Update: Aeroplan’s recent “IT issues” seem to have mostly sorted themselves out. I see Swiss, SAS, Thai, and ANA flights back on the system now – great timing if you’re looking to redeem miles for an ANA First award!
Flying in First Class can be one of the most spectacular uses of your miles, but also tends to be some of the most difficult awards to book. That’s precisely why, for every luxurious First Class product that I have the good fortune of flying, I’ll follow up with a step-by-step guide to help you book the same incredible experience for yourself and your loved ones.
Previous editions of this guide covered the booking strategies for Lufthansa First Class and Japan Airlines First Class, and today we’ll have a look at how to go about securing an ANA First Class seat with your name on it.
ANA First Class is one of the world’s best, featuring warm and personalized service, the most expensive whiskey in the air, and extremely private rectangular suites – almost to a fault, since it’s so private that you can’t easily see your travel companions. By all accounts, the onboard catering is also industry-leading, although I didn’t get to sample the full dining experience since I had travelled aboard an overnight flight with a reduced menu.
Of course, you can also watch this YouTube video I made of my experience on ANA First, to get a sense of the onboard pampering that you can expect:
If you’re departing from Tokyo, or if you’re connecting onwards to other destinations with a layover in the Japanese capital, you won’t want to miss the ANA Suite Lounge at either Haneda or Narita Airports. The noodle bar in these lounges is a particular highlight – it was so good I had gone back for three or four portions during my visit.
The first step to booking a First Class trip of any kind is to ascertain which routes actually offer it. That’s particularly true nowadays as airlines are drastically cutting down on the number of routes that offer First Class, having determined that business class tends to represent the sweet spot in terms of profitability.
Currently, ANA only operates First Class onboard the Boeing 777-300ER, which they operate to the following destinations from Tokyo:
Flights to/from Tokyo Narita
Flights to/from Tokyo Haneda
In addition, the airline will take delivery of three Airbus A380 aircraft in 2019, which will be assigned on the route between Tokyo Narita and Honolulu. The A380 First Class product also looks to be a little different from the existing one, so you might be interested in trying it out in the future if you’re combining Hawaii and Asia in one trip.
Until recently, ANA also used to offer First Class on a single intra-Asia route between Tokyo and Singapore, although it looks like that’s been scrapped.
For North American travellers, the good news is that there’s a plethora of routes to/from the US that offer First Class. In particular, Chicago, New York JFK, and Los Angeles all have multiple frequencies a day to either Narita or Haneda, increasing your likelihood of nabbing a coveted award seat over any given period.
One quick word about the Los Angeles to Haneda route, though – as I had discovered, it’s the only North American route that operates as an overnight flight rather than a daytime flight (in both directions), so if you pick this route you won’t get to enjoy the usual multi-course dining procession and will have to make do with a reduced “quick dinner” menu. The food is still incredibly tasty of course, but if you really want to sample the full breadth of the ANA First Class experience, then I definitely recommend avoiding this route and aiming for one of the other US routes instead.
Meanwhile, for those of you who truly want to indulge in excess, the routes from Haneda Airport to London and Frankfurt are a good way to stitch together an entire Aeroplan Mini-RTW trip in First Class!
For Canadians, the easiest way to book ANA First Class is obviously by redeeming Aeroplan miles on its Japan-based Star Alliance partner. First Class between North America and Asia 1 costs 105,000 miles one-way, which is a relatively expensive proposition, but still nothing short of an absolute steal compared to the retail cost, of course. Continuing on to Asia 2 would cost 107,500 miles.
Given the exorbitant mileage cost, it can often be hard to justify booking a First Class award on both the outbound and return on your trip, which is why I typically make First Class redemptions on a one-way basis. The annoying part about that, though, is that you can’t take advantage of Aeroplan’s generous stopover policies when booking one-ways, so there’s a bit of trade-off there.
All I can say is, if you do decide to book a roundtrip First Class award to Asia for a whopping 210,000 miles, you’d better make sure you find First Class availability on both transpacific flights, since it’d be quite a waste if you had to “settle” for business class in one direction!
Of course, given Aeroplan’s vast partner network among the Star Alliance, you can incorporate ANA First Class into a wider trip around the world, whether that’s to Europe, Australia, or the Middle East – just keep in mind that you’d have to pay the full First Class mileage cost for that region. And if you’re originating from Canada, you’d also be able to tag on Air Canada or United flights in order to get to/from the US city bookending your ANA First Class flight.
