You might think that a seat over 15 years old doesn’t have much going for it. And you’d be right – but I soon discover that Japan Airlines First Class is so much more than just the seat.
With a last-minute work trip to London to plan for, there were plenty of First Class reward seats to choose from. In fact, the particular day I was flying on still had five on offer. I used Qantas Points supplied by work to fly. But if you happen to hold points in other programs, there are many other sweet spots you could take advantage of.
Even if you can’t book Japan Airlines’ state-of-the-art Airbus A350 First Class, the Boeing 777 First Class is still worth considering with your frequent flyer points.
Check-in, lounge and boarding
After staying the night at the Hotel Villa Fontaine Grand, connected to Tokyo-Haneda Airport Terminal 3, it’s only a short walk to the Japan Airlines check-in counter.
First Class passengers enjoy a dedicated check-in area, so my bags are checked through in minutes. The agent also recommends I register for ‘Face Express’ at a nearby counter, cutting down on the wait for security.
(Since 24 January 2024, Japan Airlines has debuted an all-new first-class entrance with a sit-down check-in area and access to a priority security lane. It’s only open to Japan Airlines First Class passengers).
I know a culinary feast awaits onboard, so I stick to a relatively light breakfast in the Japan Airlines First Class Lounge, including sushi, a breakfast bento and Champagne.
At the gate, a group of school kids board first (what an exciting trip for them!) But soon after, Group 1 boarding is called, and I’m warmly invited to step on board.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class seating
Despite being a product that debuted when I was barely in high school, Japan Airlines First Class still does the basics well. On that front, it delivers a spacious footprint that’s noticeably roomier than Business Class.
Nicknamed the ‘JAL Suite’, each seat is 23″ (58 cm) wide and can transform into a fully flat bed of 199 cm long. In American terms, that’s 78.5″ or four windows long. There’s something regal about the armchair-like appearance of the suite – it looks like it was plucked out of a high-end furniture catalogue.
Where it falls short, understandably, is the undersized 23″ (58 cm) touchscreen, which has already expanded from the suite’s original 19″ (48 cm) screen at launch. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still perfectly fine to watch movies on, but I’ve been spoiled by the 4K UHD screen in ANA Boeing 777 Business Class.
An updated touch-enabled remote solves the very first-world problem of not being able to reach over to the main entertainment touchscreen because it’s, you know, so far away.
You’ll find eight First Class suites in a standard 1-2-1 layout. No seat is particularly better or worse than the other, but I choose 2K in the back corner. My only other neighbour is in 1A, so we barely notice each other on the flight.
Storage isn’t an issue in the JAL Suite. Immediately near my elbow is a deep storage bin. And when I later change into my cotton PJs, the crew carefully keep my day clothes hung up in the closet.
When it’s time to sleep off the food and Champagne coma, the seat folds down into a sizeable bed. At almost 84cm (33″) wide – with the armrests down – there’s plenty of wiggle room. A soft mattress pad completes the look.
While it’s not as plush as Qantas First Class bedding, I have absolutely no issues catching up on some uninterrupted sleep during the flight.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class food & beverage
I’ve had my fair share of fine dining in the skies, but Japan Airlines elevates it to a new level entirely in First Class. If you’re even just a moderately adventurous eater, go for the Japanese set menu.
Japan Airlines First Class food menu on my flight:
With only two passengers in First on this flight, the crew tempt me with the caviar course from the Western menu to start – I’m not passing that up! Then, it’s back to the Japanese menu.
What follows is a symphony of flavours across five courses. From the richness of the scallop in truffle sauce to the delicately sliced wagyu beef and sea urchin with another tin of caviar, almost every dish is a resounding hit. I say ‘almost’ because I’m not a fan of the conger eel dumplings, but everything else is fantastic.
With half a day of flying still to go, I carefully manage my appetite with a range of snacks of smaller meals from the menu. My picks include the Miyazaki Wagyu curry, JAL’s special chicken soba noodles and the ‘Sangenton’ pork cutlet sandwich. Finally, before landing, I can’t resist going for the Japanese set plate of grilled fish and seasonal fresh fruits.
Each of these dishes is excellently executed. Kudos to Japan Airlines for maintaining such an interesting onboard menu. The attention to detail, such as with the fruit plate, isn’t unnoticed by me.
