JAPAN AIRLINES FIRST CLASS SAKURA LOUNGE TOKYO (HANEDA): REVIEW

Alliance: Oneworld

Location: Haneda (Tokyo) International Airport, Terminal 1

Lounge Rating: 4.5 Stars

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For as far as I can remember I’ve always been fascinated and had respect for Japan Airlines (JAL) as an airline. The airline is synonymous with outstanding customer service, strong product offerings and overall elegance. This extends to their lounges which are well presented and immaculate. I was keen to visit the First Class Lounge in Haneda after friends reported on how wonderful their experience was, including a must visit to the Red Suite. Fortunately I had the opportunity to visit the lounge twice on a recent trip. So how did the lounge stack up in terms of First Class lounges like The Pier in HK or the Concorde Lounge in the UK? I checked into the lounge to find out…

Lounge access options

  • Those travelling in JAL First Class
  • JAL Mileage Bank Diamond, Gold and Silver members
  • Oneworld Emerald members travelling on any Oneworld flight in any cabin of service

Lounge location and opening hours

The JAL First Class Lounge is located after security in the International Terminal on level 4. Located across from gate 112, the lounge can be accessed via an elevator or set of escalators leading up from the gate level. Opening hours for the lounge is from 6am – 2am, with only a closure period of four hours in the wee hours of the early morning.

Ambience

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Upon entering the lounge for the first time you’re greeted by a stunning hallway with gleaming marble floors, Japanese style partitions and artwork. Off the hallway are shower facilities to the left and a phone room and baggage storage to the right. Beyond the hallway are two main seating areas on either side of the dining space, a small business centre, The Red Suite, showers, bathroom, massage area and smoking room. The amount of seating as well as power outlets are generous. The furnishing style is light and elegant, and more importantly very comfortable.

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Speaking of the Red Suite, this by far was the room that most impressed. In a word stunning. I’ve not come across such a gorgeous room (not even in The Pier in HK) in a lounge before. Located at the back of the lounge, this adults only space offers a more relaxed space for those seeking quiet.

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The suite, beautifully decorated in mahogany colours and featuring Japan Airlines memorabilia, is broken up into four spaces. A library, play room, seating room and the all important champagne/sake bar (which comprises of a Laurent-Perrier stocked fridge and top notch sake). There’s also a shoe polishing service for those business flyers looking to spruce up before their next meeting. This was my favourite space in the lounge and found myself often returning to fill up on another sake or Laurent Perrier.

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I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the shower rooms but the restrooms were well appointed with lovely amenities as well as the iconic Japanese Super Toilet or Washlet (Woshuretto) as it’s known, which has all the dazzling and somewhat confusing array of features.

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Bread and butter (food and drink)

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The food selection is mainly self-serve, with a chef available during peak times (breakfast and dinner) to create made to order dishes. The selection is extensive but in comparison to other first lounges I have visited it was a tad underwhelming. Some individual items like the sushi selection was delicious and highly recommended but the salads and bread options looked lacklustre and not well presented. The chef was the highlight of the area and at the time of my visit they were serving the original JAL burger which was quite tasty and went down a treat!

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There are also two self serve drink stations which include liquor, soft drinks, juice, and a beer machine. The selection on offer is decent but nowhere near as impressive as The Red Suite offering.

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Verdict

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The JAL First Class Lounge is definitely up there for me in terms of my all time favourites,  mainly due to the x factor of the Red Suite.  I fell in love with its beautiful interior, tranquil ambience and lovely nod to JALs aviation past. As an aviation geek walking around inspecting the memorabilia with Laurent-Perrier glass in hand has easily become one of my favourite airport lounge experiences.

Whilst the lounge isn’t The Pier in Hong Kong (a difficult task to follow), this lounge has easily become one of my favourites alongside the Qantas, Qatar and British Airways First lounges. I will definitely (and hopefully) be back to enjoy this stunning lounge again sometime in the near future.

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Comments

Have you experienced the JAL First Class Sakura Lounge at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport? Love to hear from you about your time in lounge – did it shine or were you expecting something better?

