I got a message from a friend over the weekend asking for some pointers on the best ways to redeem miles to Japan. He’s looking to travel for the 2020 Olympics and was thinking of using Avios.
Instead, I suggested an option that would allow him to save hundreds of thousands of Avios. How? Well, by not using Avios at all 🙂 . This particular redemption got quite a lot of attention, especially on US blogs, some months ago but I’ve only ever given it a passing mention on Tricks of the Trade before.
Virgin Atlantic doesn’t belong to any of the three airline alliances – Oneworld, Star Alliance or SkyTeam. Instead, they have a rather eclectic mix of airline partners with which you can earn and redeem Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles.
The one that’s of most interest for our requirements is Japanese airline, All Nippon Airways (ANA).
You can find a full list of partners in our “Everything you need to know about Virgin miles” guide.
Here’s a table showing the rates for redeeming Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles on ANA flights:
The below figures are for a return journey.
Yes, you did read that right.
You can fly first class from Europe/USA to Japan with ANA for just 120,000 Virgin miles (or less) + taxes roundtrip. That’s insanely good value.
Save your Avios
To understand just how much of a good deal this is, here’s what BA charge for first class to Tokyo:
Even business class on BA will set you back 150,000-180,000 Avios.
How to get 120,000 Virgin miles quickly
In truth, it’s almost as easy to rack up large amounts of Virgin miles as it is Avios. Here are some of the options:
- Converting Tesco Clubcard points
- Transferring American Express Membership Rewards points
- Transferring Heathrow Rewards points – you can get 3,000 Virgin miles when you join before 31st December 2018.
- Converting Starwood Preferred Guest/Marriott points
- Shopping at Waitrose
- Chic Outlet Shopping Villages (e.g. Bicester Village)
- Car rentals
There’s also a limited-time special offer on both of the Virgin Atlantic credit cards at present:
- Get 25,000 Virgin miles with the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ card
- Get 10,000 Virgin miles with the free Virgin Atlantic Reward card
How to check availability and book
You can’t search for availability or book ANA flights on the Virgin website. You’ll need to call Virgin Atlantic Flying Club to book.
The best way to check availability online is with another ANA partner such as United Airlines.
Visit united.com and put in your preferred route and dates.
You’re looking for Business/First Saver Award availability. Ignore the prices quoted by United – you just want to locate the space. Generally speaking, the availability that Virgin phone agents can see matches the saver award availability displayed on the United website.
For First Class space I’d recommend looking at flights from Frankfurt if you can’t find anything out of London. Availability fluctuates but with two daily flights, currently, Frankfurt is a better bet for securing availability.
If you’re happy with booking business class, you can expand your search to include departures from Paris, Munich, and Vienna (from Feb 2019).
A word about infants
For a while, Virgin had a rather expensive policy when it came to adding infants to redemption bookings. The cost was 10% of the revenue fare for the flight in question. This applied to both Virgin flights and redemptions on partner airlines. If you’d booked an Upper Class redemption that would otherwise cost £6,000, adding an infant could get quite pricey.
Thankfully, that policy is gone. Adding an infant to a partner redemption booking now costs a fixed amount of miles + taxes:
- Economy – 2,000
- Business – 10,000
- First – 14,000
Hold flights for free
Virgin Atlantic allows you to reserve reward flights for free. Based on my experience, these holds can range from 24-96 hours. However, I’ve not personally requested a hold for a partner redemption before. Anecdotal evidence suggests 24-48 hours holds are allowed.
Flying first class from Europe to Japan for 120,000 Virgin miles or 95,000 miles for business class is an absolute steal.
Don’t forget that for the same price (or slightly cheaper) you can fly from US cities such as San Fransisco, LA, Houston, and New York to Japan or vice versa. This can be a great way to combine a couple of destinations in one holiday.
For perspective, cash prices for first class tickets from New York to Tokyo seem to range between £15,000-£20,000 and London to Tokyo regularly fetches more than £7,000. Booking those same flights for 120,000 Virgin miles + a couple of £100 in taxes is phenomenal.
What’s your preferred way to redeem miles to Japan?
Header image credit: Vytautas Kielaitis / Shutterstock.com