I used credit card points to score a $20,000 seat on ANA to Japan. Here's what life is like in first class, from fresh sashimi to $300 Champagne

Business Insider may receive a commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network if you apply for a credit card, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

ANA first class meal serviceDavid Slotnick/Business Insider

My wife and I recently flew round-trip to Japan in first class, and we only paid about $250 each in taxes and fees, plus 120,000 credit card points. There were a few steps involved, but overall it was relatively easy - you can read exactly how I used points to book the flights booked the flights here.

I've found cards like the AmEx Platinum Card, the American Express® Gold Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (currently offering its highest-ever sign-up bonus!), the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Freedom Unlimited, and the Citi Premier Card have the welcome bonuses and rewards point that enable me to sip $300 champagne, eat fresh sashimi, and stretch out on a luxurious private bed at 35,000 feet.

Here's what it was like to fly 14 hours in a $20,000 first-class seat on ANA:

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

Business Insider may receive a commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

{{}}

View As: One Page Slides

Check-in for our 10:45 a.m. flight was quick and easy.

Check-in for our 10:45 a.m. flight was quick and easy.

There was no one else at the first class check-in counter, although the check-in area was fairly empty, anyway. ANA uses JFK's Terminal 7, which is primarily used by British Airways. Most of the European flights from the terminal leave in the late-afternoon and evening, so this was definitely off-peak.

The check-in agent quickly tagged our luggage, then offered us a map to the British Airways first class lounge, where ANA premium cabin and elite passengers are welcome.

The check-in agent quickly tagged our luggage, then offered us a map to the British Airways first class lounge, where ANA premium cabin and elite passengers are welcome.

Despite the name, the "First Class Lounge" isn't actually British Airways' lounge for its first class passengers — they get to use the Concorde Room, a swankier facility. Unfortunately, that opens later in the day, and ANA first class passengers can't use it.

The lounge was surprisingly crowded, considering that there were so few flights departing that morning.

The lounge was surprisingly crowded, considering that there were so few flights departing that morning.

It took a while before we were able to find somewhere to sit.

There was a small breakfast buffet station with pastries, cereal fruit, yogurt, and small sandwiches, plus coffee, tea, and other beverages.

There was a small breakfast buffet station with pastries, cereal fruit, yogurt, and small sandwiches, plus coffee, tea, and other beverages.

We had gotten to the airport later than we meant to, so we didn't have much time in the lounge, but this was actually a good thing: We only had a little bit to eat and some coffee, preferring to save room for what promised to be a fantastic meal service on the flight.

After a little while in the lounge, we walked over to the gate.

After a little while in the lounge, we walked over to the gate.

ANA had separate boarding lines for first, business, and economy class passengers. We went into the first class lane, where the gate agent checked our boarding passes and passports before waving us down the jet bridge.

ANA's Boeing 777-300ER, the plane that operated our flight, has two rows of first class in a 1-2-1 layout, meaning that there are a total of eight first class seats.

ANA's Boeing 777-300ER, the plane that operated our flight, has two rows of first class in a 1-2-1 layout, meaning that there are a total of eight first class seats.

On our flight, my wife and I would be the only two people in first class.

The seats are basically open "suites," large (by airplane standards) enclosed cubicles with an open door and ceiling.

The seats are basically open "suites," large (by airplane standards) enclosed cubicles with an open door and ceiling.

The middle seats have a divider between them that can be lowered if you're traveling with a companion.

However, the suites are so private that even with the divider lowered, it's hard to see or speak with the person next to you — you'd both have to lean pretty far forward.

Because we had heard that about these seats, we decided to each take a window seat on the same side of the plane, one in front of the other. For the outbound flight, I took row two, so seat 2K.

The window seats also benefit from a bit more storage area — the "shelf" between the open suite wall and the window.

The window seats also benefit from a bit more storage area — the "shelf" between the open suite wall and the window.

Even without a door, the suites felt remarkably private. When you sat back in the chair, you couldn't see anyone else in the cabin — although on this particular flight, we were the only two passengers in first.

The design of the cabin was pleasant and relaxing, with faux-wood paneling, blue seats and accents, and neutral tones otherwise.

Each suite had a 23-inch touchscreen TV, with a handful of current and classic movies.

Each suite had a 23-inch touchscreen TV, with a handful of current and classic movies.

It wasn't the best selection, but I had loaded up plenty onto my iPad.

Each seat was 33 inches wide with 76 inches of pitch, according to the website Seatguru.

Each seat was 33 inches wide with 76 inches of pitch, according to the website Seatguru.

