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How we booked two ANA 1st class tickets to Japan ($35K value) using points

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We just got back from our very first trip to Japan. To those who knew or followed our journey would know that we traveled with a party of 19, and one of the highlights of that trip – 12 of us flew for FREE using points earned from credit card bonus (click here).

Looks like 2 of the 19 are missing here – Nara, Japan

We’re still on a travel high after returning from Japan. We knew we’d go back again, and I just didn’t realize that we’d go back this soon, and with a bang.

What happened?

After returning from Japan, I only had one trip that was booked – a return trip to Hawaii this summer. I wanted to book another trip, and I made it happen. How? Just a few days ago, I booked a trip to Bali later this year. For the first time, we will be visiting one of the destinations that I’ve been meaning to go to.  We got two free roundtrip tickets via Singapore Airlines (click here) and we only used 39K Chase Ultimate Reward points + zero fees. That made the deal so much sweeter.

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I’m always on the lookout for deals, how to stretch my points, and get the biggest bang for my buck (our points). Flying business or first class is not really a must for us since we have to plan for our big family. But when opportunities knock, I open the door. A year ago, we flew via Business Class on a round trip ticket via Aeromexico during our visit to Peru, and we only used 44K Chase Ultimate Rewards per person (click here).


Knock, knock, it’s opportunity

It was on a Wednesday, I was chatting with Terrance, one of my travel buddies. We were talking about our families and trips, etc. And out of nowhere, he mentioned that he just booked a trip to Japan with his family. He gave me the high-level details, who and what clued him on this deal with Virgin Atlantic and ANA. In Terrance’s case, he used 188,000 American Express Membership reward points + fees of over $600 for him, his wife, and their new baby.

Deep thoughts at Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

I was actually in between many things at work when we were chatting, and could not look anything up. It was around 5pm when I texted him for more info. His source was Travis C., one of the respected travel enthusiasts in one of our travel groups. Between Travis’ tips and Terrance’s advise, I decided to search for the flights myself.

Because you gotta wear a kimono in Kyoto

The Game Plan

  • Find ANA First Class Availability via United Airlines Website
  • Search availability for two passengers
  • List down the available dates, flight #, and available seats that show up under First Class Saver Award with 110K miles + fees (one way)
  • Search using One-Way option
  • Airline Preference – All Star Alliance airlines
  • Cabin – First class only
  • Target travel period is between March and May (around our 20th Wedding Anniversary)
  • Airport choices – fly only out of LAX
  • Japan choices – fly in/out of Narita, Haneda, or Osaka
  • Use the calendar option and look for the dates with dots (that means there are premium saver seats available)
  • Click and move from day to day until I find two one-way combinations that will work for me
  • If I find flight combinations that work for me, call Virgin Atlantic, give them the ANA flight information, and if available, put the reservations on hold.
  • Have my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account # ready
  • Do not transfer points yet to Virgin Atlantic 
Someone out there is waiting for Ralph – Fushimi Inari Shrine

What really happened

I finally got home around 7pm, and I grabbed my Macbook Air and started to search for flight combinations. I followed the tips from Travis and Terrance. I listed down the dates that would work between March and April out of LAX, but I found more luck in the month of May. After searching for over an hour, I settled on a couple of departure and return dates that would fly us from Los Angeles to Narita and back. I had all the necessary flight information on a spreadsheet.

Missing another 2 at Meiji Jingu in Tokyo

The conversation with James of Virgin Atlantic could not have been any easier. It was so simple because I was ready. I gave him my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account number, the flight dates, and flight numbers, origin and destination. James confirmed that to get two tickets in first class, I would need 220,000 Flying Club miles + $534.36 in fees total. He put my flight choices on hold, gave me a confirmation number, and advised me that I had 72 hours for the hold. I needed to get moving with the transfer.

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30% American Express transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic to get ANA tickets

A few months ago, I took advantage of an Amex 40% transfer bonus to British Airways, and that’s how I stretched my points to get my family to Hawaii this summer (click here)

My end goal was to transfer points from American Express to Virgin Atlantic. Why? Thru July 1, 2019 – Amex offered a 30% transfer bonus when you transfer points to Virgin Atlantic. 

