Is Japan on your bucket list? Then, believe it or not, U.K.-based Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club mileage program should be on your checklist. There’s no better way to get to Japan or elsewhere in Asia on the cheap – and in serious style.
Not only can you use Virgin Atlantic miles to book award flights on Delta Air Lines, but you can also use them to fly in first or business class on one of the top three airlines in the world, All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s flag-carrying airline. Factor in the recent promotion from American Express offering a 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic, and it’s one of the best values you will find in award travel.
Earlier this year, Mr. TT and I flew in ANA first class in what is now one of my favorite points redemptions to date. I’ll walk you through exactly how to find the award space and book the tickets using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for an absolute steal.
Virgin Atlantic’s ANA Award Chart
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has a zone-based award chart for travel on ANA. That means it will cost 60,000 miles for a round trip to Japan in economy, 90,000 miles round trip in business class, and 110,000 miles round trip in first class if departing from the Western U.S.
Leaving from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD), Houston (IAH), or New York City-JFK (JFK)? It will cost 65,000 miles round trip in economy, 95,000 miles round trip in business class, and 120,000 miles round trip in first class. These cities price out higher, thanks to ANA’s definition of “Eastern USA.”
Another important tidbit is that ANA does not allow you to book one-way award tickets, so if you are using points, it must be for round-trip travel. And at these rates, it’s a fantastic value.
Finally, all of the awards listed are for flights between the U.S. and Japan. If you are looking to connect beyond Japan, you will need to book the ticket as two separate awards.
ANA flies to the following U.S. cities out of Tokyo’s airports (and vice versa):
- Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
- Honolulu (HNL)
- Houston (IAH)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- New York City-JFK (JFK)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- San Jose (SJC)
- Seattle (SEA)
- Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD)
Finding ANA Award Space
Once you have chosen a departure city and know how many Virgin Atlantic miles you will need, it’s time to find the award space. You cannot search for or book ANA award tickets directly through Virgin Atlantic’s website. But there are other airline websites you can use to find award availability – generally, any award space that shows up through one of ANA’s Star Alliance partners will be available through Virgin Atlantic.
I would recommend searching for award space on either the United Airlines website or Air Canada’s Aeroplan website.
The screenshot below was taken from United’s website. As you can see, there are both economy and first class award seats available on this particular date between Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and Tokyo-Haneda (HND). Make sure the flights you are looking at are operated by All Nippon Airways, which you can see under the departure and arrival times below.
Booking the Award Ticket
Once you find award availability that will work, you will have to pick up the phone and call Virgin Atlantic to actually book the ticket. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club can be reached at 1-800-365-9500.
When booking our recent first class trip to Tokyo last September both Mr. TT and I had great phone agents that were very knowledgeable and attentive. They were able to see the award space we saw from the United website and booked the flights for us with the 120,000 miles in our respective accounts. In total, each of our phone calls only took about 10 minutes.
Fuel Surcharges on ANA flights Booked via Virgin Atlantic
One of the few downsides to booking ANA award flights with Virgin Atlantic is that Virgin Atlantic will pass on any carrier-imposed surcharges ANA would have on a revenue ticket. And while it may easily be worth it given how few miles you’ll need, those surcharges can be substantial.
The easiest way to figure out exactly what you’ll pay in fees is to go through Google’s ITA Matrix software.
Using the example above for the award space I found on United’s website, I entered in the airports, flight dates, class of service and nonstop flights only.
Our flight comes up with a price tag of $23,330. Yikes!
But we won’t be paying that, of course. If you click on the price of the flight it will give you a full breakdown of the fare. You will be responsible to cover all fees beyond the base fare price.
In addition to the Virgin Atlantic miles needed to book the flight, we will also be on the hook for all of these charges listed in the red box below. In this example, the total surcharges will be $270.03. While this is certainly more than some award ticket surcharges will cost, that’s a small price to pay for what would normally be a $20,000 ticket.
And if this sounds like more work than you want to do, just simply plan on paying between $200 and $400 for ticket surcharges.
How to Get Virgin Atlantic Miles
One of the best parts of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles is how easy they are to earn. That’s because the program is transfer partners with all three of the major bank’s points currencies. Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points.
So you could boost your Flying Club balance by opening the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a 60,000-point welcome bonus, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a 50,000-point welcome bonus.
The American Express Platinum Card is a strong option for frequent flyers. The $550 annual fee may seem steep, but that comes with at least a 60,000-point welcome bonus and an unbeatable set of travel perks. Check to see if you qualify for a 100,000-point bonus.
And now is a great time to apply for the Citi ThankYou Premier card, as it’s offering a 50,000-point bonus. Further, the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year.
Using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for ANA flights to Asia is an incredible points value. The process to book is relatively straightforward but does require a little bit of searching and a phone call. While you will be on the hook for the ticket surcharges, it is a relatively small price to pay for one of the best experiences in the sky.
Lead Photo Credit: Max Zulauf – Flickr
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.