Japanese Airline ANA’s Disappearing First Class Awards

Star Alliance member ANA, a United Airlines partner, has offered one of the world’s best first class products for a long time – and it has kept getting better. Often underrated compared to Emirates, Air France and others, their new “The Suite” seat is outstanding; service is among the best in the world albeit tending towards Japanese formality; and the catering truly hard to beat, if not as varied as it once was.

First class award seats went from almost always available to difficult to get when they moved from 12 SuperStyle seats to 8 seats in New First. There have been three new primary first class seats since my last SuperStyle fully open lie flat trip in 2006.

Historically first class awards have been tough to get in summer, easy to get in winter. And first class awards have been harder from the West Coast than the East Coast. Chicago and Houston flights have been easier still than New York, and Washington Dulles has moved back and forth in degree of difficulty.

Since the start of the pandemic the trend has been to release only a single first class award seat in advance, though close-in availability has been much better.

Now we’re seeing a huge resurgence of travel in and out of Japan, and that’s made award seats difficult to get. Harder still is premium cabin award space between Japan and the rest of Asia which has opened more recently than the United States. High demand has led the airline to be conservative about releasing award space, and of course schedules haven’t fully recovered. Projections of demand exceed supply, even if that doesn’t always wind up being the case on a given flight.

First class awards are even harder as the number of routes with first class has dwindled. It’s still available on New York and Chicago routes. However it’s gone from Washington Dulles. Los Angeles is switching to Boeing 787-9 service with business as the top cabin in a couple of months. And already we’ve seen aircraft without first class servicing San Francisco; Seattle; San Jose; and Houston (the last trip I took in ANA first class was in and out of Houston before the pandemic).

In terms of U.S. service, ANA does serve Tokyo Narita and Haneda – Honolulu, the former with an Airbus A380 that offers first class, though that’s not a route I generally see first class award space on.

ANA awards have long been the single best use of Virgin Atlantic miles, one of the opportunities that takes that currency from being the world’s least valuable to one offering some of the best sweet spots. And their business class awards are still an incredible value. But if you’re looking for multiple first class awards on ANA it’s increasingly become a unicorn if trying to book in advance.

You need to search New York JFK and Chicago O’Hare – Chicago especially – and do so aggressively. And we need to hope that as travel normalizes, first class remains on these routes, and available reverts to pre-pandemic patterns as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary – I’d love to see the old Super Suite report for old time’s sake, but it seems that there’s no photos on it anymore! Any chance that can be fixed?

  2. Not sure why the fascination w first class in long haul going away. Business is fine for all commercial aircraft and is better than “First Class” was 20 years ago. Business, Premium Economy and Coach are basically the First, Business and Coach of years past. That is the best overall product offering for all airlines from a financial standpoint. If you want something beyond Business fly private – easy answer.

  3. Had two first awards in May 2020. Rebooked to two business seats in May 2021. Haven’t found anything since.

  4. It’s not just the premium cabin. I’ve been checking Jan 2024 in the last couple days, there are barely any seats from NYC to TYO, even in economy.

    That being said, booking economy thru ANA award right now is very unwise choice — last time I checked, surcharge is about 10,000 YEN. With the current exchange rate, it’s over $700 dollars. Cash ticket can be found at around $1500. You really aren’t saving much if your credit card lets you book with points (unlike late 2021, when a cash econ ticket went as high as $1900 and the surcharge was under $300).

  5. It’s not just first class. ANA is usually only offering 1 biz class tickets. And with Virgin only enabling you to book ANA from 331 days, booking them through ANA direct or someone such Air Canada becomes the only real way to get a ticket, as they’re all gone if you wait until 331 days out. In a similar way, I’ve noticed JAL only releasing a single first class ticket too.

  6. ANA has completely dropped the ball on cistomer service. They cannot ever be reached by phone, they no longer have any walk in offices and there is no other way to reach them. If you need a change, the website works only sometimes. In my case, it did not work at all. So, I have to flush the money down the toilet. A once great airline, reduced in stature over hunger for more profit. Shame on them.

  7. I can’t even find non-waitlisted BUSINESS class availability through ANA from Honolulu for the rest of 2023. And almost the same for just premium economy.

    I feel like it will remain this way a minimum until revenge travel has been tampered down a bit.

  8. Thanks for the post, Gary. I’ve been desperately waiting for ANA to publish a new schedule that includes F class from LAX after March. Those hopes are fading. My bigger question is what’s going on with all their 777300ERs? I scraped all the routes that (pre-pandemic) had F class and from March ’23 I only see four routes flying that aircraft:

    -JFKHND (New F class)
    -LHRHND (New F class)
    -ORDNRT (Old F class)
    -ORDHND (Old F class)
    (No first class at all for LAX, SFO, FRA, IAH, IAD)

    This means that they’ve scheduled only eight 777300ERs (four routes times two craft per route) through the end of the year. They have a total of 24 of that craft…where are the other 16 of them? Flying other routes not listed above? Or, gasp, in the desert?

