Be Careful When Searching ANA Award Availability
Transferring points to an airline from a program like American Express Membership Rewards is irreversible, so you'll want to make sure you can actually book your desired award before initiating the transaction. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr explains why you'll want to be extra careful when searching for awards on Japanese carrier ANA.
Anyone familiar with utilizing the ANA or Japan Airlines websites know that these carriers like to pack a lot of information into every webpage. Compound the amount of information and density to Japanese websites with ANA's recent changes to the Mileage Club award booking interface, and it becomes relatively easy to overlook important information.
TPG reader Eden recently wrote in explaining her first-hand experience with this issue:
"I searched on ANA’s website and found award availability for dates we wanted. The website said business class “seats available” for Dec. 10 (SFO-Ho Chi Minh) with return on Dec. 26.
So, I transferred 338,000 Amex points to ANA, waited for the points to deposit, and went to book only to find out that “seats available” does not mean what it says. Rather, it means you can be waitlisted and the only chance of being moved up on the waitlist is if another person in an award seat cancels. ANA tells me the odds of that happening to accommodate our family of three is basically nil. We’ve never flown ANA and the odds of us now using these points are slim."
Being waitlisted for an award ticket means you may or may not actually end up with a seat on the plane, and unfortunately there isn't any kind of magic eight ball that can inform you whether your seats will clear. I did a bit of research and found what I believe Eden saw on ANA — and it was easy to see how any award traveler could get into this situation.
When you're doing an initial award search, ANA displays a seven-day availability calendar for both your outward and return trip. Both December 10 and December 27 clearly say "seats available" on this SFO-SGN round-trip business award search for three adults:
It'd be easy from this screen to go ahead and transfer over your Amex Membership Rewards points to ANA's program in anticipation of booking the trip. However, clicking to the next screen shows us what flights are available:
The only itineraries shown as available (including searching Star Alliance members) are ANA-operated flights with a little "Waitlisted" note in the top left corner. That's a pretty poor user interface from ANA, and I'm sure it has tripped up more than a few people.
If you really want to be sure about award space before moving transferable points from Amex, Chase, Citi or Starwood Preferred Guest into an airline partner's program, either call the airline and confirm award space or use another carrier's website to confirm partner availability. If both ANA.com and United.com show the same Thai Airways flight as having award space, you can be pretty confident that it will be there to book after you transfer your miles.
Once you make the transfer, as Eden did, you cannot move the ANA miles back to American Express, but the good news is that ANA's Mileage Club is not a bad place to have 338,000 Amex Membership Rewards parked. You can fly any Star Alliance member with ANA miles, plus some of ANA's non-Star Alliance partners like Etihad. There are plenty of great ways to redeem ANA miles for a lot of value, particularly if you can travel in ANA's low season for transpacific flights, where round-trips cost as few as 40,000 ANA miles. ANA also just reduced fuel surcharges on ANA-operated award flights, making the program an even better deal.
Have you run into a similar situation with other award searches?