On Wednesday I wrote about the rare opportunity to book award tickets on Japanese Star Alliance airline ANA in first class between San Francisco and Tokyo. They haven’t made much award space available in three years. But then once they updated their San Francisco – Tokyo Haneda flight to a Boeing 777 (from a 787 with no first class) the floodgates opened.
That was true for April, May and the first part of June. But they were still showing the old plane in the schedule beyond that. ANA did a further update last night. I got a reader tip in the middle of the night about some first class award space available in fall. But since then availability has broadened substantially.
You can now book ANA first class awards from June through end of schedule in and out of San Francisco. Details on how to do this are below. While at least three seats are most common, I’m seeing as many as five award seats open on some flights which is almost unprecedented.
Here’s a current availability search for (2) or more first class award seats in October between San Francisco and Tokyo Haneda (not Narita) airport:
Original January 25, 2023 post follows:
Reader Chris Willers points out that ANA first class awards are available in both directions between San Francisco and Tokyo (Haneda and Narita airports) through April, May, and in the first third of June.
Act quickly, I do not expect this availability to last. Seeing three seats – not just one or two – is very common and sometimes more. In general ANA has not been releasing first class seats at all for redemption.
Here’s a search for 2 or more first class seats in April:
You can, of course, book onward connecting flights and travel not just to Japan but elsewhere in Asia using these flights as a starting point.
Book With A Variety Of Miles
The best way to book these seats is via Virgin Atlantic Flying Club / Virgin Red. They charge just 55,000 miles each way plus surcharges but the points savings makes the extra ~ $300 worthwhile. Note that this pricing is for the non-stop ANA flights only, connections involve separate awards.
Call to book, and when the agent sets up the reservation you can transfer points instantly from American Express, Capital One, Chase, Citi or Bilt. (You used to be able to put ANA awards on 24 hour hold with Virgin but I have not been able to get them to do these award holds recently.)
Most other programs are going to charge about twice as many miles. For instance,
- Air Canada Aeroplan charges 110,000 points each way without fuel surcharges. Points transfer instantly from American Express, Capital One, Chase, and Bilt. If there are saver award seats available on United you should be able to add those to your itinerary to connect to and from San Francisco from another U.S. city.
- United MileagePlus charges 121,000 miles each way and points usually transfer instantly from Chase, but sometimes do delay, and also transfer from Bilt. There are no fuel surcharges. United may offer more connecting space to/from San Francisco than other Star programs, and more still for elite and co-brand credit card customers.
- Avianca LifeMiles charges 120,000 miles each way with no fuel surcharges. Points transfer from American Express, Citibank, and Capital One. If there are saver award seats available on United you should be able to add those to your itinerary to connect to and from San Francisco from another U.S. city. LifeMiles is great as long as there are no itinerary changes.
Check Your Flight For ANA’s New “The Suite” First Class
Generally speaking San Francisco hasn’t see ANA’s Boeing 777-300ERs that offer the new “The Suite” seat. It was mostly on Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. But now I am seeing it on the San Francisco – Tokyo Haneda (not Narita) route.
A simple way to tell is to look at the business class seat map. If it has 64 business class seats, it’s a converted plane. In planes that have the new product, business class ends at row 20 (not, say, row 21).
Still, the old seat is a private flat first class product.
Either way you get outstanding service and food – one of my favorite soft products in the sky.
Thank you Chris!
Actually, starting 3/26, HND-SFO will have 777-300 with The Suite. The route currently has no F because it’s served by 787. The fleet change happened last night (I received the email notifying me of the change for the flight I already booked.). That’s why all of a sudden they released F award seats for the route.
Traffic to Japan is much less recovered than should be the case for the amount of capacity that is in the market.
It only makes sense to make award travel available.
Thank you. Just changed from J to F for the NRT to SFO flight . Let’s hope this one stick. ANA cancel my F flight three times in the since COVID.
I dont see anything
Tim Dunn has no idea how awards work on NH. [redacted -gl]
It’s called supply and demand, James.
Unless ANA or any airline wants to fly around empty planes, they might as well open up award travel.
YOU don’t understand basic economics.
ANA newbie here but would definitely love to book this – from which website is the April 2023 screenshot? How is availability by flexible dates shown by week or month?
I have no idea how to get a view that shows this and only just got the one week at a time view via ANA.
You’re welcome Gary. Hopefully a lot of people got to take advantage. Looks like the O availability has dried up though.
Re; Tim Dunn,
There’s always going to be some exclusivity as well, which is why they would rather fly empty seats than just give them away. Luxury hotels don’t drop their rates to $50 during the slow season. And there’s a reason there aren’t $10 fares all the time for day-of air bookings “just to fill seats”.
nobody said any airline is going to drop the price to 0 or ridiculously low prices but when there isn’t the demand for business travel – which there is not to Japan right now – then there is more space for award travel.
3 seats out of a first class cabin is ALOT of availability. The chart Gary provides shows that this isn’t just a one off.
I don’t know what rules Japanese carriers have to follow to not use their slots but the US airlines have asked the DOT for exemptions to extend slot exemptions for Japan. They do not see sufficient demand even into the future to justify their current flight level. A simple search of premium cabins on US carriers shows there are plenty of seats available.
The demand for paid premium seats is nowhere near historic or sustainable levels; airlines for now have to fly their US-Japan routes so award travel is going to be more open than normal.
