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In This Post
Book ANA First Class with Virgin Miles
In this post, HanChicago covers an amazing award redemption and the step-by-step process he used to book ANA first class with Virgin miles. He explains the Virgin Atlantic sweet spot for booking ANA awards (one of the best sweet spot award redemptions of all time) and goes over how to complete the redemption in detail. If you like posts like this, be sure to read his post detailing how he upgraded a business award to fly the highly coveted Air France La Première. Enjoy!
ANA First Class and the Virgin Atlantic Sweet Spot
What were you doing in back in February 2021?
Doomscrolling? Oversleeping? Stress eating?
Me? I was doing all three. But I was also trying to be optimistic about the future.
Stuck at home, in sweet home wintry Chicago, I found myself searching for first class award space on ANA (All Nippon Airways) metal. Tired of streaming movies and TV shows, I instead focused on finding early 2022 award space. There wasn’t much to do back then, especially in the evenings.
For years and years, travel bloggers had been speculating that the too-good-to-be-true Virgin Atlantic award sweet spot for ANA flights might be going away. So I figured I’d try to use that travel hack at least once before it expired.
So what is this sweet spot that virtually every travel blogger writes about? (Bethany didn’t have a post on it, but she’s an unconventional blogger in many ways. So, I thought I’d make the sacrifice to write this obligatory post for her.)
Book ANA First Class with Virgin Miles (Sweet Spot Details)
The sweet spot award is in plain sight within the final two rows of Virgin’s ANA award chart. It comes down to this:
- For only 120,000 Virgin points, you can fly ANA first class roundtrip between Central/Eastern USA and Japan.
- You pay just 110,000 points if you travel between Western USA and Japan.
- For 95,000 Virgin points, you can fly ANA business class roundtrip between Central/Eastern USA and Japan.
- You pay 90,000 points when traveling between Western USA and Japan.
(I’m using Virgin miles and Virgin points interchangeably throughout the post. And yes, nerds, I know the airline has been officially referring to its loyalty currency as Virgin points, not Virgin miles, since late September 2020. But nobody really cares—except that when Virgin’s miles became points, they no longer expired.)
ANA Changes Award Ticket Rule to Allow One-Way Bookings
As of April 2021, you could book one-way ANA awards in either class, whereas before, you could book only roundtrip awards.
- One-way awards cost exactly half of what roundtrip awards do in Virgin points. So, for instance, 60,000 Virgin points get you a one-way flight in ANA first class from Chicago to Tokyo.
Transfer Partner Bonuses Make this Award Even Better
Also, almost every year, American Express offers a 30% transfer bonus when converting your Membership Rewards (MR) points into Virgin points. This bonus was offered in September 2021, and it’s back now through the end of March 2022. (Other card issuers, such as Citi, have offered similar transfer bonuses in the past.)
This means this super sweet spot can be sweetened even further: For example, you would need to transfer just 47,000 MR points to your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account to have the 60,000 Virgin points needed to fly in ANA first class one-way from Chicago to Tokyo. (No need pull out your phone’s calculator app—Amex does the math for you.)
Searching for Award Space
Now that the sweet spot is spelled out, let’s shift back to my award space searching in February 2021. Since the Covid-19 vaccines were slowly starting to roll out in some countries back then, I figured by January 2022, Japan would be among those welcoming international tourists again. Of course, I got that part of this delicate award booking all wrong. Yet, through some pivoting and good fortune, I was able to preserve the award I’d booked with Virgin points.
Bottom line: I still got to fly in ANA first. In a follow-up post, I’ll fill you in on what I exactly did to save my first class award when Japan was still closed to U.S. tourists in early 2022.
But in this post, I want to:
- Go over the basic steps for using Virgin miles to book ANA first (or business) class flights.
- Briefly share my experience aboard ANA’s older first class product, which the airline calls the ANA First Square.
Redeeming Virgin Miles for ANA First Class (Step by Step)
Here are the steps for booking ANA first class with Virgin miles.
