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. In fact, it is arguably the best value Virgin Flying Club redemption bar none.
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
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.
What has changed here?
Historically, you had to book a return flight to use Virgin Points on ANA.
This meant that you needed to collect at least 95,000 Virgin Points, which could be tricky.
Virgin Flying Club has now changed the rules and is allowing one-way redemptions. This means that you need as few as 47,500 Virgin Points to experience ANA in Business Class. You could use Avios to fly in the other direction on British Airways or JAL.
Given that the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard comes with a bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points and earns 1.5 points per £1 spent (see our Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card review here), it is a target that is achievable.
This would also be an amazing way to use:
- the 100,000 points sign-up bonus available until Friday 9th April on American Express Business Platinum, or
- the 50,000 points sign-up bonus available until Friday 9th April on the (free for a year) American Express Business Gold
Virgin Flying Club is also a transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards, Heathrow Rewards, Tesco Clubcard etc.
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 Points 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.
From London, this is roughly £250 return in either Business or First Class. This represents a substantial saving over the £580 required when using Avios on BA in Club World.
Save more tax by starting in Europe
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 2021/2.
One benefit of allowing one-way redemptions is that you could choose to fly from Frankfurt to Tokyo to save on Air Passenger Duty. You could return directly to London on a separate one-way ticket. You want to be sure that you are getting the new seat, however (see below).
How do I find availability?
Virgin Flying Club appears to have access to the same availability as Star Alliance partners. Whilst this may sound obvious, it is not always the case when looking for availability with non-alliance airline partners.
The Aeroplan (Air Canada) and United Airlines websites are both decent places to search for seats before calling Virgin Flying Club to book. Given the pressure on their phone lines, you may want to try the WhatsApp or SMS service instead, although it can take some time – often days – to get a reply.
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.
If Japan is on your radar for a post-covid break, you should be seriously considering flying ANA using Virgin Flying Club points.
The key question is when Japan decides to open up again to foreign tourists. It seems unlikely that there will be any movement until very late in 2021, so this may be one for early 2022. Availability is always going to difficult in ‘cherry blossom’ season in late March.
Remember that flying out of Frankfurt or another European gateway may make it easier to find availability and will save you £166 in Air Passenger Duty. You can fly back directly to London now that these tickets can be booked as one-way flights.