The Next Award Chart Sweet Spot I Want to Use: ANA for United Operated Flights

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I’m sure most of us have several vacations spots on “our list” that we are just trying to figure out how to book most effectively or how to squeeze into our busy schedules.  Sitting at the top of my list is Costa Rica, and specifically staying at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo which looks to be a great property in a good spot.  I have seen some solid cash rates there, but on points it is also great as a Category 4 Hyatt property (15,000 points per night or 7,500 + $100 USD per night).

Andaz Room Costa Rica

They have a family pool, a spa, a beach, and an all important kid’s club for kids ages 4-12.  Really, what more could you ask for?  I’m sold right there.  Needless to say, I have the hotel aspect of the trip nailed down in my mind with staying at the Andaz (likely on a cash + points booking with a Diamond Suite Upgrade applied), but even though Houston – Liberia, Costa Rica is only a 3 1/2 hour nonstop flight on United, the prices are often pretty nasty at $700 – $1,000 round trip each.  Multiply that by the three of us, and it simply isn’t going to happen.  Even on miles, it rings in at 35,000 United miles each for the round trip.  That isn’t bad given the cash price, but it would be 105,000 miles for the three of us, so that’s a relatively substantial sum.  Families have to stretch miles smarter than that when possible.

Luckily, there is a better way leveraging an award chart sweet spot via ANA who is a Star Alliance partner, but uses a distance based chart similar to the way that British Airways does.  Even if you have never flown on ANA, or heck never even heard of ANA, you still can take advantage of this too since they are a transfer partner of the American Express Membership Rewards program.

Flying from Houston to Liberia is roughly 1,469 miles each way, or 2938 miles round trip.  That means that via the ANA award chart it will cost just 22,000 miles in coach for the award.  Their stopover rules are a little confusing at first, but somewhat outlined hereMilenomics has a good post on maximizing ANA stopovers here.  For this particular trip stopovers would be irrelevant, but of course stopovers could be useful on a different trip, and I’ll talk about that in a future post.

ana award chart

The ANA online booking tool is very good in some respects, but a little clunky and awkward in others.  If you have 0 miles like I do, read this post for how to use their search tool.  None the less, it is at least functional for searching and booking Star Alliance partners like United.  Availability should be the same for United award flights as United offers its own members at the Saver level (though not the extra availability that United sometimes gives elite members or those with the co-branded credit card).  As you can see below, the flight prices out on some example dates at 22,000 miles each just as the chart says it should.


Booking this way would turn what would be 105,000 United miles for the three of us if we booked via MileagePlus into 66,000 Membership Reward points by booking via ANA for the same exact flights.  Assuming you valued United miles and Membership Reward points at around the same value, that is a savings of 37% miles/points just be being aware of different award charts.  I’ll post more about ANA soon as I think it is a good option for those of us in the Southern half of the US for heading to the Caribbean, Central America, etc.  Another very good option for some will be using British Airways Avios to fly on US Airways and American Airlines operated flights.  If you are interested in other award chart sweet spots, here is a post listing a few of my favorite airline award chart sweet spots.

Have you used ANA for some short but pricey trips like this one?  What are some of your other favorite award chart sweet spots?

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  1. Great post. I think as the “Big 3” US based airlines (American, United, Delta) continue to make ‘adjustments’ to both their earning and redemption levels, it’s going to be tricks like these (using partners to book flights) that are really going to be the big thing.

    Using British Airways Avios to book short-haul American flights is the easy one and many people in the travel hacking community know about that already – I see this as one of the next tricks to focus on learning

  2. Unrelated note to ANA: The “beach” an the Andaz Papagayo is tiny and dark sand. It’s kinda pretty but not the sort of beach many of us are accustomed. That being said, the hotel is beautiful, food kinda pricey but good. As a Hyatt Diamond you should love it.

  3. I’ve heard different answers for this but, would this flight have fuel surcharges or no?
    I’ve read there are non when redeeming ANA miles on united but I’ve heard the opposite too.

  4. If you’re just going for a luxery sort of vacation then I’m sure that property is fantastic. Costa Rica is easily my favorite place in the world. I’d be remissed not to encourage you to to venture a little further. There is a town about an hour south of Tamarindo called Nosara that is absolutely magical. It’s a huge hotspot for expats and very catered to families and americans but still has a “local” feel to it. They have planes you can take directly into Nosara from SJO although I’m not positive if you can get them from Liberia. Taking this plane allows you to get around without needing a car.
    I’ve been there a ton and if I can help in anyway, let me know. Harbor Reef in Nosara is a great value and also the best location. There are higher end places like Harmony hotel but I don’t think they’d belong to any loyalty program.

  5. Great post. Although, I’m concerned about Corey’s question. I hope there isn’t. I’m getting mixed answers on that as well.

    IF there are not fuel surcharges, this is a fantastic redemption. The real way to get value out of this is to compare it to the Avios award chart. Avios is a great option–especially on short US flights. Comparing the two awards, it is the 2000-4000 range flights that ANA really comes out ahead. Avios: 2001-3000 miles is 25,000 pts and 3001-4000 miles is 40,000 pts. On ANA it is only 22,000 pts for that whole distance. Assuming you are flying American and United flying in that same general distance (easier if you have multiple airports near you obviously like Dallas and Houston–you are so lucky in that respect), there is some good value here between ANA v. Avios. I don’t have time to compare ANA to other award charts when you get into longer distances. However, if you wanted to go to Northern Africa, from the East Coast, here is an interesting option. Nonstop BWI to CAI is 11,660 roundtrip. That would be 80,000 on United. ANA is only 60,000–and you are JUST BARELY over it being 55,000. IAD to Dublin on United is 60,000 points!!! But on ANA it is only 38,000. Comparably, you are looking at American 40,000 off-peak and 60,000 peak for North American to Europe–IAD to Dublin on Avios you are looking at 40,000 roundtrip on Aer Lingus. Again, ANA is (slightly) better option there too.

    Again, all of this hedges on whether or not fuel surcharges will be charged–which is obviously a huge contingency.

  6. There are conflicting reports on fuel surcharges because the answer is “it depends”. For flights like this Houston – Costa Rica flight the answer is no because United doesn’t charge a fuel surcharge on those flights. Same would be true for domestic flights in US, Canada, Hawaii, etc. You can look up a flight breakdown on ITA Matrix to be sure.

    For TATL and TAPC flights it gets really confusing. For other partners ANA will charge fuel surcharge. However, for United specifically they seem to not be charging them when flying over the Atlantic, but only charging them when flying over the Pacific. Of course that is subject to change, but doesn’t impact these type of Central America/Caribbean/US style redemptions.

  7. Andaz looks great and may try one day but we are actually headed back to the all inclusive westin. You can often find brg on this property. Recently we found $179 for two adults per night. The rooms are nice and big, plus a big balcony. The kids club is great and included in the all inclusive. Pools and surroundings are kept immaculate and the restaurants each have different food choices and don’t seem to run from the same kitchen as other all inclusives do or at least taste like the do :). My two cents

  8. Thanks for writing about this–I’m excited about the potential options it presents! Anybody happen to know what ANA’s change and cancellation policies are like? I don’t suppose they’re anything like our friends at BA?

    • Depends on where you are and where you want to go. OneWorld wouldn’t help get you a united nonstop flight. 😉

  9. I know one way awards are not allowed with ANA, but what about an open jaw? I tried on ANA site to price out a trip departing from one European city to US, returning from same US city to different European city and got a message that that routing was not permissible? Is that correct?

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