Prior to Flying Round the World in Business Class, I spent a lot of time researching ways I’d get the most value out of my points and miles. In particular, I had a lot of American Express points. I’d normally transfer those to British Airways, but that’s a mediocre way to use them at best.
Then I came across something unbelievable. As I dug into it, I almost couldn’t believe what I’d found. In general, most airline reward programs have gone to complete shit in the last 5 years, but I found one that still had phenomenal value. What was it? All Nippon Airways (ANA) Round the World Award.
Let me by clear, not only do I think this is the best way to use your American Express points, but this is probably the best award I’ve ever come across (note – SPG points can be transferred to ANA too).
I just booked this award myself using 115,000 ANA miles to fly Round the World in Business Class! It wasn’t easy and took lot of preparation. Below you’ll find what I learned through online research and correspondence with ANA.
ANA Round the World Award Rules
- The required number of miles for an ANA Round the World flight is calculated based on the total distance flown. Don’t confuse this with distance between your destinations. For example, if you’re flying from San Diego to Chicago, but connecting through Houston, your calculated miles flown will be the total distance from San Diego to Houston plus Houston to Chicago. To keep your mileage as low as possible, you’ll want to fly direct or have connections that are very close to the direct flight path between destinations.
ANA Round the World Mileage Chart
- Up to eight stopovers can be made. This is limited to three stopovers in Europe and four stopovers in Japan.
- You must choose either an eastbound or westbound route, and you can’t travel in the opposite direction. This includes connections, which can make routing a little bit more difficult. For example, if you’re flying from New York to Frankfurt, you can’t connect through Philadelphia. You could connect through Boston or London, since you’d be moving in the same eastbound direction.
- Ground transportation does not count towards flight mileage, but is considered as a stopover. For example, if you fly into Paris and take a train to Frankfurt, both Paris and Frankfurt will count as stopovers, but the distance between will not count towards your total flight mileage.
- You must return to the county you departed from, but it does not have to be the same city. For example, you could depart from New York City and return to Los Angeles. If you’re running short on miles, it’s also within the rules to leave from New York City and return to Hawaii (assuming you are flying eastbound).
- Since ANA is a Star Alliance Member, you can fly on any member airline:
- When a flight isn’t offered by one of the Star Alliance members, you can also fly on ANA’s partner airlines. An example would be flying between Oahu and Maui on Hawaiian Airlines. However, you couldn’t fly from Maui to Los Angeles on Hawaiian since that route is available on United.
- You can’t book an ANA Round the World award online. You’ll need to call an ANA representative directly. I recommend doing research beforehand so you know your route and award availability prior to calling. This will make everything go as smoothly as possible.
- Once you book your ticket, the airline, passenger, cabin class, and route cannot be changed. Pretty much the only thing that can be changed is the date, but you will generally need to do this at least 3 days prior to departure.
- Once an award flight is booked, cancellation is permitted for an unused ticket. Miles will be reimbursed except a 3,000 mileage refund fee. If a ticket is partially used there is no mileage that will be returned back to you.
Which Airlines Should You Fly?
Even though you will be using miles to book your ANA Round the World award, it won’t be entirely free. You’ll still need to pay fuel surcharges and taxes. If you plan wisely, this will only cost a few hundred dollars. When I booked my ANA Round the World Award, it cost me $670, but this is because I wasn’t very flexible on my flight path. In particular, flying from Europe to Thailand on Thai Airways equaled a large fuel surcharge.
Avoid Fuel Surcharges:
You’ll need to be selective on what airlines you fly given many Star Alliance members charge ridiculous fuel surcharges. For an ANA Round the World ticket, the following airlines charge no fuel surcharge:
- Air China
- Air New Zealand
- United (except for flights to Asia)
LOT Polish Airlines and ANA are also good options. They both levy small fuel surcharges that are normally less than $100 each way. In particular, ANA has exceptional Business and First Class products, so it can be well worth a small fuel surcharge.
For the most part, Asian carriers charge low fuel surcharges for travel within Asia. A good example is Thai Airways, which still levies expensive fuel charges between Thailand and Europe, but can be a good option if you’re flying within Asia.
Air Canada is a little perplexing to me. A few other bloggers have said that Air Canada doesn’t levy fuel surcharges for an ANA award, but that wasn’t true in my experience. With that being said, their Business Class product is excellent, so I think it is still worth paying the fuel surcharge.
