How I used Avios for a flat-bed from Japan to China – and other Asian Avios deals

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This is my review of Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Business Class, in its regional intra-Asia configuration.

Last year I ran an excellent article, written by a reader, on how to use Avios points to travel domestically in Japan.  As Japan Airlines is a member of the oneworld alliance, with BA, you can redeem Avios for flights on its network.  As cash tickets can be expensive, and Avios tickets in Japan have minimal taxes, it is good value.

You are spoiled for choice when travelling around Asia.  With Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Japan Airlines, Sri Lankan and Malaysia Airlines all available with Avios, there are a lot of options for using your points to put together a trip.

Travelling around Asia is not the same as travelling around Europe.  The distances can be far larger – Hong Kong to Tokyo is a four hour flight, as is Tokyo to Beijing.

Longer distances mean that Asian network carriers often use long haul aircraft for regional flights.  When we flew from Hong Kong to Tokyo last month, it was on a (pretty old, to be honest) Japan Airlines 777-200 in Premium Economy.  I’m not writing about that flight as it was, frankly, very average.

Tokyo to Beijing, however, was more interesting.  Japan Airlines was using a brand new Boeing 787 for the flight we took.

You should note that, even when a long haul aircraft is used, it often has different seating to a ‘proper’ long haul plane.  The business class seats in our 787 were not fully flat – they sloped gently towards the floor, in the style of the old Lufthansa business class seats.  Fly JAL to Heathrow, on the other hand, and you get a ‘proper’ flat bed.

Here are a few pictures (click to enlarge).  Here’s my daughter modelling the seat:

Japan Airlines Boeing 787 business class review

and a broader view of the Japan Airlines Boeing 787 cabin:

Japan Airlines Boeing 787 business class review

and the IFE screen, which had a decent number of Western options:

Japan Airlines Boeing 787 business class review

and a shot of how the seat slopes gently to the floor, not that it mattered one jot to me on a four hour daytime flight:

Japan Airlines Boeing 787 business class review

This is the meal served:

Japan Airlines Boeing 787 business class review

What you have is:

an appetiser plate of lobster and vegetable terrine, caprese salad, liver tart

cabbage and anchovy soup

corn salad with thousand island dressing

a main plate of grilled beef fillet with marsala sauce

honey bread and petit french bread

ice cream

This is what I would have got had I taken the Japanese menu.  You get everything listed below:

an appetiser plate of Japanese pickles, broad bean tofu with light soy sauce, sweet simmered herring with salted squid beak

chilled pork shabu-shabu and mekabu seaweed

mixed plate of grilled salmon, potato ball with minced chicken, grilled taro with shishito pepper miso, smoked duck breast, perila flavoured icefish and octopus

a main plate of steamed soy-marinated flounder with sea urchin sauce

ice cream

What did it cost?

Each Business Class seat from Tokyo to Beijing, one way, cost 20,000 Avios points plus £16.50 of taxes and charges.  I consider this a good deal for a 4 hour flight.  We had no problem getting four seats.

For comparison, our Japan Airlines Premium Economy seats from Hong Kong to Tokyo cost 15,000 Avios plus £15.50 each.  Cathay Pacific also flies this route, of course.

It is difficult to draw many firm comparisons about Japan Airlines from a couple of mid-range flights, only one of which was Business Class.  The staff were friendly and understood English (the menu comes in Japanese and English, the IFE is also in English), the plane was as fresh as you would expect from a new 787, the meal was large although a bit heavy on the beef and the seats were more than acceptable for a four hour flight.  If you get a chance to try out this route, I recommend it.

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  1. Kiran says:

    Also Sri Lankan is an option in Asia. Just used 36k Avios for BLR-CMB-MLE return for 2 of us in economy + GBP 140 in taxes. Probably not a great use of avios but cash tickets were about $600 for both of us.

  2. The Original Nick. says:

    SIN-HKG is a route I’ve flown a few times on CX over the last 5 years. 20000 Avios + £20 in taxes. CX business class is very nice too.

    • Agreed Nick, flew CX SIN – HGK last week on Avios, great value. The Dnata lounge in SIN CX uses also has a rest area at the back which you can sleep in. If you are taking one of the early morning flights.

      • The Original Nick says:

        Departing HKG on CX is better though as you have access to the Wing which is the 2nd best lounge I’ve used.

        • So which is the best?

          The Pier is bettter than The Wing IMO, but it’s at the far end of the main terminal so unless you are very early or your gate is there it takes up a bit of time to get to

        • Prince Polo says:

          Agree. The Pier is fantastic and I personally prefer it to the Wing. No question about that. However, it is far so I wouldn’t go there unless my flights departs from the 60-80 gates.

