ANA: a terrific Membership Rewards gem

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Last night, Stephen published a post about how ANA has reduced surcharges on many of its own flights to just $1 per leg each way. Spencer Howard from Straight to the Points had invited me to an Instagram Live chat on Monday, during which he divulged that nugget of wisdom (he had shared it on Facebook / Instagram again yesterday before we published it). ANA sweet spots had already arguably made Mileage Club the best transfer partner in the business, but dropping surcharges sweetens the deal further on many of their sweetest spots (note that they have only dropped surcharges on their own flights, not on partners that impose them, and though they dropped charges on most of their flights there are still some that have high fees). Stephen then reminded me last night about what may be ANA’s sweetest sweet spot: you can fly round trip to Australia in business class using ANA miles for as little as 105K miles round trip — and without surcharges and with the ability for a stopover, that looks pretty terrific. And that’s not the only reason to love ANA.

ANA sweet spots business class

First up: reasons to hate ANA

I love ANA as a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, but I can of course recognize that they aren’t perfect. Greg covered many of these imperfections just the other day when posting about his dilemma: 269,000 ANA miles expire in about 9 months. What to do?. Therefore, I won’t go into much detail here, but rather list the things I like least about ANA with a short explanation of each:

  • Mileage expiration: Miles expire after 3 years with no practical way to extend them
  • Family award restrictions: As Greg covered in that post linked above, ANA’s rules only allow you to redeem miles for a pretty specific set of family members
  • Mileage transfers aren’t instant: Transfers to ANA take a couple/few days from Amex (and probably at least a week from Marriott). Award space could easily evaporate while you’re waiting and then you’re stuck with miles that expire in 3 years.
  • You have to book round trip: There is no one-way award booking with ANA Mileage Club. This has been the big drag that has kept me from booking with them many times in the past since I rarely book simple round trip trips. As my situation changes (read: kids), I see more simple round trips in my future. This will be less of a restriction for my personal circumstances moving forward.
  • Can’t combine alliance and non-alliance partners: ANA doesn’t allow you to combine a non-alliance partner (like Hawaiian) with awards on Star Alliance airlines.

There’s no doubt that I don’t love those aspects of the program. That said, there is still plenty of room for praise.

A couple of updates to Travel is Free’s excellent post on ANA sweet spots

Drew at Travel is Free did an excellent post a few years ago outlining some of the major ANA sweet spots. He did a great job creating an ANA award chart (Here’s the page where ANA lists partner award info. Look at that for four and a half minutes before you click here to see Drew’s chart and you’ll appreciate it all the more).

However, there are a couple of key modifications to Drew’s info.

First, Drew published the prices of ANA partner awards. That makes sense in the context of what he was doing, but keep in mind that prices when you fly entirely on ANA will be cheaper during low or regular season in most cases — so the prices in the chart aren’t necessarily the best you’ll get (though note also that some pricing has changed since he made the chart; for example, North America to/from Asia 2 is 136K round trip on Star Alliance partners now, whereas it can be as few as 100K round trip on ANA metal). For example, during low season you can fly to Japan in business class for as low as 75K miles round trip.

Second, some of Drew’s fuel surcharges didn’t match my current searches (which could be either an indication of program changes (i.e. the partner no longer assessing those fees) or the routes we chose to search or maybe a combination of the two — or perhaps even inexplicable pricing anomalies). It’s worth noting that while his post is dated from last year, I think he merely made some updates last year as the post itself (and therefore some of the info) has been around longer and may have changed.

Here were key differences I noticed in terms of “carrier imposed surcharges”:

  • No surcharges on Ethiopian (total taxes and fees were $67 RT from the US to Ethiopia or a couple bucks more to South Africa versus the $230 he had reported previously)
  • No surcharges on TAP Air Portugal (total taxes and fees were $55 RT between Boston and Lisbon vs $266 he had reported previously)
  • No surcharges on Singapore (total taxes and fees were about $100 RT versus $440 he had reported previously). Note that Singapore eliminated fuel surcharges a couple of years ago. Note also a bit of weirdness: I saw availability via ANA on Singapore Airlines flights between the US and Singapore that didn’t show up via United or Aeroplan, though the same flights that ANA shows available also show up via Alaska Airlines.
  • Surcharges appeared to be higher on Asiana (total taxes and fees were ~$307 RT vs the $162 that Drew had noted. Maybe I needed to find the right route here or maybe they have gone up)

IN terms of zero carrier-imposed surcharges, I think you have these airlines with no fuel surcharges:

  • United (to Europe; unfortunately, they do have charges to Asia), ANA, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa, Ethiopian, TAP Air Portugal, or Singapore (and very low surcharges on LOT Polish).

Additionally, Turkish and Asiana are a few hundred bucks round trip. Drew notes high fuel surcharges on Air India, but I couldn’t find Air India availability between the US and India (despite seeing it on United.com) nor between Australia and Delhi (again, on dates when they should have been available).

