All Nippon Airways First Class: Excellent, With A Catch

Filed Under: ANA, Travel

Hello from Tokyo! Ford and I just took the 13 hour All Nippon Airways flight from Chicago to Tokyo Narita, and we’re very excited to be spending a bit of time in Japan.

We booked our tickets using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, as tickets cost just 120,000 miles roundtrip in first class, which is a spectacular value. At the moment both Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou are offering a 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic, so you can book these tickets for 93,000 Amex or Citi points roundtrip.

While I’ll write a full trip report, below are my initial impressions of the flight. I’ve flown ANA first class several times before, though it has been years. I also recently flew Japan Airlines from Tokyo to Chicago, so appreciated the opportunity to compare the two products just months apart.

ANA 777 first class cabin & seats

Let’s start off with the biggest negative. I strongly dislike ANA’s first class seats. It goes without saying that I’m grateful to have the opportunity to fly first class and to have a fully flat bed, but I just can’t wrap my head around the decision making process that went into them selecting these seats. The good news is that this will be changing soon, as ANA is introducing new first class seats.

ANA’s 777-300ER first class cabin consists of a total of eight seats, spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

That’s a pretty standard configuration, though what makes zero sense to me is that they “box” these seats in. This means:

  • If you’re in a window seat you can’t actually look out the window without leaning way forward
  • If you’re traveling with someone you have no real way to communicate with them, unless you lean way forward

The seats just make zero sense to me. They’re so private based on how they’re boxed in, but then they also don’t put a door on them.

You’d think if they were going to make them so private that you can’t talk to the person next to you they’d at least have the functionality to have a buddy seat, so you can dine together. But they don’t have that.

So even if you’re traveling with a friend or loved one, you might as well select window seats, because the middle seats are useless.

On the plus side, in bed mode the seat was comfortable, though ANA is known for keeping their cabins warm, and there are no individual air nozzles.

ANA first class food & drinks

With the bad news out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff. ANA has a top notch menu in first class. You can dine whenever you want, and there’s an extensive selection of options (though it’s not as big as Japan Airlines’ menu, in my opinion).

Everything I ate was excellent, so I give ANA a lot of credit there.

Service began with an amuse bouche, which included apricot and goat cheese, smoked salmon, foie gras, and a cheese pepper bar.

For the starter I had cauliflower mousse with caviar.

Then there was a garden salad.

Next up was Chilean sea bass with raisin and herb brown butter sauce.

Finally for dessert was a cappuccino mousse cake.

Yum!

ANA also has an excellent drink selection. Notably they’re serving Krug 2004 champagne at the moment.

ANA first class amenities

There’s no shortage of amenities in ANA first class. This includes both a cardigan and pajamas…

Then there’s a well stocked Samsonite amenity kit…

And then a basket is brought around with all kinds of additional amenities, including my favorite, a “refreshing leg towel.”

ANA first class entertainment & wifi

ANA has a better selection of movies than I remember, though it’s still not really competitive. There’s also a lack of western TV shows, so I’d recommend bringing your own entertainment.

On the plus side, I found some of the content to be downright hilarious. There was programming called “Crime Prevention Videos For Tourist In Tokyo.” It featured two caucasian guys who communicated in perfect Japanese (there were English subtitles). Yet the whole premise was that one of the guys had never been to Japan before and didn’t know any of the customs.

So he has never been to Japan and speaks perfect Japanese, but he also thinks it’s okay to talk on the phone on the bus and his first stop after landing is at a hardware store so he can buy a knife to protect himself while in the country (bad timing for this, of course, given what just happened in Japan).

The other thing worth noting is that ANA has wifi. However, it’s offered by OnAir, which is extremely slow. They offer first class passengers vouchers for 100MB of free wifi. That lasts a while since you can’t use much data due to the speeds.

ANA first class service

Service was exceptional, as you’d expect. The crew was textbook perfect, but I’ve sort of come to expect that in first class on any Japanese airline. In particular the chief purser was incredibly charming.

ANA 777-300ER first class bottom line

Many people think ANA offers one of the best first class products in the world. Personally I think it’s really good, between the food, drinks, amenities, and service.

However, I don’t rank it in the top 10, and for that matter I have a strong preference for Japan Airlines over ANA. That’s because I think the soft products are roughly comparable, while I strongly prefer JAL’s seats and wifi.

Still, all things considered ANA is excellent, and I still pinch myself for what a great deal we got on miles for this trip.

If you’ve flown ANA first class, what was your experience like?

Comments
  1. Lucky, you should note that they have started phasing out the samsonite amenity kit since the beginning of March. The new kit looks much nicer and is already available ex Tokyo.

  2. Ben – I’ve just read a report of ANA first class that you wrote in 2009 – you stated there was only one other person in the cabin, but the seats did not seem especially private regardless. They did, however, seem to be easier to communicate from – so, do you prefer the OLD ANA First Class seat, from 2005, or the current seat, when travelling with a partner?

