2021 travel: See the cherry blossoms with first- and business-class award space to Tokyo

May 7, 2020

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Cherry blossom season is one of the best times to visit Tokyo. The flowers bloom and flood the streets, turning the world’s largest city into the world’s largest garden. It’s truly a sight to behold, and it’s something to add to your travel bucket list.

Cherry blossom season usually starts around March 20 and goes through the first week of April, and if you want to make this your first post-coronavirus outbreak trip in 2021, now might be the time to book. We’re seeing wide-open award award space in ANA first and business class from the West Coast and Midwest U.S. to Tokyo during cherry blossom season, with many open dates offering two or more seats in both classes.

If this is something you’re interested in booking, keep reading, as we’ll go through all the open ANA award space during cherry blossom season. We’ll also show you how to book these tickets with your transferable points, but first, let’s discuss the risks of booking travel in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak.

In This Post

Should I book travel now?

As you’re probably well aware, the world is in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Travel is restricted around the world, and unless it’s absolutely necessary, you should refrain from traveling until the outbreak is contained.

As we’ve discussed in other articles, however, now can be a good time to plan future travel — if you understand the risks. We’ve found consistently great award space on a number of premium routes (like the U.S. to Tokyo) and even a number of excellent cash fares for flights within the U.S. and abroad. You can keep up to date on all of these on our deals page.

There are some risks to booking travel now, though. The first is that there’s no guarantee the coronavirus will be contained by the time you’re set to fly; if this happens, you may need to pay to cancel your trip. With this in mind, make sure to review your airlines’ change and cancellation policies before you book — this way, there will be no surprises if you do have to cancel a ticket.

Further, many airlines are on rocky financial footing. While we believe that most of the major carriers will make it through the coronavirus travel downturn, there’s always the chance of the airline you book with going under. If this happens, your tickets may be rendered worthless and you could be out of valuable points and money.

As a result, keep the financial position of both the airline with which you’re flying and the airline with which you’re booking in mind — for example, if you’re booking an ANA ticket through United MileagePlus, make sure you have confidence in both ANA and United Airlines surviving the travel slowdown.

Open ANA award space from the U.S. to Tokyo

ANA The Room Business Class Seat
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Now for the fun part: open award space! As mentioned in the introduction, there is open award space in ANA first and business class from most of the carrier’s West Coast and Midwest U.S. gateways for two or more passengers. We’ve also found limited space from Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Houston (IAH), giving almost any American an easy way to get to Japan on points.

For some background, ANA — short for All Nippon Airways — is the flag carrier and largest airline in Japan. The airline has some of the best first and business class seats in the sky, with its new business class product — dubbed “The Room” — earning a 90/100 in TPG Writer Zach Griff’s early 2020 review.

At the time of writing this article, all the flights we’ve listed have award space for at least two passengers. This could change in an instant, so make sure to book your tickets quickly if you spot a flight you want to book. Additionally, there may be additional award space for solo travelers and those traveling outside of the cherry blossom season too, so play around with your favorite Star Alliance search engine to find more space if you’re not tied to these dates.

One last thing: ANA flies to both Tokyo-Narita (NRT) and Tokyo-Haneda (HND) airports from many of its U.S. gateways. You may want to choose Haneda thanks to its proximity to Tokyo’s city center, though it may depend on availability and timing for your preferred travel dates.

Here’s a look at all the award space we’ve found (all award space for two passengers and accurate at the time of writing):

Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)

First class:

  • Outbound: March 15-17 and 23
  • Inbound: March 31; April 1

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 17
  • Inbound: March 31; April 1

Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT)

First class:

  • Outbound: March 17 and 22-23
  • Inbound: March 31; April 1

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 14-15, 17 and 22

Houston (IAH) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)

First class:

  • Outbound: March 20 and 23
  • Inbound: March 30; April 1

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 23-24
  • Inbound: March 31

Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)

First class:

  • Outbound: March 16-17
  • Inbound: March 30-31; April 1

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 15-16 and 22-24
  • Inbound: March 30-31; April 1

Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT)

First class:

  • Outbound: March 15-16 and 21
  • Inbound: March 30-31

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 16 and 18
  • Inbound: March 30-31

San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)

First class:

  • Outbound: March 15, 18 and 22
  • Inbound: March 30-31

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 14-17 and 21-23
  • Inbound: March 30-31

San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT)

First class:

  • Inbound: March 31

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 14-15 and 22-24
  • Inbound: March 31

San Jose (SJC) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 15-17 and 21
  • Inbound: March 31

Seattle (SEA) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 14-24
  • Inbound: March 29-31

Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)

First class:

  • Outbound: March 16, 18 and 20
  • Inbound: March 31; April 1

Business class:

  • Outbound: March 15-16
  • Inbound: March 30

How to book these tickets

Since ANA is a member of the Star Alliance, you can book these award tickets using any form of Star Alliance miles. Some of these programs offer a better deal than others though, so it’s important to assess your options before you book your award flight — especially if you have transferable points from a major credit card.

