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Japan Airlines First Vs Business Class: Is First Worth Upgrading?


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I have flown with Japan Airlines in First Class versus Business Class and have compared these classes. Is it worth paying to upgrade to First Class?

Japan Airlines in First Class is one of my favorite ways to fly long-haul, and I always look forward to traveling this way. While Japan Airlines is not one of the very best seats in the skies, it is still excellent. For the best First Class seats consider Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Etihad or Emirates with its First Class shower on the A380.

The best First Class airline lounge is the incredible Lufthansa First Class Terminal which beats any other First Class lounge, but overall Japan Airlines is a great product and First IS better than Business Class. Is it worth the upgrade? We investigate below.

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How much better is Japan Airlines First Class vs. Business Class?

Japan Airlines (JAL) offers a world-leading First class. In-flight service is faultless with smiling faces. Staff are polite, professional, and anticipatory. The food and the drinks menu is one of the best we have seen. The seat is oh so comfortable, especially in bed mode and the amenity kit is great – soft, snuggly pajamas, a useful unisex kit, plus gender-specific Shiseido face care kits.

Why don’t more airlines provide the latter with cleanser, toner, and moisturizer, which is definitely needed in the drying atmosphere of a plane? This is how long-haul travel should be.

Japan Airlines also ranks among my preferred airlines for Business Class. The seats are located in their own cocoon with high walls (earning them the designation “JAL Sky Suites”). The flatbed is almost as good as in First Class, and the food is mouthwatering. Japan Airlines codeshares with British Airways so you can sometimes book cheap tickets on JAL during British Airways sales.

If you fly on JAL from London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) in Business, you will be given access to the British Airways Galleries lounge in Terminal 3.

Crucially, you will get one of the best night’s sleep in the skies if you choose to fly First vs. Business CLass. However good Business Class is, and it IS good, you will not get such a good night’s sleep. The seats are thinner, and there is more passing traffic. First offers an excellent comforter, duvet, and set of pillows.

Pre-flight Lounges

The Cathay Pacific First Class Wing Lounge in Hong Kong is good, just have a read of our reviews of the best airline lounges at Hong Kong airport. The Cathay Pacific First Lounge is The Wing. It’s great but not worth paying much more for. The Cathay Pacific Bridge Lounge and Qantas Lounge Hong Kong (for both First & Business Class passengers) are excellent too.


JAL First class is understated and sophisticated with none of Emirates’ bling but plenty of style and function. The seat itself is wide, clad in brown leather, and offers plenty of storage space. It is one of the best beds we’ve experienced in the sky (and we have flown Lufthansa new first with a separate bed which is not as good). Whilst not enclosed in suites, the seats are very private, and there is a buddy seat to dine opposite a companion if you wish. The mattress topper and totally lie-flat seat provided a most comfortable bed.

By comparison, the Business Class Sky Suite is functional but more compact. The seats are quite spacious. Around 25.5 inches by width and 74 inches by pitch. The seat can be reclined into a fully flat bed for sleeping. The seat controls, remote control, reading light, power supply, and storage space are all on the right side of the seat. There’s a large TV screen powered by the entertainment system on Japan Airlines, which is called MAGIC and is quite decent. You will get sleep in Business Class, but it is unlikely to be as good as the sleep you will experience in First Class.


JAL’s First Class Japanese menu is, without doubt, the best food we have had at FL400. Our experience included a trio amuse-bouche, caviar, and champagne – the Salon 2002 was wonderfully rich and nutty. The multi-course Kaiseki menu then proceeded with Kozara (five tastes – scallop with cream cheese, crabmeat with caviar, simmered spring vegetables, grilled sea bream, soybean milk jelly). After this delightful beginning, we were served a clear soup with shrimp dumpling (Owan) and the next two courses together: Shiizakana (squid and potato sushi, skewered shrimp with vegetables, duck roll, smoked salmon roll, grilled yam) and Mukozuke (tilapia sashimi). The main of simmered sablefish, rice, and miso soup was delicious – perfectly cooked and delicately seasoned. We skipped the Japanese dessert (not to our taste) but enjoyed a green tea and dark chocolate to finish. After such a large dinner, fresh fruit provided a welcome breakfast, but we didn’t try anything else.

JAL’s First Class drink menu is truly impressive and a treat: the Champagnes (Salon 2002 and Philipponnat Clos des Gooses 2004) are really good top-end choices and ones not usually seen in-flight. Other wines were equally fine, and the choice of teas, including the exclusive Royal Blue (enjoyed cold as you would white wine), was exceptional. A truly First Class dining experience.

