Why Stephen should win #40KFaraway

Greg is the Frequent Miler. When we first announced the #40KFaraway challenge, I think it would have been fair for the average reader to assume that Greg would win. After all, out of the three of us, he’s the only one who has earned a million miles and points in a month. And he’s the only one to spend a week on Richard Branson’s private island. And he’s the only one to buy Sur La Table gift cards before checking the final checkout price of the grill he wanted to buy (well, I guess two out of three ain’t bad, Greg). To be clear, I feel pretty good about my own plan for #40Kfaraway, so let’s not think that I’m phoning it in here. But I’ve said from the beginning that I was even more intimidated by Stephen Pepper. Now that he has presumably booked up all of his flights, I’ll say why: Stephen has the hands-down best single transfer partner to win this challenge: ANA Mileage Club. Here’s how Stephen could dust Greg at his own game on those excursionist flights.

ANA is Stephen’s best transfer partner, but it’s not THIS good. He’s not getting into this seat within his 40K budget.

ANA Mileage Club Basics

Before delving into the two sweet spots that came to mind in the ANA award chart, let’s cover some ANA basics as it is not the least restrictive award booking program on Earth:

  1. You must book round trip — no one-ways (unless you’re doing a round-the-world trip with an open jaw at the end, but that’s a story for a different day).
  2. ANA has the most confusing award chart page you’ll ever see in the award travel space. Seriously. If you’ve never looked at it, here’s the page. Good luck.
  3. ANA allows one stopover (where you stop in another city on the way to/from your destination) and one open jaw (where you fly into one city and out of another or from one city and return to another) on a round trip award. I’m not even going to show how to play the game with this in today’s post — I’ve got to leave some mystery for Stephen to figure out if he hasn’t actually booked it all :-).

Additionally, ANA splits up the entire world into 3 main “areas”. They have rules as to which areas you can use to connect. More accurately, they show you the regions through which you cannot connect on a particular itinerary. Here’s that chart:

Looking at the above chart, if you were to originate in Area 1 (which includes North America) and fly to a destination in Area 2 (Europe / Middle East / Africa), you could not transit Area 3. In other words, if you want to fly from New York to Dubai, you can connect in Frankfurt on your way there — but you can not connect in Tokyo to get to Dubai since Tokyo is in Area 3.

However, that chart above opens some interesting possibilities for Stephen.

Wide latitude for connections

The first thing that popped out at me in the chart was how large some of the areas are. For example, Area 3 includes both Japan and the Southwest Pacific. As far as I can tell, that should include all of Oceania. Therefore, as per the chart, it would theoretically be possible to fly from Auckland to Sydney connecting in Tokyo.

Given the large number of Star Alliance carriers in this region, the theoretical possibilities become pretty vast. You’ve got Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana, Thai, and Singapore.

Furthermore, a round trip award from Oceania / Micronesia to Oceania / Micronesia is 30K miles round trip. I don’t think you could actually do this, but imagine if one could game a route out to run something like this:

Again, that’s theoretical. I couldn’t get anything like that to price out — but it piqued my interest in looking at where I could find some long connections.

The window of opportunity

Of course, getting to Oceania to start that trip would likely cost Stephen just about all of his cash budget for the trip. Add in taxes on those award flights and it may get out of hand.

However, that’s not the only interesting spot on the award chart. Let’s for a moment imagine a world in which Stephen could position to Africa under our cash budget of $400.

Well, hello Qatar. You’re looking cheap and amazing at the same time.

Let’s just throw out there the fact that a routing like that is already almost 11,000 miles flown.

And that’s without touching any of his 40K Membership Rewards points yet.

Let’s consider how he could use those points by transferring to ANA Mileage Club, a 1:1 Amex transfer partner.

ANA’s award chart is laid out similar to the American Airlines partner award chart in that you choose a region of origin and it shows prices to the various regions from that region of origin. Here’s the chart when originating in Africa and the Middle East. Note that these prices are round trip.

The first thing that stands out is that a round trip within Africa and the Middle East is 30K miles in economy class. Lumping Africa and the Middle East together makes for a pretty sizable region.

