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How Much Better Is International First Class Than Business Class?

by joeheg

I’ve been spending some time looking for flights to Japan for our end of 2021 trip, which is a replacement for our end of 2020 trip. On my first attempt, I was thrilled that I found space using American miles to fly from the US to Tokyo on Japan Air Lines in business class for 60,000 points one-way. This was the exact flight I had been looking for in 2020 but was never available.

When I looked recently, the flights were still available but I had yet another option. First Class.

Even better was that I could fly from Orlando to Los Angeles in American First and then connect to JAL First Class for the flight to Japan for 80,000 points. That’s an additional 20,000 points for first class over business class. Is that worth it?

Unlike the few people who know what it’s like to fly in international first class, we’ve only done so once and that was several years ago on ANA. To know if it was worth spending the extra points, I needed to do some research.

Exactly what are the differences between first class and business class? It turns out this totally depends on which airline you’re flying.

People who have flown on Japan Air Lines business class don’t have many complaints. In fact, some will argue that JAL’s Apex Suite is the best business class seat anywhere. There’s a private, lie-flat seat with your choice of mattress pads. Wi-Fi is fast and inexpensive compared to other airlines. The food is good and the service is typically Japanese. If you’ve ever visited the country, you’ll know what this means instantly.

What else could you ask for during a long trans-pacific flight?

JAL truly brings its A-game when it comes to first class. Now, the cabin isn’t blingy and you can’t take an onboard shower like you could on Emirates. You also won’t be able to sleep in a double bed like you can on Singapore Airlines. You definitely won’t find anything as extravagant as Etihad’s Residence onboard a JAL flight.

What you’ll find is a top-notch seat and food and drink worthy of any restaurant on the ground. Did you ever want to try some Cristal champagne? What if you’ve dreamed of having caviar served with a mother of pearl spoon while on an airplane? If you’re flying first class you can afford your own WiFi but no worries, it’s comped for the flight. Any other food you want is served on demand by your cabin crew. When changing into your pajamas, they’ll hang your clothes so they don’t get wrinkled.

Basically, it’s everything you’d expect from first class. But is that worth it?

If you’ve never done it and you have the miles, I’d suggest taking the splurge. You only live once and you never know when you’ll get another chance. If you’ve done it before, it totally depends on how many points you have to spare and what you expect out of your flight. If all you want to is sleep, then most of the experience will be wasted on you. If you want to treat the airplane like your own luxury restaurant for 12 hours, then enjoy!

What did I decide?

I didn’t have to. By the time I finished looking up the JAL first class offering and decided it would be worth it, the flights were gone. As I’ve learned before, if you snooze, you lose. BTW, if you were the one that booked those seats to Tokyo on JAL, I do wish that you enjoy the flight!!!!!!

The business class seats I originally wanted are still available. Since flying to Japan messes up your schedule so badly, we’re going to be spending some time on the plane sleeping. If you’re not familiar, you leave the US in the morning and land 20 hours later in the evening on the next day. When should you sleep?????

If I book using American miles, I can reserve the business class seats and keep looking if first class becomes available. American lets you rebook as long as the cities remain the same without charging a change fee, just the difference in miles needed for the ticket.

I’ve never tried Cristal before and I’m not a huge caviar fan. If I really wanted, I bet I could have both at Bern’s Steak House for less than the difference between the cost in miles of business class and first class on JAL

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Christian December 27, 2020 - 3:19 pm

I was fortunate enough to try JAL’s first class early this year and it was pretty amazing. I’m inordinately large and tall so I thought the additional space was great but the onboard food and service, and lounge in HND were all pretty rock-the-house. For a comparatively small number of additional miles I’d say it’s absolutely worth it. While I’ve flown ANA first class (once) it just wasn’t as good IMO. ANA does have a better signature curry though.

DavidB December 28, 2020 - 6:21 am

I booked an JL award in J NRT-ORD with the expectation that F would open a week or two before the flight date. It did, while I was on my way to the airport for the outbound of my 2 week trip in mid-February this year. I called AS and while I headed to checkin spoke to an agent who did the change/upgrade for just 10K extra miles (AS has a better chart than AA, though part of my trip was an AA award on Etihad, JNB-AUH-ICN in J and F for 90K). I got the new ticket email while checking my bag with TK. No regrets, one of the finest service experiences plus finally getting to drink the legendary $600 a bottle Salon champagne. I’m not a fan of the sparkling wine (never understood the blogger mania of flying SQ, CX or EK in F for the Dom or Krug). As you wrote, snooze you loose…and it is a real loss.

Fester December 28, 2020 - 8:34 am

Love Berns. Especially the table side Caesar.


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