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At the end of last month’s 10-day trip to Asia, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig flew home in Japan Airlines’ new 777-300ER business-class Sky Suite, which he booked using 50,000 American AAdvantage miles.
After a fantastic three-day stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, I was bummed to be leaving Japan, but perhaps just as excited to be flying JAL’s new Sky Suite business class all the way home to JFK. I had heard great things about the product, so my expectations were extraordinarily high. At just 50,000 AAdvantage miles, the flight was an even bigger steal than my 40,000 Delta redemption from Bali to Tokyo — at that rate, I would have even been willing to travel home in JAL’s angle-flat Dreamliner, so the airline’s new business suite was definitely a treat.
Booking JAL Business Class
I booked this business-class flight for just 50,000 American AAdvantage miles, which I earned from the sign-up bonus on my Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard. AA requires 50,000 miles each way if you’re flying to Japan or Korea, or 55,000 miles if you’re connecting to another country in Asia. First class, by comparison, requires 62,500 miles to Japan or Korea, or 67,500 miles to Hong Kong, Thailand and other Asian destinations. If you’re paying cash, expect to shell out $5,500 or more for the round-trip flight from New York to Tokyo, or even more for a one-way.
If you’re looking to book with miles, you can either search for open seats using British Airways’ site or through JAL’s own website. Then, once you find dates that work for you, call AA at 800-882-8880 to book using your miles. Availability can be hit or miss; in the past, JAL has had months of business and first-class availability at a time, but more often than not, premium-cabin seats can be tough to come by — especially on the airline’s two flights from New York.
Both of the daily New York flights now operate with JAL’s latest business-class Sky Suite. Note that the 777 has a first-class cabin and Wi-Fi, while the 787 does not. Also, many of JAL’s Dreamliners flying to other US cities still feature a crappy angle-flat product, which you’ll probably want to avoid.
Airport and Lounge
Japan Airlines’ international flights depart from NRT’s Terminal 2, along with flights operated by other oneworld carriers. There are dedicated check-in areas for business and first-class passengers — oneworld elites also have access. There wasn’t a line for either area.
The airline offers a premium security checkpoint for first class and oneworld Emerald passengers, though business passengers don’t have access (unless they’re also elites). Once you’re through security and immigration, the entrance to the first-class and Sakura lounges is just ahead.
My mom and sister were traveling in first class, so I was able to join them in the first-class lounge. Unfortunately, the lounge was PACKED. We were able to find seats together since we arrived early, but within a half-hour or so, nearly all of the seats were occupied. Note that all oneworld Emerald elites can access the first-class lounge, even if they’re traveling in business or coach.
The first-class had a sushi bar with phenomenal sushi. I went back several times, despite the long line.
Wi-Fi performance was quite possibly the best I’ve ever had in an airport. You shouldn’t have any problem catching up on work or downloading movies before your flight.
The Sakura lounge, which is open to all business and first-class passengers, is much larger (and less crowded). It spans two levels, and you enter through the lower floor.
I visited during breakfast, and the Sakura lounge was serving eggs, breakfast meats, potatoes and a few Japanese options. Unfortunately, there isn’t a sushi bar in the Sakura lounge.
There’s a decent selection of liquor to choose from, though, including sake and shochu.
And, as you’ll find in any Narita lounge, there were a couple of beer dispensers. JAL keeps beer glasses in the fridge, so they’re nice and cold.
As I discovered just before my flight, there’s another (much smaller) Sakura lounge around the corner with a separate entrance. I’d stick to the main lounge, though.
Then, just down the hall, there’s a large AA Admirals Club. If you have access to the Sakura lounge, you can visit the Admirals Club, too.
The Admirals Club had a similar selection of beverages.
There was also the same Japanese and western breakfast spread, including miso soup, rice and a small salad bar.
Perhaps the best thing about the Admirals Club was the fantastic airport views. Unless you have a lot of time to kill, I’d stick to the Sakura lounge.
JAL’s 777-300ER Sky Suite Cabin
Boarding began right on time, starting with passengers requiring assistance, then first-class passengers, business-class and oneworld elites, and then premium-economy and coach passengers. I boarded with my mom and sister, who were traveling in first class.
I selected seat 7K, which is a bulkhead window seat in the main cabin. I was hoping to get either 5A or 5K in the mini-cabin, but only a middle seat (5E) was open during check-in. Ultimately, each seat has a ton of privacy, so it doesn’t really matter which cabin you choose.
JAL’s 777-300ER consists of 49 business-class Sky Suites, spread between two cabins. The forward mini-cabin, located just behind first class, has just five seats — and naturally, these are the most popular.
Most window seats have three windows, which is fantastic for a business-class product. Since seats are staggered, you’ll either be sitting a few inches ahead or behind of the next person over.
The main business-class cabin feels quite large, even though there are just six rows of seats.
I only saw two business-class lavatories, though there may have been more. Both were very small, but fortunately there was rarely a wait — which is surprising, given how many passengers share them.
As you’ll find on ANA as well, each bathroom has a Japanese-style toilet.
I was very happy with my seat, 7K, which was located at the very front of the business-class cabin. All window seats appeared to be more or less identical; since all seats have aisle access, I would always select a window seat, unless you’re traveling with a companion.
While window and middle seats are very private, aisle seats are exposed to the aisle for the entire flight.
Even with the partition down, I never saw more than my neighbor’s hands.
As with pretty much every long-haul aircraft these days, each seat had a universal power outlet and a USB port.
The seat controls were simple and responsive, though some of the smaller buttons are a bit difficult to press.
The suite feels quite cozy when the partition is up — this could make some people feel claustrophobic, but I didn’t mind.