      • Sam G says:

        Fantastic value this is. Just watch out for the aircraft configuration if you are flexible- the A330 with flat beds is great but the “regional” 777 really is a blast from the past!!

    • When MH had an A380 on the KUL to HKG route i did the inward flight in First! outward on CX business.

  3. Andrew says:

    I’m on DragonAir KUL – HKG soon in business using avios
    Anyone got any experience of the airline here ?

    • Ralphy says:

      Used DragonAir business class from Beijing to Hong Kong two years ago, subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, nice big comfy seats for a day flight, decent food com what I can remember, a nice flight and better than being at the back of the plane!

  4. Rashad says:

    I’m currently looking into booking Hong Kong to Bali and it’s about 100.000 Avios plus £100 for 2 adults in J by Cathay return, I don’t consider it as a good value, although I understand that a total cash value is £6,250 which is rather extortionate for under 5 hours and Economy flights are not available.
    Hong Kong airlines on the other hand have a business class for £530 return.

    Has anyone had a better value flights in J on this route or similar?

    • No, but Hong Kong airlines economy was fine for 4-5 hours HKG-DPS.
      The children still mention the food as better than BA CW & F!

  5. Stu N says:

    A few things others might find useful from recent experience of trying to book HKG to Tokyo.

    Cathay (CX) release seats at t-355. Regional aircraft have economy and business only, long haul ones have First and Premium Economy as well. For our route there were a couple of long haul planes a day, the rest were regional. If you’re going business,and flight times work out, the long haul ones seem to be the way to go. Everything was on 777s so hard to tell from airtcraft type, though apparently A330s are also used at times. Taxes and charges were approx £25 each.

    For JAL, availability comes online at T-335. (Yes, 335!) The BA award search was a bit hit and miss for JAL – CX worked on the TYO city code but JAL needed individual airports most of the time – either HND or NRT. Everything on the route seemed to be regional aircraft, a mix of 777 and 787s. Taxes and charges were around £15-20 each.

    In the end we went Cathay as our dates are basically fixed by UK-HKG redemption availability and they had availability for dates that worked at the point we wanted to book the TYO side trip. The long haul product also looks to be better (hard product at least) than JAL’s regional set up.

    So, we are doing HKG to NRT in business (20k Avios each) on a Friday morning and HND to HKG in First (40k Avios each) on Monday late afternoon. first is probably an extravagance on that trip but when might we get another chance to fly JAL F?

    Should be fun!

    • Stu N says:

      Whoops, should be CX F at the end there. Too early/ not enough caffeine!

      • I’m also booked on the late afternoon HND-HKG (CX549?) later this year in F. The kaiseki meal looks insane!

        I found availability surprisingly good, 5 months out.

    • Very useful Stu N. Thank you.

    • Idrive says:

      Hi it is not only A330 on CX it’s a A350 too! I flew it last week on CX J. To be honest i was not super impressed with the seat and service i was expecting more but the machine itself is nice.
      Also CX has got PE also for regional i flew it on an 777 two weeks ago. I think it really depends on the routes.

      • Stu N says:

        I didn’t know that they had PE on regional too. Maybe presence of F is the key thing to check.

        We are on CX520 to NRT in March, the seat map is 1-2-1 business layout and showing as a 777 so should be good.

        Return is CX549 from HND – HKG. We fully intend to get our value from the F experience!

  6. was the “grilled beef fillet” served cold?

  7. Kevin says:

    OT, I booked my flight to Kuala Lumpur via Malaysia Airline directly. Could I collect my Avios point in this case?

    • When you booked there should have been an option to put in your frequent flyer number. Or just email MAS and ask them to add to the booking, they are usually quick to respond.

    • The Original Nick. says:

      Sort it out at the Gate, they’ll re issue you with another boarding pass with your number on..

  8. Chris says:

    Interesting article and very good timing. I’m actually flying TYO – HKG later this year and was looking the other day to see whether to use avios or just buy a budget flight ticket.

    This JAL seat and the Cathay regional business seat in 2-3-2 formation both came up as options. But after looking on seat guru reviews both seats seemed to be universally hated by fliers due to cramped, uncomfortable seats.