But this is just a one off. There has NEVER been this much NH F space released, and the only reason it was released was because of an aircraft change where they went from a non-F plane (789) to a plane with F (77W). Before the past 12 hours or so, I’ve never seen more than 5 or 6 F awards available on all routes combined searching over an entire year. I would wager a pretty large sum that you will NEVER see this much NH F availability on a route ever again.
I don’t know exactly where you’re getting your information from re: business demand to Japan. A quick glance at *A and OW availability in J ex-DEN (where I live) shows two total seats for the month of April with redemptions under 150k points one way. The cheapest revenue ticket in C is over $4k with most days being >$6k. That’s not exactly bargain basement pricing. I’m sure that some of the connecting business is lower because there is far less business traffic to China at the moment due to zero-Covid and other reasons, but I don’t see Japanese demand being particularly depressed. I’ve read articles both saying that it’s down (your allusion to slot extensions) as well as articles that say just the opposite, so who really knows the truth.
Also, please lay off the childishness of comments like “Class Dismissed”. We can be adults here and disagree.
Hi there – two questions: One, what is the tool you’re using in the April 2023 calendar showing award availability? Looks like that would be very useful. Two, are you still seeing ANY availability for ANA F during this period? I’m checking on the UA and AC websites and coming up empty. Want to make sure I’m not doing something wrong!
Does Tim Dunn know the difference between award seats and regular seats? It doesn’t seem like it.
What does he mean by “plenty of premium seats available?”
I guess there is no discussion with a person who cannot even understand basic concepts. Nor the fact Asian carriers do not upgrade passengers just because of elite status and don’t mind premium cabins going out empty.
@jacob B – It’s AwardNexus, which is a pay service, perhaps the space is now gone…
@ Tim Dunn says:
“I don’t know…”
Exactly (in this particular case)…
[personal attack removed -gl]
there are more than two variables to assimilate…especially if such variables are co-dependent…
[personal attack removed -gl]
All but gone now, but still saw one last single straggler seat available just now.
Spent 30 min waiting on hold for Virgin, but ultimately booked a RT for the wife and me in F for May! Outbound is the old F, THE Suite on the return. Beyond stoked.
Too bad it wasn’t last month with the 30% transfer bonus. Can’t win ‘em all.
All gone. Expert Flyer does now show any availability nor does United
All gone, and after there was basically zero F award inventory on ANA for months, this kind of “flood” will have triggered a lot of people to finally spend those miles. For people who are working during the day and miss these kinds of news, the two remaining hopes are: 1. People cancelling their hastily made award bookings after noticing they can’t take time off etc. and 2. The same thing happening again as ANA updates its summer schedule
@ Christopher Willers,
You have described the F award availability concept very well. Pre-Covid ANA would release 2 F seats at 355 days in advance of the departure date. For the last 2 years+, ANA has released zero. For J, ANA used to release 6-8 award seats, lately it has been 2. I have no trends on Y, but it generally seemed to be 6, as it was in the past. I have been seeing ANA release more award seats 14 day prior to the departure date. But they haven’t been first class awards.
Most commenters here do not realize that ANA has been extremely hard to find any award seats. I know because I have been searching for F or J award seats, just about every day since last April. ANA generally only releases 2 F awards at most, historically. ANA would rather have F go out empty, or almost empty, rather than releasing more award seats. Supply and demand do not apply here. I personally feel that ANA First is much nicer than JAL First. Which I think makes ANA want to keep it exclusive.
Now wide open from June to October. Go everyone that just missed out.
Looks like just one seat per flight this time though.
as they add the 77W in place of 789 to SFO
And now they’ve opened up even more space. I am seeing multiple seats on the route all the way through the just-modified schedule. Up to four seats.
Available seats are flying out the door and VA lines are jamed up wtih hold time exceeding 1hr if you are lucky to get through the busy signals. I saw mine (5 available) disapeared while on hold 15 mins into it and that was over an hour ago.
I got lucky. I changed my flight from NRT-ORD to HND-SFO this morning at 6:15 mountain time and had zero wait.
I see 0 seatsf rom ORD or IAD on united.com. Only SFO?
@ Gary — Sweet, got ’em this time! 504k AC (paid extra 32k r/t pp for no change/cancel fees) is alot for 2 r/ts SFO-HND, but worth it to try this product. Looking forward to it. There seemed little point in trying to book these through Virgin since the availabiity goes so quickly.
Paying 32k r/t for flex was stupid…oh well. Maybe that can be changed in the first 24 hours.
In other news, I see that Gary was quoted in the Post today. 🙂
(the topic was free wi-fi on flights)
Can’t replicate the above using LifeMiles, at least for Busines/First. Only Economy. What booking site are you using?
I don’t see any of these with United’s search. But, United’s website seems to be getting crappier and crappier every day at searching anything.
Seats now in C & F on JFK-HND-JFK through fall.
Ah shucks, I wish I saw this post 2 months earlier. Now I’m struggling to find business or first class seats from california to HND/NRT using points. Thanks for the info
I used to purchase ANA first via United either with milage or revenue. Around late February, 2023, UAL website no longer shows the first class category for any flight under any airline to any destination. Does anyone know why?
When there is actually F space available, the column shows up. Given that 99.9% of flights don’t have an F cabin much less F availability, it makes no sense to show an empty column 99.99% of the time.