Category Archives: ANA

How to Request United to Manually Sell Award Seats

Here’s how I got United to “manually sell” me award seats for an itinerary. While this technique is not possible in most circumstances, in my case, it turned no award into my dream award!

I was in the midst of constructing a simple roundtrip itinerary from the US to Europe when I ran into some big trouble.

United’s online award calendar displayed Austrian award space on the only day I could return to the States. Unfortunately, when I clicked to select those flights, I was met with a message saying the seats were no longer available.

Rapid Partner Availability

I used other Star Alliance search tools to discover that the seats were actually available to all partners, but United agents simply couldn’t see them.

The only thing left to do was request that United ask Austrian for the seats directly, often called a manual sell. Agents are extremely hesitant to do this, and often cite the company rule book in declining to do so. It usually takes some serious convincing to pull it off, but if you are calm, confident, and polite, it can be done. It’s critical to know how to pull this off, especially if you think your preferred flights have award space while a phone agent insists they don’t.

After a lengthy call, I finally convinced a United agent to manually request the unavailable seats. By requesting the manual sell, the flight I wanted instantly became bookable with my United miles. The segment was added to my itinerary, and I got the perfect set of flights for a summer trip to Europe.

How did this problem occur? Is this a phantom award space issue, or something completely different? What is a “manual sell”? How do you get a United agent to manually sell partner award seats?

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Trip Report: ANA Business Class from Tokyo to Washington D.C.

This review is a continuation of my fun US Airways redemption that I wrote about back in this post. I reviewed Turkish Business Class: Washington DC to Istanbul and Cathay Pacific Business Class: Tokyo to Hong Kong already.

I was extremely excited for my nonstop flight from Tokyo to Washington-Dulles on ANA. About two months before our scheduled departure, we had an equipment change and would be flying their Boeing 777-300ER featuring ANA’s “new” flat bed business seats.

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We took a Cathay Pacific redeye back from Hong Kong to Narita where we had a long layover before our final flight home in the late morning. Both the ANA lounge and flight delivered in every way. The inflight experience was fantastic, especially the service and seat, so I can’t wait to fly ANA again.

How was the seat, bed, food, service, and entertainment in ANA’s new Business Class configuration? Was the ANA lounge a good place to relax for a few hours?

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Amazing Award Space for Two from the US to Asia

All Nippon Airways (ANA)–a Japanese Star Alliance carrier–launches a new route between Tokyo-Haneda and Vancouver from March 30, 2014.

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Saver award space is excellent on the route in economy and business class. You can book the space this week–by January 31, 2014–with United miles at pre-devaluation rates. You can also book the award space with US Airways miles until March 30, 2014 when US Airways leaves the Star Alliance, which will end its partnership with ANA.

How good is the award space? Where does ANA connect to/from Haneda? What Star Alliance flights fly into Vancouver?

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Gold Mine Award Space to Europe This Summer in Business Class with American, US Airways, United Miles Plus Membership or Ultimate Rewards

There is currently gold mine business class award availability on US Airways flights from the US to southern Europe for this summer.

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Award space on US Airways flights is especially advantageous because it means that you can book the space at favorable mileage rates (and no fuel surcharges) with:

  • US Airways miles
  • American Airlines miles
  • United miles (until March 30, 2014)
  • Ultimate Rewards (until March 30, 2014)
  • Membership Rewards (until March 30, 2014)

What are the routes? How good is the space? How good is US Airways Business Class? What is the cheapest way to book it?

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United Has Better Access to Air Canada Award Space?

While booking a family of four to Australia through our popular Award Booking Service, I ran into a  vexing problem with Star Alliance award space.

On a certain Air Canada route, Air Canada’s own Aeroplan members  had access to more award seats than its Star Alliance partners. That’s not a surprising practice on the surface. Air New Zealand never releases transpacific space to Star Alliance partners. Swiss Airlines restricts first class cabin redemptions to its own members.

The anomaly here is that United also has access to Air Canada premium cabin award space that other Star Alliance partners don’t.

What is the route? How did I discover this? What does this discovery mean for award bookers?

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Fantastic Business Class Award Space to Asia through October

I’m undeterred by battery issues and constantly on the lookout for ways to fly the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. One Dreamliner route with fantastic award space is the All Nippon Airways (ANA) route between Tokyo-Narita and San Jose, California.

These can be turned into fully flat beds.

