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The feeling you get when you book an award ticket is (and will always be) exciting and satisfying. But if you’re like me, you want to fly the longest distance for the least amount of miles and money.
There’s perhaps no worse feeling than realizing that you redeemed your miles in one loyaty program and could’ve paid half the miles and little to no money at all for the same ticket and seat through another loyalty program. But don’t worry, it happens to everyone (including me…still).
One of the most overlooked aspects of this hobby is realizing that it is possible to arrive at your destination (or destinations) for less miles and money by redeeming your miles through a partner program. It’s worth noting that the partner program will likely be based in a foreign country (more on that below).
PANDEMICS ARE OPPORTUNITIES
Recently, I had to cancel my roundtrip first class redemption on All Nippon Airways (ANA) because of the pandemic. I was so geeked about that flight. However, over the past few weeks I’ve had a lot of time to think about where I want to go when things return to “normal.”
Given that I am traveling A LOT less these days, two things have worked in my favor:
- I’ve had more time on my hands to study award charts.
- More open award space has been available across several international airlines that generally isn’t available.
Some of these airlines include business products that I’ve had a desire to review for years. Then I had an idea…what if I booked a Round-The-World ticket instead of separate trips from the U.S. to Asia, US to Africa, and US to Europe?
I thought this would be a great opportunity to highlight a sweet spot that you may not be aware of and also give me a chance to work through a trip that I may book.
BOOKING A ROUND-THE-WORLD (RTW) TICKET WITH ANA
You’re probably asking yourself “what is a RTW ticket?” It’s, literally, what it sounds like.
Using a RTW ticket, it’s possible to book multiple segments with multiple stopovers with multiple partners for one flat price. In this specific case, ANA is a Star Alliance partner so all carriers have to be in Star Alliance.
HOW TO EARN ANA POINTS
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of this redemption, we need to make sure we have the points or have an idea of what we are aiming for if this is on your bucket list.
I’m going to assume that most subscribers are based in the US, so let’s focus on credit cards that are going to provide the most effective way for you garner a ANA points including:
Personal (consumer) cards:
- American Express Business Gold Card (Learn More)
- The Business Platinum Card From American Express (Learn More)
American Express Membership Reward points transfer to ANA at a 1:1 rate and the transfer usually takes a couple of days to process.
Warning: Because it takes a few days, flexibility is key. Do a final search once the points hit your account just to make sure that award space hasn’t disappeared.
If you’re short on Membership Reward points or need to top off your ANA account, you can also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to ANA (3:1 transfer rate, with 5,000 bonus for every 60,000 points). In short, 60,000 Bonvoy points = 25,000 ANA miles.
THE NITTY GRITTY RULES
Before we transfer any points to ANA, we need to understand the most important aspect…the rules. Because, once you transfer those points from your credit card to the airline, they’re stuck with the airline. This is what you need to know…
- As mentioned above…flights must be operated by ANA or Star Alliance partners
- Your trip must be 10 days (or more) from the date of your first international departure and travel must be completed within one year
- You must choose to fly in one direction…east-to-west or west-to-east
- You are not allowed to backtrack (but the definition is highly dependent on the agent you speaking to when booking the ticket)
- You must cross both oceans (Atlantic & Pacific) and can only do so once
- The ticket may have up to 12 segments, up to 8 stopovers, and up to 4 ground transfers. Included in the 8 stopovers, you are allowed up to 3 in Europe, and up to 4 in Japan and;
- Your itinerary must touch all three “areas” and you must return to the area the you started in
Whew, that was a lot! While requiring your trip to be more than 10 days may be a challenge for some, who wants to fly to 8 cities in less than 10 days!?
It’s also worth noting the “no backtracking” rule only applies to travel between ANA zones. For example, once you reach Asia, Europe, etc., you can criss-cross the continent, as long as you don’t exceed the 12 segments or 8 stopovers listed above. This is what leads to “backtracking” being a very grey area.
