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Is Flying First Class Worth It? Why I Was Not Impressed With ANA The Suite

Ryan Smith's image
Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith

Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 190U.S. States Visited: 50

Ryan has been on a quest to visit every country in the world and plans to hit his final country in 2023. Over the years, he’s written about award travel for publications including AwardWallet, The Poi...
Edited by: Jessica Merritt

Jessica Merritt

Editor & Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 4U.S. States Visited: 23

A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
& Stella Shon

Stella Shon

Compliance Editor & Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 25U.S. States Visited: 22

With a degree in media and journalism, Stella has been in the points and miles game for more than 6 years. She most recently worked as a Corporate Communications Analyst for JetBlue. Find her work in ...

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My wife and I recently flew international first class for the first time. And it wasn’t just any first class. It was a true unicorn in the points and miles space: We used Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points to snag ANA’s new first class “The Suite” from Tokyo (HND) to San Francisco (SFO) — and did so before the recent devaluation. We were beyond excited.

Unfortunately, it fell well below our expectations. This has us reconsidering the common question: Is flying first class worth it?

The promise of extra space and extra luxury makes first class appealing. However, it comes at a cost. You’ll obviously pay more miles for the redemption, which adds up quickly if you’re redeeming for a couple — and especially fast for a family. Then, the taxes and fees tend to get higher the further you move into the front of the plane. The cash component of our ticket wasn’t cheap (around $450 each), which makes the letdown experience all the more disappointing.

Let’s look at the parts of our trip where we felt underwhelmed.


When we arrived at the dedicated check-in line at Tokyo Haneda Airport, there was only 1 person in front of us. We loved the red carpet on the ground welcoming us.

Check-in started with a red carpet welcome. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

Unfortunately, our first interaction with staff wasn’t great once it was our turn. Rather than calling us to the counter, she stepped out from the counter to tell us this line was for “first class only” — implying that we were clearly in the wrong place. After telling her we were flying in first class, her attitude changed. She was friendly and efficient, but the employee started on the wrong foot with us. There are much better, service-oriented methods to ask if a customer is in the correct line.

ANA Suites Lounge

As Stella Shon recently reviewed this lounge and the same flight we took, I won’t provide an in-depth review. Instead, I’ll highlight the experiences that left us reconsidering whether flying first class is worth it.

When we arrived in the lounge, friendly staff greeted us at the counter and welcomed us inside. Once we entered, my wife and I remarked, “This is it?” Seating was sparse, and we circled for a while before 2 seats together became available.

Given our experiences at business class lounges across multiple airlines and airports, we expected comfortable seating and a roomy layout — at least what you get when flying in business class. We found neither, and the lighting was quite dim.

While there was a menu with multiple hot dishes you could order, we found the number of options deceptive. Many were variations of the same dish, so it’s more accurate to say there were 3 dishes to choose from, then you could customize them.

Menus in the first class lounge. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

There were finger sandwiches and mini desserts available, as well.

Desserts and finger foods in the lounge. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

Alcohol was available self-serve, as were water and sodas from nearby machines.

Alcohol in the ANA Suites lounge. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

None of this seemed better than what’s available at a standard airport lounge, though.

Staff were friendly and did a good job keeping the lines moving, despite the crowds. However, the lounge needed more seating. I’d ask for more comfortable seating options, but that’s a secondary issue to having enough seats for all the airline’s first class passengers.

While in the lounge, I messaged friends who’d previously flown ANA first class and asked what they thought about the lounge. The general consensus was “underwhelming,” which is pretty strange for such a premium product.

Boarding Experience

During check-in, we were told we could board at any time using the priority lane at our gate. We arrived at the gate at the tail end of boarding for business class when economy boarding was about to begin.

We went to the priority boarding lane and were immediately intercepted by 2 employees telling us there was a line and that we couldn’t simply bypass everyone waiting. We presented our boarding passes and said we were in first class. We were told first class had already boarded and responded by pointing out that we should be able to board any time. Only then did the employees move out of our path and allow us to board.

Turning toward the “first class” sign for the first time. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

It felt very much like the airline expected us to board first or get in line with everyone else — despite offering a priority boarding lane and telling us we could board whenever we wanted. We were very confused by what happened here.

Flight Crew Service

This started off as a 10/10 and ended around 5/10. We were welcomed warmly into the aircraft and planned to put the airport experiences behind us to simply enjoy the flight.

