If you’ve been following my blog for the last few years, you probably know that my main focus is on economy award redemptions. It’s really a matter of necessity rather than principle. I have zero problem with those who like to fly upfront, but it’s usually not feasible for most families due to high redemption price and lack of availability.
But I still think it’s important for you to know the ins and outs of business class awards via various mileage programs. Why? Let’s say you are a family of four. There may come a time when you find 3 seats in economy and 1 in business class. The flight is perfect, just what you need. Sure, you’ll pay premium for that one fancy seat, but it will allow you all to fly together. If your husband is a large dude like mine, it can really make a big difference in his comfort level.
Sometimes business class is a matter of necessity. During my parents’ last visit my dad said he simply can’t handle such a long flight in a tiny cramped seat. He wasn’t being a diva (well, not that particular time!), he was simply being honest. My dad had several surgeries on his back and one on his left leg, so sitting in economy for 10 hours at a time is extremely uncomfortable for him. It’s also dangerous.
So, I started looking at various business class redemption options. My goal was to find one that is reasonable in price (mileage-wise) and has no/low fuel surcharges. It made the most sense to look at Star Alliance because it has several convenient routes from Belarus to Florida. I don’t want my parents to have to make more than one connection.
As usual, my very best option is Lufthansa, unfortunately, it’s also the worst due to high carrier surcharges. I don’t currently have any United miles, the only program that doesn’t impose those on any of its partners. Besides, the price is ridiculously high and will run 140K miles per person roundtrip. No thanks.
Introducing ANA program
ANA is part of Star Alliance, exactly what I’m looking for. I’ve seen various blogs write about it once ANA revamped its award chart. I didn’t really see any bargains in economy, plus, you had to redeem miles on a roundtrip flight, so I pretty much dismissed it. But this situation with my dad made me revisit it.
First, ANA program will probably be of use to those who have a ton of SPG or/and Membership Rewards points because those are the only transfer partners. I know several of my readers got in on recent 100K bonus on Amex Platinum, so this overview may be of interest to you.
For reference, I recommend you read this post on Lazy Traveler that does a good job breaking down some of the best ANA deals. If you are looking to fly to Asia from US in business class, you should definitely check it out.
But today, we will focus on Europe. Economy redemption runs at 55,000 miles roundtrip. It’s OK but definitely nothing to write home about, especially considering the fact that ANA imposes surcharges on many of its Star partners, including Lufthansa. But business class is where it gets interesting. It will cost you 88,000 miles roundtrip.
But, you might say, what about carrier-imposed surcharges? In order to minimize them, I would have to redeem the miles on Warsaw-Orlando route via LOT Polish Airlines. Warsaw isn’t as convenient for my parents as Minsk ( the capital of Belarus), but the route would still involve just one connection, my main criteria. Note that there are no carrier surcharges on United or Air Canada operated flights.
Well, let’s compare the rates. Here is what this particular business class redemption will run via United program:
Unfortunately, it would involve a transfer from Newark airport to JFK, something to take into consideration. Still, not too bad of an amount when it comes to award taxes, right? But look at the mileage price and let’s compare it to ANA:
It will run me 88,000 miles roundtrip which transfer 1:1 from Membership Rewards, plus $196 in taxes (20,200 yen), depending on exchange rate. That’s about $153 more compared to United, but if you plan to transfer from Chase UR program to Mileage Plus, you would save 52,000 UR points.
Even if you chose to redeem them for cash, you would have $520, and I think we can all agree that they are worth more than that. So ANA is the winner, hands down. I’m not familiar with stopover rules on ANA as it’s of absolutely no interest to my parents. My biggest concern is that their flights from Europe to US and back are in business class. Chicago-Orlando economy flight is relatively short.
Biggest ANA program drawbacks
I’ve mentioned one: mandatory roundtrip redemption. I’ve seen hints on the web that there is a way to circumvent it, but I’m not familiar with the workaround. Also, transfers from Amex MR program reportedly take 2-3 days, so your award might disappear in the meantime. You can’t put tickets on hold.
Also, this probably won’t be an issue for most, but you can only redeem miles for immediate family members. Here is a convoluted chart on ANA as to who is eligible:
Note mileage expiration policy.
I would have to register my parents ahead of time, which is a bit of a nuisance. I’m not sure how complicated this process is, so can’t comment on specifics. Still, all in all, this appears to be the best (and overall cheapest) option for my specific situation IF I want to treat them to business class. Those same flights run at $4,000 per person, so burning 88,000 MR points plus $200 is a good deal. But I would make sure to route them through Chicago on both flights.
How you can search availability on ANA website
ANA website is super confusing, so I’ve decided to put together a series of screenshots to save you time. First, go to US portion of ANA website and get a free mileage account:
Click on “using miles” and scroll down to “partner flight awards,” if you are looking for flights from/to Europe or within the Americas. Then click on “application and ticketing.” Click on “to members-only function” and you will see a page where you can search for your award tickets online. Weird, right?
ANA mileage program is a tremendous bargain when it comes to certain business class redemptions. If you have flexibility and plan on redeeming miles on United-operated flights to Europe, you can get a nice comfortable seat for 88,000 miles with no extra surcharges. But be aware of some drawbacks before you transfer your MR or SPG points.
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