Last week there was a lot of excitement in the miles and points community when ANA airlines has released a ton of first-class award seats on their San Francisco-Tokyo route. Btw, we did share it on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Some flights, including the one that would actually work with my schedule, had as many as five seats available, which is virtually unheard of. That said, I wasn’t even remotely tempted by this deal and have no regrets skipping it.
But before I go any further, let me be clear that if you booked it, I’m not here to rain on your parade. I’m of the opinion that folks have the right to spend their money and miles any way they want. Plus, it’s super cool to get a seat that goes for $15k for 55k Virgin Atlantic miles+$450. It’s a deal, no question about it. So if you got in on it, I’m genuinely happy for you.
That said, this deal wasn’t even remotely tempting for my situation, even though I could have scraped up enough points to transfer to Virgin Atlantic if I really wanted to. Here is why. A few months ago, I booked economy seats on Delta via Virgin Atlantic at a cost of 27.5k miles+$50 per person for a flight from Tokyo to Seattle. If I decided to switch to ANA first class, I would have to pay a $55 cancellation penalty for each ticket.
But even if I could cancel for free, it would still be a hard pass. It would be one thing if I had to cover two tickets, but we have five people in our party. So, the cash difference would be $2k. I’m not even talking about all the extra flexible points which are certainly worth something. But the money portion is a deal breaker.
I don’t know about you, but $2k is a lot of money for my family. That’s actually my lodging budget for this Japan trip (we are using hotel points in some places). I’m definitely not opposed to splurging, but we are talking about a daytime 9-hour flight here. None of us have a medical condition that prevents us from sitting in economy.
Sure, a bigger seat would be super nice, especially for my very tall husband, but somehow we’ll survive. Plus, I would rather invest that money in an IRA, which will further our goal of early retirement. Despite spending a fortune on travel lately, that is still our plan.
Does it mean that I feel that way about all premium-class award redemptions? Absolutely not. I have paid an extra 15k AA miles per person so my husband and I could sit in business class on our Tahiti–Auckland flight. While not necessary, it was a fun splurge. Plus, it was our big anniversary trip.
Also, I went ahead and redeemed 60k AA miles+$5 per person to fly on JAL from Los Angeles to Osaka in business class. Why did I justify splurging here and not on ANA first class? Well, for one, I already had enough AA miles in my account, and they were all accumulated via sign-up bonuses. I definitely value flexible points more than individual miles. Also, the tax was only $5 per person, same as in economy.
Plus, the flight to Osaka is 12 hours as opposed to 9 hours. So, splurging here felt more justified. Perhaps I’ll regret it later, but oh well. I’m looking forward to this flight, and I know my husband will very much appreciate it. I’m optimistic that I can get more AA miles in the future via credit card sign-ups. And if not, we can always use other currencies or do road trips for a change.
The only flights we absolutely have to do are the ones to Europe, in order to see my family. Due to circumstances, they can’t come to US. Everything else is discretionary. Fortunately, we live in Florida and have all kinds of options in our backyard.
TAP Portugal business class vs. economy on Swiss
Speaking of Europe, in a few months I’m hoping to finally use my Avianca Lifemiles stash that’s been collecting dust for four years. Whole obviously useful in certain situations, this program is a pain to deal with, and I can’t wait to burn these miles once and for all.
My son requested that we do a stopover in London, and I plan to use Avios for the flight back to Florida. So, I just need to figure out how to get to Europe. What complicates this entire plan is the fact that I don’t know where my relatives will be allowed to go next year. They live in Belarus, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to get an EU visa. In addition, due to sanctions, Belarus airplanes may not be allowed in Turkey in the near future.
So, my plan is to book a flight to a major European airport, and figure out the rest of logistics later. In addition, the other day, my daughter said she would like to go back to NYC. So, I figured we could kill two birds with one stone. As some of you know, Avianca program offers an outsized value on some routes from JFK.
The fairest of them all is JFK-Lisbon award redemption on TAP Portugal, where you can sometimes snag four business class seats for only 35k miles per person:
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find availability, especially during summer. That’s why I’ll likely “settle” for this deal instead:
Naturally, I’m talking about economy. Paying 16.5k miles for a summer flight to Europe is a pretty spectacular deal, and there is usually tons of availability. I figured we would fly to New York for a few nights, and then continue on to Geneva. Plus, if my family can’t leave Belarus, we will simply enjoy a vacation in Switzerland before flying to London. I can think of worse options for a summer trip. Like many of you, I loved reading Nancy’s recent trip report on the area.