As a general rule of thumb, European airlines levy the biggest fuel surcharges, which can be $200 – $600 per flight. This will add up quickly, so do your best to avoid them.
Airport Taxes and Other Fees:
Even if you’re flying on an airline that has no fuel surcharges, you’ll still have to pay departure taxes. These range from a few dollars to over $200 each way. Departing from the U.S. is cheap at only $5.60 in taxes each way. Europe has high departure taxes, but this does vary depending on what country you’re flying out of. Taxes departing out of Britain are the worst, especially London. I’d also recommend avoiding departing from Germany and France. Britain and France also charge higher taxes for departing in Business and First Class (ridiculous I know). Check out this article for additional detail on taxes and fees in Europe.
Every connection you make will also increase the price, so fly direct when you can. Just as with taxes, the country the connection is in will determine how much cost is added. As with just about everything else, Europe is generally the most expensive to have a connection in.
Price Out Your Flight:
You can price out an ANA Round the World trip by using ANA’s and United’s award search tools. This is not a perfect system, but can give you a ballpark estimate.
For airlines that don’t charge fuel surcharges with an ANA award, you’ll want to use United’s search tool. This is because United doesn’t levy fuel surcharges on its award flights no matter which airline you’re flying, but they do pass on departure taxes. Given that, this search tool is perfect if you want to calculate what departure taxes will be. You’ll want to use United’s tool when pricing flights on Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa, and United. Below is an example for a flight that I priced from Madrid to Newark on United. You’d still have to pay $46.66 in taxes no matter which class you flew.
On airlines that do levy fuel surcharges, you’ll want to use ANA’s search tool. This is not a perfect system. ANA requires you to search roundtrip flights, so you won’t get the price for one-ways. Each segment of a flight does differ in price, but you will get a general idea of the cost. The ANA price will include both fuel surcharges and departure taxes.
Recommended Airlines by Region:
- Between North America and Europe – fly United or Air Canada. For United, you can fly non-stop from Chicago, Newark, Houston, and Washington D.C. For Air Canada, you can fly non-stop from Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. Air Canada charges a fuel surcharge, but they have a really nice Business Class on their 787s and 777s. Both airlines have plenty of award availability. You can also fly LOT from Chicago, New York, and Toronto to Warsaw on 787s, but this carries also a small fuel surcharge.
- Between North America and Asia – fly ANA, United, Air Canada, or Air China. ANA and United levy a small fuel surcharge, but it’s usually less than $50 on a one-way flight. ANA, United, and Air Canada all offer nice Business Class options on new 787s.
- Between North America and South America – fly United, Air Canada, Copa, or Avianca.
- Between North America and Australia, New Zealand, & the South Pacific – Fly Air New Zealand or United. Air New Zealand has very poor award availability, so you’ll need to be flexible even for Economy. To get a Business Class seat you’ll either need to be lucky or use a service like Expert Flyer. One of my favorite route options is to fly from Los Angeles to Raratonga to Auckland to Sydney, which can all be flown on Air New Zealand.
- Between Europe and Asia – fly Air China, ANA, or LOT.
- South America to Europe – Fly Avianca or Lufthansa. On Avianca, you can fly to London, Madrid, or Barcelona from Bogota. You can also fly from Brazil to Germany on Lufthansa. No fuel surcharges can be levied on flights departing from Brazil, which is a very useful loophole and allows you to fly on European carriers like Lufthansa.
Routes With Limited or No Options:
- Brazil to South Africa – As mentioned above, there’s no fuel surcharges levied on flights leaving Brazil. This is a great loophole. You can fly from Sao Paulo to Johannesburg on South African Airways. Otherwise you will have to pay fuel surcharges getting to and from Africa.
- Europe to South America – There are a few European carriers that fly to South America, but you’d have to pay large fuel surcharges . If you want to go to South America you’ll want to enter through North America or New Zealand and then exit through Brazil on your way to Europe or South Africa.
- Between Asia and South America – there are no options that I’m aware of.
- Between South America and New Zealand – Flying Air New Zealand between Auckland and Buenos Aires is your only option.
- Between Europe and Africa – LOT flies to Cairo from Warsaw, which is the only low-cost option. There are many options with European carriers and South African Airways, but all levy large fuel surcharges.
