    decided to pay ANA full fare rather than hassle with United.

    Am flying again Oct. 18 and looking fwd to it. rud

  29. I stayed at the Aman in Siem Reap. Fantastic and fantastically $$$$$. But for me worth it. Private tours of Angkor Wat, exclusive sunrise tour tranquil property, and best dining of any Aman I’ve stayed. Very special .

  30. Are you spending time in Vietnam? If so, they just changed their visa rules end of August. Go to the SFO, not the DC consulate – it’s cheaper!

  31. How funny, what a coincident, we are going to southeast Asia for partner’s birthday as well. We will be stopover in Singapore, then onto Cambodia, Vietnam and then to Maldives. Just FYI, one of the resort in Siem Reap is rank the second best hotel in the world by tripadvisor, where we made the reservation. However, you & Ford would probably be thrill to know there is also a gay hotel in Siem Reap, if you have never stayed in one, can be an interesting experience.

  32. I thought ANA allows only round trip redemptions, no one-way… if so, how did you manage to get ANA only on your way back from Asia? Or am I missing something?

  33. I’ve just completed a back-to-back (well, 18 hours on terra firma before returning) LHR-HND-LHR in F outbound JAL, return ANA, the return thanks to British Airways’ IT meltdown and them re-booking me on ANA.

    The last time I flew JAL F was 2.5 years ago on the same route both ways (might’ve been NRT rather than HND) and I enjoyed it then, but wasn’t too blown away. It was pleasant but not mind blowingly awesome.

    On this occasion, I found the JAL experience much better. I’ll start with the JAL outbound.

    Check in at the dedicated BA/JAL First mini salon in T3 was a breeze, except those joyous IT systems wouldn’t let me check in my return which was well within 24 hours, on the same ticket, and on BA, and on a BA ticket, and the BA check in agents were sitting next to the JAL agent. Slight downer was that I had seat 2G, but frankly there is no bad seat in F on JAL, save for being able to look out of the window, which I have to say I do enjoy. Security was a total breeze, no-one in front of me in the line, and both xray machines were in operation. Amazing, for LHR, in particular at T3 unless you’re flying Virgin which has its own security channel for biz pax.

    There’s no JAL lounge at LHR, but there are several other OW lounges at LHR T3 and the newly reopened Cathay lounge complex is IMHO the best one, and I’ve used it before for other flights from T3. As a JAL pax you’re directed to the BA lounge, but I’d ignore that 😉

    Even more so, I’d ignore the AA lounges.

    Personally, if travelling alone, I enjoy schlepping at the counter bar in the Cathay biz lounge and enjoying cocktails rather than the adjacent Cathay First lounge at LHR, which although being one of the best lounges worldwide for food, it’s not quite so convivial for a chat with the barman as it is in the biz lounge. I did conduct a sneak a peek in the BA F lounge, but frankly both the Cathay lounges are far better in terms of food and beverage offering, and crowding: the BA F lounge was very crowded.

    Boarding was OK but as is all too common at LHR, they don’t seem to be competent enough to be able to operate enough airbridges, so F pax have to scramble through Biz, and queue behind on the shared airbridge, to get to their seats. Boarding was at gate 1 which is an A380 gate. Not a big deal, but It ain’t hard, although I strongly suspect this is down to Heathrow incompetence at gate starvation than JAL.

    Onboard, while the hard product on JAL was exactly the same as a couple of years ago, I found the crew better and the all around experience was much more to my taste. I took the western food offering and apart from a dreadfully over done steak (very difficult to find otherwise in the air, but read on about ANA later) the food offering was one of -the- best I’ve ever experienced in the air. A full caviar service is offered, 28g from the mini jar, with accompaniments and the all important mother of pearl spoon. I would have gladly paid for the same food experience in an upmarket restaurant, apart from the steak which would have gone back! The wine list was OK, but not wow: I’m not complaining so much as making a comparison to a few other airlines that excel in this area, such as Emirates or, as we’ll see, ANA.

    When the FA made the bed up I was asked whether I’d like a hard or soft mattress. Yes, really, you get to choose. I had about 7 hours’ uninterrupted sleep. Even the (free) WiFi worked reasonably well, although I found logging in cumbersome.

