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Flight Review: Japan Airlines First Class Tokyo to San Francisco

Last updated: January 12,2023
Originally Published: May 14,2020
by Jameson Lamie

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Let me be blunt: Japan Airlines puts the U.S. air carriers to shame.  And it will take a lot for them to ever top flying in Japan Airlines first class.  Keep reading and I’ll show you what the experience is like in this review.

But first… let me tell you how to book this kind of flight with travel credit cards.

How to Book Japan Airlines First Class With Points

Trans-pacific flights are a great way to get the most bang for your buck… or this case, bang for your points (lame joke, I know).  Since Japan Airlines is part of the Oneworld airlines alliance, you’ll want to focus on transferring points into one of the other partner airlines’ frequent flyer programs.  I’ll narrow it down to two.

  1. American Airlines: 80,000 AA miles each way – This is probably the most popular way to fly Japan Airlines’ first class.  Even if you don’t fly AA very often, American Airlines has TWO different credit cards with separate and unique credit card sign-up bonuses. You could easily sign up for both cards and quickly accumulate over 100k AA miles.
  2. Cathay Pacific:  120,000 Asia Miles each way – An alternate method is by transferring Citi and/or Amex points into Cathay Pacific’s frequent flyer program (known as “Asia Miles”).  Yes… I realize 120,000 miles is way more than 80,000 miles.  But since Cathay Pacific partners with TWO of the major credit card currencies, it presents a more flexible option compared to committing solely to AA miles.  In addition, since Citi and Amex cards have category spending bonuses, it is much easier to acquire Citi and Amex points through credit card spending compared to the AA credit cards. For example, the American Express Platinum Card earns 10x points on eligible purchases plus a lucrative 100,000 welcome bonus after spending $6,000 within six months of account opening.

It takes a bit of work, but you’ll be handsomely rewarded. A Tokyo-to-San Francisco flight like the one I took retails at almost $12,000! If banks want me to use their credit cards in exchange for a $12,000 flight, I’ll happily partake.

Japan Airlines First Class Flight Price

Japan Airlines First Class Lounge – Tokyo

I arrived at Tokyo’s Narita airport after my inbound business class flight from Bangkok. While the flight from Bangkok was in Japan Airlines business class, since I was flying in first class for my next flight, I was able to spend my three-hour layover in the Japan Airlines first-class lounge.

Some business class lounges can be jam-packed full of people.  However, this wasn’t the case at all in the Japan Airlines first-class lounge.  There was pleeeenty of space to spread out.

Japan Airlines First Class

There were also lots of outlets and USB plugs to charge all of your devices.  I took full advantage of the space and outlets to catch up on some work.

There were also showers that passengers could use to freshen up before their flight.  I should have taken advantage, but I instead was glued to my laptop. Yes, I regret not using the lounge shower.  Feeling refreshed before a long flight is one of the luxuries of flying in business or first class!

Lounge Food Selection

As you’d expect, there were multiples food options in the Japan Airlines first-class lounge.  From sushi (naturally) to spaghetti to veggie salads to croissants. The lounge had a handful of staff refreshing the food every 30 minutes or so, which was probably overkilling, but hey… it’s first-class.

Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Food

The lounge also featured a self-serve liquor bar with a handful of different Japanese whiskeys.  Just to spice things up, they had a bottle of Jack Daniels, too.

Liquor Bottle Japan Airlines First Class Lounge

I was able to catch up on some of my work and before I knew it, two hours had passed.  I grabbed a few more quick bites before heading to my departure gate.

Japan Airlines First Class Flight Review

After a nice layover at the Japan Airlines first class lounge, it was time to board.  The gate agent invited first-class passengers to board first, and I was happy to oblige.

The jetway to the airplane split into two different paths: one for first-class passengers and one for everyone else.

Japan Airlines First Class jetway sign

I thought an entrance exclusively for first-class passengers was slightly over-the-top at first. Do we have to be THAT special? But I realized having our own entrance was great because it meant we didn’t have an airplane full of people walking by as we settled into our seats.

Japan Airlines’ first class consisted of eight seats across two rows in a 1-2-1 layout.  Since I was flying solo, I took one of the window seats which provided a lot of privacy.

As soon as I sat down, the flight attendant introduced herself and offered a glass of champagne along with a hot towel.  Japan prides itself on its customer service, and this was a great first impression on the plane.

The flight attendant made sure to show me the label on the champagne bottle.

japan airlines first class pre-departure champagne

I wasn’t familiar with the Le Mesnil “Salon” so I looked up how much a bottle of this bubbly would usually cost.  My jaw hit the floor when I realized it retails at $500+!

Japan Airlines First Class champagne retail price

Needless to say, it was VERY drinkable.

