With so many compelling American Express US credit card offers floating around these days, many of us might be wondering about the optimal ways to redeem our stockpiles of Amex US MR points.
While I’ve mentioned it a few times here on the blog and in the various videos and livestreams we’ve done over the years, it occurs to me that I’ve never dedicated a full article to one of the leading sweet spots for US MR points: transferring points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and redeeming for ANA First Class and business class.
Now that the sweet spot has gotten a fair bit sweeter with the implementation of one-way awards for half the price of a round-trip, it’s time to share the lowdown on what I’d now consider the single-best use case for Amex US MR points.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club’s ANA Award Chart
Flying Club is the loyalty program of Virgin Atlantic, a UK-based airline that primarily competes in the transatlantic market. However, Virgin Atlantic has negotiated independent partnerships with a handful of airlines around the world, including All Nippon Airways or ANA – the “Inspiration of Japan”.
ANA, of course, is known for their leading premium cabins in both First Class and business class, and in particular the cutting-edge “The Suite” and “The Room” products that were introduced in early 2020 on the routes between Tokyo and New York, London, and Frankfurt.
(I’ve reviewed ANA’s standard First Class on the Boeing 777, their standard business class on the Boeing 777 and 787, and their new “The Room” business class on the 777. However, I’ve yet to try the new “The Suite” First Class, and I’m definitely intending to make use of the Virgin Atlantic sweet spot discussed here to do so.)
The Virgin Atlantic Flying Club award chart for travel on ANA looks as follows:
It’s the last two lines of the award chart that will be of particular interest. Taking into account the recently added note that “one-way trips are permitted at half of the round-trip mileage”, we have the following one-way pricing:
- A flight between Japan and Canada or the Western United States would cost 45,000 miles in ANA business class or 55,000 miles in ANA First Class
- A flight between Japan and Europe or the Eastern United States would cost 47,500 miles in ANA business class or 60,000 miles in ANA First Class
The business class redemption rates are extremely competitive against other loyalty programs in the market. For reference, a program like Aeroplan would charge 55,000–75,000 points for the same journey, compared to 45,000–47,500 Virgin Atlantic miles.
However, it’s the First Class redemption rates that truly blow other programs out of the water.
55,000–60,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for a one-way flight in ANA First Class is a spectacular deal, considering that a program like Aeroplan would charge at least 110,000 points (double the amount!) for an equivalent journey.
For most North American travellers planning for the post-pandemic era, the routes between Japan and the US (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, Washington, or New York) will definitely be the most popular.
In particular, New York–Tokyo would be the single most prized redemption, as it’s currently the only US route that features ANA’s new “The Suite” and “The Room” premium products.
Note that, as I understand it, you cannot add additional positioning flights within North America on the same ticket as your ANA flight.
Therefore, if you’re based in Canada but would like to take advantage of the ANA First Class sweet spot, you wouldn’t be able to use the “Japan–Canada” pricing, since ANA doesn’t offer First Class on its sole Canadian service to Vancouver.
Instead, you’d need to book an ANA First Class seat to one of their US destinations, and then book your own separate positioning flight from your Canadian origin to your US gateway airport.
Similarly, if you plan on travelling to points beyond Japan, you’d need to make a separate booking (whether on ANA using Virgin Atlantic miles, using another points currency, or paid with cash), since it can’t be combined on the same award.
Earning Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles
With such a compelling sweet spot available to anyone who holds Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, the natural next question is: what are the best ways to earn Flying Club miles?
Thankfully, Flying Club miles are very easy to earn for anyone who’s involved in the US credit card game, because they’re a 1:1 transfer partner of all three major US points currencies: American Express US Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points. Transfers from all three programs are instant.
Amex US MR points will be the likely first port of call for Canadians who jump into US credit cards, especially with highly attractive recent offers like 75,000 points on the Amex US Gold Card or 100,000 points on the Amex US Platinum Card.
Incredibly, both of these signup bonuses would already be enough for a one-way First Class award between the US and Japan, and the Platinum Card would almost be enough for either a round-trip in ANA First Class, or for two passengers to travel together!
