ANA first class SFO-NRT review

ANA first class SFO-NRT review
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ANA first class NRT-SFO review

Perhaps the best redemption value period on Virgin Atlantic's various partner award charts is nonstop roundtrip first class on ANA from the U.S. West Coast to Japan for only 110k miles.  And with Virgin Atlantic's occasional 30% transfer bonuses from Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points, you can fly on ANA international long-haul first class for <85k points, which is an unheard of value especially in this era of devaluations.

Virgin Atlantic's incredible award chart for nonstop roundtrip flights on ANA

ANA can be a unicorn in terms of releasing first class awards depending on the route, so this is where your flexibility is essential and alert tools like Expert Flyer come in useful for securing seats.  A couple of months ago, I was able to book ANA first class awards for SFO-NRT.  The best tool for finding award space is via ANA's own website, which requires you to have a free account, or United's calendar search engine.  Virgin Atlantic also allows you to put an award hold for up to 24 hours, so I called first to put the awards on hold.  Transfers between the Big 3 and Virgin Atlantic are instantaneous, so I immediately transferred 85k Citi TYP over to my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account and called again to confirm the flights.

Pre-flight workout

Since my SFO-NRT departs just after noon, I had time to hit the gym before heading to the airport.  Japan would not entirely be a funeral for my muscles with cheap municipal and university gyms, but it's important to get a good pre-flight workout in, especially on a day where I'd be sitting for 11 hours and eating nonstop gourmet food, some of which would be cheater foods.  So what's the best pre-flight workout?  Unfortunately, none other than legs followed with HIIT burnout since you'll be pushing the biggest muscle group in your body with heavy-ass compound movements like squats and lunges.  But your legs won't be moving much when you're in first class, so what better option than to have them "suffer" for a couple of hours with a grueling leg day pre-flight workout.

SFO United Polaris Lounge

The SFO United Polaris Lounge is only accessible to passengers flying in business or first class on a long-haul international Star Alliance flight, and only first class passengers are permitted a guest.  I previously visited the SFO United Polaris Lounge for my redeye flight to Auckland on Air New Zealand business class.  But this was the first time that I visited the lounge in the morning, so I decided to give their a la carte lunch a try.

Blue crab cobb salad

The lounge was quite full in the late morning due to all the scheduled departures at around 1 pm to Europe and Asia, so there was a wait time for the Dining Room.  They handed out pagers to passengers willing to wait, and I was at first told the wait would be around 20 minutes.  After almost an hour, I checked in to see why I wasn't called yet, and was explained that they wanted to clear all the tables before allowing in the next influx of patrons.  Needless to say, I was seated 15 minutes before my boarding time, so I only had time to down a blue crab cobb salad.  But maybe that's a good thing because it was pretty much the cleanest entree on the menu and the food in first class would be better.  The buffet area also had some good protein options, including ahi poke, smoked salmon, and shrimp cocktails.  These were not offered last time for dinner when I flew my redeye flight.

During my wait for the Dining Room, I decided to take a shower in one of the lounge's 8 shower suites and visit the Quiet Rooms, which are on the first floor of the lounge and away from all the dining and hustle and bustle.

The showers were about average for a business class lounge, and they give you a toothbrush set.

The Quiet Suites do not have doors, as they all face the tarmac.  Surprisingly, nobody was using any of the suites as they're definitely great places to find rest.

SFO-NRT ANA First Class seats

After finishing the blue crab cobb salad in a flash, I headed to my gate, where they were about to begin pre-boarding, which ANA reserves for the elderly, disabled, and those traveling with small children.  After boarding, the flight attendant caught me taking pictures of the seats before even having a seat, so she kindly offered to take a picture of me in my seat.

The seats do not have closing doors, but the partitions are high and do offer plenty of privacy.  The adjacent center aisle seats also have a retractable privacy divider.  The seats, particularly the window seats, have plenty of storage, and there are retractable compartments for both your laptop and tablet and your smartphone.  The seat adjustment is controlled by a small touchpad.

The flight attendant went around handing out free WiFi Service cards with access codes to first class passengers only.  Each card has a 100 MB limit, which I blew through within a couple of hours, but you're allowed to request as many as you need.  By the time I was situated, I had already been greeted in name by the first class attendant and the chief purser.  The chief purser even came around a second time to apologize for the 45-minute delay due to the late incoming aircraft.

Food and beverages

Shortly after take off, the first class flight attendant handed out food and beverage menus in an outfitted hardbound folder.

I went for the Japanese Cuisine for the main course selection, but I told the attendant that I liked caviar, so she said that she could pull the caviar appetizer from the Western menu and serve it to me before my Japanese course.

All the food was definitely up to par, and the flight attendant was quick to provide the next dish in the set menu after you down one portion.  For the pre-meal drink, I went with none other than $175-bottle Krug champagne.

After getting relatively hammered after a number of glasses of champagne, which is one of the lightest alcoholic beverages in terms of calorie count, I decided to try the $800 bottle Johnny Walker & Sons King George V whiskey.

$800 Johnny Walker & Sons King George V with $1 Coke Zero.  Felony?

Ok, I was pretty drunk after the Johnny Walker, so I basically put the seat to lieflat mode and crashed for a few hours.  The flight attendant had covered me with a blanket and put a pillow by side while I was passed out.  Normally, the attendant makes your bed with a futon, but she of course was not given this opportunity based on how my head was spinning and how quickly I passed out.  I woke up about 2 1/2 hours before landing, and it was time for the second course.  I asked for Chilean sea bass along with the Japanese light cuisine.

I then topped off my hunger with cheater dishes: cod roe with rice, ice cream, and deep fried fish cake.

Yeah, that was bad, especially after all that alcohol and sleeping.  It tasted great, but I didn't get to enjoy the full potential of the food since all food tastes good when you're buzzed.  After more than my fair share of cheater foods, I watched Toy Story 4 and we landed into NRT.

ANA First Class bottom line

First class definitely blows business class out of the water with the legendary service, bigger seat with more privacy, gourmet food options, and stellar alcohol.  But one *ahem* dilemma that I ran into was that I found it difficult to enjoy all those additions in their entirety.  If you focus too much on the expensive alcohol, then you get buzzed and probably don't care about the service and food begins to all taste the same.  The service is so good that your Krug will never run dry, and this became a "problem" for me since I can't recall the last time I ever drank this much.  At the end of the day, ANA has a fantastic first class offering, but just don't overdo the drinking game like I did because then you'll never get to enjoy the other aspects of the product.


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