“We’re finally on board to fly first class. It’s going to be great,” we told each other.

My wife after boarding, excited to fly in first class for the first time. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

The seat certainly looked impressive. Tons of space, a ginormous TV, and one of the most interesting amenity kits I’ve ever received.

The enormous screen, amenity kit, and headphones. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

And it had a really nice remote that I liked for controlling the giant monitor.

Remote control for the entertainment system. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

While getting acquainted with our seats and putting our backpacks in the overhead bins, flight attendants came to greet us by name. My wife and I had the 2 middle seats in the cabin (in row 2). These offer a divider to close for privacy or open if you’re traveling with the person next to you. However, we had different flight attendants because different aisles provided access to our seats.

The flight attendant on my side was much chattier than the attendant on my wife’s side. She saw us taking a selfie and asked if we wanted a picture together. Of course! You don’t fly first class for the first time every day.

All smiles before takeoff. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

We got welcome drinks, an orientation of our seats, and indications on where to find the lavatory to change into our pajamas.

First class pajamas and slippers. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

The flight attendant on my wife’s side mostly disappeared at this point, but my flight attendant came back to offer a menu and confirm that I had requested a special meal. We also asked her to check on my wife’s meal since her flight attendant was elsewhere, and we got confirmation that the food was on board.

My flight attendant came with a large basket of amenities, offering wet wipes, eye masks, and a wide selection of toiletries. She happily explained unfamiliar items. She also gave us our complimentary Wi-Fi passes for the flight (a perk in first class).

Free Wi-Fi pass for first class passengers. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

Then, we took off. And service fell apart. It was odd for 2 flight attendants managing 7 passengers (in a cabin of 8 seats).

Flight attendants approached some passengers, asking if they planned to sleep. If so, the flight attendants offered to make the bed for them. However, not all passengers received this offer. We had to ring our call buttons to request bed service and blankets.

Our need to ring the bell continued during meal service. My wife got her dinner quickly, served at the same time as the other passengers. When every passenger had finished eating, and plates had been cleared, I was still waiting. Thus, I rang the button and asked about dinner. “Oops,” was the response.

In a cabin with just 8 seats, it’s hard to overlook a passenger. It’s even less understandable when this is the airline’s premium-of-premium cabin.

Service disappeared once we were airborne. We had to flag down the flight attendants to ask for drinks, blankets, and even my meal. We weren’t asking for extras that burdened the flight crew. Service was erratic and required us to make regular efforts to get basic items.

The next time we saw our flight attendants was when they came to check our seatbelts before landing. And they were all smiles at the aircraft door as passengers disembarked, so they did very well on the ground before and after the flight. During the flight, they could have improved.

Final Thoughts

I can’t describe how excited I was when my ExpertFlyer notification popped and I booked ANA’s new first class to fly home from Japan. My wife and I gushed over YouTube videos reviewing the product in the days leading up to our trip.

Unfortunately, our experience was sub-par. We’ve flown business class on probably a dozen airlines, and I would rank nearly all of those experiences as better than our experience in ANA first class. Yes, it’s always possible to get a bad flight crew or have a bad trip, but that’s hardly justifiable in international first class where cash tickets cost $10,000 or more per passenger. Not providing basics at that ticket price doesn’t make sense.

For us, the excitement and ensuing letdown stung for sure. It’s made us think the extra cost in miles plus extra cash for taxes and fees wasn’t worth it for this flight. Could it be different if we tried again? Possibly. And maybe another airline would impress. However, the more likely path going forward is that we’ll stick to business class because it keeps more miles and cash in our pockets, and we’ll feel disappointments to a lesser degree if we have a bad flight in the future. Everyone has to decide whether flying first class is worth it; our first experience provided a “no” answer.

Frequently Asked Questions

You do not need to tip flight attendants, not even in first class. Services provided by flight attendants are included with your ticket.

Etihad’s The Residence from New York-JFK to Dubai has cost over $60,000 for a suite that comes with a private bathroom and butler. This suite is available only on Airbus 380 aircraft, located on the upper deck, which is not currently in operation on this route.

When flying first class, you’ll receive a roomier seat, better food (typically with a menu including multiple options), better alcohol (which may not be available in economy class), and a better ratio of flight attendants to passengers. There are also fewer passengers per restroom, which can mean less waiting.

While first class can offer a more premium product, business class can offer a similar experience for fewer miles, taxes, and fees.