They could be reclined into a variety of positions and levels, and turned into a fully flat bed (more on that later).

Each suite had a few storage areas, including a small cabinet on the bulkhead side with a hanger for storing headphones, a small phone or glasses cubby on the aisle side, shelves, tables, and cubbies.

Here's the small compartment, where I kept my glasses when I went to sleep.

Here's the small compartment, where I kept my glasses when I went to sleep.

Here's the control panel for the seat.

Here's the control panel for the seat.

There was actually a guide to help you figure out how to use every feature in the suite.

Waiting at each seat was an amenity kit.

Waiting at each seat was an amenity kit.

There was also a set of pajamas for the flight (which we could take with us), a cardigan in case we got cold, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and a pair of slippers.

The amenity kit came in a Samsonite-branded hard-sided case, one of the cooler kits I've personally seen.

The amenity kit came in a Samsonite-branded hard-sided case, one of the cooler kits I've personally seen.

The kit was stocked with useful items for the flight, like an eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush and toothpaste, tissues, moisturizer, and more ...

... But the cabin crew came by with all of the same amenities before the flight departed.

... But the cabin crew came by with all of the same amenities before the flight departed.

That way you could leave your own case unopened, whether to use it later or to keep as a souvenir.

The noise-cancelling headphones were from Sony.

The noise-cancelling headphones were from Sony.

ANA used a unique type of headphone jack, so if you wanted to use the in-flight entertainment, you had to use the airline's headphones instead of your own.

Each passenger also got a coupon with a Wi-Fi code, good for 100 megabytes of data.

As we settled in, the flight attendants came around to offer us drinks.

As we settled in, the flight attendants came around to offer us drinks.

We both went with Champagne — it was vacation, after all. ANA offers top-shelf alcohol in the first class cabin, but like most airlines, saves that until the plane is in the air — it has to pay taxes on any booze that's opened on the ground, so cheaper stuff makes more sense.

That's not to knock the pre-departure sparking wine — it was quite tasty.

One glass of champagne and a safety video later, and we were off!

One glass of champagne and a safety video later, and we were off!

As we climbed, I flipped through the massive menus. The drinks book started with Champagnes (including Krug).

As we climbed, I flipped through the massive menus. The drinks book started with Champagnes (including Krug).

There were also white wines, red wines, sake, spirits, beers, and more. It was readily apparent that this would not be a teetotaling flight for me, although there were plenty of soft drinks available, too.

The food menu offered a Japanese main meal, or an "international," western one. There was also a selection of light dishes that you could order any time during the flight.

Shortly after take-off, the cabin crew came around and took our drink and lunch orders.

Shortly after take-off, the cabin crew came around and took our drink and lunch orders.

I figured "when in first, drink Champagne," and ordered a glass of Krug. The 2004 vintage which was served on our flight retails for about $300 per bottle on the ground.

There was also a tasty amuse-bouche plate, which had a few different pieces.

There was also a tasty amuse-bouche plate, which had a few different pieces.

I decided to go with the Japanese meal.

I decided to go with the Japanese meal.

The first course was a selection of "morsels," all of which were tasty and interesting.

Next came the soup course, a clear broth with vegetables, and a scallop fish cake.

Next came the soup course, a clear broth with vegetables, and a scallop fish cake.

The sashimi course was a lightly seared yellowtail.

The sashimi course was a lightly seared yellowtail.

This might have been my favorite part, although it's a close tie with ...

...the main course.

...the main course.

All of the various dishes served with the main were fantastic, but the grilled sablefish, which was served in a soy-based sauce, was sublime.

For dessert, I had a couple of different things: a red bean pastry, a flan-like pudding, and a cup of fresh green tea.

For dessert, I had a couple of different things: a red bean pastry, a flan-like pudding, and a cup of fresh green tea.

After lunch, I decided to sit back and watch a movie, so I asked for a glass of ANA's premium whiskey: 17-year-old Hibiki.

After lunch, I decided to sit back and watch a movie, so I asked for a glass of ANA's premium whiskey: 17-year-old Hibiki.

ANA used to serve 21-year-old Hibiki, but that's become nearly impossible to source due to surging global demand for Japanese whiskey. Hibiki 17, which can cost hundreds of dollars, is similarly difficult to find, so this was a real treat.

After a bit of digesting, I decided to try and take a nap for a few hours.

After a bit of digesting, I decided to try and take a nap for a few hours.

Because we were the only people in the cabin, the flight attendant offered to make up the seat across the aisle for me to use as a bed. That way, I could go back and forth as I wanted for the rest of the flight.