However, that’s not even the sweet spot in my opinion. Because of the ridiculous layout of the display, you’d be forgiven for missing the fact that a round trip between Africa / the Middle East and Europe is 40K miles round trip in economy class.

Considering that the distance from South Africa to Northern Europe is, well, far, that could lead to some serious mileage. If only a Star Alliance carrier flew to Greenland, which is included in ANA’s definition of Europe, Stephen could rack up even more mileage flown.

However, he’d have to settle for something like this:

That’s round trip from Cape Town to Reykjavik, Iceland (pretty close to Greenland if I do say so myself). It is far from the most creative Star Alliance routing: there are plenty of ways to route through additional European or Middle Eastern cities, though it does take some legwork in finding availability that lines up and feeding it into the ANA tool in a way that will give you the results you want. In the case of the itinerary above, I first started out by trying to search a “round trip” from CPT to KEF. The tool said nothing was available. I eventually had to feed that itinerary into the ANA multi-city tool more or less segment by segment — and even then, ANA did not quite see the exact same itineraries I saw via JuicyMiles (in some cases, they didn’t see itineraries available to other Star Alliance carriers and in others they added additional options. That sounds good in theory, but being tempted by those additional options caused me to break connections in many sample searches because I’d pick a routing that took a little too long to get to my next connection point, which would set off a whole new seat of searching). I eventually decided to keep it pretty simple on the itinerary above.

But this is all just a theoretical exercise, really. The taxes and fees on an award like that would surely break Stephen’s budget, no? Well yes, they would — by $27.17 if he had paid $370 for that Qatar Airways flight from DC to Johanessburg. Scary what’s possible if he were able to find a seat on that flight for just a bit less though.

Total taxes and fees on this award: $57.17.

Based on award searches at Juicy Miles, I think this route could be juiced a bit more by choosing some of the longer routes between stops. The above was more or less the most direct routing.

Searching for multi-city awards

You’ll want to go to ANA and log in. Then click “Award Booking”. From there, hit the multi-city tool.

As noted above, I found that I had the most success when I put in every leg that I expected to see in the results. ANA will tempt you with many options that will mess up your next leg. For example, I was looking at this:

  • October 28th: KEF-OSL
  • October 28th: OSL-LHR
  • October 28th: LHR-VIE
  • October 29th: VIE-CPT

On the OSL-LHR leg, the tool showed me a couple of itineraries that would have thrown in an overnight connection causing me to land at LHR on the 29th. When I moved forward with the “next” button, I’d get an error from the tool because it was then going backwards in time to find the LHR-VIE segment on the 28th. There’s no going back one page — it’s back to the drawing board to start over from the multi-city tool each time.

While the errors give you some “hints” as to what’s wrong, it gets pretty frustrating because it isn’t always clear. For example, I think I might have been able to price out CPT-ADD-OSL-KEF-OSL-FRA-LHR-VIE-IST-CPT, but the tool wasn’t having it for some reason. Perhaps it was just a bit too much in terms of connections. A couple of times I had a fat finger error on the airport codes — in that case, the tool just says nothing is available. One time I had hit Oslo (TRF) instead of Oslo (OSL). My eye caught it just before I went back to the drawing board. So it’ll take some time to play with the tool. It won’t be easy — but for a contender in the #40KFaraway challenge, it’s part of the game.

Bottom line

I’m sure that Stephen has an even better plan in mind already, but I think that ANA offers some terrific value for those looking to spend few miles and get a lot of mileage in the sky. If Stephen were to fly the itinerary as I’ve laid it out above (starting with IAD-DOH-CPT), he’d have over 27,000 miles flown. Of course, this wouldn’t work as displayed since it would put him over budget — but not by much. I’ve talked before about the value of ANA awards to Japan and their round-the-world chart, but ANA is worth a look for any complex trip given the wide reach of Star Alliance carriers and an awfully competitive chart. With some careful planning, Greg’s excursionist perk flights shouldn’t intimidate Stephen much.

For further posts on the challenge, see our full #40KFaraway news post here.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

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Martin Mroz

It’s actually a hair further to fly OSL-LYR (Longyearbyen) than to KEF 🙂 would make a fun point of turnaround, basically south pole to north.

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