Tag: Sakura Lounge

2017: Chicago/Shanghai Round Trip

2017: Chicago/Shanghai Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Business Class one way outbound, First Class inbound, on Japan Airlines for 55K + 67.5K American Airlines AAdvantage miles


MMB Analysis

  • The trip was booked just prior to AA devaluation in 2016.
  • AAdvantage account owners can redeem AA miles on Japan Airlines up to 330 days before departure. Availability is usually good on the first day (i.e., 330 days ahead). It will dry out after initial release and won’t open up again until a week or two before departure, if ever. As with other carriers, it pays to plan early.

How will it work out today

American Airlines have devalued their award chart in 2016. The same trip would have cost 70K AA miles in business class and 110K in first class.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Tokyo 6275
Tokyo Shanghai 1119
Shanghai Tokyo 1119
Tokyo Chicago 6275
Total 14786

MMB Highlights

Japan Airlines served Tokyo to Chicago route with Boeing 777-300 ER with three-class configuration, 4 seats per row in first class and 7 abreast in business class, both lie-flat. Japan Airlines feature meal-on-demand in premium classes, – one can order from the menu anytime during the flight. Our younger son is a big fan of Japanese noodle. After he requested his fourth bowl, on top of regularly served meals, concerned flight attendant politely asked “Are you sure you can finish this?”. I don’t blame him. Udon noodles in seafood soup did wonder to dispel fatigue on trans-Pacific flights!

After visiting Japan Airlines’ Sakura Lounge for business class passengers a couple of times, we had a chance to tour its First Class Lounge at Terminal 2. These two lounges were situated next to each other. Through a inconspicuous door, First Class passengers can walk to the upper level of Sakura Lounge and get any service offered there. Despite its smaller size, I noticed that all the food choices found in Sakura were also present at First Class Lounge. In addition, First Class featured a beer machine and a made-to-order Sushi station.

Beer machine at Japan Airlines First Class Lounge

Meals served on first class flight were all recognized by chefs’ names. I went for Western style by “BEDD”.

Champion served on Japan Airlines first class

Main Entree: Wagyu beef


2015: Flying long haul premium cabin for the first time

2015: Flying long haul premium cabin for the first time

Unless you are a “Tuhao”, – an increasingly acceptable English word describing China’s rich, or bestowed a covetous job title that entitles you to either shareholders’ or taxpayers’ money, squandering thousands of dollars on a transoceanic business flight is probably not on top of your agenda. To this date, I have never had the privilege to sit in front of an airplane despite numerous international flights and can’t help looking at those who do with irresistible jealousy.

It looks like the award game I play is just about to bring an end to the drought. In splurging the hard-earned American Airlines currency, 55000 miles to be exact, plus a $60.50 cash outlay, on a one-way business ticket to Shanghai in the summer, I purposely avoided non-stop Chicago to Shanghai AA flight but opted instead for Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. CX805 departs Chicago shortly after midnight and arrives at Hong Kong in the early morning, with connecting flight for Shanghai in the evening on Cathay’s partner DragonAir. This arrangement was attractive to me as it combined a chance to experience not only business class, but one from the top airline in the world and to see Hong Kong for a day as a bonus. The whole family has been brimmed with expectation and excitement since the booking last summer.

That jubilant mood was briefly altered in February when American Airlines notified us that Cathay Pacific had canceled our CX805 flight. What would happen to our precious business tickets? I had to wonder in a great deal of anxiety. It would be too late to book any award tickets for summer travel to China, let alone four seats on a flight! Luckily all was not lost, Cathay Pacific put us on CX807, also in business, with a departure from Chicago in the afternoon, arriving Hong Kong in the evening.

As we learned from past travel experience, with connecting flights, one problem often leads to another, and another, before the whole itinerary collapses. Cathay’s change looked minor. After all, we would arrive at HKG the night before, with 25 hours connection time to Shanghai. Unfortunately, we would now have to go through the hassle of checking out baggage, checking in a hotel, and reboarding, all for the same benefit of a day trip we would have with the original booking, except now with added cost and inconvenience. If we were to move up our flight to Shanghai by one day, the latest flight for Shanghai would only allow one hour’s connecting time at HKG. There would be a distinct possibility that we scramble for a last minute hotel stay at Hong Kong should CX807 be delayed by as little as a few minutes. Extending the Hong Kong stay would not work either. AA’s award policy limits international transfers to 24 hours or less.

