Here’s the short story: In at least some cases, ANA award flights are available to book through ANA, but not through Star Alliance partners like United, Aeroplan, Avianca, or Singapore Airlines.
While I haven’t flown them yet, all reports I’ve read suggest that ANA offers excellent international business and first class experiences. For example, here’s a recent business class review from Points Miles and Bling, and here’s a recent first class review from Points MD.
While planning a trip to Japan, I stumbled upon something surprising. ANA is opening up more premium award space to their own members than to partner airlines. Overall, this is not an unusual practice — other airlines have been known to do this. I just had never before heard that ANA does it. I found this to be the case on the two routes that I checked: Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo Narita (NRT), and Houston (IAH) to Tokyo Narita. I assume this is true on many other routes, but I haven’t yet checked.
Here’s an example…
Award Space Available via ANA, but not United (Example)
Looking at April 25 2018, Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo Narita (NRT), Expert Flyer shows at least one award seat available in both first and business class:
But United.com fails to show any business or first class awards on that same flight (See the second flight below. The first one is a United flight):
In a similar situation, I also tried Aeroplan and Singapore (via phone) to find out if they could see the award space that was evident via Expert Flyer. They could not. I was confused until Gary Leff, via a personal conversation, pointed out the obvious: ANA must be reserving award space to their own members.
I logged into my ANA account, and sure enough the award space was readily available:
Finding ANA Awards
As shown above, Expert Flyer, ANA, and United.com (and other sites such as Aeroplan and Avianca, not shown above) can be used to find awards online. Of these, only Expert Flyer and ANA show awards that are available only to ANA members.
When searching ANA, make sure not to rely entirely on their +- 3 day award calendar. You may see a display that indicates that seats are available, like this:
But clicking through shows that seats are only available for waitlisting, not for immediate booking:
If this happens, try different dates until you find available seats that are not waitlisted.
Obtaining ANA Miles
The easiest options for getting ANA Miles are to transfer from Amex Membership Rewards (see: Amex Transfer Partners), or from SPG (see: SPG Transfer Partners). Unfortunately, in both cases the transfer can take several days to complete. This is a problem since an award that is available one day could easily be gone the next.
The other problem with transferring points to ANA is that miles expire 3 years after they are earned (or, in this case, transferred to your account). Specifically, “Miles are valid until the end of the month, 36 months after the accrual month.” Unlike many other airline programs, account activity does not extend the life of these miles. So, if you end up not using the miles after transferring them, you’ll have to find a use within 3 years or you’ll lose them.
In my case, I took a chance and moved the points needed for a three person first class award in May. A couple of days later the points appeared in my account and I booked the award successfully.
Booking ANA Awards
ANA’s website lets you book awards on ANA itself and/or on Star Alliance partners. In either case, they require that you book a round-trip award. If you really need to book a one-way award, though, you can sort-of do so by booking a cheap throw-away return (thanks again to Gary Leff for reminding me of this option). The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook describes this technique here.
For example, I wanted to book first class from the US to Japan, but I didn’t need a return ticket. ANA’s round trip award price for this trip is 150,000 miles (75K one-way) for low or regular season (165K for high season). Their low season economy rate, meanwhile for Japan to Hawaii, is 35,000 miles (17,500 one-way). Via ANA’s website I was able to book US to Japan first class for my outbound (75K) and Japan to Hawaii economy for my return (17.5K) for a total cost of 92,500 miles per passenger and reasonable taxes and fees ($83 per person). Mileage-wise, this is less than many Star Alliance partners would have charged for a one-way first class flight if the awards were available to partners. For example, United and Aeroplan would charge 105K one-way and Singapore would charge 100K. On the other hand, Avianca charges just 90,000 miles for one-way first class, and Virgin Atlantic charges only 110K or 120K for round-trip ANA first class awards (Virgin Atlantic’s ANA award chart can be found here under “Spend Miles”).
Changing and cancelling ANA Awards
Travel Codex has a nice overview of fees related to ANA Awards. Regarding award changes and cancellations, they say that many changes are free, and cancellations cost just 3,000 ANA miles. Here it is in their words:
No change fee — ANA permits a limited variety of changes to award tickets without a fee up to 24 hours before departure. These include changes to the dates and times of travel, but you may not change the airlines, the itinerary, or add or remove stopovers. You also can’t change the name of the passenger or change between a partner award and an ANA-operated award.
3,000 miles cancellation fee — If you need to cancel an unused award ticket, there is no cash fee. Instead you will forfeit 3,000 miles before they are returned to your account. If you need to make a change not permitted by the rules above, you’ll have to cancel and rebook.
For some awards, ANA makes award space available only to their own members. When you find this situation, it is necessary to use ANA miles to book the award. Read the above post for details regarding obtaining ANA miles, booking awards, and more.