ANA Round-the-World Tickets: Best Use of Amex Membership Rewards?

ANA (All Nippon Airways), Japan’s largest airline and an integral member of the Star Alliance, offers arguably the most valuable Round-the-World tickets out there. When used correctly, an ANA Round-the-World ticket can shave hundreds-of-thousands of points off the cost of business, first class or even economy class award tickets.

This is perhaps the best value proposition for transferring and redeeming American Express Membership Rewards earned on cards like The Platinum Card from Amex, The Gold Card and The Business Platinum and Business Gold Card from American Express OPEN.

Star Alliance is the largest airline alliance, and Round-the-World tickets can include travel on any number of Star Alliance airlines like Air Canada, Asiana, Lufthansa, Thai Airways, SWISS and others.

Star Alliance Round-the-World Award airlines American Express membership rewards points

Choose from some of the world’s most premium airlines when booking a Star Alliance RTW

This is the fourth part in a four part series exploring Round-the-World awards and their perks.

  1. When Does It Make Sense To Book a Round-the-World Ticket
  2. Which Airlines Offer Round-the-World Tickets; What are the Rules
  3. Alternatives to Booking Round-the-World Tickets (Do-It-Yourself Guide)
  4. How to Book Round-the-World Travel for Maximum Value (With ANA)
A Tremendous Value

ANA Mileage Club uses an old distance-based price chart for Round-the-World fares. This affords prices that are incredibly lower than similar Frequent Flyer program.

Lufthansa First Class bed round-the-world award Star Alliance ANA Mileage Club American Express Membership Rewards points

Lufthansa First Class bed onboard the Boeing 747. Star Alliance Round-the-World first class awards can be had through ANA Mileage Club for the price of business class using other programs.

For instance, a shorter-distance RTW route such as JFK-LHR-ICN-JFK, which clocks in at 16,000 miles, costs only 105,000 miles to redeem a business class ticket. Your flights could be on some of the best airlines in the world, including Singapore, EVA, Asiana, and ANA itself.

ANA Mileage Club is a transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards, which means that points transfer at a 1:1 ratio directly to the program. It’s free to sign up for a Mileage Club account and transfer Amex points, even if you’ve never flown ANA.

Not interested in navigating the ins and outs of this complex award? You can save yourself a lot of hassle by partnering with a Juicy Miles or Points Pros award booking consultant to plan your round-the-world.

How to book an ANA Round-the-World Ticket Using American Express points

ANA’s distance-based chart for Round-the-World redemptions.

The Rules

ANA allows a total of eight stopovers (with a limit of three in Europe and four in Japan) and/or four ground transfers. Ground transfers — arriving in one city and departing from another — count as 2 stopovers.

For example, if you stopover in Rome and then take a train to Milan and depart from there, you will use two stopovers and one ground transfer. Unlike a cash Star Alliance Round-the-World ticket, ground transfers don’t count against your distance-flown award mileage calculation. 

All travel must be either eastbound or westbound route. However, I found that ANA doesn’t enforce this restriction if backtracking to connect in a Star Alliance hub. 

It is possible to mix cabins (i.e. economy, business and first class), but rates are always calculated for the highest cabin, even if a passenger is only flying that class for one leg.

Travel has to touch all three ANA mileage zones, and must return to the same originating zones.

Booking Star Alliance Round-the-World Awards Using ANA

ANA breaks up the world into three zones for the purpose of classifying award travel.

Finding and Booking Around-the-World Award Travel

Round-the-World itineraries are inherently more complex than a standard redemption. The key to success and minimizing time on the phone is careful preparation. 

Below I outline the 4 steps to simplify the process:

First, Find ‘saver’ award availability

I recommend cracking open Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets or a notebook to start sketching out your ideal itinerary. 

The most important principles to keep in mind are:

  • Search for intercontinental ocean-crossing flights first.
  • Avoid airlines and routes with hefty fuel surcharges. 
  • Allways write down backup options that you’d be willing to accept.

To actually start searching, you can use an Award Search tool associated with any Star Alliance airline. ANA has its own online tool to search partner awards, but many find Aeroplan and United Airlines’ websites much easier to use for these purposes.

When using United’s ‘Award Travel’ search function (this is just a matter of checking off the “Award Travel” box on the flight search page), you want to look for United flights or partner airline flights that show availability in the ‘Saver’ window. Keep in mind that Aer Lingus is not a Star Alliance airline, so those flights can’t be booked using ANA, even when United shows availability.

Use Alternatives Where Possible To Extend Your Trip

Consider using ground transportation, low-cost carriers, or additional award bookings to tie together your itinerary. For instance, as part of my itinerary, I needed to get from Erbil to New Delhi.

Star Alliance options would have required backtracking to Vienna or Cairo – which would add considerably more distance and additional segments to my itinerary. Instead, I used 17,000 Avios points to hop onto a much more pleasant Oneworld flight with Qatar.