The bed, which was a seat lowered into lie-flat mode, also featured a mattress topper, pillow, and duvet.

The bed, which was a seat lowered into lie-flat mode, also featured a mattress topper, pillow, and duvet.

The pillow was a bit thin, but the bed was overall comfortable — especially considering it was on an airplane! I slept OK — like many non-North American airlines, ANA's planes do not have individual air nozzles, and the cabin was kept fairly warm.

After a few hours of napping, I woke up and decided to have another drink and a snack.

After a few hours of napping, I woke up and decided to have another drink and a snack.

I went back to my regular seat, pressed the call button, and a flight attendant arrived almost instantly. I like sake, but know very little about it, so I asked her for a recommendation.

I also got the tea-and-rice dish with chicken and Japanese plum — another delicious treat.

I also got the tea-and-rice dish with chicken and Japanese plum — another delicious treat.

After napping for another couple of hours, the cabin lights came up for — you guessed it — another meal before our descent.

After napping for another couple of hours, the cabin lights came up for — you guessed it — another meal before our descent.

But first, I decided to change back out of my pajamas. My clothes were waiting for me in a small closet on the outside of my seat-suite's wall.

I started with an iced coffee — definitely helpful, between the jet lag, food, and drinks.

I started with an iced coffee — definitely helpful, between the jet lag, food, and drinks.

I had the udon noodles with friend tofu, which was surprisingly crispy...

I had the udon noodles with friend tofu, which was surprisingly crispy...

... and some fruit.

... and some fruit.

After about 14 hours of indulgence, I figured I should have something healthy.

Soon enough, we were on the ground.

Soon enough, we were on the ground.

We flew back home two weeks later after a fantastic vacation. The flight was overall pretty similar, so I'm only going to look at two things: the lounge experience at Narita, and the international meal, which I decided to try for the sake of this article.

After checking in at the private first-class check-in area and going through the private first class security screening area ...

After checking in at the private first-class check-in area and going through the private first class security screening area ...

... we made it to the first class lounge.

... we made it to the first class lounge.

A pleasant lounge with plenty of seating, there were self-serve drinks and small bites.

A pleasant lounge with plenty of seating, there were self-serve drinks and small bites.

There was also a noodle bar with a handful of made-to-order dishes.

On the flight home, the menu was slightly different than it was on the outbound flight, but overall similar. I opted for the international meal this time.

On the flight home, the menu was slightly different than it was on the outbound flight, but overall similar. I opted for the international meal this time.

For the appetizer, I had a "gâteau-style" lobster dish with caviar. It wasn't my favorite, unfortunately, although the caviar was tasty.

After a refreshing salad ...

After a refreshing salad ...

... I had the grilled wagyu beef with pancetta and taragon sauce, which was served with a tasty lotus root pancake.

... I had the grilled wagyu beef with pancetta and taragon sauce, which was served with a tasty lotus root pancake.

Considering that this was steak served on an airplane, I was tremendously impressed.

Considering that this was steak served on an airplane, I was tremendously impressed.

It was melt-in-your-mouth, and while it wasn't as rare as some might like, it was delicious, and not overcooked.

Finally, for the pre-landing meal, I had a fruit plate with a couple of rolls, and another iced coffee.

Finally, for the pre-landing meal, I had a fruit plate with a couple of rolls, and another iced coffee.

Overall, I felt that flying in first class was a fantastic use of my points.

Overall, I felt that flying in first class was a fantastic use of my points.

When it comes to flying in a premium cabin, business class is usually more than enough — a lie-flat seat, plus a great degree of privacy than in coach, can help you land well-rested and ready to stave off jet lag.

First class, though, is just fun. It's a blast to drink Champagne and eat steak — or mind-blowing Japanese food — at 35,000 feet. Between that and the incredible, private suite featuring a comfortable bed, the flight becomes part of the trip's entire experience.

Keeping stores full of a few different rewards currencies helps me take advantage of flights like this when they become available. I'm always on the lookout for a new sign-up bonus or way to maximize my points-earning, and for fun flight availability that I can plan a vacation around.

I used Chase points for this trip, but I just as easily could have used American Express points, since both company's rewards programs transfer to Virgin Atlantic miles. If you're looking to build up your stock of points with a big new membership bonus, click any of these cards to learn more about them from Business Insider's partner The Points Guy:

Add Comment()
Comments ()
X
Sort By:
Be the first one to comment.
We have sent you a verification email. This comment will be published once verification is done.