A schedule trick to book first class: TPG reader success story

Nov 15, 2020

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We’ve been asking to hear your travel success and mistake stories to both celebrate and help our TPG U.K. community — even if you’re not travelling as much right now.

This week, we want to revisit a story from TPG reader Sarah, who found a workaround to ANA’s lack of one-way awards:

“I’ve seen a few TPG articles highlighting the great value you can get from Virgin Atlantic miles, so when I saw the 90,000-mile bonus available on a U.S. co-branded card, I jumped on it. My boyfriend and I each also got another U.S. cad with 80,000-point sign-up bonuses, and by pooling all those miles, we were able to book round-trip flights from the U.S. to Japan in ANA first class for next year — our first trip in first class!

Because ANA seems to only make two first class seats available on points, I wanted to snag our flights as soon as the calendar opened. Of course, the thing about a trip is that the inbound flight is days or weeks after the outbound, so I couldn’t book our whole trip on the day that our outbound flight became available. Virgin Atlantic can only book round-trip award flights on ANA, so to secure our outbound flight, I booked a round-trip from Japan to the U.S. using a random date with availability for the flight to the U.S., and the start date of our trip for the “return” flight to Japan. Once the calendar opened up, I changed the Japan-US leg to the date of our actual flight home.

It meant having to pay a $100 change fee, but it was well worth the money for me to not be worrying about losing my perfect schedule while I waited. We’ll be using points and free hotel nights from credit cards to cover our lodging while wandering around Japan — we’ve got a solid stockpile of all the major points that will allow us to stay in much nicer places than if we were paying cash. I hope this story is useful, and thanks for all the help in getting there. We’re really excited about this trip!”

The ability to book one-way awards seems elementary, but even some major domestic carriers (namely, Delta and US Airways) didn’t allow them as recently 2014. ANA mostly remains a holdout, offering one-way awards only on flights within Japan. That makes it harder to work the airline into complex itineraries and to book at the end of the award calendar. If Sarah and her boyfriend had opted to fly in economy, they could have simply waited until availability opened up for both legs of their trip. That approach might not work in first class, since premium award space is more limited and in higher demand.

To improve their chances of getting the seats they wanted, Sarah booked their trip in reverse, and then accepted the change fees as the cost of doing business. It’s a clever solution to the lack of one-way awards; the downside is that there’s no guarantee you’ll find availability on your preferred flights home. If not, you’ll have to be flexible about when you return, or be willing to accept a lower class of service. I’m also not convinced this approach is necessary, since ANA tends to offer relatively abundant premium availability. Still, it may come in handy if you have a rigid travel schedule and want to get first crack at premium award space.

Award travellers usually equate sweet spots with low mileage requirements or advantageous routing rules, but I think any facet of a loyalty programme that offers exceptional value or opportunity qualifies. Low change and cancellation fees fit that description, and while Virgin Atlantic does charge some fees, they’re lower than most. Sarah’s manoeuvre would have been less viable if she booked through Avianca, for example, since changing the date of a LifeMiles award incurs a change fee of $150 per person. The ability to change or cancel awards inexpensively is one feature of Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by Yoshikazo Tsuno / Getty Images. Edited by The Points Guy.

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