Amenity Kit

Each seat came with an amenity kit with ETRO-branded toiletries.  I’ve found that in many amenity kits, there are a lot of “throwaway” items.  Once you have one eyeshade, you don’t need anymore, ya know? But Japan Airlines’ first-class had fantastic, high-quality amenities that are definitely keepers.

Japan Airlines first class amenity kit

The kit also came with a fancy face mask from Japanese luxury cosmetics brand Cle de Peau.

Japan Airlines first class face mask

I’ve worn a mask or two in my day, but this one looked ridiculously nice. The box, the presentation, the instructions… everything seemed top-notch.  After the bottle of champagne, I was curious to see how much a Cle de Peau mask might cost in stores.  I was surprised to learn that a six-pack costs $160.

Japan Airlines first class retail

Japan Airlines evidently isn’t sparing any expense for its first-class passengers.

The Seat/Inflight Entertainment

The Japan Airlines first-class seat was SUPER comfortable.  The seat had controls to allow it to tilt all the way back into a horizontal position for sleeping.  Pretty standard for business or first class.  But the seat also came buttons to control massage functions built into the seat.  It was a nice addition, though I really wish the massage would have been a bit stronger.

To help pass the time on the flight to San Fran, the seat also came with a big, 24″ TV screen.  The inflight entertainment system came loaded with a bunch of new release movies and a number of TV shows.  I couldn’t help myself and binge on a few episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

The seats also came with Bose noise-canceling headphones.  And I know what you’re thinking, but the answer is no – first-class passengers were NOT able to keep the Bose headphones.  After the champagne and luxury face mask, I wouldn’t have put it past Japan Airlines, though.

Japan Airlines First Class Food

One of the highlights of any premium cabin flying experience is always the food.  We’re all used to the boring plastic tray that airlines usually serve in the economy, so actually looking forward to the meals on an airline is among the best parts of flying in business or first class.

Japan Airlines had a variety of options, but I decided to go with the Japanese menu.  When in Rome, right?

Japan Airlines first class menu

If you’re like me and LOVE Japanese cuisine, this menu was a special treat.

The meal started off with an amuse-bouche paired with a glass of white wine.  Nothing overly fancy – some olives and a small finger sandwich, but it was a nice touch.

Japan Airlines first class amuse bouche
Japan Airlines first class menu delicacies

Shortly after the amuse bouche came the “five delicacies” course.  Yes, that is caviar.  All five delicacies were delicious, but the blowfish was my favorite in particular.

Next came the crab with salmon roe and sea urchin.  I pity anyone who goes to Japan and doesn’t like seafood. 

Japan Airlines first class meal
Japan Airlines first class wagyu beef

And last but not least… the Japanese wagyu beef.  Can I really have a meal this good on an airplane?? 

Lie-Flat Seat/Bed

After the multi-course dinner and a few more wine tastings (the flight attendant didn’t allow empty glasses), it was time for me to catch some sleep.  Another perk of Japan Airlines’ first class is the first-class pajamas.  They were soft and supremely cozy.  And yes, we were able to keep them  Probably my favorite souvenir of the trip!

Japan Airlines first class pajamas

I also tried out the fancy Japanese face mask that came in the amenity kit. It may look a little funny, but even after a day of travel, my face was totally moisturized.  I laughed when I saw the face mask at first, but it really did come in handy. I pushed the button to convert my seat into a lie-flat bed, and then I broke out the pillows and blanket.  The blanket was actually a duvet, and either it was brand new or they put some Japanese magic in the detergent.  It felt very clean.  You know how you have those scratchy blankets in economy class and you’re not sure when the last time it was actually washed? Yeah, I had the completely opposite feeling about this duvet.

Japan airlines first class face mask

Overall… I slept like a baby. It was easily the best sleep I’ve ever gotten on a plane.  The cabin was quiet and I felt like I was the only passenger on the entire plane while I was dozing off in the privacy of my first-class suite.

The next morning, I kicked my feet up while watching a few more shows before arriving in San Francisco.

Japan airlines first class bed


The bottom line is I would highly recommend flying in Japan Airlines first class. If you want to score premium flights like these, you can sign up for our travel concierge to get unlimited credit card and award booking assistance for one whole year.

But going back, the highlight of the flight was the service.  Service is consistently excellent in Japan, but this took it to a whole new level.  My flight attendant addressed me by name every time she spoke to me, she was sweet and genuine, and she never let my wine glass go below 1/3 full.  And she did everything with such sincerity.

That level of service is what flight attendants should aspire to… she was that impressive!

Another highlight was the food. It was truly a fine dining experience and unlike anything, most people experience on a long-haul flight.  For seafood food lovers and adventurous eaters, I’d definitely suggest the Japanese menu.  It’s not ramen and sushi; it’s a curated meal of Japanese dishes you won’t find at your average Japanese restaurant in the United States!

This may have been my first flight in Japan Airlines first class, but I certainly don’t intend it to be my last 🙂

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