THE ANA RTW AWARD CHART
The exact amount of miles required for your RTW ticket will be completely dependent on the total length of your trip (in miles) and ANA provides a simple, user-friendly award chart to calculate how many points will be required. The chart reads as follows:
OK, SO WHO ARE THE STAR ALLIANCE PARTNERS?
At the time of this writing, these are the partner airlines that you can book within the Star Alliance:
|Aegean Airlines||Brussels Airlines||SAS|
|Air Canada||Copa Airlines||Shenzhen Airlines|
|Air China||Croatia Airlines||Singapore Airlines|
|Air India||EgyptAir||South African Airways|
|Air New Zealand||Ethiopian Airlines||SWISS|
|ANA||EVA Airways||TAP Portugal|
|Austrian||LOT Polish Airlines||Turkish Airlines|
This is highly subject to change given the pandemic that is forcing many airlines out of business (e.g. South African Airways just went out of business but there are rumblings they are returning).
HOW TO FIND AWARD SPACE
This is the part that can be rather exhausting but I promise the juice is worth the squeeze.
The simplest way (particularly if you’re new to booking award tickets) is to use United.com and search each individual segment. United has been known to show phantom award availability – awards that are NOT actually available to book – but the search engine is user-friendly and fairly reliable.
STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS ON HOT TO BOOK A RTW TICKET
So, now that we know what airlines we can book, how many miles it’s going to cost, and understand the rules (i.e. up to 12 segments, 8 stopovers, etc.), and how to find award space. Let’s walk through the steps to booking this ticket.
STEP #1: Determine the cities that you want to visit.
Star Alliance is massive so every city is practically available, however, if you’re attempting to visit an off-the-beaten-path city that requires multiple flights, remember the segment and stopover rules. I’ll highlight an example below.
STEP #2: Search for award space.
Now that you’ve determined where you want to go, it’s time to search for award availability. Again, I recommend using United.com but you can use any Star Alliance search engine that you are familiar with.
Searching United, you are looking for “Saver Award” availability which means that the space is available to book on the partner airline.
Don’t worry about the prices that United is quoting, we’re simply looking for availability. Write down the…
- Flight #
- Available class of service
…and you should be good to go.
It’s worth noting that you cannot book these tickets online so you’ll have to call ANA (1-800-235-9262), speak with an agent, and give them the information above. It’s also important to know that you cannot book seats for other people using your points. You have to create an account for each individual person so you can transfer points.
Another great resource that I use frequently is FlightConnections.com. The search engine provides all the available options between cities and will even allow you to narrow it down the alliance (Star Alliance in this case).
STEP #3: Determine the distance that you plan to fly
The tool that I use is GCMap. Simply type in your destinations, select “Map” or “Distance” and the program will tell you everything you need to know.
STEP #4: Determine how miles it will cost you
After determining how many miles you are flying in Step 3, simply look at the ANA RTW award chart (above) and determine the correlating points required for the ticket.
EXAMPLE EXAMPLE EXAMPLE
You know I wouldn’t leave you without an example. This is a simple example but I was able to meet all the requirements and develop this route:
New York (JFK) – Tokyo (HND) / ANA
Tokyo HND – Seoul (ICN) / Asiana
Seoul (ICN) – Bangkok (BKK) / Thai Airways
Bangkok (BKK) – Frankfurt (FRA) / Lufthansa
Frankfurt (FRA) – Newark (EWR) / United Airlines
Per the award chart, this trip will cost me:
- Economy Class: 75,000 miles
- Business Class: 115,000 miles
In many instances, and depending on how many cities you want to visit, you can cover the entire trip with one credit card welcome bonus.
One of the biggest secrets to being successful in this hobby is putting in the time and learning the “secret” sweet spots that are often sitting in plain sight.
Depending on carrier and award chart you use, it could cost you 60,000 – 70,000 miles just to fly one-way from the US to Europe in business class so the savings are enormous and you have the opportunity to visit several cities around the world.
I’ll write a follow-up post with more examples.
Anyone inspired to book this or something similar?