If you are considering travelling to Japan, the obvious options – especially if you want to earn Avios and British Airways tier points – are British Airways and Japan Airlines.
(Japan Airlines is a member of the oneworld alliance, alongside BA, so you can earn Avios and Executive Club tier points, and spend Avios, on its flights.)
There is another option ….
There is a third airline flying directly from Heathrow to Tokyo – ANA. In normal times, ANA runs a daily service, departing at 7pm, to Tokyo Haneda, which is substantially more convenient than Tokyo Narita.
ANA is a member of Star Alliance. This means that you can credit ANA flights to Lufthansa Miles & More, United MileagePlus, Singapore Airlines Krisflyer, ANA’s own Mileage Club or whichever other Star Alliance airline you prefer.
How to use Virgin Points to fly ANA
You can obviously redeem miles from any of the Star Alliance airlines for reward tickets on ANA.
You may not know, however, that ANA is also a Virgin Atlantic partner. You can redeem your Virgin Flying Club points for tickets on ANA.
Even better, the rate is VERY attractive, especially when compared to an Avios redemption.
You can also earn Virgin Flying Club miles when booking cash tickets on ANA, if you want to steer your next business trip their way.
How many Virgin Points do I need to fly ANA?
Assuming you are based in the UK, these are the key numbers you need to know:
- Economy return flight (London to Tokyo) – 65,000 Virgin Points
- Business return flight (London to Tokyo) – 95,000 Virgin Points
- First return flight (London to Tokyo) – 120,000 Virgin Points
Note that one way redemptions are not possible.
Availability, pre covid, seemed to be limited to ONE First Class seat per flight, especially on the aircraft with the new ‘THE Suite’ product which we discuss below. This is not a great option for a couple unless you book one seat and wait to see if another is released later.
How does this compare with Avios pricing?
These are exceptionally good rates in Business and First. For comparison, this is what you pay using Avios for a British Airways redemption:
- Economy return flight (London to Tokyo) – 39,000 Avios off-peak / 60,000 Avios peak
- Business return flight (London to Tokyo) – 150,000 Avios off-peak / 180,000 Avios peak
- First return flight (London to Tokyo) – 204,000 Avios off-peak / 240,000 Avios peak
The price gap between Avios and Virgin miles is stunning. Even with a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher, it is STILL a better deal to use Virgin Flying Club miles most of the time when travelling Business or First Class.
Even better, there are no fuel surcharges added to ANA redemptions using Virgin Points. You will have to pay the usual Air Passenger Duty, Heathrow departure taxes etc.
(Apologies for not providing the exact tax numbers. I didn’t think Virgin would appreciate me taking up call centre time at the moment to book dummy redemptions. Looking at the comments below it appears to be around £250 return in First or Business, which represents a substantial saving over using Avios on BA.)
ANA also has a lot of route options
If you can’t find availability on the ANA flights from London, they also flew – pre coronavirus – to Tokyo from Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Brussels, Vienna and Paris. It is not clear how many of these routes will be flying in 2021.
Virgin Flying Club appears to have access to the same availability as Star Alliance partners. The Aeroplan (Air Canada) and United Airlines websites are both decent places to search for seats before calling Virgin to book.
Is ANA any good?
In 2019, ANA launched a new Business and First Class seat on its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, and the London route was the first to get it. It looks rather good, to put it mildly.
The First Class suites, known as ‘THE Suite’, are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. Finished in dark woods, there are two only rows which make this an intimate cabin:
The seat almost takes the full width of the suite, with only a thin slither along the side given over to storage or as an armrest. There is also an exceptionally large 43” screen which has a 4K display.
THE Room is ANA’s new Businesss Class product. Club World style, half of the seats face forwards and half face backwards.
If you look at the photo below the first thing that will strike you is how disproportionately wide the seat is. Look at the head rest. You can see the protective cover, which is about what you’d expect the seat width to be. THE Room looks like it is twice as wide – more sofa-like than a seat! ANA says that THE Room has twice the width of their old business class seat (click for Anika’s flight review) which is not hard to believe.
Of course, this is business class and the trade-off is that it does taper into a cubby hole where your feet end up. Nonetheless, the extra width at torso and shoulder height makes sitting and sleeping in this seat feel a lot less cramped. It is a very clever piece of design.
I haven’t flown THE Room but I have sat in the seat at a media event. It is, genuinely, huge. At one point there were two of us sat side by side on the seat and we were able to have a normal conversation, with a decent bit of space between us.
Not content with a sliding door, THE Room also has a second opening which slides up and down. This allows the crew to pass food to you whilst the door is closed, getting around one of the biggest issues with Club Suite and Qsuite. The 24 inch 4K TV also looked very impressive, although it was not operating.
THE Room deservedly won ‘Editor’s Choice’ for ‘Best New Business Class Seat’ at the 2019 Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards.
Assuming the Olympics go ahead as planned next year, Japan is likely to see a surge of tourism both during and after the games.
If Japan is on your radar for a post-covid break, you should be seriously considering flying ANA using Virgin Flying Club points and potentially locking in some dates before the post-Olympics bounce sees seats disappear.
Remember that flying out of Frankfurt or another European gateway may make it easier to find availability.
How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (August 2022)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.
You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, the Reward+ card has a bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points):
You can also earn Virgin Points from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for a year and comes with 20,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 20,000 Virgin Points.
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points.
EDIT: Until 25th October 2022, there is an exceptionally generous sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card. You will receive 60,000 Membership Rewards points – double the usual amount – and £200 to spend at Amex Travel. You need to spend £6,000 within six months to earn the bonus.
Small business owners should consider the two American Express Business cards. Points convert at 1:1 into Virgin Points.
(Want to earn more Virgin Points? Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)