About Ryan Smith

Ryan has been on a quest to visit every country in the world and plans to hit his final country in 2023. Over the years, he’s written about award travel for publications including AwardWallet, The Points Guy, USA Today Blueprint, CNBC Select, Tripadvisor, and Forbes Advisor.


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theodora v.

August 03, 2023

Many in Far East countries still frown on having tattoos even in this time and age! As you and your better halve both are showing these on your forearms it can explain the ‘odd’ behaviour you describe at check in desk and later during the flight … If these were not visible attitudes/service from staff could have been better. PS: In many public baths in Japan having tattoos guarantees you refusal of entry!!

Ryan Smith

August 17, 2023

Hi Theodora, I want to clarify a few things: 1) We were wearing long sleeves at check-in, so this wouldn’t play a role. 2) Other passengers (and friends who flew ANA first class in the past) also had poor service, so if tattoos were the issue what happened with them? 3) Why was service friendly sometimes if flight attendants were averse to our tattoos? I think a simpler explanation is simply that service was inconsistent in a bad way.


August 03, 2023

I’m going to assume the tattoos and soccer jerseys threw off the flight attendant at the counter. Is that wrong yes, but I’m not really shocked. I would not have been dressed that way for first class.

Ryan Smith

August 17, 2023

Hi AJ, we were wearing long sleeves at check-in, so this isn’t the issue I don’t think. And should travelers be expected to dress a certain way to be treated with respect? I hope not.


August 03, 2023

I thoroughly enjoy your site & watch for it everyday!


August 03, 2023

Interesting perspective. We flew them First in May 2023 in the suite/room as well. I too had to call my flight crew for everything and I was the only person in first. I assumed they would check back and they never did. I assumed maybe Japanese custom to let you be while flying b/c on the way OUT with the American flight crew they constantly checked on me. Same product just different direction. I did love the huge private check in room at the airport and private security screening. I thought that was nice. I didn’t see pictures of it in your review but I assume you did that as well in Japan. I wasn’t impressed with the comfort of the seats – I found the new suite/room HARD and uncomfortable. Old product while less roomy was more comfortable to me.


August 03, 2023

I just realized we flew home from different airports. NRT is outstanding first class lounge and their welcome process with the private room and private screened security is super nice. So I THINK NRT is the way to fly home for a better airport experience if possible.


August 03, 2023

I may get flamed by this but it is meant with great sincerity. You are how you carry yourself. Countries have Dynasties out of which their culture evolves. In travel blogs there seems to have been more than usual comments about people traveling and picking fault by comparing it to their homeland. In a similar vein tipping is a hot subject. Tipping can be an insult in Japan.
We did 89 flights last year, 94% in First. May I proffer that a football shirt will not be well received by senior airline staff. In Japan, and this is their culture, tattoos are not well received and, in fact, illegal in many venues. We seek out cultures before we travel. HTH

Ryan Smith

August 17, 2023

Hi Scot, I found this comment peculiar. 1) We were wearing long sleeves at check-in, so this wouldn’t play a role. 2) Other passengers (and friends who flew ANA first class in the past) also had poor service, so if tattoos were the issue what happened with them? 3) Why was service friendly sometimes if flight attendants were averse to our tattoos? I think a simpler explanation is simply that service was inconsistent in a bad way. Your comment implies that travelers need to dress nicely for first class or expect (justified) poor service, and I struggle to understand this concept. I think a simpler explanation is that service was simply inconsistent in a bad way.

Jon Iten

August 03, 2023

How was the service afforded other customers? I perceive it was the same in some respects, but I wonder if the Japanese aversion to tattoos (traditionally, the only folks in Japan with tattoos were Yakuza (the mob)) played any part in the experience the reviewer had? Different cultures react differently to personal appearance. In the US this is strongly frowned upon. But in Japan?

Ryan Smith

August 17, 2023

Hi Jon, as mentioned, other customers had inconsistent/poor service in several areas. Thus, I don’t think appearance is the issue.


August 03, 2023

When I fly to Tokyo from London and back for the Holidays (in First) I always choose JAL. I much prefer their culture to ANA and the cabin is less claustrophobic. Their service to HNL is now normally only Business Class, save for a couple of flights over New Year, but although the offering is not in the same league as their first, the interaction with JAL personnel is always a pleasure.