    It was the crew that really made this flight. One of the reasons I wasn’t wowed by my previous JAL F flight was the crew were a bit in-accessible: I remember no-one coming around to fill up glasses and on one occasion the crew call not being responded to. This was the same flight at the same time of day, but 2.5 years ago. On this occasion nothing could be further from the truth. This was a seriously perfect crew experience. I doubt I’ll ever experience it again.

    It was a long taxi to the gate, but upon deplaning at HND, door 1L was opened so F pax deplaned ahead of others. I made my way through immigration, no fast track, but there was no queue, bliss! With no bags to collect, I was landside in under 10 minutes, found my pre-booked taxi guy at the arrivals exit right away, and was at my hotel in Marunouchi barely 50 minutes from landing.

    There were many other little things that all added up to me wondering whether it was even possible to improve the product, apart from the steak and possibly the wine list.

    Now I wasn’t quite expecting to return on ANA 18 hours later. I was booked on a BA flight the next morning. After arriving at my hotel, I went straight to Akihabara for my nerd fix, bought a few gadgets, and managed to resist -again-purchasing a toilet seat, something I keep meaning to purchase but sense prevails as I don’t have the right plumbing skills to fit one. I had dinner at Joel Robouchon at Roppongi Hills and had a few hours’ sleep before returning to HND… and getting re-booked onto ANA due to BA’s IT meltdown, which I consider an upgrade 😉

    The ANA Suite Lounge at HND was empty when I arrived at shortly after 6:30am. It’s not particularly special in itself, but staff are attentive when you first walk in, and then you have to fend for yourself. The 20 individual pods afford a reasonably comfortable and secluded waiting space. What’s great is that mobile phones seem to be banned almost entirely through the lounge. If you want to use your phone, it seems you need to use one of the enclosed computer cubicles.

    The Suite Lounge food offerings are OK but not substantial by any stretch. There’s a noodle bar at the other end from the pods, a welcome alternative, if a bit bizarre for this parochial Westerner that the hatch opening doesn’t afford eye contact with the chef, like a kitchen wearing a niqab. An hour later it was very busy, all pods taken. These pods are rather nicer than Cathay’s, affording a more relaxing lounge-about with a footstool. The TV built into the mirror had, as far as I could tell, only 12 channels of Asian content.

    Boarding was perfect, with a separate F line which cuts straight into the agent desk in front of all other pax, and it’s well controlled. The airbridge splits into F and J pax, so you’d be unlucky if in F to be in a line anywhere.

    Now I don’t generally leave it until the last minute to board, far from it, so I was somewhat surprised to find the entire F cabin already full 25 mins before scheduled departure.

    I am pretty sure that most if not all the other pax were ANA biz pax upgraded due to the BA fracas. Why? The only other two pax in the F cabin on my BA flight were behind me in the queue and they were going to Brussels and rebooked on LH via FRA. Plus, all were Japanese. Plus all wanted the crew to take pics. Plus, cabin was J9/F4 on Expertflyer before and after I was re-ticketed. It was J0/F0 two hours later. Plus, after being offered 1D at check in I asked for a window seat, and was offered 1A, for purely self respect reasons you understand, I humbly accepted.

    Onboard my immediate comparison to JAL was that although the ANA seat is certainly more private and cocooned, there’s this bloody great console thing getting in the way of everything, hugely restricting your window view (I was in 1A). You have four windows adjacent to your seat, but you can only see out of one of them, and you have to lean far forward to do so. The console thing also makes the seat quite claustrophobic in comparison to the JAL offering.

    What was good about the seat was that I felt no need to use my Bose in ear noise cancellers: the noise attenuation afforded by the mini cabin was enough that I didn’t need the in ear discomfort of these otherwise excellent devices. This is a first for me. Despite it being a day flight I enjoyed six hours of sleep. Very comfy: I enjoyed a rather satisfactory lunch, followed by sleep, and another rather satisfactory lunch. 😉

    The technology around the seat was a bit more confusing though. There’s an instruction book for the seat, and it needs it. I am still unsure what the metal clips are for around the foot rest. The table mechanism seems rather Heath-Robinson. There’s an awful lot of form-over-function and over-engineering going on where they probably should’ve gone back to the drawing board.