The daily flight is bookable with United or US Airways miles and may be your best gateway to Asia for the next three months.

image from gcmap.com

How can you book the flight? What’s ANA’s business class product? What’s the award space picture?

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Anatomy of an Award: Membership Rewards to Argentina

I recently booked a family of four an economy award from Miami to Buenos Aires with their Membership Rewards. It was an interesting award that I think demonstrates the complexities and fun of booking with American Express points.

I won’t talk about that award specifically, but I’ll use it as a jumping off point for discussion since it illustrates a typical Memberhip Rewards situation. Imagine you have a family of four trying for an economy roundtrip from Miami to Buenos Aires for two weeks in October with 300k Membership Rewards.

Membership Rewards are awesome because they can be transferred to any of the three airline alliances, so you can use them to book on almost any airline in the world.

But Membership Rewards are frustrating because they transfer to programs with which you may be unfamiliar like ANA or programs with major drawbacks like British Airways’ fuel surcharges.

I would approach an award like this looking first at the flying options, then at the transfer options. I know if I could find award space, I can probably find a transfer partner with access to that space. And if I find several ways to get to Buenos Aires, I cancompare the transfer options to see which is the best deal with Membership Rewards.

From checking the Buenos Aires international airport’s (EZE) wikipedia page, I know there are direct flights to/from Miami on American, LAN, and Aerolineas Argentinas. Of course, United and Delta also fly to Buenos Aires from their hubs.

Aerolineas Argentinas

Aerolineas Argentinas is the state-owned flag carrier of Argentina. I haven’t heard too many kind words about it, but it does have a direct flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. The best way to search for the space is on ExpertFlyer.

ExpertFlyer only displays economy award space on the airline. The space that Aerolineas’ SkyTeam partners like Delta have access to is T class space.

Aerolineas Argentinas flies twice daily between Miami and Buenos Aires–its only US route–once in the morning and one redeye. Up to seven seats are widely available on each!

The return is also wide open.

This was a promising start!

American

American has direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires also. The best place to check for space on those flights is aa.com.

I can look at the whole month of October in just a few seconds with AA’s awesome calendar view. Unfortunately there is no MileSAAver outbound space–the low-miles-price space open to partners– in October, though there is some space on return flights.

Outbound: No Saver Space

Return: Some Saver Space

LAN

LAN is another oneworld airline with direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires. I go to ba.com to check for LAN space to Buenos Aires, since aa.com doesn’t display LAN space.

I ca’t find any LAN space on ba.com, though it did pick up the same American Airlines space I’d seen on aa.com.

ba.com not finding any LAN space

…but it did find the same space on American Airlines

Delta

Yes, it seemed like a complete longshot that Delta would have space for four from Miami to Atlanta to Buenos Aires at the low-miles-price because Delta has putrid availability to South America, but I checked anyway.

Green shows low-miles-price itineraries. There actually are some returns possible.

While oneway tickets with Delta miles are a huge mistake since Delta charges the roundtrip price for all awards even oneways, I kept the returns in mind because AMEX has some transfer partners like Flying Blue that can be used to book oneway Delta awards reasonably.

United, TACA, Copa

The final place I checked was united.com to see what United, Copa, or TACA award space there was that I could snag with a transfer to a Star Alliance partner.

Green and yellow days have an award with four economy seats.

I found a few more possible awards to add to the bounty.

Search Results

I found space in both direction on Aerolineas Argentinas’ two daily flights. I found space in both directions on connecting United and Copa (via Panama) flights. I found return space on American Airlines and Delta, but no outbound space. I found no space on LAN.

Transfer Options

Delta

We can transfer Membership Rewards to Delta to book the Aerolineas Argentinas space and/or the Delta space. Delta charges 60,000 miles roundtrip to Argentina in economy class whether you fly it or one of its SkyTeam partners like Aerolineas Argentinas.

Although Delta does charge fuel surcharges for awards on a lot of its partners, it does not collect fuel surcharges on Aerolineas redemptions.

That means a transfer to Delta would mean the transfer of 240,000 Membership Rewards to 240,000 Delta miles. American Express charges $7 per 10,000 miles transferred to US-based airlines, with a maximum charge of $99, This transfer would incur that $99 charge. The award itself would have government taxes of around $75 per person, meaning a total cost of 240,000 Membership Rewards and approximately $400 for four people.