    Does anybody else have any experience on this seat or the Cathay seat? Cathay has better timings for me but wary about using 20k avios on a cramped 2-3-2 formation over a £70 economy cash ticket (I am avios poor ha)

    • Scott says:

      Between Tokyo and Hong Kong there are only two guaranteed flights with flat beds. The 10.00am HND-HKG on JAL and the 16.25 on CX from HND-HKG. Occasionally other routes will be it. As you said the other regional biz class is not worth it especially if you have Status.

      • Chris says:

        Oh really? JL735 at 6:15pm seems to have the 2-2-2 flatbeds mentioned in this article when I cross reference with seat guru?

        • Some do, it if they have the aircraft sitting around for a few hours during the day.

    • Anyone calling a CX or JL regional J seat “cramped and uncomfortable” has obviously never flown short-haul in Europe. Unless you are short, you probably won’t be able to stretch out fully straight, but there is much more space. Remember that BA CW on the same aircraft has a 2-4-2 config.

  9. Alex W says:

    Sounds like nearly all of the food had seafood in it. That would have ruined my flight. Or maybe I should just avoid Japan then!

    • Me too……the seafood part that is 😉

    • Fenny says:

      Yes, it’s very difficult for us to avoid.

    • You can request special meals although East Asians tend to eat everything so the special meals on these airlines are often disappointing.

      There is food everywhere in Japan so while you may have to be careful, there won’t be any problem feeding yourself. Unless you cannot even be in a restaurant where you are exposed to other people eating seafood.

  10. Scott says:

    Nice article Rob. Intra Asia is my favourite use of avios. I have too a lot of these routes like HND-PVG GMP-HND and HND-HKG and always one way so the cash prices are extortionate. Think £1000 for two hour flight from HND-PVG in Y. Avios has saved me thousands upon thousands of pounds.

  11. Jovanna says:

    I did QR Hanoi – Bangkok last month in business. 9000 Avios and £65.

    • Rashad says:

      same flight for me was in cash only £55 per person

      • Lumma says:

        In business?

        • Rashad says:

          above prices are in economy, business is 18000 Avios + £ 95.40
          this is such a short fligh,t even though it shows 2 hrs we landed in less than 1,5 hours

        • Jovanna says:

          9000 Avios for business and £65 in taxes – I’ve just checked Cash price for a one-way business ticket was around £260 at the time when I booked.

  12. Aliks says:

    I’m looking at Seoul (ICN) to Tokyo next May. I had thought of flying in to Tokyo and back from Kyoto to Seoul. The cost for cash on Asiana ICN-NRT, OSA-ICN is about £250 but the avios options seem very limited even for economy.

    ICN-NRT is 15,000 avios plus £45, but I cant see any avios availability for flights to Haneda or Kyoto (KIX) at all. I read somewhere that JAL is very selective about releasing RFS seats – anyone got any thoughts on this?

    • Scott says:

      Try GMP-HND. The smaller and some may say more accessible airport in Seoul and then flying into HND which is much closer to the city.. I prefer flying out of GMP as much quicker and lounges at both are nothing to write home about.

    • +1 to Scott

      Kyoto has no airport. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami (ITM) 1 hour by trains (involving complicated changes) or a more expensive coach, and 1-2 hours away from Kansai Airport (KIX) again with faster options costing more.

      As LTN is not in London, likewise ICN is not in Seoul but in Incheon.

      In fact I did the same thing as you were planning last year OZ ICN-NRT/KIX-ICN but used the cheapest options for airport transfers. Left Conrad Seoul at 1100 and arrived at IC ANA Tokyo at 2100. Left Hilton Osaka at 0900, security at KIX took 2 hours so missed lounge, arrived Millennium Seoul Hilton at 1700.

      My friends were arriving at NRT and departing KIX otherwise I would have tried GMP-HND as suggested.

      Technically, RFS is a BA thing only, JAL just has regular Avios redemption seats, but since taxes and charges are lower than in Europe, JAL redemptions may be cheaper than RFS.

      • Aliks says:

        Good information – many thanks – I’ll keep playing around with options to find something decent.

    • Kyoto does not have an airport.
      KIX is Kansai International Airport (Osaka)

  13. We flew a very similar route in April (Japan Airlines Business Class, Beijing to Tokyo), which was very cheap and didn’t cost many avios!

    The service was, as you would expect from a Japanese airline, excellent.

    We opted for the Japanese meal which was comfortably the best meal either of us have ever had on a flight. While it’s not for the unadventurous, those who are willing to try unusual food would find the Japanese meal to be fantastic. It certainly looked a lot better than the Western meals which others in the cabin had.

  14. Gavin says:

    I rate my 20000 avios plus minimal tax Business Class flights from HKG to ICN and back again as my most enjoyable redemption, particularly compared to the equivalent offering within Europe.

