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 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

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.

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.


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?

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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  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?

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