In return for that outlay, the family could get direct flights in each direction or could sub a one-stop itinerary on Delta on the return if they really didn’t want to fly Aerolineas Argentinas.

Flying Blue

Air France’s frequent flyer program, Flying Blue, is not always the best option because it levies heavy surcharges on several partners. But it doesn’t levy surcharges on Delta or Aerolineas Argentinas. And it’s price from the US to Argentina is 25,000 miles each way.

I’m not sure why the taxes collected exceed those collected by Delta by $15 per person, but that’s a minor concern. Flying Blue costs 25,000 miles each way, and it can be used to book oneways, which is a far better deal than Delta’s 60k miles roundtrip, which is the price whether you book oneways or roundtrips.

That means for 200k Membership Rewards and $360, a family of four could get on the same flights as with Delta miles: Delta and Aerolineas Argentinas flights.

British Airways

We can transfer Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios, but that would only enable booking the return leg in this case. Avios can be used to book American or LAN flights. We found only space on American, and only on the return.

The good news is that it’s only 25,000 Avios from Buenos Aires to Miami.

That means the return would be 100k Membership Rewards and $300.

ANA

I recently sang the praises of All Nippon Airways as a Membership Rewards transfer partner. ANA has a distance based award chart. You add up the distance of all the segments and see how many miles that trip will cost. Here is the economy chart.

Miami to Houston to Buenos Aires roundtrip is just over 12,000 miles. That works out 60,000 ANA miles (60,000 Membership Rewards) roundtrip. That’s not fantastic or awful.

But Miami to Panama to Buenos Aires is under 9,000 miles, meaning it is only 43,000 ANA miles roundtrip. That’s the lowest miles total we’ve seen.

image from gcmap.com

In neither case would there be fuel surcharges. ANA never charges fuel surcharges on United or US Airways flights, and Copa doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on this routing.

No fuel surcharges on Copa from Miami to Buenos Aires, so ANA won’t collect any.

That means ANA miles used to fly Copa would be 172k Membership Rewards and about $480 in taxes.

Transfer Options Summary

To summarize:

  • All the options here receive 1:1 transfers from Membership Rewards and incur only government taxes–no fuel surcharges.
  • Transferring to Delta is a bad idea. Why pay 60k Membership Rewards for a roundtrip when the same flights are 25k each way via Flying Blue? Total: 240k + $400
  • ANA is the cheapest option overall at 43k roundtrip if we route through Panama on Copa. Total: 172k + $480
  • British Airways and Flying Blue are the cheapest direct options at 25k each way. Total: 200k + $300

If you really value direct flights, take the Aerolineas Argentinas flight one direction for 25k Flying Blue miles and return on the American Airlines flight for 25k Avios.

If you really value the cheapest flights or want a free stopover in Panama, look for Copa flights for 43k ANA miles.

Recap

Membership Rewards have awesome versatility, which also means it’s more work to figure out the best deal. For a simple Miami to Buenos Aires roundtrip, all three alliances are possibilities.

Because some transfer partners have region-based charts, some have distance-based charts, some charge fuel surcharges sometimes, and some never do, you have to investigate every option for the best deal.

For Buenos Aires to Miami roundtrip, the best deals are with ANA miles on Copa to take advantage of the distance-based chart of a combination of Flying Blue miles and Avios to take advantage of their partners’ direct flights.

How to Use the ANA Search Tool for Awards with United Miles

Yesterday I warned about the drawbacks of searching United.com for Star Alliance award availability  Sometimes, United.com will display phantom award space. Seats will show as available but in reality they simply aren’t there.

The best way to confirm Star Alliance award space is using the All Nippon Airways (ANA) search tool. ANA’s tool is trickier to use, but it’s the most reliable.

Unfortunately, ANA restricts members from searching Star Alliance availability unless they have miles in their account. This is presumably to curb the usage of the search engine by people who have United or US Airways miles but want to search ANA. ANA wants their site to be used by loyal ANA frequent flyers.

Fortunately, there is a trick to using the ANA search tool without any miles in your account! If you haven’t already, the first thing you need to do is sign up for a ANA Mileage Club account here. Though this page looks like a credit card application (no annual fee!) simply click “Apply Here” at the bottom of the screen.

After filling in your pertinent information, you will be assigned a Mileage Club frequent flyer number and a password. You can now click on the “Mileage Club” button at the top of the screen.

