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

Dec 12, 2019

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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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In This Post

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

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club redemption chart on ANA

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 mileage Economy Business class First class
7,000-9,000 miles (Hawaii) 45,000 70,000 90,000
9,000-11,000 miles (Western U.S.) 60,000 90,000 110,000
11,000-14,000 miles (Central/Eastern U.S.) 65,000 95,000 120,000

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. Image courtesy of ANA.
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) Economy Business class First class
From Virgin Atlantic miles Amex Membership Rewards points Virgin Atlantic miles Amex Membership Rewards points Virgin Atlantic miles Amex Membership Rewards points
Honolulu (HNL) 45,000 35,000 70,000 54,000 90,000 70,000
Seattle (SEA) 60,000 47,000 90,000 70,000 110,000 85,000
San Francisco (SFO) 60,000 47,000 90,000 70,000 110,000 85,000
San Jose (SJC) 60,000 47,000 90,000 70,000 110,000 85,000
Los Angeles (LAX) 60,000 47,000 90,000 70,000 110,000 85,000
Chicago (ORD) 65,000 50,000 95,000 74,000 120,000 93,000
Houston (IAH) 65,000 50,000 95,000 74,000 120,000 93,000
New York Kennedy (JFK) 65,000 50,000 95,000 74,000 120,000 93,000
Washington Dulles (IAD) 65,000 50,000 95,000 74,000 120,000 93,000

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.
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.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

Aside from the 120,000-point welcome bonus, Amex recently made huge improvements to the Business Platinum Card, including the fact that you will now earn 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to a cap amount), earn 5x on flights and eligible hotels at and cardholders will receive an up to $200 annual airline fee credit each calendar year (enrollment required).

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • 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.
  • Plus, 0% Intro APR for 12 months from the date of the account opening on purchases eligible for Pay Over Time. After that, your APR will be 14.99% to 22.99% based on your credit worthiness and other factors as determined at the time of account opening.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 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.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in value per year for statement credits on select purchases with your Card, including up to $400 with Dell Technologies, up to $360 with Indeed, up to $150 with Adobe and up to $120 on wireless telephone purchases. Enrollment required.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year toward baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
  • 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.
Intro APR on Purchases
See Pay Over Time APR
Regular APR
14.99% - 22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Good, Excellent
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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

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