Occasionally, there are even transfer bonuses in the range of 25–30% from Amex US MR points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. With a 30% transfer bonus, the effective award rates would drop to the following:
- A flight between Japan and Canada or the Western United States would cost 34,700 US MR points in ANA business class or 42,400 US MR points in ANA First Class
- A flight between Japan and Europe or the Eastern United States would cost 36,600 US MR points in ANA business class or 46,200 US MR points in ANA First Class
If you’re lucky enough to snag a 30% transfer bonus to Flying Club, paying fewer than 50,000 US MR points for a transpacific flight in one of the world’s leading First Class cabins would be a downright tremendous deal.
But even without a 30% bonus in play, I’d still have no hesitations about transferring over US MR points for this particular redemption, because it’s already such a good deal. Indeed, it’s one of those deals that verge on being too good to be true, so it’s a sweet spot that I’d recommend everyone take advantage of as soon as circumstances allow.
Meanwhile, if you’re in the later stages of the US credit card game, Flying Club’s association with Chase UR points and Citi ThankYou points allows you to easily pool your various points balances into Flying Club and use them towards a luxurious ANA redemption or two.
How to Search and Book
ANA awards with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club cannot be booked online, and must be booked over the phone. Before calling in, it would be in your best interest to search for ANA award space and locate the flights you’d like to book.
The award space seen by Flying Club should match up with the award space seen by ANA’s other partners, including Air Canada and Aeroplan. You can therefore use the Aeroplan search engine to locate the desired ANA award space.
(Note that ExpertFlyer may not always be an accurate way to search for ANA award space for this purpose, since ExpertFlyer uses ANA Mileage Club’s own search engine, which may see more award space than what’s available to partners.)
Generally speaking, one award seat on ANA First Class is typically not too difficult to find at the start of schedule (about 11–12 months before departure). Two award seats is tougher but not impossible to find, while three or more award seats on the same flight is very difficult to find and may only be possible in occasional last-minute award space situations.
As I mentioned above, the New York, London, or Frankfurt routes will be the most desirable, since they offer ANA’s cutting-edge First Class and business class products.
However, ANA’s older premium products still make for awesome experiences – I would only recommend that you avoid overnight departures such as ANA Flight 105 from Los Angeles, as the onboard meal service may be limited, and that’s one part of the ANA First Class experience that you definitely don’t want to miss out on.
Once you’ve found your desired award space, it’s time to call Virgin Atlantic Flying Club at +1 800 862 8621 to make your booking. By all accounts, Flying Club has some of the most proficient and friendly phone agents in the industry, so it should be quite a pleasant booking experience overall.
Now here’s the best part about booking ANA awards on Flying Club (besides the incredibly generous mileage pricing, of course): you can ask the agent to “hold” your award space for up to 48 hours before issuing the ticket, thus eliminating the risk of transferring over your points first, only to find that your desired award availability has disappeared.
You can call Flying Club and firm up your booking before transferring over your Amex US MR points (or Chase or Citi points). And since the points transfers are instant, you could then finalize the points transfer while you’re on the same phone call with the Flying Club agent and issue the ticket right then and there.
If you currently have Amex US MR points from one of the recent welcome bonus bonanzas they’ve been putting on, I’d seriously consider making a booking for ANA First Class for 55,000–60,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles if you’re at all interested in a Japan or Asia trip in early 2022.
With other industry-leading sweet spots (such as Alaska Mileage Plan redemptions on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines First Class) also seemingly facing numbered days, there’s no telling how long this Virgin Atlantic Flying Club sweet spot will last – and boy is it a fantastic sweet spot indeed.
While there remains some uncertainty about when Japan’s borders will reopen, I’d note that Tokyo Haneda and Narita have been open to transiting passengers throughout the pandemic (overnight transfers are allowed at Haneda, but not Narita).
In the worst-case scenario when the time comes, you might be able to tack on another flight before or after your luxurious ANA First Class journey en route to or from an open destination.