You will then be taken to the main ANA frequent flyer page. Click “For Details” on the Using Miles tab.

Once on the Using Miles page, you should click “Partner Flight Awards.”

You will be taken to page with the handy ANA distance-based mileage chart and their routing rules. From here, click the small tab “Application & Ticketing” near the top of the screen.

You are given the option of phoning the ANA call center to book your award or simply searching using their online tool. We want to search online, so click the “members-only function” to reach the search query page.

You will be asked to log in to your account before continuing. Enter your ANA number and your password before hitting continue.

We have finally reached the award search page! To skip the previous steps, it might be handy to bookmark the search page for future queries.

Though we arrived at the award search page, notice that the Star Alliance Partner search is grayed out. I don’t have any miles in my account. Luckily there is a work around. Click “ANA International Flight Awards” to search for award seats on ANA-metal only.

You have to start with a dummy search because you can only search ANA operated flights.

The route you enter doesn’t matter just as long as it’s served by ANA. I always enter Los Angeles <-> Tokyo-Haneda (feel free to choose a different ANA route) and select the number of seats I want. The dates don’t matter either as you can change them later. After entering the airport codes and number of passengers, I then hit “Next” to look for award space.

You will see plenty of options on the next screen. After all, ANA serves Los Angeles to Tokyo with several nonstops. They are immaterial, though. You need to scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines.”

Congratulations, as you have gone through the backdoor and can now search all Star Alliance partners. The search screen is nearly identical to the ANA-only screen. You should delete the “LAX” and “HND” airport codes before beginning your real search. Also change the third drop down (below “Select Region” and “Select Country”) back to “Select Airport.” If you don’t, your new search will likely yield an error message.

Can I plug in my city pairs and expect ANA to come up with good itineraries?

No. Searching Kansas City <-> Mumbai likely won’t yield anything usable. You should search segment by segment.

How do I search multiple segments?

Click the blue button “Flight Search” to add segments to your query.

This seems tedious. Any shortcuts?

Searching united.com is faster but can sometimes display false positives as we detailed yesterday. United’s site is a great place to get ideas while confirming them using ANA’s tool.

I never fly ANA, what’s the best way to deposit miles in my account to lift the Star Alliance search restriction?

American Express Membership Rewards transfer to ANA at a 1:1 ratio. Note that the minimum transfer amount is 1,000, and it usually takes around 48 hours for the miles to post to your Mileage Club account.

ANA is also a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points. Regular SPG members with no status must transfer a minimum of 2,500 points. Gold members  have a 1,500 point transfer minimum, and Platinum members have no restrictions. They can transfer 1 mile.

I value my Membership Rewards highly, do ANA miles have any value?

Absolutely! Scott detailed ANA’s great distance-based award chart in his post, How to Save Thousands of Miles Booking United Flights: Use Membership Rewards on ANA.

Though ANA assesses fuel surcharges on all Star Alliance partner flights except United and US Airways, their chart has some great sweet spots that allow for low mileage redemptions.

Recap

ANA’s search tool is the final word on Star Alliance availability. If united.com displays the space but you don’t see it on ANA’s site, the award isn’t bookable.

ANA restricts Star Alliance partner award searches to its own frequent flyers with a mileage balance. Luckily there is a work around that lets you bypass this requirement, though it takes a few extra steps.

If you don’t have the patience, simply utilize ANA’s two primary transfer partners American Express Membership Rewards and SPG Starpoints. Having a balance will ensure the Star Alliance search restriction is lifted.

Beware Phantom Award Availability on United.com

Searching for award space can often be an exercise in frustration. The dates you want don’t have availability and premium cabin seats are often scarce. There is nothing in the world, however, more frustrating than phantom availability. You think you’ve found your dream trip only to have the rug yanked out from under you.

We recently received a request through the Award Booking Service where this came into play. A family of four was looking to travel from New York to Johannesburg, Africa in July using their US Airways miles. This was going to be a tough award to book, and it wasn’t made any easier by the phantom award availability on united.com.

What do we mean by “phantom”? We decided to look for Star Alliance space to Africa using united.com. For more information, make sure to check out Scott’s post Free First Class Next Month: Star Alliance Award Searches on United.com. At first glance, we would have no trouble finding space from the East Coast to Africa. There were dates with plenty of seats!