Count the number of segments, estimate distance, and count ground transfers

Head to Great Circle Mapper and input the route you’ve constructed to estimate the distance flown. Cross reference the total distance against ANA’s award chart to estimate the number of miles required. 

As you can see below, my 11-segment itinerary came in just the 12-segment max and required slightly less than 29,000 miles, which means my redemption cost 170,000 miles. 

 

Source: GreatCircleMapper

Next, confirm that you have fewer than 8 stopovers in your itinerary. A stopover is defined as any stop greater than 24 hours. Transits of less than 24 hours are ‘free’ and you’re welcome to leave the airport if you’d like to explore! My itinerary includes a 22-hour transit in Singapore to catch up with a friend. 

Finally, use ITA Matrix or the ANA tool to estimate fuel surcharges. It’s much better to tweak your itinerary to avoid fuel surcharges before getting on the phone with an agent.

Transfer Points and Call ANA to Book

Now for the trickiest part – transferring your miles. It takes approximately 48 hours for miles to transfer from American Express to ANA. During that time, it’s possible that award inventory may change. That’s why having a backup is critical! 

Of course, you could proactively stash miles with ANA in anticipation of a booking. However, know that ANA miles expire after 36 months, regardless of activity. I only recommend transferring miles to ANA when you have a specific use in mind and are highly confident you’ll be using them.

Once your miles have posted and you’re ready to book, call ANA at 1-800-235-9262. Wait times can be long during peak hours, but the good news is that once you reach an agent, you can be confident they will be highly competent and helpful. ANA has some of the best agents in the business! 

Now feed the agent your itinerary and he or she will verify that you are within the rules. If the miles are already in your account, but you’re not ready to ticket, ANA does allow 24 hour holds during which you can make tweaks to your itinerary. It took me less than 45 minutes to book my Round-the-World itinerary!

Once a round-the-world award is ticketed, the only permitted change is to the date of travel. The airline, route, or cabin cannot be changed without re-issuing the entire ticket, which would require that all of your flights still have award availability. ANA charges 1,000 miles to make any date changes.  

Watch Out: Fuel Surcharges & Airport Taxes

ANA passes along fuel surcharge on round-the-world fares. These fuel surcharges can be substantial in some cases and eat into the value that a round-the-world award offers.

Solution:

Fuel surcharges can be minimized or even avoided altogether by avoiding certain airlines and routes. Long haul flights on European airlines such as Adria, Austrian, Lufthansa, and TAP Portugal typically charge the highest fuel surcharges between $200 – $600 per segment. LOT Polish does charge fuel surcharges, but they are often more reasonable (~<$200).

Asian and African Star Alliance carriers have reasonable fuel surcharges, typically around $100 per segment, particularly for flights within their respective region. Flights that originate in Brazil are prohibited from including a fuel surcharge.

You’ll also want to avoid airports that charge extremely high airport taxes, particularly on premium cabin flights. Airports in the UK, France, and Germany charge some of the highest taxes in the world. 

Watch out: Phantom Availability

All too often, awards will appear in search engines, like United or Aeroplan’s Award Travel flight searches, that in fact cannot be booked.

Solution: Before taking any irreversible action such as transferring points, I always recommend confirming the availability using a second website, a search tool like ExpertFlyer, or by calling an agent.

Watch Out: Segments Count Against You

Unlike one-way or round-trip awards, most RTW awards have a limit on the number of segments that can be included and the distance that can be flown. A ‘segment’ is defined as any route with one flight number. Unfortunately, this means that connecting flights will count against your segment count and add to the distance flown. For instance, ANA allows 12 flight segments on a round-the-world booking. A flight from New York to Amman that makes one transit stop in Istanbul will count as 2 segments.

Solution: Wherever possible, always search for the most direct routing to preserve your segments and reduce the distance flown.

In general, it is best practice to search for availability as a series of one-way segments, even when you intend to fly multiple segments or round trip. None of the tools are very good at stitching together multi-segment itineraries and you risk not getting a full picture of availability by attempting to make complex searches. 

Estimating Add-on Fares (a.k.a Fuel Surcharges)

Fuel surcharges can quickly sap the value out of an otherwise amazing award redemption. The best way to avoid or minimize them on a Star Alliance redemption is to carefully select airlines and routes to prefer airlines with little or no surcharges. 

To estimate the potential fuel surcharges on any individual segment, use ITA Matrix.

  1. Search for the exact flight that you’ve found award availability on using one of the previously reviewed tools
  2. If presented with multiple options, select the flight you intend to book. Ignore any prices as you’ll be ‘paying’ with award miles.
  3. Look for the line item coded “YQ.” This portion represents any fuel surcharges that will be added to your Round-the-World award. 

A Few Time-Saving Tips!