But I have to admit that getting a business class on TAP Portugal for 35k miles is pretty darn tempting. I may be cheap, but if it’s available, I’ll probably pick it over Swiss Air option. Getting to Europe involves a long overnight flight, and I find those to be brutal nowadays. I’m no longer in my twenties, folks. Sadly.
Once again, I want to reiterate that I’m not here to be a Grinch and mock those who decided to jump on this ANA deal. I’m simply sharing my personal reasoning on the matter, and recognize that others may feel differently. It’s just there is so much emphasis on premium redemptions in the miles community, it can be hard not to succumb to the peer pressure. You may feel as if there is something wrong with you if you don’t follow the crowd. I’m here to tell you that you are not a loser if you prefer to save $2k and do something else with the money.
How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.
Certainly a good point! The cash outlay had me hesitant on booking it for my family also (it certainly adds up with 4 or 5 seats!).
I will offer one argument for you: I’d argue with you that if your perspective is that you can pick up more American Airlines miles through welcome bonuses in the future, couldn’t the same be said — even more strongly — for Virgin Atlantic points? I’d argue that points transferred to Virgin Atlantic are far more easily replaceable given the fact that any transferable currency card on the market with a sign up bonus can be transferred to Virgin Atlantic. Especially given the way Amex has continued to come out with huge offers, I feel like Amex points (and thereby Virgin Atlantic miles) are exponentially easier to replace than American Airlines miles. I’d be much quicker to scrimp with the AA miles given that there are many fewer cards on the market offering them. That’s not to say I don’t use my AA miles (I’m using a ton of them this year because I picked up a lot in the SimplyMiles deal in 2021), just that I find your argument for using them and against using transferable currencies incongruent. I definitely agree that the fees could be a non-starter for a family though.
A couple other small notes as an FYI:
JFK-ZRH is no longer 16.5K in economy (it’s now 29.5K), nor is it 63K in business (it’s now 56K). Also in the “good to know” column is that it’s 35K from JFK to Lisbon whether on TAP or on Brussels (connecting in Brussels). JFK to Brussels is 63K, but continuing to Lisbon drops it to the same 35K when available.
Finally, since you paid $50 in taxes, you wouldn’t pay Virgin Atlantic a $55 cancellation fee. Their (unwritten, but pretty official if you ask a phone rep) is that you either pay $55 if the taxes were higher than that or you forfeit the taxes (in your case, this only makes a small difference since you’d theoretically forfeit the $50). However, in my experience, they said I’d forfeit the taxes instead of paying the fee — but then they refunded the taxes also. YMMV, so just an FYI that if you had to cancel that award it may indeed be free.
And by the way, thanks for the link! Always enjoy reading your take.
Hey, Nick! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you didn’t view this post as some sort of obnoxious rebuttal. I think it’s wonderful that you were able to pull it off for your family trip. While your young kids will likely not appreciate it, I’m certain your wife will. And as they say, happy wife=happy life. 😉 Congrats on snagging this unicorn, and I completely understand why you decided to go for it.
Also, while I don’t get excited about airplane seats, I recognize that a lot of people in this hobby do. It’s like when my husband feels compelled to talk to the owners of Ford Mustangs wherever we go. I don’t get it, but he is into it, big time. I have been looking for an opportunity to rent a Ford Mustang Mach-E for him for the weekend, and would pay good money for it. I think a similar principle applies here.
You are right that AA miles are more valuable than Virgin Atlantic points. Unfortunately, I would have to transfer a bunch of flexible points to top up the account for this award. And those are far more valuable than AA miles in my book. For example, I can’t use AA miles to offset car rentals or cruises, but I can easily burn C1 points (and I have in the past). It’s 1 cent per point, but still. It helps me offset travel purchases now and keep more money in my pocket. While I say that I value AA miles at 1 cent apiece, truth be told, I’m not sure I would pay that if someone offered them to me right now. But I would totally do it with C1 points, and actually pay more for UR or Amex currencies.
It would be a different story if I had a huge stash of Virgin Atlantic miles and no specific plan to use them in the next two years. I don’t usually plan beyond that timeframe and don’t hoard points as a general rule. So far, this strategy has served me well, though I recognize that things may change in the future.
On JFK-Zurich route: yes, I’m aware that it costs more now. In the post I was referring to JFK- Geneva route, and as of yesterday, it was running at 16.5k miles in economy. Though that may change soon. Either way, I’m determined to burn most of my Lifemiles currency this summer.
No offense taken at all. I appreciate the realistic approach you take to redemptions. I didn’t actually book ANA first for my family in part because the surcharges were too much to justify for the whole family (I actually agree with you there!) — I’m booked on it with the rest of the Frequent Miler team for our 2023 challenge, but I didn’t book my family. Truth be told, I couldn’t find a flight that we would have needed to get us to Tokyo at the right time, so it turned out not to be a real option, but if I did have the ability to connect the dots I’d have certainly had to think about it more because the $1800 in surcharges in our case (family of four departing Japan) is certainly a significant expense. I thought you had a great take on the surcharges. It’s not a cheap redemption.