We were suspicious, though. That’s quite a few dates with four premium cabin seats to Africa. To find out out if July 10th really had four open seats, we verified the award space All Nippon Airways (ANA) Star Alliance search tool. The ANA tool is more accurate in displaying award space. The drawback? It’s more cumbersome to search than united.com.

We plugged in the individual New York -> Cairo -> Johannesburg segments into the ANA search tool. The initial results were promising! The EgyptAir JFK -> Cairo segment had at least four business class seats (indicated by the “OK” under the business class box).

 We weren’t so fortunate with the Cairo -> Johannesburg leg unfortunately. That segment was showing “X” in both business and economy, meaning there weren’t four award seats in either cabin.

This wasn’t an isolated incident either. We checked other dates on ANA that united.com displayed as having four business class seats. They simply didn’t match up. We couldn’t trust united.com for this route, especially using Star Alliance partner EgyptAir. We decided to look elsewhere.

Scott, who is currently in Argentina, had some success booking an award from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg (and beyond) using US Airways miles. For the complete breakdown, make sure to check out his incredible post, Anatomy of an Award: South America, Africa, Europe, and North America in Biz for 100k.

US Airways has very liberal routing rules. Scott and I both know that first hand. I was able to book a business class trip to Asia routing through Europe. For the breakdown of that trip, check out my post, Anatomy of an Award: US to Asia via Europe in Business Class for 90k Miles.

We decided to think outside of the box yet again. Perhaps routing this family of four from New York to South Africa through South America was the best option. South African Airways, another Star Alliance partner, has nonstop flights from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Johannesburg. We plugged in this segment and searched united.com. There were plenty of dates with business space again!

Or were there? We went back to the ANA tool to verify, and unfortunately, we were greeted with dreaded X’s from ANA’s search results.

Even if we tried to connect to Brazil using Star Alliance carrier TAM Airlines, we were met with phantom award space! We found a direct flight from New York to Rio de Janeiro on united.com on several July dates…..

But we were met with X’s on ANA’s search tool.

Which Star Alliance carriers have you seen phantom availability on united.com?

I have personally encountered this problem with Austrian, Brussels, EgyptAir, South African, Lufthansa, and TAM. There are reports that even United itself are also displaying seats that aren’t bookable. Proceed with caution!

If united.com displays the availability, shouldn’t United and US Airways agents be able to see the same seats when I call to book an award?

No. They are not going off of what you see on united.com. If a seat shows as available on united.com, but it is not available on the ANA search tool, a phone agent will not be able to book it.

Can I verify the space with ExpertFlyer?

Unfortunately, no. ExpertFlyer is pulling its data from United.com. For example, here are the results from our previous Sao Paulo -> Johannesburg route on South African Airways. (ExpertFlyer now gives yes/no answers on Star Alliance searches.)

Make sure to check out Scott’s post Free First Class Next Month: Using experflyer.com to learn more about searching for awards on the site.

If ExperFlyer isn’t reliable, what do I do about this issue?

Always check ANA’s tool before booking a Star Alliance award. Their site seems to mirror what phone agents can actually see and book, so you will save yourself time and anguish by doing a cursory check before calling in to reserve your award tickets.

Recap

United.com is a great place to start a search for Star Alliance award availability, but it’s only a starting point. Not all queries will display bookable award space. Unfortunately, united.com can sometimes act as a mirage: availability seems great when in reality there are far less seats for award tickets.

This story has a happy ending. We were eventually able to route the family through Vienna and Istanbul to Johannesburg and back. The search process, however, was much more complicated than expected.

Free Oneway Principles on ANA Awards

Update at 9:31 AM ET on 3/8/13. Disregard most of this post. Commentor Angel pointed out trouble getting ANA to price this, and I found the problem. ANA rule: “The departure airport and the final destination on the itinerary may differ, but must be in the same country.” I’ll try to figure out a way to salvage some of this idea.

Yesterday I was effusive about the fact that ANA–a Japanese airlines most of us have never flown–stopped charging fuel surcharges on United and US Airways flights booked with ANA miles. I called it the deal of the month on twitter.

The value comes from ANA’s awesome distance based chart and the fact that it is a Membership Rewards transfer partner.

But I wanted to give some tips to get insane value out of ANA awards using free oneway principles.

The key principle of all free oneways is a stopover at your home airport. By stopping over at your home airport, you can get 1.5 trips out of what the airline thinks is only one trip. (And if the airline thinks it’s one trip, it only charges you for one trip.)

