My $23,000 First Class Seat: Redemption Remorse or Great Deal?

American Express offers amazing transfer bonuses (like THIS, THIS, and THIS) to various airlines throughout the year. I love the transfer bonuses because it makes potential award redemptions even more attainable. For the past few months, I’ve had my eye on a few award redemptions but one stands slightly above the others…All Nippon Airways (ANA) First class!

BACKGROUND

If you’re not familiar with ANA, it is the largest airline in Japan (by revenue and passenger numbers) and has been recognized as “Airline of the Year” three times in the past 10 years.

Second, ANA is regarded by many in the points and miles community as one of the most aspirational products on the market, as they tend to offer service that is second to none (an aspect of all Japanese carriers). I’m not joking…it’s actually something to write home to mom about.

Finally, I’ll be flying to Japan which is one of my favorite countries in the world.

In other words, ANA is the “bees knees” and given all of the information above, I shouldn’t think twice about redeeming points for this “bucket list” item, right? Well….

AMERICAN EXPRESS TRANSFER BONUS

A few months ago, I wrote about an Amex 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Airlines. I had been waiting for this specific transfer bonus to take advantage of a “sweet spot.” I would transfer my Amex points to Virgin Atlantic (taking advantage of the transfer bonus), and then redeem the Virgin Atlantic points for a first class seat on their partner ANA.

AWARD CHARTS

Virgin Atlantic has a fairly generous award chart (below). There are a lot of numbers but let’s focus on the two numbers highlighted in red.

Per the chart, Virgin Atlantic requires 110,000 miles round-trip for a first class ticket from the west coast of the USA to Japan (or vice versa). They require 120,000 miles round-trip for a first class ticket from the east coast of the USA to Japan (or vice versa). However, the only snag is when booking ANA (via Virgin), award tickets can only be purchased as round-trip. If you desire to use it as a one-way, you will still pay the round-trip price.

To put this into perspective:

  • ANA charges 150,000 miles round-trip (Amex transfer partner)
  • Lifemiles charges 90,000 miles one-way
  • United charges 110,000 miles one-way (Chase transfer partner)
  • Aeroplan charges 105,000 miles one-way (Amex transfer partner)

110,000 ROUND-TRIP is a steal!!

BUT IT GETS BETTER…

I planned to depart from the east coast so I developed a chart to illustrate my thought process. After I transfer 93,000 points from Amex to Virgin and factor in the 30% bonus, I will have a total of 120,900 points…just enough for this awesome redemption.

EconBizFirst
Roundtrip
To/From
Tokyo
Virginw/ 30%
Amex
Bonus
Virginw/ 30%
Amex
Bonus
Virginw/ 30%
Amex
Bonus
Los Angeles60K47K90K70K110K85K
Seattle60K47K90K70K110K85K
Chicago65K50K95K74K120K93K
New York65K50K95K74K120K93K

Essentially, in exchange for 93,000 miles, I’m receiving this*:

* = not my actual dates so don’t stalk me

MY DILEMMA

I’m a fairly simple person. Often, it’s a battle of quantity vs quality with my miles balances. I don’t mind sitting in economy, however, given the choice of economy or business for an international flight, I think most people would choose business (me included). To that end, business is MORE than adequate for me. This is also the reason that I have never flown first class.

In my head, I say “I’m not sure spending extra miles to be in first class would give me any more satisfaction than sitting in business. Why spend the miles!? Apply the ‘saved miles’ towards a future business ticket.”

Immediately after I transferred my miles from American Express to Virgin, I had some form of buyers remorse. Although this redemption was near the top of my list, I had an uneasy feeling after seeing my account drop nearly 100,000 points.

FINAL STAMP

I’ve redeemed hundreds of thousands of miles this year but I’m not sure how I feel about this transfer and I’m not sure why. At the moment, I have enough miles in my Virgin account for an exciting round-trip, 1st class ticket to Japan.

I could also use those Virgin miles for a round-trip, business class ticket for my trip to Ghana in a few months but is South African Airways business class aspirational material? And do I really want to fly with them given the challenges they’ve been having for a while?

South African Airways A340 Business Class

I’m not sure what I am going to do with these miles. Perhaps, I should just follow my own advice!?

Do you have any suggestions? Should I use the miles for a different redemption? Or should I see what first class offers?

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