By comparison, Business Class food is very good but does not reach the excellence of the First Class menu. Our most recent Business Class experience included a Western dinner option grilled squid with couscous appetizer and a Wagyu sirloin steak as the main. The food was generally good, but I must say that Wagyu steak served in the air is probably not the best way to appreciate this fine meat. Of course, it was tasty, but I cannot help but wonder how much better it would be in the ground. See typical Business Class meal above. After the meal, you get a cup of tea and a tiramisu cake for dessert. You will not go hungry in Business Class, but if you want the WOW factor, you must surely choose First!

Should I Book Japan Airlines First over Business Class?

Is it worth paying for the upgrade to First vs. Business Class in points or cash? Should you pay (or get your company to pay) for First? Is it worth the extra money? Well, the answer varies from person to person. If you put a high value on fine wine, excellent food, and upgraded comfort on your flight, you should upgrade. If you aren’t that bothered about the food and just want some sleep, Business Class will probably suffice.

You will get the following in First Class:

  • A better night’s sleep in First
  • Caviar and Champagne
  • If you enjoy fine dining, there is a much better and more personalised dining experience in First with better food
  • You get a better amenity kit in First

In Business Class you do get good food, a comfy seat which goes lie flat and the experience is undoubtedly excellent. It won’t fail you, but she won’t excite you either. Business on Japan Airlines is very good, but it’s not as good as the experience in First.

Below you will find my most recent flight reviews on Japan Airlines in First and Business Class. You can draw your own conclusions:

Japan Airlines First & Business Class Reviews

Flight Review: Japan Airlines JAL Business Class Sky Suites Tokyo To New York

In "Reviews"

After a stop in Tokyo following my flight on Japan Airlines in their JAL Sky Suites Bangkok to Tokyo, I continued my journey on Japan Airlines to New York. Once again, my review is describing the Business Class JAL Sky… Read More.

Flight Review: Japan Airlines JAL Sky Suites Bangkok to Tokyo

In "Reviews"

In early August 2018, I was able to review my flight on JAL Japan Airlines in their Business Class Sky Suites, from Southeast Asia, Bangkok (BKK) to the US via Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT). I broke the trip by having… Read More.

Flight Review: Japan Airlines 777 Business Class Sky Suites Hong Kong To Tokyo

In "Reviews"

On a recent work trip in June, I took Japan Airlines Business Class from Hong Kong to Narita International Airport at Tokyo. The short 4 hour 30 minute flight took place in the late afternoon, and Japan Airlines used a… Read More.

Flight Review: JAL Business Class Sky Suites Tokyo to Shanghai

In "Reviews"

In December 2017, I took Japan Airlines from Tokyo Haneda to Shanghai Pudong. The flight, JL 85, was on a Boeing 777-200ER and featured Japan Airlines’ latest business class seat, the Sky Suites III. Japan Airlines is a bit peculiar… Read More.

Review: Japan Airlines 777-300ER In First Class

In "Reviews"

JAL is an airline we have wanted to fly for some time, so when we found space on the direct Frankfurt to Narita Boeing 777-300ER flight in first class while planning our last US Airways redemption hurrah, we were delighted. Read More.

Review Of Japan Airlines B777 Business Class London to Tokyo

In "Reviews"

I flew Business Class in a Boeing 777-300ER on Japan Airlines (JAL) from London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) in Japan in June 2016. The airport lounge I was given access to was the British Airways Galleries… Read More.

Review: Japan Airlines B777-200ER Business Class Sky Suite

In "Reviews"

Following my review of the Business Class Sky Suite on the Japan Airlines B777-300ER, I thought I would review the new Business Class product on Japan Airlines’ Boeing 777-200ERs. These planes are mainly used for mid-range flights (including within Asia… Read More.

Japan Airlines Economy Vs Premium Economy: Is It Worth Upgrading?

In "Tips"

When flying on Japan Airlines Airlines, which is part of the Oneworld Alliance, is it worth paying to upgrade to Premium Economy from Economy seats on long-haul flights? Read More.

Note: Benefits & upgrades subject to availability. Benefits offered correct at the time of writing. Terms & conditions apply. Enquire for more information. Benefits offered correct at the time of writing but may be amended at discretion of the vendor. Posts may be sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own & are in no way influenced.