    Regarding the food, like JAL, the menu is astonishingly comprehensive. It’s so depressing to see the less than mediocre efforts made nowadays by Western carriers when so much can, and is, achieved by other, even legacy, carriers.

    While the amuse bouche and starter were great by airline standards, they didn’t quite touch JAL’s efforts a day or two earlier on the reciprocal route. ANA’s caviar is the most obviously deficient offering, with a small 12g jar as a side compared to 28g on JAL with full accompaniments. The amuses were tasty but the JAL amuses were of “wow” standard.

    Now here’s the kicker, ANA somehow managed to achieve the impossible and dish up a steak I’d pay for on the ground. Sumptuous, juicy, wagyu, rare. How? I don’t know, but please, if ANA can do it why can’t other airlines?

    For my second meal I had the ANA curry, what a crowd pleaser, and rightfully so. I also had the waffle dessert from the main service they’d kept for me but the waffle was well past its prime.

    Wine. Let me talk wine. Well I’m a real sucker for Krug, so was looking forward to an unrehearsed Krug blitz on ANA. A real masculine Champagne, a combination of many premium vintages that encourages consistency. Well I didn’t have one drop. Why? Holy mother of all that is righteous, they had Henri Giraud MV09, again, like Krug, a blend of many older vintages, but this is the Indie boy in town. While Krug is an awesome wine, it’s part of LVMH. Giraud is still family owned, and makes some serious Champagnes. If you want to reset your Champagne switches and like big whites, try Giraud’s Code Noir for example, forget Champagne as an aperitif, this, together with MV09 and to a lesser extent Krug NV, are wines to drink with food.

    The wine list did not stop there. I lost count of the number of wines, probably a dozen on the list, but then there’s the same again for Sake! I only wish my Sake knowledge was better than almost nothing. OK, so there’s no Western dessert wine (there is port, but I din’t count that as a dessert wne)… but there is plum wine, a worthy accompaniment to your favourite dessert.

    Ok, back to the flight. Crew were really very good but lacked something that the JAL crew had. It’s subjective. At no time did I feel I was being ignored. Maybe it was the number of bows I received on JAL, which I have to say is a one off experience I doubt I will ever experience again, unless I fly JAL again.

    We arrived almost an hour ahead of time. Astonishingly for LHR an airbridge was made available to door 1L.

    Despite being a Londoner, this was my first time in Terminal 2 since it was re-opened a few short years ago. It was a long walk, with travellators, escalators, up, down. Immigration, even for a local, only five of 16 lanes open, mostly excruciatingly slow to work, if they work at all, but thankfully five minutes delay. The UK ePassport system is One of the World’s Crappiest Technology Systems. Straight past baggage reclaim and landside a couple of minutes’ walk later.

    In conclusion, if I were asked to compare JAL F to ANA F, it is overall a fairly clear win for JAL for their hard and soft product, but ANA do well too, and exceptionally well for their steak and wine in comparison. (Quick comparison in WCs, both were 2 bathrooms for all eight pax plus crew, and both offered the same space as far as I could visually see, with the one on the left offering a bit more room for changing into pyjamas).

    If I am to compare either to British Airways F, both ANA and JAL are a -very- significant upgrade from BA F. The crew:pax ratio is the most obvious comparison. Both my trips on JAL and ANA were full cabins, both with 8 seats in F, but I didn’t notice it. Ever. My most recent BA F trips were on their A380, but I’ve seen it on their 747 and 777, with 14 seats in F they desperately struggle with the reduced crew:pax ratio. Service is slow. My most recent trip in BA F was LHR-SIN-LHR and frankly the service was pathetic. It was slow and unresponsive. The galley was overworked. The crew lacked motivation. Nothing could be further from the truth with the JAL crew in particular, but ANA were not far behind.

    BA now sadly reminds me of the 1970s when the UK became a wasteland of neglect from political infestation, while others who, by necessity, invested more widely, stayed ahead, even with the same legacies. After privatisation, in the 1990s and early 2000s BA were extremely inventive and world beating. Now they have again lost their way and are back to less than mediocrity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *