Many of you know how I praise Southwest’s Companion Pass to be the best deal in the travel rewards game. How can you beat buy one get one free airfare tickets to anywhere in North America, including Hawaii? That’s a 100% return on investment for every Southwest ticket you buy. Can’t beat that! That was the case until I discovered ANA’s RTW redemption…
ANA is a Japan based airline with international routes connecting the Americas, Asia, and Europe. It is a member of Star Alliance so its partners include United, EVA, Asiana, Lufthansa, and many more (this partnership will be important shortly). ANA’s mileage rewards program is ANA Mileage Club, which is a direct 1:1 transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards. The program is loaded with sweet spot redemptions such as roundtrip between the USA and Europe/Japan in business class for only ~75,000 miles! That’s better than most redemptions you can find with other programs.
Most importantly, ANA Mileage Club has an awards scheme for travelers wanting to travel all the way around the world. Points required is based on distance traveled and you’ll see that ANA is extremely gracious with redeeming. The below table shows how many points you’ll need to redeem a RTW trip on ANA. I will show you how to calculate distance in the tools section later.
|Itinerary Mileage||Economy Class||Business Class||First Class|
|4,001 to 7,000||38,000||63,000||90,000|
|7,001 to 9,000||43,000||68,000||100,000|
|9,001 to 11,000||55,000||85,000||120,000|
|11,001 to 14,000||60,000||90,000||140,000|
|14,001 to 18,000||65,000||105,000||160,000|
|18,001 to 20,000||75,000||115,000||180,000|
|20,001 to 22,000||85,000||125,000||200,000|
|22,001 to 25,000||100,000||145,000||220,000|
|25,001 to 29,000||120,000||170,000||260,000|
|29,001 to 34,000||140,000||200,000||300,000|
|34,001 to 39,000||160,000||220,000||340,000|
|39,001 to 44,000||180,000||270,000||390,000|
|44,001 to 50,000||200,000||300,000||450,000|
As you can see, the business class and first class redemptions are generous as a single round trip flight for those fares alone would cost 80-200k points in other programs. The RTW fare enables you to piece together multiple cities and countries ALL in business class for the same price as a few economy flights in other redemptions. That’s a steal!
In terms of putting together a trip, there are a few rules to keep in mind. The below is taken directly from ANA’s rules page. I’ll underline the key points to remember.
- For Round the World itineraries, the required mileage is calculated according to the total basic sector mileage for the entire itinerary. (Calculations exclude ground transportation sectors.)
- Flights must be used to cross both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans once.
- The flight direction of the itinerary must be east-to-west or west-to-east. Backtracking is not permitted.
- Up to 8 stopovers are permitted between the departure point and the final return point. (Up to 3 stopovers are permitted within Europe and up to 4 stopovers are permitted within Japan.)
- The departure date of the final international flight to return to the country of departure must be at least 10 days after the departure of the first international flight on the itinerary.
Example: When departing Japan on October 1, it will be October 1 + 10 days = October 11. So the return flight to Japan has to be after October 11.
- In addition to a maximum of 12 flight sectors, the itinerary may also include a maximum of 4 ground transport sectors (including travel between different airports in the same city).
Tl;dr: If you’re leaving from the USA, go one direction: USA -> Asia -> Europe -> USA (or vice versa) and your trip has to be at least 10 days and fewer than 12 flights. Pretty simple, right?
With the rules in mind, the next step is to actually find the flights and itinerary that works for you. This is the portion that is extremely challenging and its difficulty has compounded with COVID given fewer operational flights and reduced award availability. That being said, if you are flexible with destinations and dates and you’re willing to look 300+ days in advance when awards are initially released to partners, you’ll be able to find flights.
For us, we were looking to plan something in late September / early October 2023, so started researching in earnest in October 2022. We knew we wanted to do Asia and Europe in business class, so the ANA RTW made a ton of sense to us. In the end, we ended up piecing together the following trip:
|Taipei (TPE)||77W||EVA||J – Business|
|Seoul (ICN)||333||Asiana||J – Business|
|Jeju (CJU)||321||Asiana||Y – Economy|
|Saigon (SGN – Layover)||333||Asiana||Y – Economy|
|Istanbul (IST – Layover)||77W||Turkish||J – Business|
|Munich (MUC)||333||Lufthansa||J – Business|
|Berlin (BER)||320||Lufthansa||J – Business|
|Lisbon (LIS)||319||TAP||J – Business|
|San Francisco (SFO)||789||TAP||J – Business|
Total points needed? 145,000 per person given the 23,000 miles we’ll cover from San Francisco all the way around the world and back. Cash fares for this trip would have been $20,000 per person, so that’s an effective redemption value of 13 cents per point!! To put that in perspective, that’s 8.6x the value you’d get from redeeming within the Chase portal with a Sapphire Reserve and 4x the value of Southwest’s Companion Pass. Truly an incredible bargain if you’re willing to put in a few hours to research, and I will save you some time with the next section on tools.