August 03, 2023

Flew from Sea-Tac to Dallas Ft.Worth on July 24th. I flew first class both ways and when I checked in at Sea-Tac the Gal charged me $30.00. I said I thought the first bag was free. She said that was only for the Elite. Coming home they didn’t charge me!

Jonathan iten

August 03, 2023

Is it possible that a cultural aversion to tattoos played a role? Traditionally, only the Yakuza (Japanese mob) had tattoos. And, classically, one couldn’t enter a Japanese public bath with tattoos. While that doesn’t excuse flight attendants for not doing their job, I wonder whether this unfortunately factored in here?

Ryan Smith

August 17, 2023

Hi Jonathan, I find this comment a bit odd. 1) We were wearing long sleeves at check-in, so this wouldn’t play a role. 2) Other passengers (and friends who flew ANA first class in the past) also had poor service, so if tattoos were the issue what happened with them? 3) Why was service friendly sometimes if flight attendants were averse to our tattoos? I think a simpler explanation is simply that service was inconsistent in a bad way.


August 04, 2023

What is the best benefit for a Marriott Bonvoy card? I have heard all kinds of different stories. I.e., Marriott keeps changing their terms, Marriott isn’t worth it, Marriott Bonvoy is wonderful, and Marriott Bonvoy is great!

Christine Krzyszton

August 05, 2023

Hi Jo Ann. Those are likely comments based more on the Marriott Bonvoy hotel loyalty program than the credit cards. Here’s more information to help you decide. Our article on Marriott Bonvoy credit cards: And on the Marriott Bonvoy hotel loyalty program:


August 05, 2023

Hi, I’m trying to book ANA business tickets but they’re all showing up as waitlisted from multiple cities and I tried different dates. Were your tickets waitlisted as well? If so, how did you get around that? I’m trying to book Tokyo in business next year and all flights from LAX, SFO, SEA. ORD, etc are waitlisted.


August 06, 2023

Were your flights waitlisted when you booked them? If so, how were you able to get a successful flight? I’ve tried from different destinations to Japan and every flight shows waitlisted.

Ryan Smith

August 17, 2023

Hi JBCH, the flights weren’t waitlisted.


August 06, 2023

I have flown ANA Business Class and was throughly impressed with all the service. I lived in Tokyo for 2 years. They are a very polite culture but harsh on several issues of non-conformity. As mentioned in many of the comments, tattoos are a taboo. We as Americans do not have the same perspective. If you were to fly them again, I would recommend a more business-like outfit, less casual, and long sleeve. It would be interesting to see if your experience would be different.

Ryan Smith

August 17, 2023

Hi Tanja, I found this comment a bit odd. It doesn’t explain why other people on the flight also had bad service. It also implies bad service based on appearance is justifiable, and I struggle to understand that.


August 07, 2023

I just came home last night from flying ANA business class. It was also underwhelming. I always had to hunt for a flight attendant. No one turned down my bed. While PJs are not free in business, I wasn’t even offered the chance to buy them. Which is supposed to be an option. Only one meal was offered and it was just before landing. This is a 12 hour flight to NYC. I could get a light meal anytime, but again I had to hunt down my FA. I couldn’t find the call button in my suite.
Lounges sucked too. I was in terminal 1 or 2 in Haneda even though my flight was international. Those lounges only had little snack packs. I arrived in 3, but to catch my next flight I had to get to 1. So no chance to try the main ANA lounge.
I’ve flown Emirates first and business. No comparison! So glad my next flights are Emirates.

Jay S

August 24, 2023

Before you write of First Class in general, spend some time, and a few points, and try long haul F on:
1. AirFrance La Première (777-300)
2. Ethiad
3. Emirates

AirFrance, La Premiere, and especially the ground experience was… sublime. We flew in from Italy to Paris in AF business, first row, to connect to the La Première segment which was CDG-IAD. Our flight was about an hour late leaving Rome and the walking time between the terminals was going to be extremely tight as the flight crew told us it could easily take over an hour, and possibly as long as 90 minutes, and we had just under 2 hours till take off. As we pulled up to the gate, my wife and I gathered our carry-ons and stood ready to blow out the door as soon as it opened and start that agonizing walk over to the other terminal.

As soon as the door opened, an Air France stepped into the a320 and spoke briefly with the onboard crew and they pointed us out and motioned us forward. Camille, our ground rep introduced herself, asked if she could please take my wife’s carry-on, and asked us to please follow her.

