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The Interesting Tale of How I Booked ANA First Class to Tokyo (Twice)

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By: Bryce Conway, Founder of 10xTravel.com

Hi Travel Junkies,

I just booked two round-trip flights for my wife and I to fly to Tokyo this October on ANA First Class!

After a couple weeks of searching, much of it with the help of 10xT Editor-in-Chief Spencer Howard, I was able to secure two first class tickets from Houston to Tokyo, then home via Washington D.C. for just 120,000 Virgin Atlantic miles (transferred from Amex Membership Rewards) and $256.51 per ticket.

This is arguably one of the best redemptions in all of points/miles, as these first class tickets typically go for ~$20,000 each. And for good reason, each passenger has their own little “cubicle” type seat complete with a 23″ TV to make the 15+ hour flight a little less painful.

ANA First Class seat, image courtesy of ANA.com

Oh, and they serve Krug Champagne and Hibiki 21 Whisky on board, which retails for ~$500 a bottle if you can find it. So bank on a boozy flight review from me this coming October.

ANA serves Hibki 21 Whisky in First Class, which retails for ~$500 a bottle

Anyway, booking ANA First Class with Virgin Atlantic miles is nothing new in the world of points/miles. But my process of securing this tickets was a bit unique.

Here’s how it went down.

The Initial Search

My wife and I had a couple million points/miles to burn and our sights set on taking another trip to Asia this coming fall for ~7-10 days. To be honest, the flights themselves were just about as important as the destination. We were open to going just about anywhere if we could score First or Business Class flights at saver level with convenient itineraries.

So Spencer and I started running through all the options and comparing notes.

ANA First Class was easily the top choice because it is one of the best products in the sky and you can book it for just 120,000 miles round-trip via Virgin Atlantic. But there were a few problems with this strategy:

  1. ANA generally only releases 2 first class saver-level seats per flight
  2. You have to book a round-trip flight to get the 120k price, meaning you have to find saver space both to and from Tokyo
  3. ANA only flies to Tokyo from a handful of US airports (and my hometown of Columbus, OH is definitely not one of them)
  4. Most folks in the points/miles world are aware of how to use just 120k miles to book ANA F round-trip and…
  5. Those folks had a 6+ month head start on me in booking these tickets

Naturally, I was not very optimistic that I would find availability.

And I was right. After days of searching Spencer and I were only able to find one single option that worked for the rest of the year. Which of course fell on the few dates that I was not able to travel for the remainder of 2018. I had to pass on it.

But having spent a few days reading about ANA First Class I was determined to book via any other available method. Even if it was going to cost a substantial amount of points/miles.

Booking ANA First Class (The First Time)

So I found saver space on United from Houston to Tokyo for 110,000 miles and $5.60 per ticket, transferred 220,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United, and booked two one-way flights.

I originally booked ANA First Class for 110,000 United miles per ticket one way

110,000 points per ticket one-way is just 10,000 shy of the round-trip price with Virgin Atlantic, so I was effectively paying double the price that I could have. But it was my only option at the time so I took it and immediately began searching for a flight home.

Trying to Find a Flight Home

I easily ran 100+ award searches to compare options to get home, checking every major points program from every major city in Asia to just about anywhere in the US.

I found Cathay Pacific first class from Hong Kong to NYC for just 70k Alaska miles one-way, but as is common with this route there was only one first class seat available to book. I started to type a text to my wife about how flying in economy is not all that bad before thinking better of it (sorry, love).

I could have booked Cathay Pacific First Class for just 70,000 Alaska Miles and 2 months in the dog house.

There were also a number of Asiana Business Class options available for 80k United points one-way in Business Class, but almost all of them were mixed cabin routes with long layovers. Not worth 80k miles in my book.

Asiana Business Class, image courtesy of 10xT Reader Sarah S.

Then I ran a quick search on United for Tokyo to Washington D.C. and found it. The moment was captured in my messages with Spencer. Pardon my language, I was a little excited.

The moment I discovered it. Note the time.

I was staring at 2 First Class saver level tickets on ANA, direct from Tokyo to Washington D.C. on the exact date I wanted to return home!

I had ran this search multiple times that very same day and nothing was showing. The first class space couldn’t have been available for more than a couple hours at that point!

But there was just one problem. I had already booked my flight to Tokyo using 220,000 United miles….

Then it hit me.

The Idea

I booked the first ANA First Class Flight (using United miles) around 9pm on Wednesday night. Here is a copy of the confirmation email I received.

I booked my initial ANA First Class flight at 9pm on Wednesday night

Which meant I had till 9pm on Thursday night to cancel my reservation without paying a fee. This is actually mandated for all airlines by the US Department of Transportation.

And now that I had found First Class saver space for the trip home, I could (theoretically) put the two together to make a round-trip itinerary with Virgin Atlantic for just 120,000 miles! All I had to do was cancel my United itinerary and hope that nobody else could book this same flight in next few minutes.

Which gave me another idea….

Booking ANA First Class (The Second Time)

Before cancelling my United reservation I decided to call Virgin Atlantic to start the reservation process. Thankfully Virgin has some of the shortest wait times and best phone reps in the industry because I was going to try to pull the old switch-a-roo.

I gave the agent my desired flight details and asked her to run the search. Naturally, she couldn’t find the award space because I still had not cancelled my United ticket. My own reservation with United was blocking my potential reservation with Virgin Atlantic.

While on the phone I logged in to my United account. The next couple minutes went something like this:

Me: “Ok, I want you to run that exact same search again in about 10 seconds. Are you ready?”

Virgin Rep (VR): “Ok….but I don’t think its going to be any different in 10 seconds, yeah?”  (The British accents never get old)

Me: “Let’s just try it. Go ahead and run it again”   (As I pushed the button to cancel my United itinerary)

VR: “I don’t believe it, it worked! I have two seats here for First Class travel on ANA round-trip. Shall I put a hold on them for you?”

Excited Me: “Hell yes! And go ahead and add a note to stock the bar with an extra bottle of Krug because Bryce is gonna pop some bubbles!”  (Kidding)

What I Actually Said: “Fantastic, thank you for your time”

It took almost a week for Virgin Atlantic to confirm the total price (another long story for a different day), which came to 120,000 miles and $256.61 per ticket. I transferred the 240,000 total miles from my American Express Membership Rewards account and paid the $513.02 with my Chase Sapphire Reserve for the free trip insurance.

I transferred 240,000 Amex MR points to Virgin Atlantic to book the 2 flights

Not bad for flights that would have gone for $40,000+ had we paid cash.

And there you have it. Two first class tickets to Tokyo  for 240,000 miles and $513.

For those of you who have been to Japan, I’m looking for ideas on things to do/places to visit/places to eat. Feel free to share them in the comments or via email!

 

Happy Travels,

Bryce

P.S. The first 10xT Reader Meetup of 2018 is happening this Saturday in Columbus, OH. Details and registration here.

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