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Image courtesy of American Express.

Meaning, if you transfer 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards, you will actually end up with 1,300 Virgin Atlantic Miles. In my case, I needed 220,000 Virgin Atlantic Miles, but because of the 30% bonus, I only transferred this much – just 170,000. That may seem like a lot.

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But I’ll show you later how we earned those points easily. Here’s the calculation:

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Nearly $35,000 for two first class tickets with ANA

I checked Google Flights and ANA’s website, and if I paid for our flights in cash or with a credit card, it would cost us $34,500. Crazy!!!!

Image courtesy of ANA

There is no way I would shell out $34,500 for our flights to Japan, but thanks to points and miles earned from the credit cards that we have, it has given us opportunities to travel the world for nearly free (click here).

Sydney Opera House Australia

Easy peasy booking squeezie

Since James with Virgin Atlantic put my reservations on hold, these were the things I had to do to finally confirm my purchase

a. Transfer points from American Express to my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account. I needed at least 171,000 Amex Membership Reward points to make this work. It was so easy to transfer. All I did was log in to my American ExpressMembership Rewards account, ensured that I linked my Amex account to my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account, and then proceeded with the points transfer. There were no fees to transfer points. It was instant. Once transferred from Amex, I checked my Virgin Atlantic account, and 221,0000 were transferred instantly within a few minutes.

The famous Running Man in Dotonburi

b. Call Virgin Atlantic to finalize the reservation. I was given a confirmation number earlier, and all I had to do was give that number, review my reservation information with the agent, provided my credit card to pay for the $534 fees. Within a few minutes, our Japan trip was booked – two first class roundtrip tickets via ANA.

Which credit cards got us FREE tickets to Japan

I wrote different entries on How We Travel for Nearly Free, and most recently, I updated my favorite travel credit cards. However, there was always one card that stood out, perfect for a lot of those who are just starting out.

As I mentioned before from our last trip to Japan, it was thanks to points earned with our Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Chase Sapphire Preferred (click here).

We used 37,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards, easily earned when you apply for those credit cards and when Chase awards you the sign-up bonus. The Chase Sapphire Preferred (click here) is a perfect starter card. With its 60,000 bonus points, those points alone have gotten us two tickets to Hawaii, just as an example. The sign up bonus alone can be worth as much as $1,000 or more in travel.

– 60,000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus after $4,000 in spend in the first three months (as of April 2019 – this is subject to change)
– Points are transferable to:

  • Hotel Partners
    • Hyatt
    • Marriott
    • IHG
    • Ritz-Carlton
  • Airline travel partners
    • JetBlue
    • United Airlines
    • British Airways
    • Southwest Airlines
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Flying Blue
    • Virgin Atlantic
    • Aer Lingus
    • Iberia

– Points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal
– Primary rental car collision damage waiver
– Earn 2X points on all travel and dining
– $95 annual fee (as of April 2019 – this is subject to change)

If I were just starting out in earning miles and points, I suggest starting out with this card.

You can also earn these Ultimate Rewards from other Chase credit cards such as the:

The points earned with Chase are one of my prized points-earning possessions. They’ve allowed us travel to many parts of the world for nearly free.

For this latest trip to Japan where we will be flying first class, I give credit to points earned with our American Express Cards. Nancy and I took advantage of the 100,000 points sign-up bonus with American Express Platinum cards, and we signed up for the other cards that offered lucrative sign ups. Follow the links to the cards, and know that in order to get the bonus points, you have meet the required spending. Some of these cards also have annual fees:

 American Express Platinum (personal)

  • Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards 

American Express Business Platinum

  • Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards

American Express Blue Business Plus

  • Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards

American Express Everyday Preferred

  • Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards

Learn more about the cards, their benefits, and requirement by clicking on the links above. Any questions, just ask.


Image courtesy of American Express Business Platinum


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Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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