first class

Travel Report: Using Airline Miles to Get to and from Bangkok in Style and Comfort on JAL

MTGB sometimes works with our customers to provide helpful travel information to others. In this case, a flight report and frequent flier miles tip from our customer, Paul. Thanks, Paul!

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Thailand is obviously pretty far from the U.S. and Europe so what better use of frequent flier miles than to treat yourself to business or first class flights for the 15+ hour journey? One of the best redemptions out there is Alaska Airlines partner deal with Cathay Pacific. For just 42.5k (from Europe) or 50k (from U.S.) Alaska Mileage Plan miles (plus a minimal amount in taxes) you can fly through Hong Kong and then onwards to Bangkok in Cathay's really nice business class. You can even plan a multi-day stopover in Hong Kong for no extra cost. It’s a great deal and certainly one of many reasons to sign up for Alaska’s generous program, even if you don’t fly on their metal.

In this case, I needed to get back to Chicago from Bangkok (after flying over on Qatar Airlines in a Q-Suite, which was quite nice) so I went ahead and booked flights for September 17th and eagerly awaited my departure. Well, at least that was the idea, until Super Typhoon Mangkhut stepped in and scuttled those plans a couple days before departure. Instead, I had to cancel the Cathay flights (they allowed refunds and cancellations, etc. due to the severe weather) and make last-minute use of another great-value points redemption with Alaska Mileage Plan: flying with Japan Airlines through Tokyo. One-way JAL business class flights from BKK to ORD (via Tokyo NRT) run 65k Mileage Plan points but more interestingly, the same JAL flights in first (well, in this case, business to Tokyo then first to Chicago) run just 75k Mileage Plan points. Kind of a no-brainer to spend the additional 10k points to fly in first class for 12 hours, right? So here we go!

I arrived at Suvarnabhumi about 90 minutes before the scheduled 11:30pm departure. The business class line in check-in row R was completely empty so it was a quick process checking my bags and self onto the flight. They provided directions to the JAL lounge along with a pass for the priority immigration line, which was also extremely quiet and quick. The whole process ended up taking like 10 minutes in total which allowed for some time to chill and not be rushed. I checked out the JAL lounge which is nice for BKK (all the lounges here leave something to be desired, frankly) but really nothing to get all that excited about. A few bits of hot and cold food, some soft drink and booze, some snacks, and an okay view of planes isn’t a bad way to chill before your flight. Turns out there are several overnight flights that depart BKK for Japan at this late hour so the lounge was actually rather full.

The unremarkable but fine JAL business class lounge at BKK, if you have a night flight though, do make sure you grab a snack before you leave as you get basically nothing on the plane until right before you land in Tokyo!

The unremarkable but fine JAL business class lounge at BKK, if you have a night flight though, do make sure you grab a snack before you leave as you get basically nothing on the plane until right before you land in Tokyo!

Settling into the JAL Business Class Sky Suite seat 8D with my swanky and comfy JAL-provided slippers

Settling into the JAL Business Class Sky Suite seat 8D with my swanky and comfy JAL-provided slippers

Flight JL718 boarded about 30 minutes late due to “preparation delays” but loaded up quickly though the business class cabin was chock full. Unable to select a seat online for this leg of the journey, I was assigned seat 8D on the 787-8: a middle aisle seat, which isn’t ideal (window seats are my preferred option in JAL business as they are super private and quiet) but for a 5 some-odd hour overnight flight was fine. The new-ish JAL Sky Suites in business class are cool and modern with a huge infotainment screen and comfy lie-flat cloth seat. The only drawback is that the suite can be slightly narrow-feeling and it’s sorta hard to stretch out properly. Overall though, it’s fine and certainly a major step up from economy or premium economy. The thing though that was surprisingly really not good on this flight was the food. The only things offered were a drink and a couple bites of sushi and/or nuts about 30 minutes after take-off and then what might be the worst breakfast I’ve had in a long time about 90 minutes before landing. That was it for business class meal service on a 5 hour flight... Granted it was an overnight flight but there was no on-demand food available, I mean nothing. Even the “bar” area between the cabins just had the same packets of nuts and that was it. A big disappointment that made me glad I got a small snack in the lounge before we left, otherwise I would have had a grumbling tummy and no one likes it when I’m hangry, especially me.

Sushi and/or nuts was served about 30 minutes after take-off, the full extent of any food offered on the flight before breakfast. I maximized what I could with the addition of some okay Charles Heidsieck champagne.

Sushi and/or nuts was served about 30 minutes after take-off, the full extent of any food offered on the flight before breakfast. I maximized what I could with the addition of some okay Charles Heidsieck champagne.

The breakfast was BAAAD. The salad was fine but the rest…yikes. Tasteless fruit, lukewarm eggs with nasty sausage, a croissant still a bit frozen in the middle. It’s like they tried to make stereotypical “bad plane food”. Very disappointing, especially in business, and especially on JAL.

The breakfast was BAAAD. The salad was fine but the rest…yikes. Tasteless fruit, lukewarm eggs with nasty sausage, a croissant still a bit frozen in the middle. It’s like they tried to make stereotypical “bad plane food”. Very disappointing, especially in business, and especially on JAL.

The flight landed about 20 minutes late with no issues and soon I was navigating my way to the JAL First Class lounge near gate 61. I had about 90 minutes to kill and was excited to try out the renown handmade sushi offered therein. I decided to avail myself to one of the complimentary shower rooms upon arrival and have a quick freshen up which was quite nice and civilized. Plus, using the bidet/washlet on proper Japanese toilets is always a treat for my western bottom. Ablutions complete, I headed over and enjoyed some quite good sushi and a few other snacks while reading the paper and waiting for what I was really stoked for — the 12-hour flight in the front…or “way front” to turn a phrase.