Step 1. Find ANA first class award space on a Star Alliance carrier’s website
Yes, Virgin Atlantic has a partnership with ANA, but no, Virgin itself isn’t a Star Alliance partner. So, you can’t use Virgin’s website to search for ANA award space.
Instead, you’ll need to use a Star Alliance carrier’s website to do that (but definitely not ANA’s site, since it’ll feature more award space than sites of other Star Alliance partners). I relied on United’s website—which Bougie Miles has given tips on using—but Aeroplan’s and Avianca LifeMiles’ sites are also recommended by bloggers for this purpose.
You can often find ANA first class award space when you look far out into the future on a Star Alliance partner’s website. While searching on United.com for award flights from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) or New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) to Tokyo Narita or Haneda (TYO), I noticed ANA first class awards would likely be available on dates with 121K+$5.60 on them.
As you find ANA first class award availability, record the flight numbers (that is, the NH numbers for ANA flights). In my notepad, I jotted down a few outbound and inbound options, just in case some award flights were snapped up before I contacted Virgin.
Do not prematurely convert any transferrable currencies into your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account. Wait until you’re done with the next step.
Step 2. Contact Virgin Atlantic to confirm award availability and then put the award on hold (if necessary)
Call Virgin at 1-800-862-8621 or 1-800-365-9500 to confirm the award space you found on the Star Alliance carrier’s website. You want to make sure it’s not phantom award space. Virgin’s customer service agents need to be able to see the same award space you spotted in order to book the award with Virgin miles. There can be a discrepancy in award availability between sites, so it’s always better to confirm with Virgin before transferring over points.
If the Virgin call center’s hold times are too long, you could also try texting 97634 from the U.S. (or +44 (0)7481 339184 from elsewhere) or direct-messaging @VirginAtlantic on Twitter to confirm ANA award availability.
Admittedly, I don’t have any firsthand experience with either texting or DM-ing Virgin; but in other travel blogs and forums, I’ve seen a few positive data points for using both forms of communication to reach Virgin. With that said, phoning in (despite a potentially lengthy hold time) might be your best bet.
After you get confirmation that your ANA flights are bookable with Virgin miles, you can have the Virgin customer service rep hold them for up to 48 hours. But if you’re ready to commit (like I was back in late February 2021), typically you won’t have to request a hold, as I explain next.
Step 3, Transfer points into your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account and have the Virgin agent book the ANA award
The next step is to turn some transferrable currencies—such as Amex MR points or Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points—into Virgin miles. For most of the major currencies, the points should transfer over instantly, so you could conceivably complete step 3 right after step 2 and finish booking your ANA award flight over a single phone call.
Notably, Virgin’s customer service agents (many of them with charming British accents) are among the friendliest and most proficient in the industry, so they’re likely to make the booking experience quite pleasant.
Nowadays Virgin’s call center is open 24-7. But back in February 2021, it wasn’t. I called them around 1 am in Chicago to catch them when they first opened at 7 am in the UK.
I didn’t book my itinerary before April 2021, so two one-way award bookings weren’t an option. Moreover, without a transfer bonus from Amex or any other issuer available at the time, I opted to transfer over 120,000 Chase UR points into my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account. (Back then, I had absolutely no qualms about burning my Chase points like this, as I’ve never been a Hyatt hostage Globalist. 😉 )
Fortunately, I was able to confirm with the Virgin agent that the ANA first class award space I’d found on United.com could be booked with Virgin miles. On the outbound, I’d be in the older 777 first class product (ANA First Square), and on the inbound, the new 777 first class product (The Suite).
For this roundtrip award, I paid $96.95 in taxes and fees, in addition to the 120,000 Chase points I’d converted into Virgin points. With cash alone, it would’ve cost me $25,017.
