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Award Sweet Spot: West of Chicago on ANA

This is part of a series on origin-based award program sweet spots which will be compiled in the Award Sweet Spots by Origin section of the Resources tab at the top of the page. Like the last one covering the Eastern half of the country, this one is a little fuzzy around the edges. But for 22,000 ANA points, most of the Western half of the U.S. can get to Cancun or the Pacific shores of Mexico, rather than 35K-40K miles on most region based award charts. This sweet spot competes with similar sweet spots available with British Airways Avios points on American or Alaska flights. Since ANA counts the total miles traveled rather than segment-by-segment, it often works better from non-hub airports, connecting through Los Angeles, San Fransisco or Denver, than Avios would. It also allows additional segments to be added as free one-way trips, as we’ll see.




22,000 ANA miles to Mexico from the Western U.S. – Map courtesy of Free Map Tools

Update: ANA has revamped its program and is now region-based. The good news is that travel from the Continental U.S. and Canada to Mexico is 25K regardless of routing. The bad news is that the rest of Central America, the Caribbean and Northern South America has gone up in price.

Like several other foreign frequent flyer programs, Japan’s All Nippon Airways or ANA has a distance-based rather than region-based award chart. These charts work exceptionally well for fairly short distances that cover multiple regions and are relatively costly tickets if purchased with region-based points programs like United or American, penny points or cash.

The first 4 levels of ANA's distance-based award chart.

The first 4 levels of ANA’s distance-based award chart.

There are very clear sweet spots at a 4000 mile trip for 22,000 ANA miles and 7000 miles for 38,000 ANA miles, but I’ll be focusing on the 22K level. American Express Membership Rewards points that can be transferred 1:1 to ANA, and Starwood Preferred Guest points can also be transferred 1:1 with a 5,000 point bonus for each block of 20,000 points transferred.

Mexican cities served by United from DEN, LAX, SFO.

Mexican cities served by United from DEN, LAX, SFO.

Using United’s hubs in Denver, Los Angeles and San Fransisco, we can get to Mexico for a much better value than most other programs. Just like in yesterday’s post you don’t necessarily have to take the most direct route if it’s not available. Here’s an example from Albuquerque to Puerto Vallarta via Denver in one direction and Los Angeles in the other direction:

Map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

The closer you are to your United hub, the further South you can stretch this one. However, of United’s Western hubs, Los Angeles and Denver also have a strong Southwest Airlines presence which can be used for positioning. Always try to make the positioning flight your last one if possible! You can plug routes from your home airport into Great Circle Mapper to find out exactly how this sweet spot works best for you.

Making the most of your 4,000 miles

San Fransisco to Cabo roundtrip with a free one-way to Aspen. Map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

For 20,000 British Airways Avios, you can fly nonstop from San Fransisco to Cabo, roundtrip on Alaska Airlines. For 22,000 ANA miles, you can do the same on United plus get a free one-way to Aspen, Jackson Hole or Vancouver! And it won’t require extra miles if the only available route requires a stop in LAX. Like with all tickets, travel including the additional segment must be completed within 12 months of ticketing.

Combining the Eastern and Western sweet spots

The important thing is not whether one of these particular scenarios works for you, but rather that you can use these strategies to build in stopovers or get around lack of availability from United and other airlines. And they make a great way to maximize your companion pass(es).


Guess how we can fill the open jaw? For 4000 points? Map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper


Yep, Southwest to finish again, at around 7500 points. Map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper


This final segment DEN-BOS weighs in at around 9300 Southwest points. Map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

There are some limitations to ANA’s program that makes speculative transfers a not-so-good idea:

  • Miles expire 3 years after they are earned or transferred. Of course this should not be a problem unless you are an extreme hoarder.
  • ANA collects high fuel surcharges for travel on most partners other than New Zealand, Air Canada and United. It also collects surcharges on United for transpacific travel.
  • Tickets can only be booked for the member and his/her immediate family. There may be some leeway here, but you can’t just book for anyone like most U.S. programs.
  • All travel must be roundtrip, which they define as returning to the country of origin. You can, however, have up to 4 stopovers and utilize an open jaw to make the most of ANA’s chart, like some of the examples above. Travelisfree.com has a great post on making the most of ANA stopovers although many of these run into surcharges and most go over 4,000 miles, as well as one of his epic guides to the ANA program.
  • On the plus side, you can cancel ANA award tickets and pay a cancellation fee of just 3,000 miles to have the rest of your miles redeposited into your account, and you can change travel dates free as long as you travel within 1 year of booking. However, any changes must be made at least 3 days before travel is scheduled.

This is a fairly small sweet spot due to the small number of destinations served, but I didn’t want to overlook all the ways a family can turn  less than 25K miles into an international trip.


{ 2 comments… add one }
  • chasingthepoints July 16, 2014, 9:50 pm

    Great posts Kenny!

  • Elaine July 16, 2014, 10:15 pm

    Thanks, Kenny! I knew virtually nothing about ANA and now have a much better sense of the program.

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