Here are your best bets for booking ANA first or business class awards.

ANA Mileage Club

If you have American Express Membership Rewards points, you’ll get a great deal by booking through ANA Mileage Club. It costs just 85,000 miles for a round-trip, business-class award ticket from the U.S. to Tokyo during cherry blossom season (considered “Regular Season”), which is an excellent deal. First class, on the other hand, costs 150,000 ANA miles round-trip.

READ MORE: Redeeming Amex Membership Rewards points for maximum value

Just note that ANA doesn’t let you book one-way tickets. You can, however, book open-jaw itineraries that let you depart from and return to different cities on different carriers. For example, you can book ORD to NRT on ANA and return from Seoul (ICN) to JFK on Asiana. You will, however, pay a small surcharge (in this case, 3,500 miles) for flying a Star Alliance partner airline home.

United MileagePlus

You can book ANA award tickets by transferring your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus. However, United recently removed its partner award chart and — in most cases — raised the price of partner awards by 10%. That said, awards to Asia are still cheaper when booking through United when compared with Chase’s other Star Alliance transfer partner, Singapore Airlines Krisflyer.

As of the time of writing this article, United is pricing ANA business-class awards at 88,000 miles one-way, while first-class awards clock in at 121,000 miles. This is far more expensive than booking with ANA Mileage Club, but it’s worth considering if you only have Ultimate Rewards points on hand — especially if you can utilize United’s Excursionist Perk to effectively build in a stopover for your trip.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (with a major caveat)

ANA also has a non-alliance partnership with London-based Virgin Atlantic. It’s Flying Club loyalty program has an excellent ANA award chart, and you can transfer points from Amex, Chase or Citi ThankYou Rewards. However, now may not be the time to use it.

Virgin Atlantic isn’t in the best financial situation right now. The airline has signaled that it needs government funding to survive, with founder Richard Branson offering up his private island as collateral for a loan from the U.K. government. To make matters worse, Delta Air Lines — which owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic — has said it’s not investing more in the airline, with Delta’s CEO saying that the British carrier will likely file for bankruptcy.

ANA tickets booked through Virgin Atlantic could be deemed worthless if the airline goes belly-up, so unless you’re really confident that Virgin Atlantic will survive, we don’t recommend booking your tickets using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club until the airline’s financial situation stabilizes.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club ANA award chart

If you have confidence in the airline, though, you can score an excellent deal when booking ANA flights through Virgin Atlantic. You can book a round-trip ticket from the West Coast U.S. to Tokyo for just 90,000 miles in business class or 110,000 in first class. Further, Midwest and East Coast flights cost just 95,000 and 120,000 in business and first class (respectively).

Taxes and fees are pretty low, as well. You’ll pay around $250 for your round-trip ticket, which is higher than some Star Alliance carriers but worth it for the significantly lower mileage cost. Like ANA Mileage Club, however, you cannot book one-way flights on ANA through Virgin Atlantic.

Again, this is a great deal, but there’s no guarantee that Virgin Atlantic will survive this economic slowdown. Only book this ticket if you’re confident that Virgin Atlantic will find funding and if you’re all right with potentially losing your miles. Otherwise, book with ANA, United or another Star Alliance loyalty program.

Earning transferable points

If you don’t currently have any of the aforementioned transferable points, you may want to consider adding one of the following cards to your wallet so you can jump on deals like this in the future:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first six months of account opening, though be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for a 100,000-point offer (offer subject to change at any time).
  • American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months, though be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for a 75,000-point offer (subject to change at any time).
  • Citi Premier® Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening

Note that Chase and Amex have both announced temporary changes to many of their cards in light of the coronavirus outbreak, and Citi will be updating the Premier card’s earning rates in August. In addition, American Express is extending the timeline for meeting minimum spend thresholds for all cards approved from Dec. 1, 2019 through May 31, 2020 — giving you extended time to earn a welcome bonus.

You can also review our guide to choosing the best Amex and our post on the perfect Chase quartet to see if another card might be a better fit.

Bottom line

Cherry blossom season is one of the best times of year to visit Tokyo. If you’re comfortable with the risks of booking future travel during the coronavirus outbreak, this deal presents a great way to both fly in a top-notch first or business class product and see Tokyo at its best.

Featured photo by Phattana Stock/Shutterstock

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