Update at 9:31 AM ET on 3/8/13. Disregard most of this post. Commentor Angel pointed out trouble getting ANA to price this, and I found the problem. ANA rule: “The departure airport and the final destination on the itinerary may differ, but must be in the same country.” I’ll try to figure out a way to salvage some of this idea.
Yesterday I was effusive about the fact that ANA–a Japanese airlines most of us have never flown–stopped charging fuel surcharges on United and US Airways flights booked with ANA miles. I called it the deal of the month on twitter.
The value comes from ANA’s awesome distance based chart and the fact that it is a Membership Rewards transfer partner.
But I wanted to give some tips to get insane value out of ANA awards using free oneway principles.
The key principle of all free oneways is a stopover at your home airport. By stopping over at your home airport, you can get 1.5 trips out of what the airline thinks is only one trip. (And if the airline thinks it’s one trip, it only charges you for one trip.)
ANA has stopover rules that are liberal and strict at once. The liberal part is that you can have four stopovers on one award! But you can’t have any stopovers in your country of origin, you can only have two in Europe, and holes in your itinerary count as a stopover at both cities!
(The example ANA’s site gives is Tokyo to Frankfurt to Munich, returning after an open jaw from Frankfurt to Tokyo. The open jaw between Frankfurt and Munich counts as a stop in both, so you can’t get a stopover in Frankfurt en route from Tokyo to Munich.)
So how can we apply the free oneway principle of a stopover at our home airport when ANA prohibits stopovers in the country of origin? Easy. Add half of a trip on to the beginning of our main award, thus changing our country of origin.
Let me give an easy example. If you live in Newark and want to fly roundtrip in business class to Paris on United with ANA miles, you’d already get a great deal. The roundtrip is 7,298 miles, so the award would cost 68,000 ANA miles.
This is of course, a steep discount on how many miles United or US Airways would charge–100,000.
But here’s where my trick of adding a prior leg comes in. Add in a oneway from Lima to Newark four months before, and you’ve got the return half of a second trip on the same award. (How do you get to Lima? One way award, cash ticket, walk.)
Now the distance of the award increases substantially to 10,929 miles.
But that’s only one band higher up on the chart, so the mileage price only increases to 85,000. This is remarkable since Lima to Newark–in flat bed business class–is only adding 17,000 miles!
Of course, I can hardly say I’ve maximized the itinerary. You can take two stops in Europe after all.
Here’s a possibility: add Lima to Newark onto an award from Newark to London to Istanbul to Newark with stops in London and Istanbul.
This award traverses 13,690 miles, which is another band higher up. It would cost only 90,000 ANA miles total in business class! (Note that London to Istanbul would be on Turkish Airlines, so you would be on the hook for a modest fuel surcharge for flying a carrier other than United and US Airways intra-Europe.)
There’s nothing special about living in Newark or having every section of the trip be direct. Imagine you want to add the return half of trip to Santiago onto a trip to Tokyo, and you live in Los Angeles. Let’s even throw in a free stopover in Hawaii on the way to Japan.
That 17,850 mile trip would cost only 105,000 ANA miles in business class, which is spectacular since LAX to Tokyo roundtrip is 120,000 United miles and Santiago to LAX would be another 50,000 miles.
That means using Membership Rewards transferred to ANA miles saves 65,000 points!
So far all my examples presuppose a major international hub for United as your home airport. We’re not all so lucky. Living at a hub helps because it means fewer flights, and every flight adds to the cost of an ANA award.
But you don’t have to live at a United or US Airways hub to maximize ANA awards. I’ll give an example for the home airport of Medford, Oregon, which only features two United flights–to Denver and San Francisco.
This award has a return from Sydney to Medford, then a roundtrip to London.
Normally in business class Sydney to Medford would be 67,500, and a roundtrip from Medford to Londond would be 100,000 more. But instead of 167,500 United miles, this itinerary would cost 115,000 ANA miles.
Can you put the oneway after the roundtrip?
No. Imagine reversing the first example. Newark to Paris roundtrip then Newark to Lima. You’ve stopped over in Newark, which is in the origin country. ANA prohibits stopovers in the origin country.
Are these free oneways?
No, the oneways are all adding a bit to the miles price since they are increasing the number of miles flown on the award. There are probably free oneway opportunities to Mexico or the Caribbean. Post them in the comments.
Is this a big deal?
Yes! I already had Membership Rewards worth more than United miles. Now they may be worth more than Ultimate Rewards! If that sounds crazy, let me explain.
United has a great business class bed and releases a great amount of award space. It has a route map that covers most of the places I want to go. Using the techniques in this post, you can use about 1/3 fewer Membership Rewards to book United business itineraries than the number of Ultimate Rewards it would take.
I’m going to open the The Business Platinum Card with a 25,000 Membership Rewards sign up bonus to pad my Membership Rewards balance.
I’ve already had the Mercedes-Benz personal Platinum, and the “regular” personal Platinum has a sign up bonus that’s below where I’ve often seen it in the past.
Booking 1.5 trips with the half trip first unlocks incredible savings on ANA awards that fly United or US Airways.