Which is the Best Frequent Flyer Program for U.S. Travelers

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I’m terrible at keeping anyone in suspense, so let me get right to it. Those who know me even a little, know that I have the hots for ANA. Especially after ANA saved my ass last month in São Paulo. But even before that, I did, just like many others, recognize the value of the ANA Mileage Club program. Here are some of my older write-ups, and most of the things you find there still stand today.

New ANA Airways Award Chart — More on Fuel Surcharges and Some Revisions

4 ANA Award Chart 2015 Sweet Spots — You Might Be Surprised!

Booking ANA Awards with Stopover and Open Jaw

The ANA Award Tool Can Search Multiple Zones Now!

Asia Via Australia on an ANA Award Ticket — Unmatched Value!

This post is the first in a series that tries to re-evaluate the ANA Mileage Club program in light of two major events — the recent AA award chart devaluation and ANA dumping its fuel surcharges on April 1. I don’t know how many posts it’s going to take — 2, 3, or 4 — we’ll just play it by ear. I’m also going to bitch some more about something I hate the most about frequent flyer programs — the bogus fuel scamcharges! Can’t help it, sorry!

What do we value in an airline frequent flyer program?

Your answer can be different than mine. Keep in mind that I am not a business traveler so BIS (butt-in-seat) earnings do not interest me.

  1. Earning: How easy is it to get the miles outside of flying?
  2. Award chart: Stingy or generous? Are there interesting sweet spots?
  3. Availability.
  4. Routing rules.
  5. Number of mileage partners.
  6. Ease of search and booking: Is the interface user-friendly? Do I have to call? Do I get put on hold forever? Are the agents competent?
  7. Freaking fuel scamcharges!

ANA First Class Seat

ANA First Seat

So let’s begin with the beginning. How easy or hard is it to get AMA Mileage Club miles?

Getting ANA Points

There are two ways for a U.S. traveler to get non-BIS airline miles in bulk — credit cards and transfer partners. In terms of the ease of getting non-BIS points, ANA is somewhere in the middle. I have a 9-point scale for that.

  • 0: No way to get non-BIS miles in bulk, i.e. LOT.
  • 1: Obscure credit card and/or equally obscure transfer partner like Diner’s Club, e.g. IcelandAir.
  • 2: Obscure credit card sign-up bonus and/or SPG transferability, e.g. JAL. (You might disagree, but I highly value SPG points for hotel stays).
  • 3: Obscure credit card sign-up bonus and/or major transfer partner (or both), such as AMEX Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, or Chase Ultimate Rewards, e.g. Iberia.
  • 4: Obscure credit card sign-up bonus and/or two transfer partners such as SPG and AMEX MR/Citi TU/Chase UR,  e.g. ANA or Emirates.
  • 5: Decent credit card sign-up bonus and major transfer partner, such as AMEX MR/Citi TY/Chase UR, e.g. JetBlue or Southwest.
  • 6: Decent credit card sign-up bonus and 2 or more major transfer partners, such as AMEX MR/Citi TY/Chase UR, e.g. Hawaiian; or SPG and 2 or more major transfer partners, such as AMEX MR/Citi TY/Chase UR, e.g. Air France and Cathay Pacific
  • 7: SPG plus AMEX MR/Citi TY/Chase UR: Singapore (yes, just one),
  • 8: Great credit card sign-up bonus plus 2 or more major transfer partners, such as AMEX MR/Citi TY/Chase UR, e.g. British and Virgin Atlantic (Delta would qualify too, just because the sheer number of earning credit cards).

OK, that was unnecessarily complicated, perhaps, and of course, there are more nuances than this. You can bring good arguments why this scheme is flawed (and I know it is), but the idea is that ANA getAbility (hey, my blog, my words) is somewhere in the middle. In our case we do have the ability to build our ANA non-BIS portfolio, but it’s somewhat limited, especially with that AMEX once-in-a-lifetime nonsense. On the other hand, let’s not forget that ANA does have a U.S.-based credit card — with a laughable bonus, yes — but you can also use all these AMEX MR cards for the same purpose.

First Class Square on 777-300ER

ANA Mileage Club First Square B777-300ER

So, I’d say that the ANA Miles Earning Grade is B-. That’s enough to get going. 

ANA Mileage Club Award Chart

ANA Mileage Club award charts are complex, if not arcane, so let’s try to break them up by regions. Since ANA is an Asian airline, this is where we’ll start.

ANA does not allow one-way travel, so we are comparing round-trip flights from/to the U.S.

Japan/South Korea

The AA award levels on this route are still better or equal to those of Delta or United, so these are the ones we compare.

AA AAdvantage:

  • Economy: 65,000-70,000
  • Business: 120,000
  • First: 160,000

ANA Mileage Club:

Japan

  • Economy: 40,000-55,000
  • Business: 75,000-90,000
  • First: 150,000-165,000

South Korea

  • Economy: 45,000-60,000
  • Business: 80,000-95,000
  • First: 165,000-180,000

ANA runs a seasonal chart on their own metal. The partners levels are the highest ones throughout the year (55K, 90K, 165K, etc.). As you can see, even the most expensive ANA and partners’ levels in both economy and business are much lower than AA’s. The first class values are mixed.