We stepped off the plane, but instead of walking up the airbridge ramp toward the terminal as expected, she walked over to an elevator just a few steps out of the plane. We entered the elevator and she punched in the ground floor and in just a few seconds the door opened right out on to the tarmac. We stepped out and parked just under the jet bridge was a beautiful black BMW 7-series with another Air France rep, who introduced himself as Antoine, holding the rear door open for us. As we stepped in he took my carry-on, and after we were in the car he placed our carry-ons in the BMW boot, held the front door for Camille to sit in the front passenger seat, and he got in the drivers seat and started off.

Camille told us we would have time to spend ‘an hour- maybe a bit more’ in the La Premiere lounge and asked if we would like to go. That was a big YES!

After no more than 3-4 minutes we parked and were escorted out of the BMW, and into the private check-in lounge, and then into the absolutely beautiful La Première lounge. Camille seated us in a plush love seat, and asked for our passports and told us she would take care of our check in while we enjoyed a glass of champagne which was already being walked over to us before we could even hand Camille the passports.

There are numerous reviews of the La Première lounge so I wont go into any other detail here, but I’ll just just it was impeccable in every way. The lounge was very quiet, with perhaps just 5 or 6 other passengers, soft music, and the lounge staff. They were also impeccably dressed, exceedingly professional and polite, and provided us with world class service for food & drinks over the following 70 minutes of our stay. Champagne, warm Lobster with clarified butter, Foie Gras, incredible cheeses, bread, and of course some fabulous French Margaux red to finish off our last few minutes there.

Just as we finished up, Camille came over and asked if we were ready to leave to our flight, and she and another driver took our carry-ons and escorted us back outside, this time to a black Mercedes sedan.

I expected us to be taken to the departure terminal and then over to our gate for boarding, but instead, we drove straight to the beautiful 777-300 and parked just under the wing. Camille told us we would be boarding directly up and into the air bridge. As we were walking over to the door I stopped to admire the 777 and Camille asked if she could take a photo for us.

She got several amazing shots of us right there on the tarmac with that magnificent airship behind us- shots I never tire of looking at from time to time.

So up the airbridge and straight on board where Camille introduced us to the Chief Purser and our personal attendant Marie.

On the 777-300 there are only 4 seats in first. My wife and I had the middle two and there was no one else in the first class cabin.

Somehow, they knew we were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. We told the ticketing agent in Rome, but that’s it. She gushed over us, so I’m assuming she made some kind of note in our flight records. Within moments of being seated Marie was offering us a 2006 Piper-Heidsieck Rare which she opened with reserved professional grace as we settled into the amazing first class seats.

After no more than 5 or 6 minutes, Camille came over to us with a gentleman in uniform, who she introduced as Girard our Captain. He greeted us warmly, asked if we had flown AF before, told us he had been with them for 17 years, and that it was on honor to serve us on this special anniversary.

Wow. Just WOW.

After the captain left us to head back to the flight deck Camille said she was waiting for confirmation all of our checked luggage had transferred from the Rome flight and that she would check back as soon as the had that.

About 10 minutes after that she came back to our seats and profusely apologized for the inconvenience, but one of our 3 checked bags was not on the plane yet and that they were doing an urgent trace on it, and that she would not leave us until the bag was located and on the plane.

At this point we were only 15 minutes or so from the scheduled departure time of 1.55pm. At 2pm she returned and told us they had located the bag and it was being driven directly to the plane! At 2.05 she came back once again, all smiles and told us all of the bags were now in the hold, told us it was her pleasure to have served us today, and asked us to please consider La Premiere again whenever possible, and said farewell and happy anniversary again with a warm handshake for me an a hug and three kisses for my wife.

The remainder of our time on the flight was no less spectacular than the entire ground experience. After the stunning caviar service, followed by a world-class meal, Marie closed off the curtains on both sides and we had complete and total privacy – like a small elegant suite in the sky for a few hours sleep, until it was time for the pre-landing meal service.

So- it was not my original plan to go into such detail, but based on your experience with ANA, I thought you should know there is quite another side to the First class coin, and you should absolutely experience it before First Class is just a memory of days gone by (which may not be more than a few years off the way things are going these days).

My experiences on Emirates and Ethiad were also absolutely fantastic and I still encourage other to try them all, but the Air France experience was one for the history books.

Thanks for a great site and content.

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