Many travelers consider Japan Airlines’ first class cabin among the best in the world. Its open suites don’t have doors — and yet they feel exceptionally private. The seat is very spacious and feels as if it’s been designed to conform to the contours of your body. The gastronomical marvels prepared by the hand-picked celebrity chefs will make you forget you’re eating on an airplane.

Of course, all this goodness doesn’t come cheap. A Japan Airlines first class ticket costs thousands of dollars. But there are still ways to get a slice of the good life even if you travel on a budget, especially if you fly out of one of the 11 U.S. destinations JAL serves:

  • Los Angeles.

  • San Diego.

  • San Francisco.

  • Kona, Hawaii.

Here’s what you need to know about Japan Airlines’ first class experience.

What to expect flying Japan Airlines first class

  • Baggage allowance. Your first three pieces of checked luggage (32 kilograms or about 70 pounds each) are complimentary.

  • Boarding. Japan Airlines first class passengers board in Group 1, together with JMB Diamond, JGC Premier and Oneworld Priority Emerald members.

  • Lounges. Japan Airlines operates first class lounges in both Tokyo airports: Narita and Haneda. In the U.S., Japan Airlines offers access to its Sakura business class lounges or to Oneworld lounges or contracted lounges where available.

  • Seats and food. JAL first class suites aren’t as spectacular as Singapore’s or Etihad’s, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Japan Airlines first class review that doesn’t rave about the quality of the seats, food and service. They’re consistently top-notch.

How to book a JAL first class ticket

The easiest way to book a Japan Airlines first class seat is with the airline’s own frequent flyer program, Japan Airlines Mileage Bank.

A first-class ticket to Japan will cost you the following each way depending on your departure location:

  • Continental U.S. – 70,000 miles.

  • Guam – 36,000 miles.

  • Hawaii – 50,000 miles.

Finding a first class award ticket might not be easy. In many cases, Japan Airlines allows you to get on a waitlist, but it may or may not clear by the time you fly.

Unfortunately, the search engine doesn’t initially let you see which dates are the waitlist dates. You may have to click and click until you find the date with availability.

However, there is a little trick that will help you find your coveted first class ticket. After logging on to the JMB homepage do the following:

  • Go to the “Redeem your miles” section and click “JAL Group Airlines Award Tickets.”

  • On the next page click J”AL International Award Ticket.”

  • Enter your travel information (don’t forget to choose first class) and click “Search.”

When you arrive at the page that looks like this, it appears there is availability for every date.

Unfortunately, there isn’t. In fact, most dates here are wait-listed, which you can see when you look at the flights under the tab for each date.

Instead of clicking on every date and getting more frustrated with each click, scroll down the page and click “Go to calendar.”

In the calendar view, you can see a wider range of dates with the waitlist options clearly marked. In the example below, there is only one date available for actual booking (Oct. 4). If it works for you, redeem your miles and start getting excited about your upcoming flight.

Ways to get good value

Book Japan Airlines first class with miles from other airlines

The JAL first class award levels are quite reasonable, but earning enough Japan Mileage Bank miles to pay for a seat can be difficult if you don’t fly JAL a lot. You have a few other options. You can transfer points from Marriott Bonvoy to Japan Mileage Bank at a 3:1 ratio, plus you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus (so 25,000 miles total) for every 60,000 points you transfer. If you go down this route you’ll need 180,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (getting you 75,000 JAL miles) to buy a one-way first-class ticket to Japan, which is a bit pricey.

Fortunately, JAL has several airline partners, so you can book your JAL flight using miles from other airlines. Here are two best options.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska is a JAL partner, so you can book your flight with Alaska Mileage Plan miles. It will cost you 70,000 miles per one-way flight between the U.S. and Japan, the same as with Japan Mileage Bank miles.

American Airlines

Take advantage of JAL’s generous stopover policy

Japan Mileage Bank has one of the best stopover policies in the airline industry, offering up to three complimentary stopovers on the JMB Partner Airline Award and even more through the Oneworld Alliance. This allows you to see more locations on the same airline ticket, for the same price.

Consider a connecting flight

Sometimes it’s hard to find a nonstop first class flight when you’re paying with miles. Though nothing is as convenient as traveling nonstop from your hometown, when those flights aren’t available, you might have better luck finding award space to your destination from other places.

Sample the cuisine JAL does best

Some of the chefs who create meals for the first class cabin have been trained in Western cuisine. But the best way to get the most from your experience is to select the outstanding Japanese specialties available in first class.

If you’re considering Japan Airlines first class

The Japan Airlines first class cabin might not be as fancy as Emirates, or as spacious as Etihad’s, but it offers a super-comfortable chair/bed, impeccable service and food that’s top-notch. The 70,000-mile price for flying between the continental U.S. and Japan is reasonable, but Japan Mileage Bank miles might be hard to come by. Fortunately, you can also redeem your JAL first-class award ticket using miles from JAL partner airlines, such as American or Alaska.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

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