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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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.

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

But, there are limitations on the deal

Before you get too excited, there are some limitations to keep in mind:

Only round-trips are allowed: Unfortunately, you can’t book one-way flights on ANA using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles. However, you should be able to book an open-jaw, such as Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo in one direction and then a return from Tokyo to New York-JFK.

You’re going to be limited to these transpacific flights for this sweet spot. (Image generated by Great Circle Mapper.)

No domestic connections allowed: You can’t connect inside the U.S. or Japan as part of the transpacific award flight and still leverage these incredible award rates. Specifically, the Virgin Atlantic chart states: “If a journey requires a connecting flight or stopover to reach the destination, miles are charged for each sector.”

If you need a connection in the U.S., Virgin Atlantic also partners with Delta. U.S. domestic one-way flights cost 12,500 Flying Club miles — requiring a transfer of 10,000 Membership Rewards during the targeted 30% transfer bonus (as MR points must be transferred in increments of 1,000 points).

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. (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, fly round-trip — although open-jaws are available — 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 75,000 points 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, earn 5x on flights and eligible hotels at and cardholders will receive an up to $200 airline fee credit each year.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on
  • Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points. That's an extra half point per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. You can get up to 1 million additional points per year.
  • Enroll to get up to $200 in statement credits annually by getting up to $100 semi-annually for U.S. purchases with Dell. Terms apply.
  • 35% Airline Bonus: Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of a flight with your selected qualifying airline, and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year when you book on
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