So, this roundtrip redemption (with a total of 26 hours in first class) was worth almost 21 cents per point (CPP). We can argue about whether CPP is a meaningful metric when only a tiny minority in the points and miles game would buy this roundtrip ticket with just money. But what’s not debatable is that this sweet spot delivers tremendous value.
Step 4. Choose your seat by going to the ANA website with your ANA reservation number
You might think you’re done with your booking after step 3. Technically, you are.
But if you’re like me, you’ll want to choose your seat. In order to do that, you’ll have to get the ANA reservation number from Virgin (it’s different from Virgin’s own booking reference number) and then search for your reservation on this ANA webpage.
On that page, enter your ANA reservation number and your first name (or possibly your first and middle names with no space in between them) and your last name in order to access your ANA itinerary online.
After gaining access, you should be able to choose your seat (and other options, such as special meals).
For both of my flights, I chose 1K, on the starboard side, as I tend to do (even when 1A is open).
ANA 777-300ER First Class (First Square) Mini-Review
On departure day, I got to O’Hare early enough to enjoy the United Polaris Lounge for a few hours. But I barely ate anything in the lounge because I knew what to expect on board.
Given the sweet spot, ANA’s First Square is probably among the most reviewed first class products still out there. You’ll find no shortage of blog posts on this popular product.
There’s not much I can add about the hard product—or the soft product—that hasn’t already been written.
- The seat is sufficiently private, plus quite comfortable—in both seat mode and bed mode.
- The cubicle is spacious and has plenty of storage. (Too bad there weren’t any air nozzles.)
- The food and drink (both Japanese and Western), excellent (menus can be previewed online).
- The service, friendly and attentive (yet not overly familiar nor obtrusive). It’s on par with Singapore and Emirates service.
- The pajamas and amenity kit, very good.
- The wifi (provided gratis for the entirety of the trip), fine.
- The inflight entertainment, adequate but not stellar like Emirates’.
The ANA First Square is like a fancy, comfy work cubicle, as many bloggers have observed. Some claim it looks futuristic. I felt the opposite: It had a retro vibe to me. When seated inside and facing the 23-inch LCD screen, I felt like lower middle management at a late ’90s dotcom. Man, all that funky yellow and almost purplish navy blue kept screaming the heyday of Yahoo!—I kinda dug it. Parts of the first class cubicle obscure the windows, but honestly, that didn’t bother me all that much.
So, my January 2022 was a welcomed contrast to my February 2021: While flying over the Pacific on ANA metal in early 2022, I still overate (but way better food), actually underslept (I was having too much fun), and didn’t doomscroll a bit (though I could’ve at 30,000 feet).
What made my first class flight extra special was my being the lone passenger in the cabin. That was a first for me in first class. I’m sure that my “Han solo” trip in ANA first was a function of the pandemic. I got to use seat 1G (to my immediate left) as my bed while keeping 1K in seat mode. The first class bathroom, with the Japanese bidet, was exclusively for me.
Another alone-in-first benefit: During lunch, the dedicated flight attendants indulged my request for a Japanese sake tasting (they said they would’ve let me try all four sakes on the menu, but one hadn’t been stocked at the Chicago outstation—the three I got to try were outstanding!).
Sure, the First Square is overshadowed by its darker, posher, more private successor, The Suite. But I think that even though it’s around a decade old, the ANA First Square still delivers a compelling experience. When you factor in ANA’s exceptional service plus food and drink, the older ANA first class product more than holds its own. I like it over Singapore Airlines’ 777-300ER first class product, which is also about ten years old.
By the time we landed in Narita, I was so stuffed from my meals—including the on-demand ramen and curry rice—that I could’ve rolled off the ANA 777-300ER into the terminal. Walking through the jet bridge alone, I felt grateful. And heavier.
From booking ANA first with Virgin to flying ANA first to Japan, I really enjoyed the whole dang thing! If you’re ever “stuck” with ANA’s older first class product, I doubt you’ll regret it—especially if you booked your flight as a Virgin sweet spot award redemption.