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Japanese-based ANA (All Nippon Airways) has a very highly regarded first class product that many rave about. ANA’s first class suite on their Boeing 777 offers a suite that might not be industry leading, but their first class service and food outshine almost any other airline.
In this review, I will share my most recent experience flying ANA first class from Chicago to Tokyo. I’ll also cover things like my booking with miles and points, fees, lounge experiences, and everything else in-between.
ANA has a number of routes from Tokyo Hanada – HND (which is their downtown airport) and Tokyo Narita – NRT (which is an airport further away from downtown.)
- Chicago – ORD serves HND and NRT
- New York – JFK serves HND and NRT
- Los Angeles – LAX serves HND and NRT
- Honolulu – HNL serves HND and NRT
- San Fransico – SFO serves NRT
- Houston – IAH serves NRT
- Washinton DC – IAD serves NRT
- Seattle – SEA serves NRT (no first class)
- San Jose – SJC serves NRT (no first class)
- Mexico City – MEX serves NRT (no first class)
Miles and points and fees
For myself, I booked using LifeMiles considering I wanted a one-way award without any want to go back home. Thus, it ended up costing me 90,000 LifeMiles one-way for Chicago – ORD to Toyko – HND. LifeMiles doesn’t add fuel surcharges, so the fees equaled $30.60 USD.
LifeMiles transfers from Amex Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points (and now Capital One). Plus, LifeMiles runs many promotions for buying miles on the cheap, which I ended up doing because I didn’t want to transfer points and instead pay for this flight because of the promotion.
For Yuka, I booked using Virgin Atlantic miles since she was going from Japan to the USA but needed to go back to Japan. Virgin Atlantic miles has a sweet spot with ANA first class. For 120,000 miles roundtrip in first class, you can go from the east-coast to Japan and then back to the US. Plus, it allows open jaws, just no one-way itineraries. Thus, Yuka did HND to New York – JFK for the outbound and her return ORD to HND.
The one downside with using Virgin Atlantic mile is the fact that they impose fuel surcharges. While it’s not a huge issue, it does add up if you add more than one person to the award. For Yuka, her fees equaled $335.41 USD. Big difference in fees, but I would still redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for ANA first-class again since they offer excellent transfer promotions from Amex Membership Rewards a few times a year.
Remember, Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of Chase so this could be one of the most valuable first class redemptions for your Chase Ultimate Rewards.
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One of my favorite domestic lounges in the US would be the United Polaris Lounge.
Since ANA doesn’t have any flights to Detroit – DTW. I have many airports to choose from for our flight to Japan. Since flying out of ORD last year on my ANA first class flight and experiencing the United Polaris lounge, I find it one of the best lounges in the US.
The lounge is exclusive since business or first class passengers have access into the lounge. You cannot access the lounge any other way, not even status gets you in.
The lounge has lots of amenities from a restaurant-style dining room, buffet dining room, nap rooms, shower rooms, and a bar. The seating varies from tables, lounge chairs, to private cubbies with pull out desks.
My favorite is the restaurant-style dining room where you can sit down and order off the menu. While it takes a while for orders to come to your tables or the disappearance of waiters/waitresses, it’s still proper dining with a lovely menu and decent food.
The showers and nap rooms are first come, first served. I love the showers in particular since the floor is heated and could be controlled to your leisure. Even for an evening flight like ours, the lounge didn’t fill up like the likes of the EWR United Polaris lounge.
There are no boarding announcements for the flight. However, airlines like Lufthansa and ANA do walk around giving updates on delayed flights in a calm, but a noticeable tone of voice.
Since our flight was leaving late, about 30 minutes late, we ended up arriving later than most.
ORD isn’t my favorite airport. Gate seating is not enough for the 100s of passengers for certain flights like ours. The lines also go out of the gate forcing people to avoid these long lines walking to other gates. Notice the first and diamond line not having enough room in the gate area and is forced to go into the middle of the terminal. The same goes with the economy and business class lines, but far worse.
In the photo, the first class and diamond elite line and passengers were eager to get on. First class, ANA Diamond elites, people needing assistance, and families boarding started first. First class and Diamonds use their own jet bridge and people requiring assistant and families using the business and economy jetbridge.
Once we were onboard, we were greeted by two friendly first class flight attendants that escorted us to our seats.
The first class seat
The first class cabin is a 2 row 1-2-1 configuration. These seats are considered by SeatGuru to be open suites. The seat itself will remind you of a lounge chair with the feature of going into the fully lie-flat position for bed-mode.
I personally like these seats. They aren’t my favorite for looking out of the window, nighttime flights don’t really matter, but the amount of storage compartments and privacy makes the seat somewhat awesome and niche. There is a place for everything on both walls, under the ottoman, in the ottoman, and on the shelf. In terms of design looks, I do like it as well, but that is subjective. It’s basically a mini-office cubical.
I would also love to note how clean and well maintained these seats are. One reason why I love flying Japanese full-service airlines, like ANA and JAL, is the fact that they do such a great job at cleaning and maintaining the seat conditions.
These seats are amazing for privacy and by far one of the most private seats without a door. However, the window seat does suck if you want to look out of the window since they make you lean forward. The middle seats also have the same problem making you lean forward to see your partner on the other side of the wall.
Luckily, sitting in the middle still allows you to close that tiny divider for ultimate privacy. So, because of those reasons we chose to sit both in the window seats and just come over to visit each other during the flight.
Waiting at our seats were a Samsonite amenity kit, headphones, PJs, and a cardigan. Once I got settled into my seat, the crew asked what I wanted to drink. I asked for a glass of champagne.