As a reminder, you can easily rack up Aeroplan miles by signing up for the American Express Membership Rewards credit cards and transferring miles at a 1:1 ratio to Aeroplan. Just about two credit card applications should give you enough miles to book ANA First Class, so it’s a luxurious flight experience that’s well within reach for anyone hoping to attain it.
A few other frequent flyer programs – including ANA’s own program, Mileage Club – might charge a lower amount of miles for ANA First Class redemptions, but those miles wouldn’t be quite as easy to earn here in Canada. There is, however, one program you might want to look at in more detail, and that’s Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
Virgin Atlantic partners with ANA and offers an incredible award chart that allows you to book First Class starting at 110,000 miles for a round-trip. That’s pure insanity when you crunch the numbers – after all, Aeroplan charges 105,000 miles for a one-way!
There are a few downsides to the Virgin Atlantic option to keep in mind:
You can’t book one-way redemptions through Virgin, so you have to pay the full 110,000 to 120,000 miles for a round-trip.
You also can’t book any added connections without paying more miles for those segments individually, so the ideal scenario here is to book a “pure” round-trip to Japan from the US gateway city of your choice. This also means that if you were originating in Canada, you’d need to pay a little extra in order to position yourself to said US city.
Of course, the biggest caveat with the Virgin Atlantic sweet spot is the relatively difficulty of acquiring Virgin miles here in Canada. If you’re interested in flying to Japan in style, there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s worthwhile getting into US credit cards for the specific purpose of taking advantage of this sweet spot, since US-issued Amex MR points can be transferred to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 ratio.
To sweeten the deal even further, the Amex MR program on the US side regularly puts on 30% transfer promotions for Virgin Atlantic Flying Club meaning that you can often snag a round-trip ANA First award for as low as 85,000 US-issued MR points!
Once you’ve got the miles in your account, it’s time to hunt for availability and book the award. ANA’s partners should all be able to see the same availability across the board, so if you’re booking with Virgin miles, for example, you can still use the Aeroplan search engine to look for space. Other options include United.com and ExpertFlyer; I prefer the latter since it allows you to search for an entire week at once.
Availability on ANA First Class tends to be reasonable if you’re looking for one or two passengers. As with most hotly-contested awards, you want to book as far advance as possible in order to secure your desired seats. But given how many North American cities ANA serves, you should have no trouble locating space if you’re flexible among gateway cities and departure dates.
It’s more rare to see three or more seats available on the same flight, although it does exist:
Many airlines employ a practice of releasing unsold seats as last-minute awards in the lead-up to the departure date, although I don’t find that to be particularly the case with ANA.
With regards to its First Class cabin, the airline’s modus operandi seems to be that only a fixed number of award seats are released at the start of the schedule, and rarely do any more get made available later on. Therefore, the strategy for finding availability on ANA First Class is simple – look 9-12 months in advance and maintain some degree of flexibility, and you’re sure to find something that works for you.
Booking ANA First Class awards through Aeroplan is relatively straightforward, and corresponds with how you’d book any other award. If you have in mind a simple itinerary involving ANA First, you might be able to book it online by entering the origin and destination of your desired itinerary and hoping it shows up among the results. Otherwise, you’ll have to work with the Aeroplan call centre, incurring a phone booking fee of $30 plus tax.
If you’ve gone down the Virgin Atlantic route, the bad news is that you can’t book ANA awards online at all, but the good news is that the Virgin call centre is apparently very impressive and a real pleasure to deal with. You don’t even need to transfer miles beforehand, since they can place holds on awards, and you can enjoy the rare privilege of only transferring miles into the program once you’ve secured your desired award seats.
Lastly, both Aeroplan and Virgin Atlantic will pass on the carrier-imposed surcharges when redeeming miles for ANA First Class; Japan has recently loosened their regulations on surcharges, so these will run you about $150 per direction in addition to the usual government-imposed taxes and fees.
Redeeming miles for ANA First Class comes with a few challenges – in particular, the mileage cost through Aeroplan is relatively high, and the lack of last-minute award space means it’s in your best interest to book as far in advance as possible. Given enough flexibility, though, ANA’s comprehensive Boeing 777 route network in the US should give you plenty of options to work with, and you’ll find yourself sipping on Hibiki 21 over the Pacific Ocean no time.