  3. Ben – I’ve just read a report of ANA first class that you wrote in 2009 – you stated there was only one other person in the cabin, but the seats did not seem especially private regardless. They did, however, seem to be easier to communicate from – so, do you prefer the OLD ANA First Class seat, from 2005, or the current seat, when travelling with a partner?

  4. It’s almost staggering how far we’ve come: I look at that ANA first seat, and I would actually prefer a business class Qsuite.

    Especially since with the Qsuite I get a selection of air nozzles, as opposed to none.

  5. “So he has never been to Japan and speaks perfect Japanese, but he also thinks it’s okay to talk on the phone on the bus and his first stop after landing is at a hardware store so he can buy a knife to protect himself while in the country (bad timing for this, of course, given what just happened in Japan).”

    -OK, I get the tourist not understanding the cultural norm against speaking on the phone on public transit, but the part about him buying a knife in the hardware store really threw me. Of course, this is extra ridiculous considering that Japan is among the safest countries in the world, but who would even do this in an ostensibly “dangerous” country!?

  6. Would you rather spend 120k VS miles for DL One Suites to BOM or NH First to TYO? I already booked the flights to BOM, considering a trip to TYO instead if I can find the award space for two.

  7. Thank you for the review Lucky! I have eyed this redemption for a while now given the amazing value for miles with the regular transfer bonuses offered by Amex, Citi and maybe soon Chase as well? I noticed that you often fly to or from Chicago to Japan. Is there a particular reason such as a lot of open award seats or is it just coincidence? Thanks!

  8. Damn, now I want to watch “Crime Prevention Videos For Tourist In Tokyo”

    I hope Netflix picks it up.

  9. My wife and I did ANA F ORD-HND in September and the best part was drinking the 21 and 17 y/o Hibiki. Don’t get me wrong, we loved the flight and the service, but the whisky was, for me, the best part.

  10. Will be taking this exact flight in April of next year. Super excited, although I have a feeling my wife will not be a big fan of the secluded seats haha

  11. I miss ANA’s last gen F seats. They were terrifically comfortable. Private enough. Allowed more air to move.

  12. Every route, every cabin, ANA catering is now one notch below JAL. No exception.
    Let’s say I’m enjoying every bit of my Japanese meal when taking JL20. Miracle for ex-PEK, I’d say.

  13. The amenity kit on the NYC route contains Ginza day/night lotions. I realized only after trying to find more of these lotions that they seem to retail for $2-3K USD.

  14. I always find it funny/odd that they (and JAL) hand out those cardigans and warm pajamas when they keep those cabins so warm! I’m usually cold and when I was handed a cardigan, I thought “Are you kidding?”

  15. @Todd, agreed — same here (flew it last summer). Those (particularly the 21-year) are *significantly* more expensive bottles than Krug 2004 champagne.

    When we did this last summer, we actually flew ANA F out (from SF) and JAL F back, so I got the direct comparison. JAL seat was better and food was slightly better; ANA drink menu was better, as was the temperature — JAL was definitely a warmer cabin.

  16. My first flight on RTW19 1.0 (01.14.19) and my last flight in RTW19 2.0 (05.14.19) were in ANA 1st B777 IAD-NRT-IAD and used the VA 93,000 miles 🙂
    I agree on the seat – and the service. only one on outbound but full on return – still excellent personalized service with great off the book amenities, including a couple of the black china plates – I’d asked for 1, but FA wrapped two up in a bag. 🙂

  17. Hope you and Ford have fun, and I hope you write some posts of your time in Tokyo (outside the hotels of course)! I love reading your posts and would love to read more from your view about my favorite city in the world – though I know it’s not your first time there of course 🙂

  18. I think ANA has a more extensive snack menu, no? And since it’s dine on demand, you could always augment the meal service with items from the snack menu…

    Also, ANA publishes it’s menus on their website, so at least you’ll know what to expect on your particular flight. Not sure if JAL does as well…

  19. I know I have to wait for the review but the reasons why JL and NH would be in my top 10 F flights include the alcohol (Hibiki specifically) and the Japanese menu…which will probably not get much coverage here.

  20. Lucky, that cappuccino mouse cake looks awfully familiar. AA serves a cappuccino mouse cake in business class ORD-PVG. Does everyone at ORD use the same caterer? I would hope ANA isn’t skimping here. I fly ANA next week and don’t want to be on ANA metal eating AA food.

  21. Can anyone shed any light on what award availability is like these days on ANA? Do they open seats last minute? A couple weeks out?

    Lucky – sounds like you guy 2 seats – can you share when you found/booked them?

  22. Wow, this review’s food/drink section almost does a disservice to the array of options ANA offers on these flights. You should provide a link tot he menu and call out that the choices are really extensive beyond what you chose. It’s almost the top reason to fly with them, deserves more explanation…

  23. @Chris Fields: I presume the comprehensive menu with photos will come out in the full review. This is just a preview.

    @Cedric: I agree. Ben’s free to do as he chooses, but 9 times out of 10 I’ll order the national cuisine of the carrier I’m flying. Isn’t the point of travel to try new things?