 

EMIRATES B777 FIRST CLASS SYD – BKK: REVIEW

Flight: EK418, SYD – BKK

Loyalty Scheme: Emirates Skywards (partner with Qantas)

Frequency: Daily (sadly axed now)

Duration: 9 hours and 30 minutes

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The lustre of first class never fails to excite me. Airlines such as Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Korea, Lufthansa and Cathay are renown for their superior F product. Recently Emirates launched their new first class suite but sadly the roll out of that product has been slow. Normally I fly J, especially in reward bookings but my connection between Sydney and Bangkok was a struggle with only F showing up in my searches. Surprisingly the amount of points required for the current F on Emirates was quite reasonable and the idea of flying their highly regarded first suite sipping unlimited Dom Perignon was quite the lure, so naturally I booked. Does Emirates first (even if it isn’t the newly launched suite) stack up? Is the experience truly first class? TAT hopped onboard to find out…

The Seat

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The first thing I noticed upon entering the first cabin was amount of space. The lack of overhead lockers provides more ceiling height. The storage space is instead cleverly crafted around the seat itself with ample space around the foot area and as well as a larger storage compartment on the side against the window. Unlike the business class layout on the B777, first class has a much more passenger accessibility friendly 1-2-1 configuration.

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As soon as I’m seated down a flight attendant (FA) is there on hand to offer me a glass of champagne which I happily apologise even if it Moet and not the Dom Perignon (they don’t serve the grand dame until after take off). Aside from the bevy of storage compartments on hand, there’s a nifty little mini bar for those who don’t want to disturb the FA mid flight. Personally whilst a nice to have, with the drink list on offer, I’m more inclined to have an FA make up a drink for me.

Now for those wanting to look a little ‘Hollywood glam’ after their flight, Emirates has you covered with its flashy ‘open and closed’ lit up makeup mirror. Inside the mirror case is a personal spa kit consisting of various Byredo branded creams, mists and oils. Sure this doesn’t make up for the lack of onboard shower that makes the A380 a much more enticing option, but it will ensure you don’t leave the flight looking like you’ve been rolling around in the hay.

Now flashy distractions aside, let’s talk about the seat. The rather well padded, leather seat has a width of 29 inches and possesses some fabulous setting to recline or lie flat to, especially with the massage option on. Speaking of the lie flat mode, the seat transforms into a 201cm (79-inch) fully-flat bed, which the Emirates crew will happily make up with a mattress, duvet and pillow (whilst leaving slippers, eye shade and pyjamas on top for a nice touch).

All in all quite impressive and makes for quite a nice way to recline into for a short or long journey.

Entertain me

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The first class suite comes with an impressive 32 inch touch screen TV, which provides access to a variety of movies, TV shows, games, music, and the aircraft’s external cameras. I found the clarity and sound great with my entertainment system although as per usual the IFE in general lacked a large choice of entertainment options (something that Emirates has continuous performed poorly in for years).

 

The Bread and Butter (food and drink)

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I love my food and for me especially in premium, this can make or break an experience. In my time I’ve had some really poor premium fare and thankfully today, Emirates was all class. I guess you could say it all started in the form of an arabic coffee and date sampling upon boarding, which for me always puts me in a happy mood. It’s a great pairing. On the ground Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV is poured but once in the sky the Dom Pérignon 2009 was waiting to be popped and I was onto it like Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous (minus the embarrassing side antics). I think I enjoyed at least a bottle of the prestigious NV.

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What sets the first class dining experience apart is naturally the canapes and appertisers. On offer was caviar and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to enjoy it with the iconic french bubbly. The caviar was well presented and was an absolute treat. The only downside is that there simply wasn’t enough on the dish to enjoy! A true first world problem!

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Settling into the rest of the menu I went to my go to arabic mezze (which didn’t let me down) and for main enjoyed a succulent and well cooked lamp chops dish that was seasoned with lavender chimichurri. Upon finishing that dish I was on the verge of full but I couldn’t complete my meal without at least savouring a desert. I decided on something (somewhat light) with the apricot frangipane tart). Coupled with the vanilla bean and raspberries, I found myself in desert heaven without my stomach feeling like it was in food hell.

