What's it like to fly ANA First Class from Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles?
I'd call it amusing. As business class improves industrywide -- ANA's business product on the Boeing 777 features flat beds and direct-aisle access, just like first class - it becomes harder for carriers to sell first class. So to make first class passengers feel as if they're getting value above business class, airlines like ANA offer over-the-top service.
ANA's shtick is lovely. Does anyone need caviar service on a nine-hour flight? Or turn-down service? Or ridiculous pajamas? Of course not. But business class doesn't get that stuff, so it makes you feel you are getting some value up front. (This is part of the strategy behind Qantas' recent move to give some first class passengers virtual reality headsets.)
I flew ANA in late January on an award ticket using a strategy developed by Ben Schlappig, who runs the blog One Mile At a Time. I bought 75,000 frequent flier miles from South American carrier Avianca, which, like ANA is a Star Alliance member. Avianca, perhaps short on cash, periodically sells its miles for cheap rates, and they're redeemable on most Star Alliance airlines. The strategy is a bit convoluted, and the Avianca program is not as generous as it once was, so you'll want to read Ben's site for details.
My first class journey wasn't as cheap as coach. But it was considerably cheaper than the least expensive business class ticket.
Here are some of my impressions of the flight.
And finally. Above, a photo gallery of my dinner on the flight. To advance to the next picture, just click on the photo. You'll be pleased to know I had the caviar course, even though I skipped the expensive champagne. Sometimes you just want a Sapporo.
FINAL VERDICT: I know this could bother some regular first class fliers, but I'm not sure I get the point of first class. So many of the extras are ridiculous and unnecessary. It's the type of thing you probably want to do once, maybe with miles, just so you can say you've had the experience. On most carriers, business class gets the job nearly as well.