The crew then walks around asking if you want anything from their basket of goodies like Shiseido lip balm, toothbrush, earplugs, relaxation scent card, etc. Then they give you the wifi card good for 100MB of data, and later on, they ask if you need arrival cards. OnAir is their wifi provider and is not my favorite provider since it’s slow, not as fast, and also has data limits, unlike their competitors. I prefer JAL’s wifi which has unlimited data.
During our decent, I filmed a mini seat tour trying to show all the compartments and what it looks like when sitting in the seat:
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ANA first class dining
Once the plane was in the air and the seatbelt sign was turned off the crew went into action. The crew were very diligent and began taking Yuka’s drink order first and then asked for my drink order.
The amuse and my drink order came out. The amuse served this flight was a roasted duck and kumquat pincho, grape and goat cheese ball with pistachio, smoked salmon and scallop tartar in bouchee pie, and cheese pepper bars. The drink I ordered was Krug Champagne. I didn’t care for the amuse much.
After finishing the Amuse, I was asked for my meal order. I told the flight attendant I wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to eat. However, after relaxing a few hours, I was hungry and thirsty. I pressed the call button and immediately the flight attendant arrived. I told her I was hungry and asked if I could order my meal now. She asked what I wanted and was happy to prepare my meal.
Shortly after she took my meal order another flight attendant brought me a warm towel and started to set my table.
I love the olive oil, butter, salt, and pepper presentation.
For my appetizer, I ordered parsnip mousse with caviar. The parsnip mousse was okay, but it was nice to have something different besides the standard caviar setup. ANA does provide a mother of pearl spoon with the caviar. A flight attendant brought me the bread basket filled with a few different options, I opted for sourdough bread.
Another appetizer was the garden salad topped with blue cheese and bacon served with Japanese style dressing. Surprisingly, the menu only says garden salad and the types of dressing available. I find it weird that they don’t describe the salad to be topped with blue cheese and bacon. I am a fan of blue cheese and enjoyed the salad, but I know many people that aren’t.
For the main, I ordered the vegetable ravioli with curry-flavored cream sauce. For anyone that knows me, I love curry. Since it’s a curry cream sauce, it ended up not being spicy. The ravioli noodles weren’t too hard or too soft. The only change I would make to the dish is for the dish to be spicy. Overall though, I enjoyed eating this dish.
I ended up skipping dessert and the cheese plate since I was super full.
After the meal, I wanted to sleep so they made my bed and I ended up sleeping for a bit. I woke up and wanted to visit Yuka. ANA doesn’t support a dual dining experience, but if the seat is in bed mode, there is more than enough room for me to sit by the IFE display. There is also enough room us to pull out the table and dine together. Of course, we asked if it’s okay and the crew said it’s alright unless there is turbulence.
Yuka ended up ordering ramen. ANA serves special ramen on routes to Japan and it’s called IPPUDO rich-tasting miso “DAICHI” ramen. We both shared one bowl loving it and really enjoyed the rich flavors it had. This bowl of ramen my favorite dish out of all the dishes we had and Yuka’s second favorite dish after her steak.
Me being me, I became more hungry and wanted to have some curry. I ordered ANA original curry and the dish presentation was lacking. However, the rice was cooked correctly and the curry tasted better than how it actually looks.
Then we ordered ice cream, which was vanilla and caramel ice cream. However, the crew made a special plate presentation with a plane (they remember me mentioning how I love planes), flowers, dry ice to resemble clouds, and happy written in chocolate. An adorable display and shows how far the crew will go.
After the ice cream, I was still hungry and ordered seafood over steamed rice. It was very good and surprisingly fresh. The side of wasabi was right and didn’t remind me of the cheap packets of wasabi that you would get from the grocery store.
ANA first class service
ANA is one of those special airlines that shines in every cabin for service. No matter if you fly economy, premium economy, business, or first, you will find that service is very attentive and professional, and it’s partly because the service industry in Japan is known to be the best in terms of professional and polite service, yet somewhat robotic.
However, the crew on this flight wasn’t robotic, but it was the opposite. They were very down to earth, got to know us, laughed, very attentive on how much water I drank and even offered me a 1-liter bottle of water, and professional all at the same time. While this doesn’t hit the mark of the most fun crew I have ever had on a flight, but this crew was definitely the best when it came down to how considerate and attentive they were.
ANA first class bed
Once you’re ready for bed, you can ask one of the flight attendants that you are ready to sleep and they will offer to make your bed. On this flight, I ended up having a pleasant nap since I ended up eating and talking to Yuka, most of the flight.
ANA provides a mattress pad, proper blanket, two pillows (one is memory foam), and the thinner blanket provided. The bed is wide and long. I like to sleep on my stomach or on my side and the bed provides a lot of space for me to do so. The pillows are the right size since ANA gives you two different pillows. Having the choice between two different pillows makes a huge difference.
The only negative thing about the bed is the fact that the mattress pad is just okay. While it adds comfort, it’s not much comfort and it’s not as nice as some other first class mattress pads.
This flight from Chicago to Tokyo flying ANA first class was one of the top 3 flights I have ever taken. The flight shined since the crew was being so loving and attentive. Then the food that was super yummy and made for a wonderful dining experience. Plus, this flight is one of the easiest and cheapest first class redemptions with reasonable surcharges that are avoidable.
I would definitely fly ANA again and was glad to share the experience with Yuka as well.
This article was originally published by Steve Smith.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.