What’s the Best First Class for West Coast – Asia?

Reader Wendy Austin asks,

We are planning on flying from LAX to Osaka next year and fly home to LAX from Ho Chi Minh City.

We plan to use miles and would like to score the nicest [first class seat] if possible..

We have lots of miles accumulated in various programs (almost a million Starpoints, 500,000 [American] miles, Amex.. etc) I have only just begun researching and so far, it looks as if [Japan Airlines first class] using AA miles would be the best option.

Do you have any other suggestions?

The choice here is ultimately going to be driven by availability, although there are plenty of airlines worth checking given the miles that are available.

Consider that it’s entirely possible to use a different airline for the outbound as the return — not just to try different products, but because schedules and availability may differ, especially for an outbound to North Asia and a return from Southeast Asia.

I’d generally rank the first class products of airlines flying from the US West Coast across the Pacific as follows:

  1. Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class

  2. Cathay Pacific First Class

  3. Singapore Airlines First Class (777)

  4. Asiana (A380)

  5. ANA

  6. Asiana (777)

  7. Japan Airlines

  8. Korean Air

  9. China Eastern

  10. China Southern

  11. Air China

  12. American

  13. United

I’ll caveat this list by saying that I have not flown the Chinese carriers, and also no doubt my rankings of Asiana, ANA, and Japan Airlines are the result of my own idiosyncrasies.

When I rank products, I consider the seat (bed) the single most important attribute. Food and service follow that. I don’t place a great deal of emphasis on inflight entertainment or amenity kits, though those will usually be good on airlines that do the other things well. Ground service including lounges is more important to me than entertainment on demand since I bring my own movies and tv shows that I’d usually rather watch than experience the serendipity of what’s offered onboard. Like I said, idiosyncracies.

Bear in mind that Los Angeles – Japan isn’t that long a flight. A late departure may not even get the full service experience since the airline will be trying to maximize sleeping time across the Pacific.

For the outbound, given your miles, I’d start with Japan Airlines (oneworld, American miles) given that there would be no transfers involved and it’s a good product. You might consider ANA (Star Alliance, transfer American Express points) and Asiana (Star Alliance, transfer American Express points) through Seoul. As I say, your choice is most likely going to be driven by availability. There’s also always Singapore Suites Los Angeles – Tokyo and then connecting onward to Osaka Itami with ANA.

For the return, there’s a bunch of options from Southeast Asia.

My first pick would be Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong using American miles since it’s a great product and it’s one stop.

Singapore Airlines via Singapore and Tokyo using American Express points transferred to Singapore Airlines.

You could also use Japan Airlines via Tokyo using miles from American. (Neither ANA nor Asiana are great options due to their schedules … long layovers.)

Start with what’s available and then work backwards for how to get the miles needed to book that award. In a pinch, of course, you could fly via Europe of the Middle East, a little bit more practical for the Southeast Asia return than for Osaka, but it’s still extra flying (less so for East Coast – Asia). And more options open up if you’re open to longer connecting times. But personally I’d take a lesser product and shorter flight with better connections than the best inflight offering for any of the top 8 choices listed above at least.

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. Bottom of the barrel, to be sure, but old AA F over United GF? I’ve done both extensively and can’t say I agree, especially with seat comfort being the #1 criterion. Other than that I think you’re pretty much on the mark.

  2. Dave, guess you’re too young to remember The Ed Sullivan Shoe…er Show. Each Sunday Ed would offer us his “really, really big shoe!”.

    As for Gary’s rankings, are both AA and UA that bad that you’d rank them behind airlines you’ve not flown? A case of the devil you know vs the devil you don’t? Says something about the sorry state of those US-based carriers who hang onto F for the corporate accounts that actually buy seats in that cabin overseas, or expect their C/J employees to have an upgrade opportunity. Of course in UA’s case, its 2-4-2 business class can hardly be compared to what everyone else across the Pacific (or anywhere else) so it needs something a little better to offer those (corporate and government accounts) who must fly a US airline. With its new 1-2-1 business cabins, AA no longer really needs an F cabin (and indeed has eliminated it on the refurb’d 777s and 767s) except again to keep must-fly American carrier customers happy.

  3. @Gene – they’re both at the bottom, flip a coin, I grabbed a photo of old first not American’s new first though and I didn’t mean to explicitly claim OLD American first was better. remember that on United the catering is even the same as business…

  4. Fully agree with rankings #1-3, though have to confess I haven’t flown the others!

  5. An enviable problem to have. Almost a million SPG points, 500k American, etc., and looking for top notch int’l first. Why not engage an award booking company? If you don’t know the tricks, use someone who does. Gary didn’t mention it, but he’s a partner in just such a company. Otherwise, lot’s of bloggers offer similar services.

  6. Hey gary! Which if those 13 airlines u mention treat you the very best when u are on their mileage redemption ticket??????? i know some airlines FA know if ur on mileage ticket they will give u an ok service becuz they think u fly 4 free,my2cents

  7. I’d rank Japan higher.✈️ Real nice cabin & I had excellent service – of course my last trip back from Tokyo only had 2 pax so I had the left side all to myself . And of course Cathy is my favorite.

  8. My ranking :
    First Class:
    1. SQ A380
    2. Cathay Pacific
    3. ANA
    4. Asiana A380
    5. Asiana 777 & Singapore Airlines 777 &&& Korean Air A380 &&
    6. China Eastern 777-300ER & China Southern A380 & Air China 747-8

    Business Class Ranking
    Tier 1. SQ A380 & Cathay Pacific & Japan Airlines 777-300ER & Asiana A380 & ANA
    Tier 2: Eva Airlines & Korean Air & Singapore Airlines & Japan Airlines 787 & China Eastern & China Southern & Air China

    It is not worth to spend your miles on AA&Delta&UA&AC metals

  9. JAL always seems to be somewhat divisive. People are either completely in love with them or fairly neutral to them. Topics of contention include Japanese food (and Japanese takes on Western food), the cabin temperature, and the more formal and reserved, less-proactive service. Personally, JAL just clicks with me and I love it. Love the seat, love the food, and love not being fawned over but getting immediate, extremely professional service within seconds. I am also partial to the rectangular seats over reverse-herringbone; even CX F feels narrow at the footwell. I do not have a triangular bed at home!

  10. In my travels I have found JAL to be at the top of my list as far as first class products go. I really enjoyed the food and the seat is extremely comfortable. Cabin was a little warm, but I find the same issue on most non U.S. airlines. Think JAL is heads and tails above cx and would go out of my way to connect in Tokyo to fly them.

  11. I did the asiana F from lax to incheon and it was great but there is limited F flying back to LAX

  12. i prefer ANA service over JAL,period!
    ana = very friendly
    jal = good but robotic

  13. I just flew JAL First Class and was surprised that it didn’t make it somewhere in the top 5. The seat is amazing with plenty of space all around for my 6’3 frame. The food was pretty spectacular and I am a picky western menu guy. Drinks were top notch and the coffee service is truly unique (french press pot delivered with a sand-timer set to the perfect time to serve). The friendly service was an excellent mix of attentive and on-demand. Empty glasses or finished plates were picked up within seconds and requests were answered and delivered with the same speed.

    Cabin temperature was an issue, but was quickly remedied when I requested it be turned down (they have a separate thermostat for just the first class cabin – it seems the default setting is 23 celsius). Also, the size of the screen was amazing, but the entertainment selections were lacking. I was able to find enough to entertain me for my awake hours, but the western choices could definitely be improved.

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