ANA offering better award availability to their own members

Here’s the short story: In at least some cases, ANA award flights are available to book through ANA, but not through Star Alliance partners like United, Aeroplan, Avianca, or Singapore Airlines.

While I haven’t flown them yet, all reports I’ve read suggest that ANA offers excellent international business and first class experiences.  For example, here’s a recent business class review from Points Miles and Bling, and here’s a recent first class review from Points MD.

ANA First Class

While planning a trip to Japan, I stumbled upon something surprising.  ANA is opening up more premium award space to their own members than to partner airlines.  Overall, this is not an unusual practice — other airlines have been known to do this.  I just had never before heard that ANA does it.  I found this to be the case on the two routes that I checked: Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo Narita (NRT), and Houston (IAH) to Tokyo Narita.  I assume this is true on many other routes, but I haven’t yet checked.

Here’s an example…

Award Space Available via ANA, but not United (Example)

Looking at April 25 2018, Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo Narita (NRT), Expert Flyer shows at least one award seat available in both first and business class:

Expert Flyer is a paid subscription service that, among other things, helps find award and upgrade space on a number of airlines.

But United.com fails to show any business or first class awards on that same flight (See the second flight below. The first one is a United flight):

In a similar situation, I also tried Aeroplan and Singapore (via phone) to find out if they could see the award space that was evident via Expert Flyer.  They could not.  I was confused until Gary Leff, via a personal conversation, pointed out the obvious: ANA must be reserving award space to their own members.

I logged into my ANA account, and sure enough the award space was readily available:

Shown above is a business class award which is available through ANA, but not through partners.

 

Shown above is a first class award which is available through ANA, but not through partners.

Finding ANA Awards

As shown above, Expert Flyer, ANA, and United.com (and other sites such as Aeroplan and Avianca, not shown above) can be used to find awards online.  Of these, only Expert Flyer and ANA show awards that are available only to ANA members.

When searching ANA, make sure not to rely entirely on their +- 3 day award calendar.  You may see a display that indicates that seats are available, like this:

But clicking through shows that seats are only available for waitlisting, not for immediate booking:

If this happens, try different dates until you find available seats that are not waitlisted.

Obtaining ANA Miles

The easiest options for getting ANA Miles are to transfer from Amex Membership Rewards (see: Amex Transfer Partners), or from SPG (see: SPG Transfer Partners). Unfortunately, in both cases the transfer can take several days to complete.  This is a problem since an award that is available one day could easily be gone the next.

The other problem with transferring points to ANA is that miles expire 3 years after they are earned (or, in this case, transferred to your account).  Specifically, “Miles are valid until the end of the month, 36 months after the accrual month.”  Unlike many other airline programs, account activity does not extend the life of these miles.  So, if you end up not using the miles after transferring them, you’ll have to find a use within 3 years or you’ll lose them.

In my case, I took a chance and moved the points needed for a three person first class award in May.  A couple of days later the points appeared in my account and I booked the award successfully.

Booking ANA Awards

ANA’s website lets you book awards on ANA itself and/or on Star Alliance partners.  In either case, they require that you book a round-trip award.  If you really need to book a one-way award, though, you can sort-of do so by booking a cheap throw-away return (thanks again to Gary Leff for reminding me of this option).  The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook describes this technique here.

For example, I wanted to book first class from the US to Japan, but I didn’t need a return ticket.  ANA’s round trip award price for this trip is 150,000 miles (75K one-way) for low or regular season (165K for high season).  Their low season economy rate, meanwhile for Japan to Hawaii, is 35,000 miles (17,500 one-way).  Via ANA’s website I was able to book US to Japan first class for my outbound (75K) and Japan to Hawaii economy for my return (17.5K) for a total cost of 92,500 miles per passenger and reasonable taxes and fees ($83 per person).  Mileage-wise, this is less than many Star Alliance partners would have charged for a one-way first class flight if the awards were available to partners.  For example, United and Aeroplan would charge 105K one-way and Singapore would charge 100K.  On the other hand, Avianca charges just 90,000 miles for one-way first class, and Virgin Atlantic charges only 110K or 120K for round-trip ANA first class awards (Virgin Atlantic’s ANA award chart can be found here under “Spend Miles”).