P+ J’s RTW route
Useful Tips and Tools
For our research, we used several tools to look for availability and plan our routes.
- Star Alliance Round the World Planner: This tool is traditionally used for folks looking to piece together a RTW fare in cash. In our case, it was helpful to understand which cities connected to each other via Star Alliance partners and which routes made sense. The main drawback is that it’s only able to look ahead 10-11 months, so if you’re looking for award availability when it’s released, you won’t be able to do that here. This tool also shows the distance you’ll travel. Note, if a flight shows as available here, that does not mean there’s award availability given this is a revenue based search for the airlines.
- ANA Flight Search: This will be your canonical source of truth for award availability. If an award is showing as available here, it is 99% certain that you should be able to book the segment when you call in to book your RTW trip. This search is incredibly clunky, but I found the tip mentioned on Reddit to look segment by segment super useful. This tool only enables search one day at a time, so it’s tedious to click around to find your potential cities and dates.
- Air Canada Flight Search: Given ANA and Air Canada are both members of Star Alliance, you can also use Air Canada’s website to search for Star Alliance partner availability. The site has a 7 day search, so you can more easily see availability. Also, Air Canada shows dates much further ahead than United or other partner airlines, so you can plan ahead. Most folks use United since it’s easiest to use (and provides a 30 day search), but I find that by the time it hits United, the award is snatched up. Air Canada’s search even goes further into the future than ANA’s own calendar. This helped us snatch our return leg from Lisbon to San Francisco the day it was released to ANA 🙂
- Flight Connections: This tool is useful to visualize route possibilities between destinations. You can filter by airline and number of stops. In our case, I couldn’t find any availability to get from Seoul to Munich, but the tool showed me that it was possible to go to Munich from Ho Chi Minh City, so we added an extra stop in Vietnam to enable us to get from Asia to Europe (via Turkey) on Turkish Airlines business class.
- Great Circle Mapper: Use this to calculate your total distance and points needed to redeem your RTW award. It will not be exactly what the ANA agent computes, but will be close enough to get your points transferred correctly. You’ll have to use the IATA code for each airport/city, e.g. San Francisco = “SFO”. See our example here.
- Reddit: Reading and learning from other people’s research and redemptions helped us understand limitations and challenges. We learned that the most difficult portion of any RTW is finding the transpacific and transatlantic segments, so we focused on finding those first and building our trip around those initial legs. There’s also great tips on recommended hotels, time to call into ANA, and other valuable comments.
Air Canada’s site shows availability for 7 days, saving you time
If you were able to do all of the above and find a RTW that works for you… congrats, the hard work is done! After we had our itinerary and triple checked availability via ANA’s flight search, it was time to transfer points from our American Express accounts over to ANA. Amex and ANA are direct 1:1 transfer partners, so you can use the points that you earn on cards like the Amex Platinum or Gold to transfer to ANA. We had a ton of points saved up from the recent Platinum and Gold bonuses, so we transferred over 290,000 points (145,000 *2) to secure our RTW. Unfortunately, it takes up to 72 hours for points to transfer, so there is a small likelihood award availability changes in that period. This is why I highly recommend planning 330+ days in advance to get ahead of the competition. In our case, the transfer completed in 48 hours, phew!
The next step is to call ANA and speak to a representative to confirm the availability again and book the trip. Booking RTW’s is now available online, so you have to call in. I called the ANA Service Desk (800-235-9262) at 4 PM Pacific / 8 AM Tokyo Time as both the USA and Japan based customer service centers were available to minimize hold time. I was still on hold for 1.5 hours (!) before connecting to the rep. The reps are properly trained on booking RTWs, so the call was a breeze. I fed her the segments and flight codes and she confirmed availability for each leg. Once we walked through the full itinerary, she calculated the mileage as 26,000 miles which would have required 190,000 points pp (uh-oh), but after convincing her to re-check, she computed 23,000 miles which was on par with Great Circle Mapper. Crisis averted! She happily finalized the reservation and forwarded the confirmation email.
The last step was to pay for taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges. Some Star Alliance partners pass on fuel surcharges to award redemptions, so we tried to minimize flights on those partners as much as possible. However, it wasn’t completely possible to avoid, so we paid a total of $875 per person for taxes and fees. Not bad for 10+ flights in business class, IMO! A list of partners and their fuel surcharges is discussed on Frequent Miler.
With just a bit of effort and luck, you can score a trip of a lifetime via ANA’s RTW fare. I honestly do not believe there is a better redemption in the award travel industry. We are pumped and are looking forward to traveling the world in business class luxury. Nothing beats arriving at your next destination well rested and ready to hit the ground running. Next up, hotel planning!
(Jenny loving business class on our way home from Vietnam last August)