Pro Tip – Using AMEX MR to Save Big on Award Travel to Australia & New Zealand

This is our third installment of “Pro Tips” and today we’ll be looking at the advantages of booking flights to Australia / New Zealand on United using ANA Miles. ANA Mileage Club is a transfer partner of AMEX Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio, and has access to United’s seats at the “Saver Level.”

Award tickets to Australia are one of the hardest award bookings to score, but with this tip you can potentially save a ton of miles.

Cheaper Award Prices

For roundtrip travel to the South Pacific, United charges 80,000 miles / 140,000 miles in Economy and Business Class, respectively. On the other hand, ANA has a lower price in Economy, and an even bigger “discount” in Business Class. The total cost depends on which coast you originate from. Let’s take a look at the ANA award chart:

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To put this all into context, let’s say we are departing from the West Coast. A roundtrip flight from Los Angeles to Sydney would be 14,976 miles, comfortably within the 14,001 – 18,000 range. This means that an award ticket from the West Coast to Australia would cost 65,000 ANA miles in Economy and 105,000 ANA miles in Business Class, much less than what United would charge.

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Since all United flights to Australia leave from the West Coast, if we are departing from the East Coast, we would need to position ourselves to the West Coast. This increases the travel distance, but even if we depart from New York, roundtrip travel to Sydney would still only be at 19,926 miles, well within the next ANA pricing tier (up to 20,000 miles). In this case, we would pay 75,000 ANA miles in Economy, and 115,000 ANA miles in Business Class, still a saving from United’s cost.

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Stopovers

As we mentioned from a previous pro tip covering travels to the Caribbean, ANA allows three stopovers on top of your destination. While you cannot stopover in the country of origin on an international ticket (e.g. if you are traveling from JFK, you cannot stop at LAX), your overall itinerary can contain a maximum of 12 segments, as long as you do not “back-track” to visit a city twice.

For example, you can travel from Los Angeles to Sydney, Auckland, and Melbourne, stopping at each spot for a few days, and include all your flights in one itinerary! This route totals to 18,396 miles, so it will still be within the “18,001 – 20,000” bucket. (Note: flights within the South Pacific will be operated by Air New Zealand in this case).

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Reduced Change and Redeposit Fees

United charges non-elites $100 to change a ticket, or $200 to cancel a ticket and redeposit the miles. ANA, on the other hand allows free changes. If you want to cancel your ticket and redeposit the miles, there is no fee but they do deduct 3,000 miles from the refund. Most people value ANA miles at less than 2 cents a mile, so this is a significant “savings” compared to canceling a United ticket! As a reminder, transferring AMEX Membership Rewards points to ANA is a one-way street.

An award ticket is good for one year (no extensions), but you must make all changes 4 days prior to departure (e.g. if you are departing on the 20th, changes cannot be made after the 16th).

Before you plan a trip, however, there are a few potential downfalls of using ANA miles.

Fuel Surcharges

ANA does levy fuel surcharges on United’s transatlantic awards. They aren’t as crazy as you would find with, say, British Airways, but they can be significant, especially when planning for more than one person—they add up quickly! One suggestion would be to price out the itinerary and find out the fees that United and ANA charge, then decide if the savings in miles and the flexible routing rules are worth the increased cash outlay.

Award Availability and “Routing Rules”

As I mentioned, award travel to Australia is hard, simply due to the limited the number of flights (and therefore, seats). If you can’t find anything on United’s flights, the ANA tip may not be for you. Here is an area where United miles and their region-based award chart may come out ahead. While both United and ANA allow you to route from North America to Australia via Asia, United charges based on origin/destination pairs, meaning that routing via Asia does not cost more. On the other hand, because routing through Asia also means a longer total distance, it can easily cost more with the ANA chart.

ANA also does not allow one-way bookings, so if award availability is only available on the outbound or the return of your journey, you may be out of luck with ANA. Additionally, while you are allowed to have an open jaw, you must return to the country of departure (e.g. if you depart from Houston, you cannot return to Toronto).

Plan Before April 12, 2015

On April 12, 2015, ANA is transitioning into a region-based award chart, similar to what United, Delta, and American currently offer. This means that after that date, you will not be able to take advantage of this redemption option.

Transfers are NOT Instantaneous

While you can confirm award availability with ANA immediately, you cannot hold the award while the points transfer over.  AMEX MR transfers to ANA typically take 48-72 hours, so there is a risk that the award space may disappear before your points get to ANA.

Thanks to Juicy Miles booker Enoch for this guest post. Need help planning an award trip? Consider Juicy Miles for all your award booking needs!

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