Changing and cancelling ANA Awards

Travel Codex has a nice overview of fees related to ANA Awards.  Regarding award changes and cancellations, they say that many changes are free, and cancellations cost just 3,000 ANA miles.  Here it is in their words:

No change fee — ANA permits a limited variety of changes to award tickets without a fee up to 24 hours before departure. These include changes to the dates and times of travel, but you may not change the airlines, the itinerary, or add or remove stopovers. You also can’t change the name of the passenger or change between a partner award and an ANA-operated award.

3,000 miles cancellation fee — If you need to cancel an unused award ticket, there is no cash fee. Instead you will forfeit 3,000 miles before they are returned to your account. If you need to make a change not permitted by the rules above, you’ll have to cancel and rebook.

Conclusion

For some awards, ANA makes award space available only to their own members.  When you find this situation, it is necessary to use ANA miles to book the award.  Read the above post for details regarding obtaining ANA miles, booking awards, and more.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. Hi Greg,
    When looking for an NH award using Expertflyer, does it only show what is available directly on NH frequent fliers. Specifically, if I have an Expertflyer NH award alert set up and it shows availability, it’s possible I won’t see it through United.com?
    Thanks!

    • That’s correct. ExpertFlyer seems to show space available to ANA members, so your alert may not help you if you only have United miles. That said, if the alert is triggered then you know to go check United to see if the space is there.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write this up; definitely concur.

    I was trying to book a J ticket from the West Coast (SFO-based, but will take what I could get) to SIN via Tokyo last month and noticed the same thing. It wasn’t my preference to book via ANA due to lag in transfer time from SPG and Amex but decided that it was worth taking the risk when I noticed that ANA restricted it’s more favorable flights to its own members. In fact, most of the NH TYO-SIN tickets were not showing up to partners, including SQ.

  3. So how do you suggest searching for award space when redeeming 110k/120k Virgin Atlantic miles for first class roundtrip from the USA to Japan? Will Virgin Atlantic only see award space availability similar to United?

  4. I noticed this new NH only award space for F come in around August. Previously NH opened a max of 2F seats at schedule open. In early August I noticed dates I was tracking show 2F bookable through *A partners plus a new 1F NH only F seat showed up on dates I was checking.

    Now all F seats seem blocked to UA and AC. (Shhh…there is one *A partner that can still see the old up to 2F allotment on days when those were released but there appears to be 1F held for booking by NH only so it looks like I could book 2F through at least one *A partner that is not blocked (yet) plus 1F through NH because now EF shows some days with 3F available total).

    Good tip about the low cost return. I was not aware of that.

  5. It seams that if the itinerary you’re looking for involves a non-ANA flight, it won’t show up on ANA’s site. I was trying KOA-MNL and there’s nothing, but HNL-MNL have plenty, but they’re all waitlisted.

  6. Are ANA members gaining more availability that was not there previously, or are other Star Alliance members losing availability that was there before?

    • Based on my recent searches for F space since July what I noticed at first was an extra ANA only F seat available, showing on EF but not *A partners. But now, I am seeing blocking going on to some *A partners where there is less *A inventory for some partners, the ones I checked that seem to have blocking are UA and AC. I suspect this blocking is being done by ANA and not the partners but who knows? Blocking inventory to partners will mean more space for ANA members only.

  7. I actually booked this exact same routing a few weeks ago for a trip next year (first class JFK to NRT, and economy to Hawaii). I do have one question though, as it’s the first time I’m booking one of these throw away tickets: should I contact ANA after I’ve flown my first segment to cancel (and maybe get the miles back minus the 3000 miles penalty) or should I just do nothing and not check in on my flight to Hawaii?

  8. All good to know. I’ve flown them iah to nrt several times and also nrt to hkg 3 times. All in economy. In my experience the food and service are very good. They keep the bathrooms very clean for the entire flight. I’m not as comfortable with their website booking checkin etc process as United, but the overall experience at the airport and inflight is much more pleasant. They have gates at Terminal D iat IAH. Very empty there and there is a nice Centurion Lounge there. I just left out of gate 54 at nrt and it is also less crowded than the united gates. I’m going to make an effort to book them to Tokyo from now on! My recent r/t booked with United miles on ANA cost 70,000 and my husbands booked with membership rewards transferred to ANA was only 50,000.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *