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Maximize Amex transfer bonus for incredible business and first-class redemptions to Japan

Dec. 12, 2019
10 min read
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American Express Membership Rewards started December off right by bringing back one of our favorite promotions: a targeted 30% transfer bonus when transferring points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. If you don't know better, that news by itself might elicit a yawn. But, if you're interested in flying to Japan in style, you're going to want to read on.

There are excellent Flying Club redemptions on Virgin Atlantic's Japan-based partner ANA. A first-class round-trip award ticket from the U.S. to Japan starts at just 90,000 Flying Club miles from Honolulu (HNL) — which features ANA's new A380 — or 110,000 miles from the contiguous U.S. United charges 110,000 miles for a first-class one-way award from the U.S. to Japan, so you're getting a round-trip for around the price other programs charge for just half the trip.

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Flying Club used to hide this ANA redemption chart, but now you can confirm these rates right on the Flying Club website:

While these would be decent one-way prices, it's important to remember that the prices listed on this chart are for round-trip awards on ANA. You can book one-way tickets for half the cost.

This chart and its footnotes don't designate what's Western U.S. versus Central/Eastern U.S. However, based on what we've been able to confirm with Flying Club, the regions basically break down into distance bands calculated by round-trip mileage. Here are how the regions correlate by distance for the different tiers:

Total round-trip mileageEconomyBusiness classFirst class
7,000-9,000 miles (Hawaii)45,00070,00090,000
9,000-11,000 miles (Western U.S.)60,00090,000110,000
11,000-14,000 miles (Central/Eastern U.S.)65,00095,000120,000

But wait, there's more. The good news doesn't end with these incredible rates.

Related: Using Virgin Atlantic miles for mini round-the-world trips with ANA

How to hold award space before you transfer points

If you don't have enough miles yet and/or if you want to make sure that there's award availability before transferring your miles, Flying Club allows you to put ANA awards on hold. When I called in May 2019, I was able to get a 72-hour hold for an ANA award. However, a 24-hour hold is much more commonplace.

Either way, this should be plenty of time to transfer your American Express Membership Rewards to Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club. In TPG testing, points transferred between these programs immediately, so you don't have to speculatively transfer points to Virgin Atlantic and hope award availability opens up for the dates you want.

Related: Choosing the best Amex credit card for you

Reasonable taxes and fees on ANA awards

Usually when award redemption levels are low, carrier surcharges are high. That's especially true on Virgin Atlantic's own award chart. Unfortunately, Flying Club passes along ANA's carrier-imposed surcharges. So, awards aren't as cheap out of pocket as they would be if you booked the award through United or LifeMiles — both of which charge under $60 out of pocket round-trip.

However, taxes and fees are still reasonable when booking through Flying Club. I priced out two awards with a Flying Club agent for April/May 2020. Both a business-class flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) and a first-class flight from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Tokyo-Haneda cost $266.85 in taxes and fees. Interestingly, I was given the option to pay 182.40 pounds sterling ($240) round-trip in taxes and fees. So, you might want to grab a no-foreign-transaction fee credit card and purchase with pounds instead.

RELATED: Best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees

You might even be able to get a chance to ride on one of ANA's Star Wars aircraft. (Photo courtesy of ANA.)

Related: TPG Points Lab: Save miles booking Delta awards with Virgin Atlantic

Routes, pricing and aircraft types

The most relevant award redemptions for U.S.-based travelers are going to be on ANA's transpacific flights from its nine U.S. gateways to ANA's hubs in Tokyo (NRT/HND). Without paying for a connection, you're currently limited to the following routes:

  • Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to
  • Tokyo-Haneda (HND) — daily using a Boeing 777
  • Tokyo-Narita (NRT) — daily using a Boeing 777
  • Houston (IAH) to
  • Tokyo-Narita (NRT) — daily using a Boeing 777-300ER through March 28, 2020
  • Tokyo-Haneda (HND) — daily using a Boeing 777-300ER starting March 29, 2020
  • Honolulu (HNL) to
  • Tokyo-Haneda (HND) — daily using a Boeing 787
  • Tokyo-Narita (NRT) — 2x daily, a mixture of Boeing 777-300ER and A380
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to
  • Tokyo-Haneda (HND) — daily using a Boeing 777-300ER, increasing to 2x on March 29, 2020
  • Tokyo-Narita (NRT) — 2x daily using a Boeing 777-300ER, decreasing to 1x on March 29, 2020
  • New York-JFK to
  • Tokyo-Haneda (HND) — daily using a Boeing 777
  • Tokyo-Narita (NRT) — daily using a Boeing 777
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) — daily using a Boeing 777
  • San Jose (SJC) to
  • Tokyo-Narita (NRT) — daily using a Boeing 787-8 through March 28, 2020
  • Tokyo-Haneda (HND) — daily using a Boeing 787-8 starting March 29, 2020
  • Seattle (SEA) to
  • Tokyo-Narita (NRT) — daily using a Boeing 787-8 through March 28, 2020
  • Tokyo-Haneda (HND) — daily using a Boeing 787-8 starting March 29, 2020
  • Washington-Dulles (IAD) to
  • Tokyo-Narita (NRT) — daily using a Boeing 777-300ER through March 28, 2020
  • Tokyo-Haneda (HND) — daily using a Boeing 777-300ER starting March 29, 2020

Here's how much each round-trip option will cost, both in Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles and Membership Rewards utilizing the targeted 30% transfer bonus. (Membership Rewards amounts are rounded up to the next 1,000 as transfers must be in 1,000-point increments.)

Round-trip to/from Tokyo (NRT/HND)EconomyBusiness classFirst class
FromVirgin Atlantic milesAmex Membership Rewards pointsVirgin Atlantic milesAmex Membership Rewards pointsVirgin Atlantic milesAmex Membership Rewards points
Honolulu (HNL)45,00035,00070,00054,00090,00070,000
Seattle (SEA)60,00047,00090,00070,000110,00085,000
San Francisco (SFO)60,00047,00090,00070,000110,00085,000
San Jose (SJC)60,00047,00090,00070,000110,00085,000
Los Angeles (LAX)60,00047,00090,00070,000110,00085,000
Chicago (ORD)65,00050,00095,00074,000120,00093,000
Houston (IAH)65,00050,00095,00074,000120,00093,000
New York Kennedy (JFK)65,00050,00095,00074,000120,00093,000
Washington Dulles (IAD)65,00050,00095,00074,000120,00093,000

In case it needs emphasizing, this is simply incredible — particularly for business and first-class flights. Flights from the East Coast (like JFK and IAD) take around 14 hours outbound to Japan and 13 hours on the return. So, you can get around 27 hours of ANA's exceptional first-class product for just 93,000 Membership Rewards points. Mind you, it would cost 150,000 Membership Rewards if you were to transfer points directly to ANA to book these flights. Booking the same flights with United MileagePlus miles would set you back 220,000 miles.

ANA's economy product isn't bad either. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

Related: The ultimate guide to ANA first class

Searching for award availability

Next, you need to find award availability. Unfortunately, you can't book these awards through the Virgin Atlantic website, and you can't check availability on Virgin Atlantic's website either. But there are a few ways to search for ANA award availability: United's website, ExpertFlyer, ANA's website [membership required] or Aeroplan's website.

While the United website's nonstop search option is helpful, United also operates some flights on this route itself — leading to false positives on the calendar. ExpertFlyer's search function can take a bit to complete an ANA's availability search — especially when searching +/- three days — but at least you can see for certain whether or not ANA has availability on a particular flight.

Related: The beginner's guide to ExpertFlyer

Searching for awards on ANA's website itself requires an ANA Mileage Club account. While you can search seven days of availability at a time, "Seats available" might indicate that there's United award availability instead of ANA availability. Similarly, Aeroplan requires you to log in to your account — it provides flexible date searching but has false positives from United availability as well.

Related: Book this, not that: Star Alliance award tickets

Bottom line

Utilizing this targeted American Express Membership Rewards transfer bonus can yield excellent redemptions for premium-cabin flights from the U.S. to Tokyo. However, you're going to have to start at one of ANA's gateways and do some digging to find award availability. Still, it's definitely worth the time and effort to get a great deal on a great product.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms apply. See terms for additional information.

    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.