- North America to Africa – Air Canada operates a flight from Montreal to Casablanca, but that doesn’t really do much. United used to fly to Lagos, Nigeria from Houston, but that route has since been cancled. For now there are limited options.
Economy, Business, or First Class?Air Canada Business Class offered on its 787s and 777-ER 300s, which I recently flew on with an ANA Round the World Award! Photo Source – aircanada.com
For only an additional 40,000 – 50,000 ANA miles, you can upgrade from Economy to Business Class. This is the way I recommend booking an ANA Round the World award and will give you the most value. This is less than twice the amount of miles required for Economy, but you’ll probably get three or four times the value. A Round the World ticket in Business Class normally costs ~$10,000+ if you were paying with cash. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Business Class award availability is much harder to come by than Economy, but is still very doable. You’ll just have to be flexible and use award search engines to plan out your trip (I cover this below).
- Many Star Alliance airlines only offer Business Class (no First Class). In particular, Air New Zealand and Air Canada offer excellent Business Class products that rival other airline’s First Class (this is true on 777s and 787s).
- You should fly most of your route on United, Avianca, LOT, Air China, Air Canada, and ANA. All these airlines offer no/low fuel surcharges, decent award availability, and quality Business Class seats on long-haul flights.
- No matter which airline you’re flying on, you’ll want to research which airplanes have the best Business Class. For most airlines, this means you’ll want to fly on Boeing’s 747s, 777s, 787s or Airbus’ A380s and A350s. I use this website for current routes of 787s and A350s.
ANA’s Round the World First Class award can be a phenomenal value if you have enough miles. It sometimes makes sense, but is pretty hard to pull off. Keep the following points in mind:
- Only splurge for First Class if all of your segments (or most of) actually have First Class. Many Star Alliance airlines only have Business Class, even large airlines like Air Canada and Air New Zealand. Many airlines are also phasing out their First Class and replacing it by upgrading their Business Class product.
- Star Alliance airlines with the best First Class are ANA and Lufthansa. If you’re going to do First Class, it makes the most sense to route with these airlines as much as possible.
- Singapore Airlines has a great First Class (maybe the best), but they don’t offer premium award space outside of their own rewards program (Bummer huh).
- Other Star Alliance airlines with First Class include Air China, Air India, Asiana, Swiss, Thai, and United.
- Just as with Business Class, you’ll want to research which airplanes have the best First Class product. For most airlines, this still means you’ll want to fly on Boeing’s 747s, 777s, 787s or Airbus’ A380s and A350s.
- You’ll be paying fuel surcharges for some of these airlines, but if you score First Class it’s generally worth it. Keep in mind that one-way flights in First Class on an airline like Lufthansa can cost $5,000 – $10,000. A ticket Round the World would probably be valued at $20,000+.
Find Star Alliance Award Availability
This is probably the hardest part of the battle. It takes a lot of planning to put together an ANA Round the World Award flight since award availability can be spotty. Before calling an ANA agent, you’ll want to have your trip mapped out and know that there’s award availability on the days you want to fly. It’s generally pretty easy if you’re just booking Economy flights, but gets harder with Business Class, and damn near impossible for a First Class itinerary.
You’ll want to utilize the following award availability search engines:
- United Airlines search engine is very easy to use. You can do searches right from the homepage and you don’t have to have a United MileagePlus account. I like how you can get a 2 month view and can search for only non-stop flights. United’s search engine shows more award availability on United flights, which might not be available with an ANA Round the World Award, but other airlines availability should be fairly accurate.
- ANA’s search engine pulls the most up-to-date Star Alliance award availability and is considered the gold standard. With that being said, I find it cumbersome to use. You can only view a week’s length of award availability at a time. This means it will take you much longer to search for award availability relative to using United. After I find the flights I want on United’s search engine, I’ll sometimes double check with ANA’s. This isn’t hard since I’ll be searching for an exact date. You also have to be a member of their award program and have points in the account, which not everyone will have.
- Expert Flyer is a paid for service ($5/$10 per month) that allows you a few more advanced search options. You have the ability to set award seat alerts as they come available. This can be very useful if you’re trying to find a seat on an airline that offers very limited award availability (like Air New Zealand) or if you have a very specific day you need to fly.