    So sad. I love ANA F. Hope it comes back to LAX.

  9. I knew in 2021 that that would likely be the only chance to ever again get 2 F seats w/ VS miles jfk-hnd and back and so far that seems to have been the right instinct.

    JAL on the other hand is releasing lots of space close in which is surprising to me.

  10. I can’t book business class out of SFO after many many times looking and checking. Even economy class is booked for award flights. Frankly, ANA is completely failing as a awards candidate program in my book. From the comments it seems that I’m not alone.

  11. So happy I was able to book 2 F seats with Virgin Atlantic points and actually got to fly it last October. I had to go through a special visa process, but it was worth it!

  12. I’m flying ANA next week on HND-ORD in paid business, but would love to upgrade to try their new F. They haven’t had any award inventory in F despite there being only 1 seat out of 8 occupied. I’ve been monitoring closely and here we are only a week out and it’s still only booked 1/8 and yet no awards at all.

    Their website of course says F is waitlisted, so one would assume it’s probably going to clear. I nearly transferred 50k miles to ANA from Amex for that purpose, but then read on Flyertalk that ANA almost never clears waitlist so it’s a bad idea to move miles speculatively.

    Bummed I won’t be able to try their new F. Thankfully J on that route is very good so I’ll be fine.

  13. I’m diamond on ANA and have yet to get an upgrade that didn’t cost me points. I tried to “Bid for Premium Economy” 3x and was rejected each time. I hate that program.

  14. I just got back from Japan with my family,flew business from San Francisco and tried the great room suites om my way back to Chicago.So 6 business award tickets used in 12 days with Vigin,not sure if you folks are not looking hard enough or if it needs to be booked more last minute.

  15. Having just flown ANA Business BOM-HND-SEA, I wouldn’t waste my time or points. The meal service is painstakingly slow for subpar food. You’re in luck if you order wine, they refill it every 2 minutes but it took me 15 to get an orange juice. Flying to India via Japan also still requires Covid testing while flying Delta/KLM via Europe does not. The latter also provide better service and comfort.

  16. I typically book on ANA website in January for travel in November/December and there were always biz class seats available but not this year. As of this morning, there is not one single F or J class seat available from any of their West Coast cities to TYO and I have been trying since the beginning of the year. Every flight is waitlisted. Same goes for CX from the West Coast to HKG, only Premium Economy seats are available for booking.

  17. Booked in May of 2022 for travel in Dec 2022, was able to book JFK-HND in F for outbound, HND-ORD in J for return.
    After experiencing both the Suite and Room, I honestly have to say that I’m glad I was able to fly First class once in my life, but I don’t think it was worth the extra miles to spend over business. Pretty sure it may be of more value to somebody who can utilize the complimentary alcohol, but the seat, food, and overall service were comparable to each other.

    Trying to book now for May 2023 and unable to find anything right now. Just to see what was available, I checked for openings next week and there always seems to be a J ticket available out of ORD every day. I’ll probably check more closely once April rolls around and see if anything opens up.

  18. In my own opinion, ANA Business Class is as good as First in almost any other airline and better than Business in any other airline. I would pay the extra miles if only F was available, but otherwise ANA Business is fine for me.

  19. Starting the last week of April, last year, I started searching for business or first on either ANA or JAL. For 5 months, I looked everyday at every website that might show availability of either airlines’ awards seats. For 6 weeks from the end of April to the end of May, I called Virgin. Hoping that someone canceled their award, and seats would pop into inventory. It never happened. Finally at the end of August I booked JAL economy (Alaska miles) over and ANA back using United miles. Here and there Virgin occasionally had economy awards but the surcharges were $967.78. They have dropped a little to $763.65. ANA emailed me that fuel surcharges will drop again on Feb 1, to $329 for flights to/from the USA. I really wanted to use my Virgin miles that I have because my trip was canceled in 2021. It is what it is!

    I didn’t have to have first class. But I really wanted business for the almost 14 hour flight to Japan. As a couple people have commented, ANA is releasing seats (sometimes more than 2) in J, about 12-14 days prior to departure. But Virgin isn’t always getting those inventory releases. JAL seems to be doing the same thing. But again it is a waiting game, with constant checking. Both carriers seem to not want to fill the first class seats, as many flights go out with at least half of the seats empty!

  20. ANA flight awards are total B.S. There’s NEVER any availability. Forget getting points with your CC. Just get cashback.

  21. Chris Willers, where are you seeing this availability? Searching on united.com doesn’t show First class anymore

  22. NFSF, hopefully you saw the thread Gary posted based on my findings, but just to follow up on this, united.com does show First, but only if there’s any available. If the column isn’t there, the availability isn’t there.

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