Anyone working overseas with fixed vacation days understands how precious each day is on a trip to China. Uncertainty in travel arrangement, even for a day, could mean lost time that should be avoided the best we can. My task was to work out the most efficient plan within the framework set forth by CX807.

One nice thing about AA’s award ticketing policy is, unlike that of United’s, passengers are allowed to change date and itinerary free of charge, provided there is no change in origin and destination. Award tickets, as a result, can be more flexible and valuable than revenue tickets, particularly when partner airlines’ routes are included. One World Alliance, which AA is part of, has two partners in Asia besides Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and Japan Airlines. I would like to be open minded when it comes down to choice of airlines. But given the recent mishaps with Malaysia Airlines and its shaky financial situation, I could not convince myself even to look up its flight schedule out of Hong Kong. Japan Airlines’ hub Tokyo Narita airport became the only alternative.

The last flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo departs HKG shortly after midnight, giving us ample connecting time. From there, Japan Airlines operates connection to Shanghai. Both flights happened to have just enough business class seats for all of us. I called AA immediately after the search, not knowingly at the worst possible time as a rare snow storm was engulfing the South where AA call center was located and commute and business were severely interrupted. I wasn’t able to reach a live representative before an hour and 40 minutes on hold, the longest ever in my contact with any airline. And by that time, I knew I had to lock it in and luckily I did.

Despite that the new itinerary offered certainty in connection and saved the trouble of getting in and out at Hong Kong for limited gain, I was concerned that forfeiting a day trip at Hong Kong and taking on a zig-zag route via Tokyo may disappoint my fellow travelers. But their reaction to the revised plan was beyond my belief. Not only did it win unanimous approval from the family of travel nerds, they cheered the fact that we can sit on lie-flat seats for longer without spending more miles, and that we get to sample another top airline, Japan Airlines, and that we would have a chance to fully take advantage of business class benefits and explore airport lounges at HKG and NRT. “The Wing” and “The Cabin”, two of the five Cathay lounges at HKG, receive high remarks from travelers for their modern decor and extensive food selection. We could expect to get a good taste of Hong Kong, literally, without leaving HKG. In comparison, complimentary massage at Sakura Lounge at NRT, as good as it may be, faded into a little more than an after-thought. Rebooking had been an intense moment. With positive “customer” feedback, I exhaled with a sense of relief in the end.

Though without much drama in reservation so far, the return trip promises no less exciting. According to AA’s award chart, the difference between business and first class on a one-way ticket is very modestly 12500 miles, despite thousands of dollars in their ticket price. Knowing I will probably never pay for a first class ticket in my life time, even after winning million dollar lottery, I found it easy, both mentally and wallet-wise, to indulge in this once-in-a-life-time treatment. For $34.50 and 67500 miles, a Shanghai to Chicago flight in First Class is about to take my travel experience to the next level.

(Almost) free travel, I am loving it!

ORD, lounge, British Airways, Cathay Pacific
Pre-flight use of British Airways lounge at ORD Terminal 5
British Airways, Cathay Pacific, ORD, Lounge
British Airways Lounge
Cathay Pacific, business class,
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER business class lie-flat seat
Cathay Pacific food, business class
Appetizer on Cathay Pacific: tuna takaki
Cathay Pacific, Business class, food
Main entree on Cathay Pacific: Grilled Chilean sea bass
Cathay Pacific, Business class, food
Stir-fried cod with jasmine rice served before arrival
HKG, Hong Kong, Welcome
Welcome to Hong Kong
HKG, The Wing, Hong Kong
Checking in at Cathay Pacific’s The Wing lounge at Hong Kong airport
The Wing, food, Cathay Pacific, Loung
The kind of food served at The Wing that pleases my stomach after long flight
Cathay Pacific, The Wing, HKG, shower
Shower facility at The Wing
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport