To kick off the second part of our year-long around the world trip, we flew JAL first class from Chicago to Tokyo and then JAL business class from Tokyo to Hanoi. Both flights were incredible.
The Booking Process
It took a long, long time and 3 different booking attempts to land on the flights we actually flew. We had a decent supply of American miles so we booked these flights through American Airlines.
Chicago – Dallas – Tokyo – Bangkok (all business class)
Cost: 55,000 AA miles each (would cost 70,000 miles today)
I booked this because JAL had just added their Dallas – Tokyo route with their new lie-flat business class seat on the Boeing 787. Pretty much every single day had 2 business class seats available. However, the Tokyo to Bangkok piece would be in business class on a plane that did not have lie-flat business class seats. Not ideal, but we wanted to start in Bangkok.
Chicago – Tokyo – Bangkok (all business class)
Cost: 55,000 AA miles each (would cost 70,000 miles today)
A few days later, I noticed that Chicago to Tokyo opened up on the same day that we would’ve been traveling originally. I decided it would be worth it to fly on a more dated plane (Boeing 777) to avoid a connection in Dallas. Their 777 has a 2-3-2 business class configuration in which all seats are staggered so there are no two seats right next to each other. The 787 is in a 2-2-2 configuration with the outside rows staggered, but the middle seats are right next to each other. The 777 would be worse to travel as a couple for seating, but better overall because we had 1 less connection. Since the origin and destination on the itinerary remained the same, it was free to call up American and book this change.
Chicago – Tokyo – Hanoi (first and business class)
Cost: 67,500 miles each (would cost 110,000 miles today)
A few days after the second booking, I noticed that 2 first class seats opened up on the Chicago to Tokyo leg the day after we were originally supposed to travel. There was no availability for the Tokyo to Bangkok leg on the following day. If we were to do this, it would mean canceling our original award and paying a redeposit fee of $150 each to get our miles back.
I noticed that the Tokyo to Hanoi flight would give us a nice 3 hour layover and was operated by a newer JAL Boeing 787 that had the same lie-flat business class seats we would’ve experienced had we stayed with booking from Dallas to Tokyo. I was sold to be able to try first class for the first time and try out a new Boeing 787! As a bonus, we lucked out and the agent forgot to charge us the $150 each!
Always keep checking to see if your preferred route or cabin of travel open up. You just never know with award availability!
The First Class Flight
Check-in went smoothly. We needed to show our Vietnam Visa letters and after that we were able to get our boarding passes. The agent asked us if we had traveled JAL first class before. She informed us that we were in for a treat and that they really “pamper” you in first class. This only added to our excitement! After security, we headed to the Admiral’s Club flagship lounge. It was conveniently located right next to our gate. The lounge was less than spectacular and nothing really stood out. We decided not to eat much as we wanted to save our appetites for the meal on board.
Wow! I was blown away. JAL has 8 first class seats on their Boeing 777 (2 rows in a 1-2-1 configuration). We had seats 2D and 2G, which are the two middle seats in the second row. The seats were very wide, had plenty of storage compartments, and had a massive television. Everything you could ask for in a seat for a 13 hour flight! Something that caught me by surprise was that in bed mode I could fully straighten out and fit! I am 6’9″ and have flown a couple lie-flat business class products before and have never been able to do this. My head and feet touched both ends of the seat, but I still fit! On top of having all of the room I needed, the bed was extremely comfortable and led to a few hours of great sleep.
Soon after takeoff, the attendants asked if we would like anything to drink. We said yes and ordered the Salon 2004 Champagne. This stuff retails for about $400 a bottle!
The very sweet flight attendants gave us menus and we had the option for a Japanese set meal or some western choices. They also had an a la carte menu with items that you could order whenever you liked during the entire flight.
Brittany decided to go with the salad and prime beef filet from the western menu. She did not care for the filet and would not recommend it. I decided to go with the Japanese menu for the full Japanese experience. It did not disappoint! Plus it gave me practice with chopsticks before we got to Southeast Asia!
These were some of the strangest things I have ever eaten in my entire life, but for the most part everything was great! If you don’t like fish, I would go with a western option, but otherwise I feel you should go for the Japanese set menu and get the full Japanese experience. I forgot to take a picture of the last part of the set meal (the dessert). The dessert wasn’t great and had the strangest texture. It was some sort of thick jelly noodles in a slightly sweet soupy sauce. Very interesting!
After some sleep, Brittany and I both ordered some food off the a la carte menu. We both tried the JAL healthy ramen noodles and I also tried the Japanese seafood curry. We both thought the noodles were absolutely fantastic; a must-try in our opinion. The seafood curry was just all right. Not as much flavor as I would have expected.
The service was perfect and started the moment we stepped foot in the cabin. Once we got to our seats, a flight attendant noticed we were trying to take a selfie and offered to take the picture for us. There were 4 (maybe 3?) flight attendants working in the first class cabin. 7 of the 8 first class seats were occupied. They kept the drinks flowing without us having to ask and walked through the aisles every 5-10 minutes in case we ever needed anything.
When I was ready to sleep, I asked one of the flight attendants for pajamas and she escorted me to the first class bathroom. She asked me on the way if I would like my bed to have the soft or hard side of the mattress pad (I opted for soft). Once I came out of the bathroom, a flight attendant was waiting for me and asked for my clothes so she could hang them while I slept in the pajamas.
Once we were close to Tokyo, I asked for my clothes and they gave me my wrinkle-free clothes to change into! As I left the bathroom, another flight attendant was waiting for me. She took the pajamas and asked if I would like to keep them to which I responded, “Sure!” She asked if I wanted a brand new pair or if I wouldn’t mind if she repackaged up the ones I had just worn. I was shocked they offered a new pair and said the ones I just wore would be fine.
Once we got closer to Tokyo, the flight attendants found out (without asking) that our final destination was not Tokyo and that it was Hanoi. They offered to package up our first class amenities in a special bag so that we would be able to take them through security to reach our next flight. I was super impressed.
The First Class Lounge
Unfortunately the flight had to end eventually. At least we got to head to the JAL first class lounge once we landed! We were first off the plane, so it was quick to get through security and off to the lounge.
The lounge was pretty empty, which was nice. I was pretty full from the flight so I decided to eat only a little food. I was not super impressed by the available food. One cool feature of this lounge is that you can schedule free 10 minute massages. I decided to pass, but Brittany hopped on the opportunity. There were 3 options to choose from: neck & back, foot, or scalp. She opted for the neck and back massage and thought it was great. If you get access to this lounge and enjoy massages, make sure to take advantage of this benefit.
The Business Class Flight
I will not write as comprehensive of a review for this flight as this post is already too long. I also may not do the product justice as I had just come off of flying in first class and it really just can’t compare. At this point, I was also exhausted, so I don’t remember much about the flight.
As I mentioned before, the middle seats on this plane are not staggered like the seats on the aisle’s or all of the business class seats on JAL’s 777 plane. This was great as we could talk to each other just by leaning forward a little. The seats had a decent amount of room and a huge TV. Brittany opted to sleep and skip the meal service. I decided to partake and once again chose the Japanese set menu. I don’t remember much, but the food was decent. It was a quick 6 hours before we landed in Hanoi.
We both really loved flying JAL and would fly with them again in a heartbeat. It makes me want to try first class with JAL’s Japanese competitor ANA to see which airline has a better first class product.
Hope you enjoyed the review. Let me know if you have any questions about JAL First on the Boeing 777 or Business on the 787 and I’ll do my best to answer!