  15. As some said, above, I find the greatest value to be on the smaller secondary airports in the major cities – same Avios cost but far more conveniant and also much more cheaper than revenue tickets (for the major aiports there is usually a LCC for £20-50 a ticket and with a PP does save the Avios for the very short hops).

    Airports like SHA, HND, TSA certainly beat PKG, NRT and TPE hands down for City Center / transfer time. For SHA, doesn’t allow the option but just type in SHA and don’t click on PVG (the only fill that appears) and it searches flights just fine.

    I did recently a Y redemption from HND-SHA but got a PE seat on an old JL 777 – don’t think it was an upgrade and for 7,500 + £15, worked out about 3.6p per Avios. Business Class is an even higher multiple – JL and CX often have ridiculously high cash rates (believe this is a legacy airline one way issue).

    The lack of taxes is a boon as well; really making me look at my 2-4-1s and seeing where best to get value this time. Burning 000’s for a F Return looks less appealing with the 10,000 / 20,000 Business hops that can be done around a lot of the world.

    Do note though that CX randomly stop selling award tickets between 6-20 days on most Asian routes now:

    Got caught for this a fornight ago and had to stump up for a MU flight between SHA-HKG.

    As it stands I have managed a mix of Avios and LCC (and an EX-EU) and got good value for this trip which over a few months is LHR-SVG-LHR-HKG-PVG-HND-SHA-HKG-HND-ITM-OKA-TPE-HAN-KUL-SIN-FCO-MAH-STN.

    Must get round to doing a Trip Report.

    Also some ridiculous Asian to Middle East Flights at the moment. SIN-DXB for £110 in Y.

  16. simon says:

    I recently did a small tour of Asia on Business from my base in Jakarta all using Avios

    CGK-NRT JL Business Class Long Haul Config 60,000 Miles (7 hours)
    NRT-DLC JL Business Class Short Haul Config 15,000 Miles (3.5 Hours)
    HKG-CGK CX Business Class Long Haul Config 37,000 Miles (5 hours)

    All very good , only bad point was Air China from DLC-HKG, maybe a contender for worst flight ever.

    For HKG – Bali i would suggest Garuda , even economy is pretty decent

    When looking inter asia , also keep an eye out for MH fares , some business class fares are pretty cheap.

    For reasonable CX business class fares within Asia Taipei and Manila are good starting points , if further north Seoul can be quite good

  17. Nigello says:

    Hello all,
    Is it best to book these Avios redemption seats on the BA website or on Cathay/Japan A, etc?

    • You can only book them at if using Avios. You can’t even use as that site does not handle oneworld partner airlines.

  18. Edwin says:

    I am struggling in finding the best way of using my 2-4-1 voucher. In fact, it’s a 3-4-2 to me as I have to travel with my wife and a 2 year old.
    Curren plan is to get a LHR Beijing business to maximise the value of the voucher, but the taxes and charges are really high, and avios spending is quite high too.

    Any suggestions?

    • Flying such long haul “to maximise the value of the voucher” yet having to fly with “a 2 year old” ?

      You’re either mad, or deluded. Or on reflection, quite possibly both.

      Stay at home or fly short haul to somewhere quiet/less hectic. Or if you must fly such long haul, seek a competent babysitter and leave the 2yo at home (where ironically they will be much happier).

      • the real harry1 says:

        lol quite funny

        perhaps parents want to travel LH somewhere nice with their young kid – I find this quite normal

        we did this many times with similar age kids – New Zealand & Thailand

        3 kids in fact, some of whom wailed & cried for hours on end (well, seemed like that at the time as we quietened them down)

        actually, such young kids prefer to be with their parents, I guess this is news to you as you are simply not a parent but a moaner/ hater of kids on planes

        • You know nothing about me. Sadly I know too much about you, from reading your comments on HfP.

          I could handle the “wailed & cried for hours on end” but I know I could never handle ever meeting you.

      • With a 2nd child, you tend to start earlier because the eldest child misses out otherwise. We had a few years ‘off’ long haul after we had our eldest (sampling the coastal resorts of Germany instead, where you can find some excellent five star beach hotels) but the youngest was in Barbados at 14 months.

      • Edwin says:

        Forgot to mention I am Chinese so we travel back to Beijing every year.
        Just wondering if there are any other good ways of spending this voucher.

  19. Prince Polo says:

    With CX, a little more difficult to book redemptions recently – either blocked by BA/CX closer to the departure or only available via phone. There’s a wiki on FT.

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