Still, there are plenty of low or no-surcharges options, especially now that ANA has slashed those charges from many of its own flights.

Australia / Oceania is the sweetest sweetness at 105K – 120K round trip without carrier-imposed charges

ANA sweet spots Perth sunset
Sunset on a beach in Perth, Australia.

The impetus for this post was that Stephen emailed me when he saw round trip flights to Australia pricing at 105K round trip. That was fewer than the 120K I had noted in my post about the best ways to get to Australia / New Zealand / Pacific islands. When Stephen pointed out the pricing, I realized that I had left something out: when writing about sweet spots to Asia, I had included the fact that awards entirely on ANA metal are cheaper than Star Alliance award, but I had forgotten all about that nugget of information when writing about Australia and Oceania.

Indeed, ANA has seasonal pricing on its own flights. From the US to Oceania (which includes Australia, New Zealand, and lots of islands), these are the rates in business class round trip:

  • Low season: 105K round trip
  • Regular season: 115K round trip
  • High season: 120K round trip

Note that Star Alliance awards (or those on any other partner) price at the high season rate.

This means that if you can find availability on ANA to Australia during low season, you can fly for just 105K miles and about $147 round trip.

ANA sweet spots

That’s terrific and is the cheapest business class option to Australia of which I am aware.

But it gets even better: while ANA requires round trip travel, they allow a stopover and an open jaw. That means you could fly something like this:

  • Chicago to Sydney (via Tokyo)
  • Sydney to Tokyo (stopover to see Tokyo)
  • Tokyo back to the US, but you could return to Los Angeles (maybe you need to be in LA or just couldn’t find availability to Chicago).

That prices at the same 105K and only adds a few bucks more in taxes.

ANA sweet spots
Travel to both Australia and Japan for 105K and $157.18 round trip.

Either of those options represent terrific deals for a lot of premium cabin flying. Many programs charge nearly as many miles for a round trip economy class ticket.

And it isn’t as though low season is just a single month during the off-season. Here were the dates for 2020 travel to Australia (imagine a world without COVID-19 as these were published before the pandemic):

  • Low: January 6-February 29, April 1-23, May 11-31
  • Regular: March 1-31, June 1-July 22, August 20-December 17
  • High: January 1-5, April 24-May 10, July 23- August 19, December 18-31

The 2021 calendar has not been fully released yet but is likely to be similar. Notably, a large chunk of Australian summer (January-February) is in “low” season according to ANA despite the fact that it would be an awesome time to go.

Get more value from the other ANA sweet spot: around the world

ANA is famed for its around the world award chart, which is distance-based and allows up to 8 stopovers (with a max of 3 in Europe and 4 in Japan). We have written about this sweet spot before (See: Around the world in business class for 115K [Sweet-spot spotlight]. Here’s a look at the chart:

While the above sweet spot for travel to Australia for 105K round trip is excellent, it would be easy to get tempted by a ’round-the-world itinerary. The catch with an around the world trip is that you’ll have to find availability for all of the legs and book it all at once. However, check out this trip that you could do for a total of 145K miles all in business class (since this comes in just under 25K total miles flown):

As you can see, the total distance covered is 24,989 miles. As an example, you could fly:

  • ANA from Chicago to Tokyo (Haneda) and stop there
  • ANA from Tokyo (Haneda) to Sydney (stop 2)
  • Singapore Airlines from Sydney to Singapore (stop 3)
  • Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Delhi (stop 4)
  • LOT Polish from Delhi to Warsaw, Poland (stop 5)
  • LOT or SAS Warsaw to Copenhagen (stop 6)
  • SAS from Copenhagen to Boston

Note that SAS has kind of high surcharges, making this potentially pricey because of those last two legs (it is also hard to find availability on SAS, whereas I successfully found availability on all of the other legs noted above during a sample set of dates). Alternatively, I saw some United award space on the direct flight from Delhi to Newark that would also fall within the same distance band (you’d have to cut out Europe in that case). The point is that you can do a lot of flying for a little bit more.

While numbers like 105K or 145K certainly sound like a lot of miles, Greg and I spoke on this past weekend’s Frequent Miler on the Air about how Amex issues quite a number of cards that earn Membership Rewards, which produces a lot of opportunities to earn welcome/upgrade bonuses and to find the right category bonuses to fit your spend. Add on to that regular Amex Offers (like this one for 12K points with a $599 Dell purchase) and some referrals and it can be easier than you might expect to amass the miles for a trip.

Europe at 88K round trip is also compelling & a list of fuel surcharges for sample routes

Greg noted the other day that Europe for 88,000 miles round trip in business class is another great sweet spot. Keep in mind that surcharges are outrageous on airlines owned by Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, Brussels) — to the tune of $700 or $800 round trip. However, round trip taxes and fees were reasonable on many other carriers.

