Great Award Flights Hiding in Plain Sight – ANA to South-East Asia

Bangkok, Thailand

In 2018, my wife and I enjoyed a fantastic trip to South-East Asia. We flew Delta from Atlanta to Hong Kong via Seattle in business class for 80,000 Delta SkyMiles per person (which sounds like an impossible deal these days). After a couple of nights in Hong Kong using points and a free night certificate at the Intercontinental, we flew to Hanoi on Cathay Dragon (now merged fully into Cathay Pacific) in business class using 9,000 British Airways Avios per person. We spent two nights in Hanoi at the Hilton on a cash rate and then took a two night cruise in Ha Long Bay before flying to Bangkok from Hanoi on Qatar Airways in business class again using 9,000 Avios per person (yay for the fifth freedom flight).

Ha Long Bay sunset

In Thailand, we spent two nights in Bangkok at the Hilton (cash), three nights in Chiang Mai at the Le Meridien (cash plus points rate) and our final two nights using free night certificates at the Conrad Koh Samui. We flew around Thailand using cash tickets on Bangkok Airways.

View from our private pool at Conrad Koh Samui

We flew home using 78,000 Aeroplan miles per person in business class from Koh Samui to Bangkok on Thai Airways and from Bangkok to Istanbul to Atlanta on Turkish Airlines. It was a great trip and we were able to use points and miles to offset most of the air and lodging costs.

I’ve been plotting our 2023 travels early since there’s such a demand for business class award seats. For next summer, we decided to return to South-East Asia. We would like to explore central and southern Vietnam and my wife is really interested in seeing the Killing Fields museum and memorial in Cambodia. I also would like to see Angkor Wat. To that general list of places, I added Singapore as we have always wanted to visit, plus it’s a good place to stop for a couple of days and fly into or out of the area, as it has lots of flight options.

So, I started researching flight options for the long-haul flights. For that distance, we are definitely flying business class. I looked into the ANA Round-The-World ticket, but there are some issues right now with European airlines limiting award seats this far out. To use a Round-The-World ticket, you must fly (generally) in one direction, crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

ANA recently had a status match promotion that allowed me to match from Delta Platinum to ANA Platinum, which gives me Star Alliance Gold status and provides a benefit of entry for me and one guest into United Clubs on domestic itineraries. What it also provided, as I found out, was access to more available award seats when searching online.

As I was already investigating ANA, I looked into their other transpacific options. ANA miles can be earned by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points (or Marriott Bonvoy points). I found that ANA awards can be booked up to 355 days out, longer than many airlines which use 330 days as their outer limit. This limits the competition from people using ANA partner miles, such as Air Canada Aeroplan and United Mileage Plus. I also discovered that you can book open-jaw tickets on both ends. This means you can fly out of one ANA gateway (choosing from New York-JFK, Washington Dulles, Houston, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, and San Francisco – with Seattle and San Jose flights currently suspended) and return to another. You can also fly into one city in South-East Asia and return from another, saving some positioning time and cost on the other end. The cost for a round-trip, open-jaw ticket in business class is 105,000 ANA Miles (or 136,000 ANA Miles if you include flights from partners like Singapore Airlines).

As I was booking two tickets, I looked for space specifically on ANA flights. Many of the itineraries I looked at had two seats that were waitlisted on certain segments. I did not want to run the risk of a waitlisted seat never clearing so I focused on the flights that seemed to be available. I reached the point where I was 355 days out from our potential return dates and I consistently found availability from Houston through Tokyo-Haneda to Ho Chi Minh City, where we would begin the Vietnam portion of our trip. I also found availability from Singapore through Tokyo-Narita to Chicago for the return. I decided to transfer 210,000 points from American Express so I could be ready to book. It takes about 36 hours for the transfer.

On the day my miles arrived in my ANA account from American Express, I searched again and this time, I found two seats on the return flight into JFK, which would allow us to try the new “The Room” business class on ANA’s new 777-300ER aircraft. I quickly booked the tickets so now we are flying IAH-HND-SGN and SIN-NRT-JFK next June. The flights cost a total of 210,000 miles plus about $650 in taxes and fees. We will of course have to book positioning flights to Houston and from New York, but I think that’s a small price to pay for such a flexible and cost-effective award.

It’s amazing to me that we are able to book these flights for 105,000 miles per person when our combined long-haul tickets five years ago cost 158,000 miles per person. Who says points and miles are losing value? Not me!

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