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Throughout the meal service and whenever I requested a snack, the FAs were more than friendly and welcoming to my requests. They were highly attentive and were more than obliging to happily posing with a bottle of the Dom Perginon for this review story. If anything I found that my biggest regret from the meal service was that I didn’t have enough room in my stomach to sample more of the dishes on offer. The dining was truly first class!

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Verdict

The flight overall was simply heaven. Words cannot describe the feeling of being in that seat. It was first class without the attitude. FAs were a standout the entire flight and were attentive to most of the needs. The food and drink options were standouts.  Whilst I stuck to the Dom Perginon and water that flight, there was an excellent selection of wine, beer and cocktails on the menu. The food served onboard not only matched but exceeded my expectations. The quality was quite exceptional and delicious! If given the opportunity I will definitely get onboard again with this great Emirates F product.

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Comments

Have you experienced flying first class on Emirates? Did you love or dislike the flight? Hit up the comments section as I’m keen to hear your thoughts…

 

 

 

 

 

Qantas launches new Frequent Flyer Program changes

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Qantas a couple of days ago without notice announced cryptically that it would be overhauling its frequent flyer program. Like many I was in a bit of a sweat about it thinking the potential was endless for the airline to come in with the wrecking ball and make the program to be frank, a lot worse. Today, I am glad to report that it isn’t anywhere near the doom and gloom that was reported online. So what has been announced and how will it affect you?

First up Qantas has announced there’ll be more seats up for grabs, with those dreaded carrier charges on most international Qantas flights reduced by as much as half. This is a big win for many as the carrier charges for QF currently have a large sting to them compared to their rivals when redeeming. You” require fewer Qantas Points when booking an economy seat on international flights but here’s the sting. Those looking to book something with a bit more leg room will be hit with higher amount of points for seats in premium economy, business class and first class.

The next bit of news is something I was apart of in terms of research late last year by the airline and this is the Qantas Points Club. Details are still sketchy but basically the Qantas Points Club will operate adjunct to the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme, unlocking flight and travel benefits for non-flying members including lounge access and bonus status credits. I think this has a lot of potential and am keen to see how it is delivered when it is launched December 2019.

Thirdly Qantas has earmarked five million seats on Qantas domestic and international flights annually, with up to 30% more premium economy, business class and even first class seats to popular destinations such as Singapore, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo. This is on top of 3-5 million seats on partner airlines, including new partners such as Air New Zealand, KLM Bangkok Airways and Air France.

Finally Qantas has opened up a new level of lifetime status, the coveted Lifetime Platinum but the catch is, to achieve it, it’s an eye watering and almost impossible 75K status credits to achieve. The new Lifetime Platinum status will commence in September 2019.

So what do you think of the announcement? Anything that excites or annoys you? Keen to hear your thoughts…

 

Qantas offers first plane bookable with points only

One of the biggest complaints for many frequent flyers is the inability to redeem their points/ miles for reward seats on airlines. The frustation of lack of availabilty means in turn frequent flyers are having points simply sit in their accounts. Qantas has been pushing the envelope of late when it comes to passenger experience. When they made an announcement on their next venture, it came at no surprise it’d be equally compelling.

The Australian airline has announced they’ll offer a series of dedicated frequent flyer redemption flights across their network with seats only available to those redeeming Qantas points. The innovatively titled Points Plane initiative will see the first plane to be bookable only on points depart 21 October 2019 from Melbourne to Tokyo Narita.

Using my personal favourite Qantas aircraft the A380, Qantas Frequent Flyer members will have the chance to book all 484 seats on this flight (14 first class, 64 business class, 35 premium economy, and 371 economy seats) at the ‘classic’ award level.