In fact, here is a list of mileage prices and surcharges I found on a number of popular routes and airlines (not just European routes). Keep in mind that these prices are round trip:

  • United (Newark to Zurich): 88K miles + $96.71
  • LOT Polish (JFK to Zurich): 88K miles + $157.96
  • TAP Air Portugal (Boston to Lisbon): 88K miles + $55.10
  • Turkish (New York (JFK) to Istanbul): 88K miles + $414.50
  • Ethiopian (Washington IAD to Johannesburg via Addis Ababa): 104K + $67.49
  • Asiana (Los Angeles to Seoul): 95K + $307.57
  • Singapore (Los Angeles to Singapore): 136K + $105.74
  • Mix of ANA / United / Singapore (Honolulu to Sydney): 85K + $190.00
  • ANA (Chicago to Tokyo Haneda): 75K + $57.10 (low season)
  • ANA (Chicago to Delhi, India): 100K + $668.67 (Note that this one still included $610 in fuel surchages). This is low season pricing to Asia 2, which includes the traditional definition of Southeast Asia as well as the Indian subcontinent and several countries pretty far west.

Remember that for all of the above prices, you could stop over en route to another destination in the same region and either return from or to a different city. There is a lot of flexibility for good prices. These are but a few gems.

More ANA sweet spots

Of course, we have previously included information about many of ANA’s sweet spots in our “best ways to get to” posts (find a full list of those posts here). The following are snippets are already included in posts on best premium cabin deals:

Oceania (Australia / New Zealand / Pacific Islands)

  • The short story: ANA offers the best deal out of Membership Rewards partners for business class between North America and Oceania and also offers a wide range of partner options. You can route via Canada or most of east / Southeast Asia or fly Air New Zealand.
  • Miles required: From 105K round trip in business class on ANA metal during low season up to 120K round trip in business class on Star Alliance partners or during high season. ANA has eliminated fuel surcharges on many/most of its flights, making routing on ANA an even better deal.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: ANA (many/most routes, though a few still have surcharges) United (no surcharges to Europe; unfortunately, they do have charges to Asia), Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa, Ethiopian, TAP Air Portugal, or Singapore
  • Low fuel surcharges on: LOT Polish
  • Moderate surcharges on: Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: Amex, Marriott

Europe

  • The short story: ANA charges just 88K round trip for business class Star Alliance awards from the US to Europe.
  • Miles required: 88K round trip in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but are avoidable with the right carriers. See: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Etihad, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy

Africa

  • The short story: ANA charges 104K between North America and Africa for Star Alliance business class itineraries.
  • Miles required: 104K round trip in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but can be avoided with the right partners. Find partners that do not add fuel surcharges in this post: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy

Asia

  • The short story: ANA offers fantastic rates for business class between the US and Japan on its own flights and offers similarly terrific value for partner awards between the US and Asia. Awards must be round trip, but a stopover is allowed.
  • Miles required: 75K round trip in business class between North America and Japan in low season, 85K regular season, 90K RT in high season for flights on ANA. Fly ANA to most of Asia, including the Indian Subcontinent, for 100K or less round trip in low season. Star Alliance awards are just 95K miles RT to China/Hong Kong/South Korea/Philippines/Taiwan or 136K miles RT to the rest of Asia. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but can be quite reasonable in some cases, especially now that ANA has removed fuel surcharges on many/most of its own flights.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features. Low and regular season pricing only applies to itineraries entirely on ANA. Star Alliance awards or those mixing ANA and Star Alliance carriers price at high season rates.
  • No fuel surcharges on: ANA (many/most routes, though a few still have surcharges) United (no surcharges to Europe; unfortunately, they do have charges to Asia), Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa, Ethiopian, TAP Air Portugal, or Singapore
  • Low fuel surcharges on: LOT Polish
  • Moderate surcharges on: Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: Amex

South America

  • The short story: ANA charges just 88K miles round trip for business class to South America. The catch is that you must book round trip.
  • Miles required: 88K miles round trip on Star Alliance carriers between North and South America (United / Copa / Avianca).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com (Note: Do not log in — logging in may show you expanded availability based on your credit card or elite status that is not available for partner bookings) or ANA's website (though ANA requires searches to be round trip, so it is easier to find availability by searching one way at United first).
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA.
  • Key warnings: Note that transfers to ANA are not instant. Transfers typically take 2-3 days from Amex Membership Rewards or a week or more from Marriott, so there is risk of award space disappearing while you wait for a transfer.
  • Transfer from: AmexMarriott

Bottom line

There are some drawbacks to ANA in terms of the mileage expiration policy and the need to book round trip. However, given excellent pricing and a very broad reach with Star Alliance, there are worse places to have miles “stuck” if your plans don’t work out as you expect. Virgin Atlantic’s pricing for first class on ANA to Tokyo is better than what ANA would charge, but for business class travel ANA offers the best prices to several regions. Now that they have dropped fuel surcharges on many/most of their own flights, there is yet another way to fly without incurring those charges, which helps to once again amplify the value of Amex Membership Rewards. If you are interested in premium cabin international travel, ANA Mileage Club is tough to beat.

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