Review: A Whopping $18,000 in Business Class Flights for 4 on Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific With American Airlines Miles!

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Earlier this year I redeemed American Airlines miles for my family’s most epic journey yet.  We flew Japan Airlines from Manila to Tokyo, and then to Vancouver after an overnight stay.  And after that, we traveled on Cathay Pacific from Vancouver to New York (JFK) – all in Business Class.

This was the biggest miles and points splurge I’d ever made, and the kids’ first experience flying in Business Class.  And although it cost a lot of miles compared to flying coach, I’d do it again in a heartbeat just to see the smiles on the kids’ faces!

A Flight to Remember! The Kids Flew Business Class for the First Time Thanks to American Airlines Miles

I’ll share a quick rundown of how our flights went, what the kids thought, and how you can do the same thing.

Business Class Flights From Asia for 4 With American Airlines Miles

Persistence Pays Off:  Business Class Award Flights for a Family of 4 (Worth $18,000) From Asia to the US

Returning from our trip to the Philippines, I really wanted to treat the kids to an incredible experience by flying Business Class on 2 airlines we’d never flown – Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

Both airlines are well known for their fantastic Business Class seats, food, and service.  And the kids are old enough now to appreciate the extra-special touches like lounge access, lie-flat seats, and premium amenities.  Leading up to our flights, I think they watched just about every YouTube video and review of the airlines we’d be flying with great excitement!

All Set for Their First Business Class Flight Ever at the Japan Airlines Business Class Check-In Counter in Manila

I’d been hoarding a ton of American Airlines miles earned from credit card welcome bonuses, spending, and actual flights.  In general, we always advise that you NOT stockpile miles, because programs can devalue and award charts can change at any time.  But in this case I needed a pretty substantial chunk of miles to make the trip happen.

You can read more about how I booked this award here.

Here’s How to Earn American Airlines Miles for a Similar Trip

Thanks to hefty welcome bonuses on several credit cards, I was able to earn the miles required for these flights over a couple of years.  It takes a while as a single parent to earn enough miles for a trip like this for a family of 4, but if you have a partner and can both apply for cards, it’ll take a lot less time.

I earned American Airlines miles from these cards:

  • Barclays US Airways MasterCard (no longer offered) – US Airways miles became American Airlines miles after the merger

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Japan Airlines Business Class Manila to Tokyo

1.   Sakura Lounge – Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport

After checking in at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (quick and easy) and passing through security, we headed down to the Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge to grab snacks and drinks before the flight.

Business Class Passengers Get Complimentary Access to the Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge

The Sakura Lounge is fairly compact but very clean and comfortable with friendly staff and a modest selection of hot and cold food.  At first, the lounge was nearly empty, but closer to flight time it filled up with mostly Japanese passengers.

The kids and I enjoyed a light meal and drinks.  But surprisingly the most appealing part of the lounge for the kids was getting access to fast Wi-Fi!  After having spent a couple weeks in the Philippine provinces (where Wi-Fi is often excruciatingly slow), they were eager to get caught up on chatting with friends and watching their favorite videos.

Pigging Out on Wi-Fi and Free Food and Drinks in Manila Is Serious Business

The hot food selection consisted of a curry dish, a chicken dish (both quite tasty), and rice.  Plus a few different types of pastries, cookies, and nibbles.

Making Short Work of the Hot Food Buffet at the Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge – My Daughter Thought the Chicken Was Yummy

There were plenty of free soft drinks, beer, and pour-your-own wine and liquor available.  The kids were actually a little miffed when we left the lounge early to check out 2 Priority Pass lounges in the Manila airport because they were so comfortable and happy at the Sakura Lounge!

2.   Boeing 767 Flight to Tokyo

We headed to the gate ~40 minutes before departure.  The kids were tickled with getting to board first in the Business Class lane, and not having to wait and wait like they’re used to when we fly coach.  “Mom, we feel like VIPs!”

Super Eager to Get on the Plane in Manila

Our flight from Manila to Tokyo was operated by an older Japan Airlines Boeing 767, and we were seated in the middle section of Business Class, which has a 1-2-1 seating configuration.  It was a daytime flight and just over 4 hours, so we spent most of our time enjoying the food and inflight entertainment.

I still remember how big the kids’ eyes got when we first walked into the cabin, and how thrilled they were with the seats!

Mom … I Don’t Think We’re on Southwest Anymore

By far the highlight of the flight was trying out all the gadgets and pockets and seat functions.  Here’s my daughter enthusiastically giving a tour of her lie-flat seat (I probably should have briefed her a little better on the miles we used).  😉

Shortly after take-off, the flight attendants handed out the menus for dinner and did a beverage service.  Japan Airlines offers a choice of a Japanese menu or a Western menu, and on this flight the entree options were miso black cod and chicken hamburg steak (Japanese), and beef steak or Spanish-style roast chicken (Western).