Redemption costs for the flight are:

  • Economy seat – 35000 Qantas points
  • Premium economy seat – 54000 Qantas points
  • Business class seat – 72000 Qantas points
  • First class seat – 108000 points

The seats are available on a first come first served basis. Those fortunate to be successful in booking a flight on the Points Plane can expect to be treated to a special inflight service that includes a cocktail and meal service, pajamas for all passengers (not just those in the front end or in the A380s case the top end) and inflight giveaways.

A return leg is also on offer for 26 October 26 2019 but those hoping for an A380 experience again will be disappointed to find the aircraft is an A330. Qantas believes those returning may stay beyond the initial date as part of their trip and so the aircraft does not require the same patronage.

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What do you think of the Qantas announcement? Would you be keen to book a trip on the Points Plane? I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

CATHAY PACIFIC THE PIER FIRST CLASS LOUNGE HONG KONG: REVIEW

Alliance: Oneworld

Location: Hong Kong International Airport, Terminal 1, Level 6, near Gate 63

Lounge Rating: 5 Stars (I would go beyond 5/5 if I could!)

 

 

You would’ve come across those top 10 First Class Lounge lists or best lounges in the world articles where some typical points hack would have written up online for you to salivate over. They become the desirable among the frequent flying elite and are in themselves a must go to destination.  For me one of those lounges is the Qantas Sydney First Class International Lounge. It’s exquisite and worth arriving early for.

For a while now I had heard great things about an equally (if not more) impressive lounge, The Pier First Class Lounge in Hong Kong Airport. So impressive is its offering that I was more looking forward to visiting the lounge versus revisiting Hong Kong again. So how did The Pier stack up? Was the lounge worthy of the hype. I simply had to check in and find out…

Lounge access options

  • Lounge access is available for passengers who are:
    • Cathay Pacific/ Dragonair first class passengers
    • First class flyers Oneworld airline travelling passengers including British Airways and Qatar
    • Marco Polo Club Diamond, Diamond Plus and Diamond Invitation frequent flyers
    • Other Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers such as Qantas Platinum prior to flights with Cathay Pacific Qantas, etc

Lounge location and opening hours

The Pier is located at Level 6, Terminal 1, near Gate 63 and is open from from 5.30am, closed at 00.30am daily.

Ambience

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One of the first things you notice when you step into The Pier is the sheer size yet privacy of the place. This isn’t your normal lounge fit out. It truly is a space to relax, enjoy a meal or be productive without the distraction of the overall airport. The separation of the different, beautiful colour scheme and greenery add to the sense of luxury. This feels more like a 5 star hotel than lounge; again a testament to the work that Cathay has put into making the lounge the experience that it is today.

For those wishing to be productive, there’s a great office space called’ The Bureau’ which offers business travellers desks with computers and space for laptops as well as multiple  AC and USB power ports for those who need to be fully charged and tapped into all devices.

On the flip side for those wishing to be as unproductive as possible there’s a Library with some reading materials as well as eight Day Suites which include a single bed for those wanting to get some forty winks. Yes this lounge really has something for everyone!

 

Refresh Me (Bathroom/ spa facilities)

Having had a rather long day lining up and walking in the heat around Honkers, I made a b line to the bathroom to have a shower before my lounge meal and flight. Unlike other lounges I was able to get a shower instantly. The 14 shower suites are adorned with gorgeous brass fittings and my favourite, Aesop amenities. Let’s say that after my shower I was feeling more than refreshed but rejuvenated.

I applied for a spa treatment but sadly the appointments were booked out right until 11pm that night, well after my flight had taken to the skies (so sadly could not review that aspect of the lounge).

Bread and butter (food and drink)

 

One of my favourite aspects about the First Class Lounges like Qantas and now Cathay is their dining room space. Yes there is a buffet area option for those who do enjoy the ability to self serve and are time poor but for me, these spaces provide a chance to indulge in some truly great cuisine. The Pier did not disappoint with the lounge offer a restaurant space and bar at the back of the lounge. Simply pull up a chair and experience restaurant quality service. On the menu was a staggering amount of food and wine options, including three champagne choices. Due to the Easter period there was an additional Easter themed menu which in the end tempted me and found me mixing it up between some renown dishes and some more holiday spirit cuisine.

