The First Award Redemption I’ve Ever Been Jealous Of — All Nippon’s New First Class “Inspiration of Japan”

I’ve never been jealous of an award that I had booked for someone else, until now.

I’ve flown many of the great airline products, tasted what the best carriers have to offer. And I’ll admit it, I do crave trying new and different seats and service and food and experiencing what innovative carriers are doing. Call it blog research if you’d like, but I admit to being a terrible geek for sucj things. We all have our quirks and foibles.

It’s highly likely that I redeem more miles than anyone else, I’ve reserved over 80 million miles worth of awards during the past year for folks, and I’ve put together some very nice itineraries on the very best airlines among the more pedestrian ‘family of 4 to Italy this summer’ bookings.

And I rarely stop and whistfully think, “I really wish I was flying on that award!” Because I do get to travel a good deal, and get to redeem my own miles on occasion, and when I do I try to maximize the experience taking into account everyhting I’ve learned along the way.

But all of that changed last night.

Now, I do have an Asia trip planned for myself and it includes a couple of long-haul segments in All Nippon First Class and also Singapore first and Thai first are in the itinerary. So not too shabby.

Well, this wasn’t even a paying client but for some friends. I had booked an outbound on United and Thai First across the Atlantic, and a return across the Pacific in Cathay first. One-way awards make it possible to mix and match that way, and given that they had some pretty fixed travel dates I thought we had done pretty well. Still, Thai and Cathay first are ‘old hat’ to me as it were. I do love Cathay’s seat, and Thai’s Bangkok ground service, but still, not something to be meaningfully jealous of.

Well, last night I stumbled upon ANA first class. And not just ANA first class, I mean, I’m flying that myself shortly. It is very nice, a good seat and excellent service and in my opinion the best food in the sky.

But this was ANA’s new first class. The Boeing 77W fitted with ‘Inspiration of Japan’ new seating, which only flies New York – Tokyo and Frnakfurt – Tokyo as far as I know.

And that I have only ever seen become available the day before flight, and then usually only one seat.

But there it was, on their outbound travel date, staring me at the face. I quickly set up the reservation and told them after the fact. It was just too good to take even a second to think about. Was it even real, or just a mirage?

I’ve only even seen one trip report online, one person who has claimed to fly the bird up front. And that was a truly last minute booking (love how changeable award ticets are with some programs).

Now, ANA generally makes quite a bit of decent first class award space available during hte winter, really January through March with a bit of straggler seats in April. Otherwise it’s been pretty consistently only available at the last minute.

The best routes for redeeming ANA first class are the Chicago – Tokyo and then Washington Dulles – Tokyo flights, there are seats out of the other gateways as well but not nearly as often.

New York though has had a seasonal second flight on Saturdays and so Saturdsays have seen a couple of first class awards quite regularly. Now, it’s been restricted to the later flight which isn’t the newest configured aircraft. But still, a rarity in itself (though the flight arrives too late in Tokyo for most same-day connections).

Yesterday I saw two seats available on that flight — NH1009 — and the ‘regular’ JFK flight running the 77W aircraft, NH9.

The one thing I’m taking away from here is to hold out hope. It happened once, with two seats and not just the day before flight. Maybe it could happen again. Perhaps that it was a day with two flights in the same market contributed to this fact. And perhaps a tarot card reader could offer better explanation than I can. But it happened once, that means it’s possible and that gives me hope for the future. Or at least for my own future awards, that I’ll get to try out the product before they’re replacing it with something new!

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, 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. So, just to clarify a little bit (since I know nothing about ANA): does the Chicago-Tokyo flight feature their new seats? I’m planning a business-class trip and I’m wondering if it’s worth it to wait and try to book NY-Tokyo, or if I should just go with Chicago-Tokyo. Is the difference between the old and new business class product significant?

  2. Gary, I take it you are after the combo of the seat + service more so than after the new seat or service alone?

    Because the suite looks like LX’s and TK’s (JET leased) first class products. And you’ll get the same ANA food and service on your flight with the older product, right?

    I’d want the combo too…

  3. @Emil Chicago – Tokyo does not have the newest seas. The business class seats Chicago – Tokyo are angled-flat. It’s still a good flight, ANA is a good airline, but business class isn’t a bed.

  4. Nice…does that area underneath the LCD screen on ANA First pull out to make a seat so that you can dine with a partner? It’s hard to tell from the pictures but it looks like that might be a ‘no’.

  5. I don’t understand. This hard product looks very different than others currently on the market (EK, SQ, CX, etc.). Nothing makes it stands out from the competition.

  6. I have flown the “old” NH first (I really like these pods) and just seen/touched the new NH first square seat (I was flying biz on 777-300). Honestly speaking, the seat seems to be a step back, and I was really disappointed when I saw it (and so was my colleague).

  7. Nice award, but the suite does not look any better than CX to me. The 1-2-1 seating suggests that it’s narrower, which it looks. I guess after so many CX F flights you get bored 🙂

  8. I’m flying JFK-NRT-JFK on NH in paid C in a few weeks – I’m trying to do a Star upgrade to F one direction. Gary, I’ll report back if I’m successful and let you know how it goes!

  9. Hi Gary – curious, what tool did you use to determine availability, if you don’t mind? I played with the ANA availability tool, but it always says “WL” for NRT-(LHR/FRA/JFK) F, so I am pessimistic that it works. Would like to try something else.


  10. @Jason no it does certainly work, it’s the best thing to use, however ANA only releases first class seats form the US to Japan much in advance during the January – March and sometimes into April months, with best availability ORD-NRT followed by IAD-NRT. Then at the last minute there’s better availability the rest of the year. It’s just a hard award to get! And as for the new First Square, that they just don’t really intend to do in advance….

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