Very tasty and fresh hand-made sushi in the JAL First Class lounge at NRT

Very tasty and fresh hand-made sushi in the JAL First Class lounge at NRT

Some of the many offerings in the JAL First Class lounge at NRT

Some of the many offerings in the JAL First Class lounge at NRT

Flight JL10 boarded precisely on time for our 10:50am departure. Upon arriving in the 777-300ER’s first class cabin I was greeted by name and shown to my seat by an ever cheerful and friendly attendant. Service across the board was superb and perhaps even more attentive than usual given the eight-seat cabin only had four occupants including myself for this flight. I’ll let the pictures and captions below do most of the talking but the service, food, amenities, and the seat: everything was pretty perfect. I tend to never be able sleep on planes but managed a solid 5 hours which was really appreciated. It was a strange feeling that after a ~12 hour flight, I didn’t want it to end!

Super comfy “arm chair” style lie-flat recliner in JAL First Class. Loads of storage compartments everywhere too which was nice.

Super comfy “arm chair” style lie-flat recliner in JAL First Class. Loads of storage compartments everywhere too which was nice.

Tons of space and a very large infotainment screen in JAL First Class. With this design, you can also have a companion join you for meals if you’d like.

Tons of space and a very large infotainment screen in JAL First Class. With this design, you can also have a companion join you for meals if you’d like.

Seat 2G across the aisle happened to be empty so the attendant offered to make it up as my bed… Talk about nice service as well as being spoiled for space with the 6.5 foot length and nearly three foot width!

Seat 2G across the aisle happened to be empty so the attendant offered to make it up as my bed… Talk about nice service as well as being spoiled for space with the 6.5 foot length and nearly three foot width!

All airlines should offer premium cabin passengers complimentary wi-fi. JAL does in First Class which was appreciated, and the connection speeds were not too shabby… Even managed a brief novelty “I’m on a plane!” Facetime chat for a minute or two.

All airlines should offer premium cabin passengers complimentary wi-fi. JAL does in First Class which was appreciated, and the connection speeds were not too shabby… Even managed a brief novelty “I’m on a plane!” Facetime chat for a minute or two.

A swanky Etro branded amenity kit loaded with a ton of toiletries including a moisture mask… Also provided were some slippers and some  awesome , comfy pajamas that you may take home with you (forgot to get a picture).

A swanky Etro branded amenity kit loaded with a ton of toiletries including a moisture mask… Also provided were some slippers and some awesome, comfy pajamas that you may take home with you (forgot to get a picture).

A very nice touch (though I didn’t open it on the flight rather have used it at home since) of a Shiseido men’s skin care kit

A very nice touch (though I didn’t open it on the flight rather have used it at home since) of a Shiseido men’s skin care kit

When flying in First Class, it’s basically compulsory to drink champagne…especially on JAL where they offer Cristal (2009 Louis Roederer Cristal to be precise) which retails for about $250 a bottle on the ground. The amuses bouches were nice, too

When flying in First Class, it’s basically compulsory to drink champagne…especially on JAL where they offer Cristal (2009 Louis Roederer Cristal to be precise) which retails for about $250 a bottle on the ground. The amuses bouches were nice, too

While a Japanese menu was available and looked great, I selected the Western options. The appetizer course was rillettes which was a nice surprise as I grew up with French-Canadian grandparents so rillettes (and creton) were around a lot and are one of my favorites. Well these rillettes were certainly the best I’ve ever had!

While a Japanese menu was available and looked great, I selected the Western options. The appetizer course was rillettes which was a nice surprise as I grew up with French-Canadian grandparents so rillettes (and creton) were around a lot and are one of my favorites. Well these rillettes were certainly the best I’ve ever had!

The caviar course was obviously quite an indulgent treat especially when paired with the Cristal… It was also kind of fun to work out how to assemble the egg yolk cream, caviar, and wafers.

The caviar course was obviously quite an indulgent treat especially when paired with the Cristal… It was also kind of fun to work out how to assemble the egg yolk cream, caviar, and wafers.

The presentation was a bit lacking but this Wagyu beef filet with mushrooms and potatoes Dauphinoise was stellar. Paired with a nice 2013 Burgundy…near perfection for a meal on a plane. This may be the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten in the air (neck and neck with another Wagyu beef dish in business earlier in the year).

The presentation was a bit lacking but this Wagyu beef filet with mushrooms and potatoes Dauphinoise was stellar. Paired with a nice 2013 Burgundy…near perfection for a meal on a plane. This may be the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten in the air (neck and neck with another Wagyu beef dish in business earlier in the year).

The dine-on-demand options were quite varied and I tried a few… These chicken, beef, and omelette brochettes were pretty tasty.

The dine-on-demand options were quite varied and I tried a few… These chicken, beef, and omelette brochettes were pretty tasty.

The dine-on-demand sweet options were a bit limited (booo says this fatty with a sweet tooth) but what they did have — a fruit savarin and a black sesame mousse — was yummy.

The dine-on-demand sweet options were a bit limited (booo says this fatty with a sweet tooth) but what they did have — a fruit savarin and a black sesame mousse — was yummy.

Thanks for ruining even business class for me now, Japan Airlines… But thanks to the awesome Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan redemption there’s a better than average chance I’ll be flying in the “way front” with you again sooner than later! Best get saving up those miles…