 

For the starter I choose the Easter a la coque egg and smoked salmon with fennel salad. Both were equally delicious and beautiful presented. Moving onto the mains I had the succulent mussel marinere with white wine and julienne fries. If I had an criticism here is that the dish was rather small and in turn I found myself order more, which lead me onto my second main the roasted leg of lamb. Again both were tasty, well cooked and looked divine.

To finish I couldn’t go past the Easter themed chocolate dessert which was a rich chocolate mousse Easter egg with orange marmalade….simply delicious! I complimented my dishes naturally with a mix between the vintage Thienot 2008 Brut and the Perrier Jouet NV (which is also served in the Qantas First Class lounge).

Throughout the dining experience the lovely waitress who served me was accommodating, friendly and very conversational. She was great in terms of offering insight into drink and food choices, even getting me onto the Cathay cocktail speciality Blue Dream which was quite a treat!  I did not have to wait long nor struggle to get the attention of wait staff. This really was the perfect lounge dining experience. I could not fault it.

Verdict

The Pier is one of those experiences where you don’t feel you are in a lounge. The atmosphere here is warm and inviting and never feels for a moment crowded. Normally you have to do a hot shoe shuffle to scramble for a seat in another lounge but not here at The Pier. The breakout spaces and use of lighting and fixtures is truly genius. For me it has become one of my favourite lounges in the world after one visit – yes it was THAT good! I will be back for sure and am willing to look at flight options that detour as a stopover in Hong Kong just to make it happen!

Comments

Have you experienced The Pier First Class Lounge in Hong Kong? Did you find the space as inviting and beautiful as my experience or was your time not as enjoyable? Love to hear your thoughts and what you think has been your best lounge experience to date.

Boston gets an Emirates A380 upgrade

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Emirates is a strange and odd beast of an airline. One minute it’s making cuts on what seems like lucrative route and the next moment upgrading and buffering capacity on routes deemed as not so profitable. Go figure! After only yesterday deciding to slash the BKK-SYD route from 1 June this year, Emirates has quietly decided to increase capacity on its DXB-BOS route with the airline switching the service from the current B777 to an A380.

This is somewhat rather good news for those flying this route as it represents across all classes a better flying experience. Oddly enough the service commences the same day as the BKK-SYD route becomes redundant. That said it’s only been upgraded so far from 1 June to 30 September but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s extended beyond this time period.

As mentioned prior everyone is a winner here. First class will be rewarded with a shower suite whilst business class passengers will all be given a fully lie flat direct aisle access seat. Moreover all premium passengers will also get to enjoy the social ambience over a drink in the onboard bar, which is sadly lacking on Emirates other aircraft. Finally economy passengers will fly a little more comfortably thanks to the wider seats on the A380.

Considering that Emirates used to have two daily services between DXB-BOS before it cut one back in 2017, the A380 upgrade is for now at least a happy medium.

Will you be enticed to fly Emirates on this route during this period now that the service has been upgraded? Keen to hear your thoughts.

Emirates culls its BKK-SYD freedom route

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Happy new year and welcome to yet another fizzer rather than a big bang announcement from Emirates. I’m not sure what is going on at Emirates HQ of late but cull seems to be the flavour of the month (albeit for some time now). Emirates has announced that it will cut its Bangkok – Sydney fifth freedom route from June 1 this year and hand the route reigns to its partner in crime Qantas.

Whilst Qantas is a perfectly good airline unfortunately they do not offer the product or service that Emirates offers. Firstly there is no first class product on Qantas and the capacity on its current aircraft servicing there is smaller meaning that consumers in the end will have not only less choice but pay more for it. The withdrawal of Emirates leaves Thai Airways as the only airline offering nonstop first class between Australia and Thailand.

Another downside to the announcement means that those who intend to fly in the evening with the Emirates flight to BKK will now have to leave in the morning with Qantas.

For those booked on Emirates after June 1, keep an eye on your booking as you are likely to be shifted onto the Qantas flight.