ANA has stopover rules that are liberal and strict at once. The liberal part is that you can have four stopovers on one award! But you can’t have any stopovers in your country of origin, you can only have two in Europe, and holes in your itinerary count as a stopover at both cities!

(The example ANA’s site gives is Tokyo to Frankfurt to Munich, returning after an open jaw from Frankfurt to Tokyo. The open jaw between Frankfurt and Munich counts as a stop in both, so you can’t get a stopover in Frankfurt en route from Tokyo to Munich.)

So how can we apply the free oneway principle of a stopover at our home airport when ANA prohibits stopovers in the country of origin? Easy. Add half of a trip on to the beginning of our main award, thus changing our country of origin.

Let me give an easy example. If you live in Newark and want to fly roundtrip in business class to Paris on United with ANA miles, you’d already get a great deal. The roundtrip is 7,298 miles, so the award would cost 68,000 ANA miles.

This is of course, a steep discount on how many miles United or US Airways would charge–100,000.

But here’s where my trick of adding a prior leg comes in. Add in a oneway from Lima to Newark four months before, and you’ve got the return half of a second trip on the same award. (How do you get to Lima? One way award, cash ticket, walk.)

Now the distance of the award increases substantially to 10,929 miles.

But that’s only one band higher up on the chart, so the mileage price only increases to 85,000. This is remarkable since Lima to Newark–in flat bed business class–is only adding 17,000 miles!

Of course, I can hardly say I’ve maximized the itinerary. You can take two stops in Europe after all.

Here’s a possibility: add Lima to Newark onto an award from Newark to London to Istanbul to Newark with stops in London and Istanbul.

This award traverses 13,690 miles, which is another band higher up. It would cost only 90,000 ANA miles total in business class! (Note that London to Istanbul would be on Turkish Airlines, so you would be on the hook for a modest fuel surcharge for flying a carrier other than United and US Airways intra-Europe.)

There’s nothing special about living in Newark or having every section of the trip be direct. Imagine you want to add the return half of trip to Santiago onto a trip to Tokyo, and you live in Los Angeles. Let’s even throw in a free stopover in Hawaii on the way to Japan.

That 17,850 mile trip would cost only 105,000 ANA miles in business class, which is spectacular since LAX to Tokyo roundtrip is 120,000 United miles and Santiago to LAX would be another 50,000 miles.

That means using Membership Rewards transferred to ANA miles saves 65,000 points!

So far all my examples presuppose a major international hub for United as your home airport. We’re not all so lucky. Living at a hub helps because it means fewer flights, and every flight adds to the cost of an ANA award.

But you don’t have to live at a United or US Airways hub to maximize ANA awards. I’ll give an example for the home airport of Medford, Oregon, which only features two United flights–to Denver and San Francisco.

This award has a return from Sydney to Medford, then a roundtrip to London.

Normally in business class Sydney to Medford would be 67,500, and a roundtrip from Medford to Londond would be 100,000 more. But instead of 167,500 United miles, this itinerary would cost 115,000 ANA miles.

Can you put the oneway after the roundtrip?

No. Imagine reversing the first example. Newark to Paris roundtrip then Newark to Lima. You’ve stopped over in Newark, which is in the origin country. ANA prohibits stopovers in the origin country.

Are these free oneways?

No, the oneways are all adding a bit to the miles price since they are increasing the number of miles flown on the award. There are probably free oneway opportunities to Mexico or the Caribbean. Post them in the comments.

Is this a big deal?

Yes! I already had Membership Rewards worth more than United miles. Now they may be worth more than Ultimate Rewards! If that sounds crazy, let me explain.

United has a great business class bed and releases a great amount of award space. It has a route map that covers most of the places I want to go. Using the techniques in this post, you can use about 1/3 fewer Membership Rewards to book United business itineraries than the number of Ultimate Rewards it would take.

My Plan

I’m going to open the The Business Platinum Card with a 25,000 Membership Rewards sign up bonus to pad my Membership Rewards balance.

I’ve already had the Mercedes-Benz personal Platinum, and the “regular” personal Platinum has a sign up bonus that’s below where I’ve often seen it in the past.

Recap

Booking 1.5 trips with the half trip first unlocks incredible savings on ANA awards that fly United or US Airways.