I Opted for the Japanese Menu – While the Chicken Hamburg Steak Wasn’t Super Exciting, the Miso Black Cod Was Melt-in-Your-Mouth Delicious

We discovered later that meals on Japan Airlines Business Class within Asia aren’t as fancy as what they offer on trans-Pacific flights.

Despite the relatively short flight, the service was super attentive and the flight attendants positively doted on the kids.  They each received a stuffed Japan Airlines plane and a model airplane to take home (plus an amenity kit and slippers which are still in heavy use around our house today!).

The Kids Came Away With Numerous Goodies – It’s SO Nice When Airlines Go Above and Beyond to Make the Experience Extra-Special for Children

At top of descent into Tokyo, where we spent an amazing night at the Conrad Tokyo, the kids remarked that the flight was way too short.  Color me shocked!  I don’t think I’ve ever heard them complain about getting somewhere too soon – ever!  I told them not to worry because we had plenty of flight hours to go before we got home …

Japan Airlines Business Class Tokyo to Vancouver

1.   Sakura Lounge – Tokyo Narita

After spending a night and day in Tokyo, we returned to Narita airport for our overnight flight to Vancouver, also in Japan Airlines Business Class.

We made a point of arriving to the airport early so we’d have lots of time to enjoy the Sakura Lounge, which is very highly reviewed.

At Tokyo Narita, Japan Airlines Has a Sakura Lounge for Business Class Passengers and a Separate, Even Fancier Lounge for Folks in First Class

We got there mid-afternoon and were all famished because we’d skipped lunch in favor of packing in as much touring around Tokyo as possible.  So the kids (well, me too) went straight to the buffet!

Scarfing Down a Late Lunch at the Sakura Lounge in Tokyo

The food selection here was much more varied than the Sakura Lounge in Manila.  There were plenty of hot dishes, including dim sum …

Yummy! We Loved the Dim Sum at the Sakura Lounge in Tokyo

… miso soup and udon noodles with all kinds of toppings …

You Can Customize Your Soup However You Like

… and hearty comfort food like mabo tofu.  Perfect to warm up with after a chilly day of wandering around Tokyo!

The Mabo Tofu and Soup Hit the Spot … Spicy, Savory, and Just Right When You’re Starving After a Day of Touring Around

There were also several stations where you could pour your own champagne, sake, wine, or liquor …

The Grown-Up Beverage Options Were Plentiful! I Might Have Sampled a Bit of Champagne (Don’t Ask Me What Kind!)

… and if you’re an aviation geek like me, the up-close views of the tarmac are sweet!

Planespotters Will Get a Kick out of the Tokyo Narita Sakura Lounge

After eating a ton, fatigue started to creep up on the kids.  I took the opportunity to quietly get some work done, while my son decided to, um, make himself at home.  (Yes, his shoes are off, and no, the lounge wasn’t busy).

Being Little Means You Can Nap Just About Anywhere!

Soon enough, it was time to board our flight to Vancouver.

2.   Boeing 787 Dreamliner Flight to Vancouver

Our flight to Vancouver was on the Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner.  This particular aircraft’s Business Class cabin was in a 2-2-2 configuration, but the seats were different.  These “shell flat neo” seats don’t quite go all the way flat, but it didn’t make much difference to us.  They’re only very slightly angled.

Despite Not Being Completely Lie Flat, the Business Class Seats on the Japan Airlines 787-800 Seemed Much More Modern

Each seat came with a blanket, small pillow, and amenity kit.   Because we’d had a long day in Tokyo, we were relieved when the crew started the food and beverage service very shortly after take-off.  Again, there were options for Western and Japanese style menus.  This time, the Japanese meal included sashimi (tuna and octopus), braised sukiyaki beef, and yuzu salmon.

Delicious! The Tuna Sashimi on This Japan Airlines Flight Was Outstanding

I’ll be frank, one of the pain points for me booking this flight is that my son is a very picky eater.  So spending all those miles and getting all of these fancy dishes is a bit like casting pearls before swine where he’s concerned.

That said, there was always something he could eat.

My Son Didn’t Touch the Spring Cabbage and Edible Flower Salad With Roast Japanese Beef. But the Warm Rolls Were a Hit 😉

Shortly after the meal service it was time to get some shut-eye.  All told, we got nearly 6 hours of solid sleep on this ~9 hour flight, despite the seats being slightly angled.

Ahh, Bliss. These Kids Can Sleep Just About Anywhere!

Unfortunately, this was also the flight when my oldest daughter got sick.  But we managed!

Cathay Pacific Business Class Vancouver to New York (JFK)

1.   Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge – Vancouver

We landed in Vancouver at ~10:00 am and spent the day with my dad, who’d taken the ferry from Victoria to meet us.  So by evening, when it was time for our ~10:00 pm departure on Cathay Pacific to New York, we were all beat.