At your request, flight attendants will install the airweave mattress pad, which helps to make JAL’s business seat perhaps the most comfortable I’ve experienced for sleeping.
There was a pillow and blanket waiting at each seat when we boarded.
Along with a Tumi amenity kit, slippers and sealed noise-canceling headphones. As you can see above, there’s enough room below the ottoman for a large backpack, but a larger rolling carry-on won’t fit.
The Tumi pouch itself was excellent, as were the slippers. JAL’s Sony noise-canceling headphones aren’t quite as nice as the Bose headphones you’ll receive on AA, but at least the flight attendants didn’t come by to collect them an hour before landing.
While the Tumi pouch was quite nice, the contents were underwhelming, aside from the Tumi-branded eye mask. JAL keeps toothbrushes in the lavatory, as well.
Before takeoff, a flight attendant came by to offer me a cardigan, though she didn’t ask my size. Even though it was a “large,” it ended up being far too small.
Each seat has a huge 23-inch screen — the same size JAL has in the much larger first-class suites. It was fairly sharp, though the glossy finish meant there was a lot of glare whenever the window was open. JAL offers a decent selection of recent Hollywood flicks, but there are very few TV shows to choose from. Oddly, it’s apparently impossible to turn off the Japanese subtitles if you’re watching English-language programming.
You can select programming either by touching the screen (if you can reach it) or by tapping the touchscreen remote, which is very similar to the controllers found on Etihad’s A380 and United’s 787-9.
The controller isn’t the easiest to use, unfortunately — as you might have gathered from the huge fold-out guide.
One nice perk is that you can keep an eye on the moving map on the controller while you watch something else on the main screen.
Unfortunately, the main screen’s own moving map didn’t always work as well.
JAL has the controller installed in such a way that it’s easily accessible while in its holder, but it’s definitely easier to use if you pull it out.
JAL is slowly rolling out satellite Wi-Fi, starting with its 777-300ER. Fortunately, our plane was connected. You can currently find Internet on the routes listed above.
You’ll pay $18.80 for a flight pass, which is fairly decent, especially if you’re traveling 12+ hours to New York.
The Wi-Fi was usable, but hardly fantastic. The performance was actually fairly poor while we flew over Japan. Fortunately, things sped up quite a bit as we approached Alaska.
If Internet connectivity is critical, note that the Wi-Fi dropped out a few times during the flight, so I wouldn’t plan on getting a full day’s work done.
After the main meal, the IFE enables you to order drinks and snacks via touchscreen, using the TV controller. I found that beverages would be delivered within a minute or two of ordering, while snacks took 5-10 minutes to prepare.
Food and Beverage
Finally, on to the food. A flight attendant came by with a hotel towel shortly after boarding.
Then, a glass of Champagne followed a moment or two later. JAL serves Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, which retails for about $50 on the ground. It tasted fine, but it’s no Dom or Krug. JAL also offers a variety of spirits, including Japanese and American whiskey, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Absolut Vodka and Baileys Irish Cream.
After takeoff, I had a small bottle of Toyo Bijin Junmai Ginjo sake, which was excellent. I also ordered a glass of JAL’s “Sky Time Kiwi” original drink. That was served with an amuse-bouche of asparagus and string beans with foie gras sauce and a small dish of fried potatoes with chile. JAL’s has branded its in-flight product as B.E.D.D. — Bed, Dining, Delicious and Dream.
Since I ordered the Japanese meal, I was served nine small chilled appetizers. From left to right (starting in the top row), they were foie gras with apple, poached scallop and millet cake, sea bream with yam, crabmeat with mushroom, tofu, barracuda sushi, roaster duck and eggplant, grilled halibut, and simmered prawn with fried taro. While I didn’t love everything, I didn’t see any downside to ordering the Japanese meal, given the huge selection of snacks.
For the entree, I had grilled chicken with miso chicken. That was served with Japanese pickles, miso soup and steamed rice. Western options included a wagyu steak or sesame-crusted sea bream. If you’re a vegetarian, be sure to order your meal in advance!
After the meal, I used my touchscreen remote to order my first snack — Dean and DeLuca vanilla ice cream — which was delicious.
A few hours later, I tried the tandoori chicken salad and the salmon and salmon egg rice bowl. Both were fine, but the chicken and fish tasted a bit dried out.
Later in the flight, I ordered a ramen soup, which wasn’t nearly as good as those I’ve had in Tokyo or New York.
Then, shortly before the second main meal, I ordered fresh fruit with a second container of ice cream.
JAL also has a selection of snacks and wine on display, though aside from a piece of chocolate, I didn’t find anything I wanted to eat there.
Prior to landing, I had the second Japanese set meal, which was served all at once and consisted of a wagyu beef roll, leeks, clear soup with mushrooms, steam rice and Japanese pickles. I also requested a glass of Diet Coke. The western option, meanwhile, included a lettuce salad with scallop and mushroom sauce. I think I made the right choice.
At just 50,000 AAdvantage miles (plus a few dollars in taxes), it’s hard to complain about JAL’s new business class. The seat, while a bit cramped, was very private, the in-flight entertainment system was great, the food was decent and there was Wi-Fi.
Ultimately, I much preferred my flight in ANA first class from earlier this year, which includes a similar (though much larger) suite design, but at 110,000 United miles each way, you’ll shell out more than twice the number of miles for the same route. TPG, meanwhile, loved JAL’s first class, and while my mom and sister found the service and catering a bit underwhelming compared to Cathay Pacific, they did seem to enjoy JAL first.
At just 50,000 AAdvantage miles for business or 62,500 miles for first, JAL’s 777-300ER is a no-brainer. It might be a harder sell following a major AA devaluation, but for now, this redemption is tough to beat.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||15.74% (Variable)||$450||0%||Excellent Credit|