General Winner: ANA

ANA Business Class Seat on 777-300

ANA Mileage Club Business Seat Bed on 777-300

Rest of Asia

U.S. Airlines:

  • Economy: 65,000-75,000
  • Business: 140,000-160,000
  • First: 160,000-260,000

The ANA Mileage Club charts for the rest of Asia are a bit more complex, and also include the Indian subcontinent, while the AA’s and other programs do not.

Asia 1     (Zone 3) Beijing, Dalian, Shenyang, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Chengdu, Wuhan, Hong Kong, Taipei, Manila
Asia 2 (Zone 4) Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, Jakarta, Mumbai, Delhi, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh

ANA Mileage Club:

Asia 1

  • Economy: 45,000-60,000
  • Business: 80,000-95,000
  • First: 165,000-180,000

Absolute Winner: ANA

Asia 2

  • Economy: 55,000-70,000 (80,000 on partners)
  • Business: 100,000-115,000 (136,000 on partners)
  • First: 195,000-210,000 (240,000 on partners)

Winner in business: ANA

Winner in economy: AA

First class values are mixed 

Just like the flights to Japan, ANA runs a seasonal chart on their own metal. Fly on ANA metal whenever possible due to lower costs.

ANA Food in First

ANA Mileage Club First Food

Oceania and South Pacific

Comparing levels for these regions is a little bit harder because United has different rates for Australia/New Zealand and Oceania. But we’ll persevere.

U.S. Airlines

  • Economy: 80,000 (70,000 to Oceania on United)
  • Business: 140,000-160,000 (130,000-150,000 to Oceania on United)
  • First: 160,000-260,000 (160-220 to Oceania on United)

ANA Mileage Club:

  • Economy: 75,000
  • Business: 120,000
  • First: 225,000

Winner in business: ANA.

Mixed results in economy and first.

ANA Wine List in First

ANA Mileage Club First Wine

Europe/”Deep” South America

If we don’t count a very limited AA off-peak window to Europe, United has the best chart on these routes.

  • Economy: 60,000
  • Business: 110,000
  • First: 140,000

ANA Mileage Club:

  • Economy: 55,000
  • Business: 88,000
  • First: 165,000

The winner in economy: ANA (except the AA 45,000 off-peak rates between 01.10 – 03.14 and 11.11 – 12.14).

The winner in business: ANA

The winner in first: United

ANA Business Class Cradle

ANA Mileage Club Business Seat

The Caribbean, Central America, and Northern South America

ANA does not “subdivide” South America, so suffice it to say, the ANA mileage levels are not competitive with the U.S. airlines on these routes.

Africa/Middle East

U.S. airlines put Africa and the Middle East in different regions, but the cost difference is very small.

U.S. Airlines:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business: 140,000-160,000
  • First: 160,000-280,000

ANA Mileage Club:

  • Economy: 65,000
  • Business: 104,000
  • First: 195,000

The winner in economy and business: ANA

Mixed results in first.

ANA Premium Economy — looks better than domestic first!

ANA Pr. Econ Seat

North America

According to ANA, North America consists of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. including Alaska. Most of the ANA values on these routes are either worse than or equal the U.S. airlines levels. Only American Airlines first class on three-cabin aircraft is higher: 100,000-110,000 AA miles vs. 90,000 ANA miles.

Hawaii

U.S. Airlines including Hawaiian:

  • Economy: 40,000-45,000
  • Business: 80,000
  • First: 100,000-130,000

ANA Mileage Club:

  • Economy: 40,000
  • Business: 68,000
  • First: 120,000

ANA is clearly the winner in business, while for economy, it’s mostly a draw. 

As to the first, I don’t believe that there is a three-cabin service between the Continental U.S. and Hawaii, so the numbers are moot anyway.

And by the way, being that Hawaiian is an ANA partner, I can’t wait until they complete the installation of that new lie-flat business class product on their long-haul A330 fleet sometime later this year.

Wait, sorry, did I say can’t wait? I meant I’m not holding my breath. Considering that it’s almost impossible to get a Saver award seat in their current lousy first class configuration, good luck getting the new one!

Anyway, I think the preliminary results are quite clear — the ANA award chart appears to be more generous and sometimes much more generous than the awards charts of major U.S. frequent flyer programs.

Next: ANA Award Availability

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7 Responses to Which is the Best Frequent Flyer Program for U.S. Travelers

  1. Jerry says:

    good comparison thanks

  2. Myk Brown says:

    I still like Korean Air’s 25k RT to Hawaii

    • Andy Shuman says:

      That’s a fantastic value, but unlike ANA, Korean only has occasional sweet spots, and it’s general chart isn’t too generous. Besides, the Korean award “application” process puts the fear of god into me.

  3. […] Airlnes KrisFlyer programs. Also consider ANA, though roundtrip award ticket is required (see a post on Lazytravelers for excellent overview of its new […]

  4. jediwho says:

    Great piece, thanks!! How is the availability, for both partner and on ANA flights? From my experience, AA sucks. United is very good for both partner and its own metal and Singapore sucks for partner but is great for its own metal.

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