Finding award availability can be time-consuming for a Round-the-World itinerary. When constructing your RTW itinerary, I always recommend taking a few consistent steps to simplify the process.

  1. Start by searching for your intercontinental flights first as they will have the most limited availability.
  1. Next, find flights for those dates where you have the least flexibility
  1. Always find backup options for your most critical segments. You’ll want options when you’re on the phone with an agent in case an award seat disappears. 

Of course, you can always elect to use an award booking consultant at a Juicy Miles award booking consultant to save time and energy. 

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Comments

  1. A nice addition to a great series. Thanks.
    “All travel must be either eastbound or westbound route. However, I found that ANA doesn’t enforce this restriction if backtracking to connect in a Star Alliance hub in the same region.” How is a region defined? Asia? SE Asia?
    “As you can see below, my 11-segment itinerary came in just the 12-segment max and required slightly less than 29,000 miles, which means my redemption cost 170,000 miles.” Um, maybe I’m being dense, but I don’t see the itinerary.

        • Sorry to be the perpetual pain in the ass, but for the last two segments of your trip, SYD X/ICN JFK looks an awful lot like backtracking, and those are 3 different zones. I’m not doing this to be a PITA, but to potentially use your post as a lesson on planning a trip for myself. Hence all the questions and comments.

          • No worries at all Christian. My goal with this post was to help people plan these kinds of trips.

            Yes – you’re right that SYD-ICN-JFK requires some geographic backtracking to ICN. As I mention, ANA seems to be flexible on backtracking if you’re going to a star alliance hub for the purpose of onward travel. In this case, I’m not doing a stopover in ICN, but rather a layover of less than 24 hours. My final destination for that particular segment, JFK, is still further east from my origination point, SYD. I edited the post to be clearer about this point

            Ping me here if you have more questions. Happy to help!

  2. How do you start the call with the agent? I’m wondering if they are automatically pissed off once they know they are going to be working very hard on your proposed itinerary.
    And what is the best ‘off peak’ time to call?
    Thanks. Brilliant article

    • I actually think round-the-world bookers might be an agent’s favorite. We tend to have done our homework and know exactly what we want. The ANA agents are genuinely helpful and usually familiar with the rules. I wouldn’t worry about pissing anyone off if you’re prepared!

      I found that the worst time to call was around 5 – 9pm ET. Otherwise the wait times are pretty random – anywhere from 2 minutes to 45 minutes. Every once in a while you might also be connected to their call center in Japan – and the agents there are just as professional.

  3. It is definitely my favorite use of AMEX MR. I don’t know if the 1k points requirement for a date change is recent or not, I wasn’t charged this when I changed dates in May of this year. Hope to make use of this award one more time.

    • The 1000 point fee penalty for booking may be a recent change. They did not charge me when I had to make a change due to a flight schedule change – but obviously that was their issue, not mine. I hope you get a chance to book another RTW!

  4. Very helpful article. I am planning to fly from TPE to VIE on EVA but the flight goes through BKK. Do you know if ANA counts miles as TPE-BKK-VIE or TPE-VIE? Thanks.

  5. Ground transfer is allowed within the same region? For example what if I get to Istanbul with Ana miles and buy a Rev ticket from Istanbul to Frankfurt and restart my rtw trip from FRA. Is it allowed? If so, you are saying ist-fra is not counted toward the total miles?

    • A few things to unpack here.

      Yes, ground transfers are allowed in the same region or between regions. Just keep in mind that you only get up to 3 ground transfers in Europe and up to 4 in Japan. A ground transfer will end up counting as 2 stops, so you could only do 1 ground transfer in Europe and 2 in Japan.

      Now the itinerary you suggest with a stopover in Istanbul would require geographically ‘backtracking’ to FRA.Technically that is not allowed, but I found ANA to be flexible if you’re backtracking to a star alliance hub, such as Frankfurt. Don’t quote me on that though as they may enforce the rule as it’s written. If you have bad luck with one agent, try hanging up and calling again!

      Shoot me another comment if anything is unclear.

      • thanks for the clarification. I was thinking of heading to IST from Asia, so I guess it is not backtracking. Two points: 1 you mentioned ground transfer between regions is allowed. This means, I can stop my travel in BKK, and then restart from FRA (I book BKK_FRA as rev)? And the second point is that BKK-FRA won’t count in the miles required? If yes to both, this in my opinion is a huge deal…

        • The answer is yes to both of your questions. The generous stopover policy is a killer feature that makes some unbelievable itineraries possible.

          My itinerary includes two stopovers similar to the one you describe. I stop in Erbil (zone 8) and then use revenue flights to get to Delhi (zone 4), where I pick up my RTW itinerary again. Similarly, I stop in Bali and then don’t pick up my itinerary again until I depart from Sydney. In all cases, the ground transfer mileage does NOT count in calculating the miles required. This is different than a paid Star Alliance RTW fare, which does count ground mileage transfers.

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