  24. @eric

    NH is notorious for not making more award seats available and flying with those seats empty. I experienced this in March

  25. I do a lot of Star Alliance RTW trips in First. NH is always my airline of choice if possible. There really is not much to look at out the window across Canada or Siberia. When traveling with a friend, or spouse, we usually spend enough time together on the ground so that we always book the individual seats anyway. (Then again, so did my mother and father, and they were married for 60 years.) I’m happy to trade the view for the additional storage space.

    I also LOVE the washout toilets ANA offers in FC; I think they also have them in Business. I agree with Lucky about the food; JL is better.

    Because of all of my Star Alliance flights, I have been a Diamond Member, the top tier of the ANA Mileage Club, for the past 11 years. During that time I have found First Class award availability to be almost impossible, even for a top tier member, especially on the NYC-Tokyo flights. It is also particularly annoying that one-way awards are not possible. The only time I have been able to get award tickets is almost one year ahead of time, and then again a few days before departure. As others have pointed out, I have on more than one occasion been the only person flying in FC. NH apparently does not like to reward Frequent Flyers with upgrades, and it likes to maintain the “value” of its First Class prices (although the RTW prices are not too bad.)

    Of course, JL has the identical policies. When one serves caviar, so does the other, etc. For those of you who know Japan, this is very characteristic of the country. When NH has indigestion, JL burps.

  26. Fuel surcharge on ANA is probably much higher than JAL too.
    I like the idea of amenities handed out in a basket rather by default in amenity cases. One thing about luxury products is that it tends to be incredibly wasteful. Can you imagine all the stuff in amenities bags that get tossed in the trash never used.

  27. Dear Ben and Ford,

    You promised to travel less and stay home more. How could you do this. You are very mean.

    Love,
    Winston

  28. Agreed with the seat, but it does create a private experience at any fist seat. I think that pro outweighs the cons – especially since this is often an un-scenic route.

    My wife and I have a system. It’s sad that we take this so often we’ve developed a ‘system’: every first class passenger gets 1 x free 100MB internet. We sign both of our phones up and use WiFi calling to text each other. That’s how we communicate in the middle seats.

  29. I hope you and Ford will be flying ANA’s new “Flying Honu” A380 in First from Tokyo to Honolulu.

  30. 1st time flying 1st class…We are flying United Polaris start at RSW bus class to IAH Polaris…to NRT taking a cruise Japan and China ending in HK then HK United Polaris to EWR to bus RSW How does it compare to United? And do people really change into pj’s?
    Where? Do I get to use Polaris lounge at both before boarding and after I get back to ERW while waiting for next flight? 6 hour layover. I originally got the tickets for 70 miles now I need to change the 1st flight to one day earlier and they want 17500 miles each that’s huge for 1 way…any tip or help appreciated!

  31. I goofed first and gave you wrong airports…1st time flying 1st class…We are flying United Polaris start at RSW bus class to IAH Polaris…to NRT taking a cruise Japan and China ending in HK then HK United Polaris to EWR to bus RSW How does it compare to United? And do people really change into pj’s?
    Where? Do I get to use Polaris lounge at both before boarding and after I get back to ERW while waiting for next flight? 6 hour layover. I originally got the tickets for 70 miles now I need to change the 1st flight to one day earlier and they want 17500 miles each that’s huge for 1 way…any tip or help appreciated!

  32. My wife and I flew ANA first ORD-HND last year and it was surprisingly mediocre. Service was nice but English was not very well understood for a flight from the US. The first class seats didn’t have all that much storage. The food was good but not impressive. You covered entertainment and cabin temperature. The lounge in Haneda didn’t measure up well to Singapore or Cathay lounges. Was it better than coach? You bet! Was it worth going out of your way to try again over, say, EVA business? No.

  33. Hey Ben,

    It will be interesting if you are taking a daytime or nighttime flight back to US. I took ANA to Frankfurt on a night flight and because it was a night flight, only a snack menu was available. I was shocked that on a 12 hour flight in first class, no full meal service was available. Shocking! I agree the seat is like a coffin… I was the only passenger so spread out but overall the food & Seat were disappointing but the service was EXTRAORDINARY!!!!

  34. My cousin was on the same flight NH11 if you flew 5/29, small world, it was his first time flying first class

  35. I have a hard time understanding that award space cannot be found on ANA. Either the people complaining about it waited too late to book it or they need a lesson in award searches. I realize that the JFK route is tougher than others, but anyone looking for JFK can easily book out of IAD where space abounds (with a short positioning flight). Houston has lots of award space because it’s a new partner. If you decide that you want to go on a four month notice, you are simply out of luck. If you look for space 11+ months out and have flexible dates you should not have a problem. I have written about this award on the travel blog I help moderate every time Amex has a transfer bonus, and I have helped many people book it. Personally when my wife and I flew this in March we found the cuisine to be exceptional, on both the US and Japanese menu. I have to agree the divider made sharing food cumbersome, and I was a little disappointed that I could not use my Bose QC 35 headphones for the IFE. Other than that it’s one of the best uses of Amex points that I know of.

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