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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
All Nippon Airways (ANA) is one of Japan’s premier airlines and a Star Alliance member. While many of you will never set foot on an ANA plane, you should be a member of their frequent flyer program, Mileage Club, because it allows you access to near perfect Star Alliance award availability. This means you can search for award space that you can then redeem your US Airways (especially with their current 100% buy miles offer), Continental/United and Air Canada Aeroplan miles (among many more).
Once you have an account and log-in to the award search, you won’t be able to search for Star Alliance flights right away, because ANA knew that tons of people were using their award tool to search for availability, so they grayed out that option to discourage people from using the tool when they had no intention of using ANA miles. While they don’t want random people using their resources, there are a couple ways to work around this policy.
1) The easiest is to get some points (at least 100 to be safe) in your ANA Mileage Club account so you don’t have to worry about the other work-arounds. American Express Membership Rewards points and Starwood points both transfer to ANA at a 1:1 ratio and the minimum transfer amount is 1,000, which is well worth it if you plan to book serious Star Alliance awards. Amex transfers usually go through within 48 hours and Starwood can take up to a week. FYI: if you don’t have Membership Rewards or Starwood points, the Amex Platinum card currently has a 25,000 points bonus and Premier Rewards comes with a 15,000 point bonus with the annual fee waived the first year (See Rates & Fees). You can also get the Starwood Amex with up to 25,000 points and the annual fee waived for the first year
While you may think you are losing 1,000 miles, ANA actually has some great redemptions (see award chart), like 63,000 points for business class East Coast to London. Since the chart is distance-based, it can work to your advantage if you plan flights that are just below a threshold. I use the Great Circle Mapper distance tool to figure out the distance of my potential award routings.
Once you get access to their award calendar, you may realize you actually want to redeem through ANA (just know they have pretty high fuel surcharges/taxes/fees on awards). Marriott is also a partner with ANA, so you can select them as your earning partner to get some miles on your next stay and then switch back to earning regular Marriott points.
– You could also credit your next Star Alliance flight to your ANA account. Just remember, you won’t get miles in your primary program, so don’t bank a large flight that you need to count for elite status and also make sure the fare class purchased earns miles with ANA.
– While their program is geared towards Japanese flyers, they do have a number of different ways to earn miles, so if the other two options won’t work, play around with their earning options. FYI: Per the Mileage Club T&C: Mileage is valid until the end of the 36th month counting from the month a service or a product was used to earn miles. ANA is not responsible for expired mileage.
2) If you don’t want to do option 1, you can trick the award tool into letting you see Star Alliance availability.
a. As mentioned, the “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines” button will be grayed out if you don’t have miles in your account, so instead click on the blue “ANA International Flight Awards” button (note: my screen doesn’t show grayed out Star Alliance button because I have miles in my account).
b. Search for an international route that ANA serves, like NRT (Tokyo Narita) to HKG (Hong Kong). You enter these abbreviations in the APO airport code box and click next
c. Your fake results will show, so you can just scroll to the bottom and select the blue “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines” button.
d. You now have access to the Star Alliance tool. You can enter in any city pair and get accurate Star Alliance availability.
Note: you will need to repeat this every time you log-in.
3) Fellow travel blogger and techie Seth at Wandering Aramean blog created a script that will trick ANA into letting you use the tool. I haven’t personally used it, but I’ve heard others have had success doing it. Check out details on that here.
Some general tips with the ANA tool:
1) It is not smart at piecing together connecting flights. So don’t enter in Pittsburgh to Ho Chi Minh City and expect it to piece together your dream award. You’ll need to do search leg by leg. I recommend starting with the longest or most difficult legs first. So I’d try finding award space from Chicago/Washington Dulles/ Newark to Tokyo and then Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh, then once I have that figured out, I’ll search for the first leg.
2) Since you won’t be booking (most of the time) through ANA, write down the legs that show availability because you’ll have to call your airline to book the award. As long as it shows available with the ANA tool, the Star Alliance airline of your choice should be able to book it using those miles, with the most notable exception being United which will block some Star Alliance flights from time to time (mostly international First Class redemptions).
3) The tool only lets you search day by day, so if you are flexible with dates, start with the earliest day you’d go, so you can scroll forward in rapid succession to see availability on other dates. If you start in the middle of your block of preferred dates, you’ll have to scroll forward, then backwards which takes more time.
4) Sometimes flights will come back with unconfirmed or “requested” availability. I see this a lot with Asiana awards. I simply restart and try the search again and many times it will then load correctly.
Remember, you can also get a good sense of Star Alliance availability using continental.com and aeroplan.com, but the ANA tool is the most reliable indicator, even if it does take a while to get used to how to best work it.
Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. The United Explorer card recently got some enhancements like 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants and on hotel stays and a $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check Fee credit. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year.
The United Explorer card recently got some enhancements like 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants and on hotel stays and a $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check Fee credit. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year.
Know before you go.
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