By Now These Kids Had Been Traveling for 48+ Hours … They Did Remarkably Well All Things Considered

I didn’t realize it at the time, but our flight to New York was mostly empty.  So the Cathay Pacific Business Class lounge was nearly deserted.

Talk About Quiet! The Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge in Vancouver Was a Ghost Town

I was a little regretful that we’d eaten a big meal with my dad before heading to the airport.  There was an impressive noodle bar with all kinds of customized options.  The poor chef was probably bored silly.

I’m Sure the Food Here Is Phenomenal but We Were too Full and Tired to Try It

There were also options to order small plates and snacks, plus the usual nibbles like salads, cookies, and nuts.  I did my Canadian patriotic duty and split an order of poutine (very good) with the kids.

When in Canada, You’ve Gotta Grab Poutine! The Cathay Pacific Version Was on Point

Owing to fatigue and the dimly-lit lounge, we were all just ready to get on the plane and sleep.

Chilling in the Lounge, Ready for a Nap.  Not Yet Kids!

Our flight was slightly delayed but pretty soon it was time to board for the last leg of our Business Class adventure!

2.   Boeing 777 Flight to New York (JFK)

I had actually been looking forward to this flight the most, because Cathay Pacific Business Class is one of the top rated in the world.  But we were so pooped from traveling that it was mostly a relief to sit down and stop moving for a while.

That said, the kids had built this flight up too after seeing so many reviews online.  So they were still all smiles as we boarded the aircraft.

In the Home Stretch Now! A Quiet Boarding Experience in Part Due to the Light Load on Our Flight to New York

The flight from Vancouver to New York was mostly empty, and the Business Class cabin only had a handful of other passengers.

Finally in Cathay Pacific Business Class! You Could Almost Hear the Crickets Chirping It Was so Empty

Like our other flights, the highlight for the kids was the spaciousness and cool seat features.  Here’s my son not using his inside voice just after being seated:

And here’s my oldest daughter inspecting the amenity kit:

Quite honestly, watching the kids get such a kick out of things that might seem mundane or everyday to miles and points enthusiasts was really the highlight of this journey.  The smile on my son’s face says it all.

Best Flight Ever, Mom!

Owing to the late hour (and short ~4.5 hour flight to New York), the cabin crew got down to business serving drinks and a light supper shortly after take-off.

A Quick Meal on a Late Night Flight. Certainly NOT as Elaborate as Some Cathay Pacific Menus I’ve Seen, but Still Very Civilized

None of us really wanted food, but my daughter and I took a meal (and shared the garlic bread with my son, because that’s one of the few things he’ll eat!) just to try it out.  I chose the potato crusted salmon because I figured it’d be excellent coming from coastal British Columbia, and it was tasty.

I liked that the flight attendants noticed my son’s penchant for garlic bread and came around again to offer him as much as he wanted.  He was very pleased!

The Lights in the Cabin Were Already Dimmed for Folks Who Wanted to Max out Their Sleep. This Meal Was Better Than It Looks

That said (and maybe it was due to the short length of the flight), the kids remarked that they thought the flight attendants on Japan Airlines were a lot nicer.  Not that the Cathay Pacific flight attendants weren’t attentive – they were just very business-like and didn’t have as warm or personal of a touch as we experienced on the previous 2 flights.

The Seats on Cathay Pacific Were Our Favorite. But the Kids Especially Preferred the In-Flight Service From Japan Airlines’ Flight Attendants

With only ~3 hours left in the flight, we went straight to sleep after supper.  My daughter conked out even before reclining her seat to the lie-flat position, she was so tuckered!

We arrived in New York moderately refreshed after being awoken by the flight attendants during the descent.  So I didn’t get any daytime snapshots of the cabin unfortunately!

Bottom Line

I’m usually super frugal and try to stretch my miles and points for the most coach flights or hotel stays.  But for once, I wanted to treat the kids to an incredible experience using American Airlines miles to fly Business Class on Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific from Asia back to the US.

It was just as we’d hoped – amazing seats, food, and service on our flights between Manila, Tokyo, Vancouver, and New York.  The kids felt like VIPs and got such joy out of the journey, despite being totally exhausted by the end of it.  It’s funny the things that really made an impression on them, like how the seats worked or where the tray table was hidden.

Yes, it cost a lot of miles.  But even as a single parent, I was able to accumulate enough for this trip by earning welcome bonuses and spending on credit cards, and also actually flying American Airlines.  You can collect miles for a similar trip with cards like:

The kids are already asking when we can do this again.  I said maybe when they turn 18 and can sign-up for their own cards!  😉

What about you?  Have you ever taken your kids on a Business Class flight?  What did they think?  Please share your experiences in the comments.

Jasmin Baron was an editor at Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel. Her work has appeared in The Points Guy and Business Insider.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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