My point with AA vs transferrable points isn’t exactly that I think AA miles are more valuable. It’s an interesting situation. Like you, I wouldn’t pay more for AA miles than for transferable points. But on the other hand, transferable points are far more easily replaceable. That’s probably a good topic to explore with more thought than I am here, but my point there was that you said “I’m optimistic that I can get more AA miles in the future via credit card sign-ups” — but there are only 6 total AA cards with bonuses (and Citi’s AA bonus timing to slow you down). On the flip side, based on my quick count (I could be off by a card here or there), I think there are 11 Amex cards that earn transferable points, 7 Chase cards, at least 3 Citi cards, and at least 8 Capital One cards if you count the cash back ones since those can become miles. So that’s almost 30 different cards for future credit card sign-ups to replace transferable points — and that’s to say nothing of referring your P2 and getting referral bonuses. So *if* you argue that you don’t mind splurging with AA miles because you know you can get them back via credit card sign-ups, I think the same argument is even stronger with transferable currencies, right?
But, again, I do assign more mental value to transferable currencies, so I guess I’m not sure where I stand now! Hmmm….good food for thought. And I understand your point that you want to hold your transferable points for redemptions that keep more money in your pocket. Totally fair point.
And thanks for enlightening me on the Geneva route! My fault for not paying closer attention! I don’t think I knew that one existed. Thanks for the heads up!
Regarding LifeMiles, keep your eye out for connecting itineraries where the first leg within Europe is in economy class. I just ran across one this morning (believe it or not, I’ve forgotten the route!) that was just over 49K with a leg to Brussels in economy and continuing on United in business. Not as good as 35K, but an option nonetheless. I don’t know where you travel domestically, and United has been awful about releasing economy space, but as I’m sure you probably know you should be able to travel from Florida to as far as like North Dakota for 7.5K Avianca miles in United economy. You’ve got access to a pretty big “zone” since Florida is included with most of the middle of the US.
Oh, that’s right! I did see the post on your plans to organize a FM team meet-up in Japan. That makes sense.
I will say, if it was just me and my husband going, I would probably jump on this deal despite my cheapskate nature. The older I get, the more I see value in occasionally splurging on better travel experiences. But it’s something I have to rationalize and justify (to myself) due to growing up in poverty. For what it’s worth, your mindset on using points is usually quite similar to mine.
On AA miles vs. flexible points. This is not a scientific approach by any means, but if someone offered me 100k C1 points or 100k AA miles right now, I would pick the first option without hesitation. Probably because I don’t have an immediate need for AA miles at the moment or during the next two years. On the other hand, I’m hoping to do a family cruise next fall, and it would be nice to know I can knock off $1k of the cost if needed. It doesn’t mean I would, but the option is there. But once again, someone who needs to fly AA all the time will feel differently. I actually think AA miles are more valuable now than they were a few years ago, which is not something I expected would happen. Free award cancellation+ decent value on Web Specials make the program a winner. But will the trend hold? That’s a million dollar question. Btw, while you are right that there are more cards that offer flexible points bonuses compared to AA miles, I can’t seem to get approved for most of them! We struck out with Citi Premier (multiple times), constantly get a pop-up with Amex cards and won’t be eligible for CSP bonus for at least a few years. By comparison, I should be able to apply for Citi AA Platinum card next year. No guarantee I’ll get approved, but it seems to be easier compared to Premier.
Of course, the reason is because we get so many cards. Then again, a $400 extra sign-up bonus here and there is how we can afford to travel in the first place.
Still, you make some good points and I always appreciate reading your thought process.
Read the language you use in the article. You are clearly trying to poo poo on everybody’s excitement because it’s not ideal for your situation lol
@Greg Hmm, not sure what language you are referring to, but I promise that was not my intention. In fact, as I’ve said to Nick, I would consider taking advantage of this deal under different circumstances. Not to mention, I shared this deal via our Facebook and Twitter pages. Why would I do so if I considered it inferior? Either way, I apologize if I offended you in any way.
We all should optimize what we value the most. Everyone is different. Since all have different values, what is great for one isn’t for others.
@Jacob Yes, I completely agree! I thought this was a perfect example of an arguably hot deal that was not a good fit for my situation. This was not a hypothetical scenario either, since I have plans to visit Japan in a near future. But I’m genuinely excited for those who were looking to take advantage of it.