I know there’s a lot more to wine than Champagne. But when that prized drop happens to be Salon 2013, one must pay attention. As the other gentleman in 1A wasn’t partaking in the bubbles, the responsibility of finishing the bottle (some $1,500 worth) fell to me. Tough gig, I know.
As Japan Airlines puts it, “Only you, JAL’s First Class passengers, can enjoy the privilege of savouring the highest quality Champagne “Salon” in the stratosphere.”
Japan Airlines First Class beverage menu on my flight:
Throughout the journey, I also sample the sakes – proactively served with dry seafood – and Ichiro’s Malt CHICHIBU Whisky from one of Japan’s smallest distilleries. But when I need to take a break from the alcohol, something else emerges as one of the most interesting drinks I’ve ever sipped.
JAL serves up premium Japanese tea in the form of ‘Queen of Blue deluxe’. Tea sommeliers are said to ‘painstakingly produce each bottle, one by one’ from ‘rare tea leaves which are picked once a year’. The cabin crew serve it in the style of wine, bottle and all. It’s a very pleasant break from the heavier drinks.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777 amenities & service
Here’s a new novelty for me in First Class: being offered self-heating eye masks. Such a simple and inexpensive gesture, but it’s a very thoughtful touch. The warmth around my eyes seems to alleviate some of the dryness from flying. I’m also a big fan of the 100% pyjamas that are mine to use onboard and keep afterwards.
JAL’s First Class amenity kit is equally decked out. It comes in two parts – one with a simple range of amenities one might need, and the other with a case of fancy Shiseido products (in male or female variants).
Over on the tech side of things, Japan Airlines performs well despite the aging inflight entertainment system. Firstly, the crew give me a Wi-Fi code that grants unlimited access for the full flight. Speeds are decent for inflight internet and I can switch between my phone and laptop.
A universal power plug in one of the compartments fits my vertical multi-port adapter, so running out of charge isn’t a concern. And for when I’m watching movies on the big screen, the audio quality is excellent with the provided Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
Service on this flight is nothing short of exceptional. As expected, the crew don’t engage too much beyond the formalities, but every touchpoint is handled well, including proactive drink recommendations. Another highlight is the crew setting up an adjacent suite into bed mode – without me asking – and hanging up my clothes after I’ve changed into the PJs.
Try out Japan Airlines First Class between Sydney and Tokyo with Qantas Points!
How to book this flight with points
Japan Airlines is swinging the Boeing 777 back to the Sydney-Tokyo route for a part of 2024, so there’s the opportunity to experience this First Class product from home soil.
As an Oneworld partner airline, you can use various programs to book this flight. Here’s what you would need with Qantas Points, American Airlines AAdvantage miles, British Airways Avios and Cathay Asia Miles from Sydney to Tokyo and Tokyo to London (what I flew).
Points needed for Sydney-Tokyo:
|Sydney-Tokyo (one-way including fees and charges)
|Avios (British Airways)
+ HKD 2,574
+ HKD 2,574
Points needed for Tokyo-London:
|Tokyo-London (one-way including fees and charges)
+ JPY 47,950
+ JPY 47,950
|Avios (British Airways)
+ HKD 2,537
+ HKD 2,537
Fees and taxes will vary. But for a one-way Sydney-Tokyo First Class reward seat, you’d expect to pay 129,300 Qantas Points + AU$103 one-way, per person. Taxes are generally higher originating from Japan and the UK.
If you have an American Express card with Membership Rewards points, consider converting them to Qatar Airways Avios and then transferring to British Airways to book online. You could also consider Asia Miles to save on points (both partners are 2 to 1). However, the fees and taxes payable are significantly higher on the Sydney-Tokyo route.
Japan Airlines absolutely nails the soft product (the onboard experience) in First Class. From decadent menus to thoughtful and high-quality amenities, my 14-hour flight feels effortless.
The only thing left to do is to upgrade the hard product (the seat). And since Japan Airlines has already introduced a snazzy, new First Class cabin onboard the Airbus A350-1000, the clock is ticking on the older Boeing 777s.
Photography by Brandon Loo, who travelled at Point Hacks’ expense.