Full ANA Award Rules

How to Save Thousands of Miles Booking United Flights: Use Membership Rewards on ANA

American Express Membership Rewards are valuable because of their ability to be transferred to dozens of partners. But they have a glaring weakness: they don’t have a top-tier Star Alliance transfer partner–US Airways or United.

Membership Rewards can be transferred to Singapore, which is great because this is the only way to get into Singapore business or first class.

Membership Rewards can also be transferred to Aeroplan and ANA. The problem with all three is that they charge massive surcharges on Star Alliance award tickets, making our “free” ticket cost several hundred dollars–even in economy.

That’s the main reason I called US Airways and United the top-tier Star Alliance partners; neither charges surcharges on awards booked with their miles. Both charge just the miles and the government taxes and fees.

But as recently reported by Dan’s Deals, ANA is no longer charging fuel surcharges on United or US Airways flights. This is huge news for a few reasons:

  • ANA has an award chart with some incredible values.
  • ANA is a Membership Rewards transfer partner. With all the great Membership Rewards earning cards’ sign up bonuses lately, many of us are flush with Membership Rewards.
  • United and US Airways fly a lot of convenient routes for Americans. If ANA had to pick two partners on which they wouldn’t charge surcharges, these are ideal.
  • United and US Airways both have world-class business class beds. (United business review.)

What You Need to Know to Take Advantage of the Deal

The deal involves booking with ANA miles. That means you need an ANA account. (Sign up for one here.)

Don’t transfer your Membership Rewards yet. You can do that after you find space. You don’t want to transfer them and then not find space. ANA miles expire after 36 months regardless of activity.

This deal involves flying United or US Airways flights. The best place to search for award space on those airlines regardless of the type of miles you’ll be using to book the award (in this case ANA miles) is united.com. Here is a basic post on how to search on united.com.

On united.com, you must find Saver award space for it to be bookable with ANA miles. Saver space shows up as a blue button on united.com.

For instance, in the above screen shot of a flight from San Francisco to Sydney on December 2, 2013, there is Saver space in business class, but not in economy or first. ANA miles could only book this flight in business class.

If you find flights with Saver space on united.com, write down the flight date, time, and number to book it on ANA.com.

ANA award bookings cannot be made oneway. You have to book roundtrip awards. If you really only want a oneway, Dan has screen shots of what to do. Book your oneway award and any short hop other oneway on United or US Airways together as a “roundtrip.” Make sure the short dummy leg “return” is the second flight. If you make it the first flight, you will have the whole itinerary cancelled when you don’t show up for the dummy leg.

The mileage needed for your ANA award booking is based on the award’s distance. This is one of the key sources of value. Use the Great Circle Mapper (as explained here) to add up the distances of all segments of your itinerary and check its cost here.

Here are some sample itineraries to show you the incredible value of ANA awards. Remember that ANA and United would charge the exact same government taxes. US Airways would charge those plus a $50 award processing fee.

The best deals are from the east coast to Europe, but there is a discount to every continent.

Of course I cherry-picked this list. Adding connecting flights from your home airport may drive up the price.

In general this deal is best for those who live in United or US Airways cities with international flights: Newark, Dulles, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Philadelphia, and Charlotte.

When you find the award space you want, initiate the Membership Rewards transfer, which will take at least two days.

When you book, you will not pay any close-in fees like United and US Airways charge ($75 within 21 days of departure.)

If you want to change your date, you can do that for free.

If you want to change anything else, you have to cancel. There is no cash cost to cancel, but you lose 3,000 miles. This beats the US Airways and United cancellation fee of $150 per ticket.

Open jaws are permitted. Double open jaws are permitted. Sticking two unrelated segments together and never planning to fly the second one in an attempt to get a oneway pricing is permitted. (See the Dan’s Deals post for examples of this.)

Recap

Now that ANA no longer charges fuel surcharges on awards that fly on US Airways or United, we have an incredible new use for Membership Rewards and a way cheaper way to get onto United and US Airways flights.

This deal is great for those with a mountain of Membership Rewards and who live at an airport with direct international flights on United or US Airways. People who don’t live at such an airport may get a slightly worse deal because the distance-based ANA chart adds up the distance of all segments.

The deal is best if you want to fly from the east coast to Europe.

Pad your Membership Rewards balance with:

American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum (personal) with 50k Membership Rewards after spending $1k in three months. $475 annual fee.

American Express Platinum (business) with 25k Membership Rewards after spending $5k in three months. $450 annual fee.