Plan Your ANA Round the World TripSince the ANA Round the World Award chart is based on total miles flown, you’ll want to map out your trip and calculate the amount of miles between cities. I use Webflyer’s online tool.
It’s pretty easy to use, you just need to type in the airport abbreviated code. Don’t forget that if you make connections, you need to enter it in properly. So if you’re flying from San Diego to Frankfurt with a connection in New York, you’ll enter SAN – JFK – FRA. The incorrect way to enter would be SAN – FRA. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this article, you’ll want to minimize connections as this adds mileage and also increases taxes.
ANA Round the World Sample Itineraries
Example 1 (North America, Europe, Asia, and Hawaii)
This is a simple route on airlines that typically have plenty of award space in both economy and business. This route is also an example that gets you round the world, but it’s close to a straight line, so will minimize the amount of miles flown.
Total Miles Flown is 18,610, which would cost 75,000 points for Economy, 115,000 for Business, and 180,000 for First. If you wanted to maximize stopovers on a route like this you could add additional stopovers without adding many miles. For example, you could add New York, Warsaw, and Shanghai to your itinerary.
Example 2 (North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Raratonga)
This builds off of example 1, but is a little longer since you’ll be routing through Australia and the South Pacific. This is probably one of my favorite routes to maximize these points.
Total Miles Flown is 24,363, which would cost 100,000 points for Economy, 145,000 for Business, and 220,000 for First.
Example 3 (North America, Central America, South America, Europe, New Zealand)
Total Miles Flown is 30,282, which would cost 140,000 points for Economy, 200,000 for Business, and 300,000 for First.
How to Accrue Miles for An ANA Round the World Award
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card – ANA is a transfer partner of American Express’ rewards program. At a minimum, you can always get a 25,000 points bonus for opening up this card. I recommend holding out for a 50,000 points bonus, which is offered periodically throughout the year. This card is also good at accruing points quickly as you spend. You’ll get 3x points for flights, 2x points at supermarkets and gas stations, and 2x points restaurants. All other purchases will net you 1 point per dollar.
- American Express Platinum Card – at a minimum, you can generally get a 40,000 points bonus for opening up this card. However, this card carries a hefty $450 annual fee that is never waived. There are many reasons why that fee is actually worth paying, but is probably too much for most people. What you really want to look out for is the highly coveted 100,000 points targeted offer. This is rare and won’t come to everyone, so take advantage if you’re lucky enough to get one. Those points have tremendous value if used properly. Use this article as an example, you could do an ANA Around the World trip just on that bonus alone. That’s a pretty damn good deal for having to pay the $450 annual fee.
- Note – you can get personal and business cards for both the Premier Rewards Gold Card and the Platinum Card to maximize points. However, you can only ever get the bonus once on each card. This differs from most other cards which will offer it to you again after a period of time.
- Other American Express Cards – there a few other Amex cards that offer small points bonuses, normally in the 10,000 – 15,000 range.
- Starwood Preffered Card – Starpoints can also be transferred to ANA like American Express rewards points. The bonus points offer is normally in the 25,000 – 35,000 range. The nice thing about Starpoints is that you’ll get a 5,000 points bonus for every 20,000 points transfer. If you stay in Starwood hotels frequently, you can accrue points fairly quickly. You can get up to 5 Starpoints for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Startwood hotels.
- There are other ways to accrue, but none of which I think are very advantageous. This includes ANA’s credit card and flying on ANA flights or other Star Alliance partner flights.
ANA Round the World Quick Tips
- Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa, and United levy no fuel surcharges on an ANA Round the World Award flight. You’ll want to fly on these planes as much as possible.
- ANA generally has low fuel surcharges and the best Business Class and First Class available, so they should be used as well.
- You’ll have to pay departure taxes as a part of your ANA reward flight, but to keep this as low as possible avoid flying out of Britain, France, and Germany.
- For the best travel experience, pay attention to the type of airplane you are flying. Airlines don’t build their Business and First Classes the same. Boeing 777’s, Boeing 787’s, and Airbus’ A380’s are normally safe bets for having the best products.
- Planning is key! Use ANA’s, United’s, and Expert Flyer’s search tools to find award availability and price out an Around the World trip.
- If you plan properly, you should expect to pay a total of $250 – $750 in total taxes and fuel surcharges, which is dependent on the route you choose and airlines you fly.