My original plan was to be in Japan for two weeks… that will turn to roughly three months by the time I leave the country in early June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In mid-March, I redeemed American Airlines AAdvantage miles for Japan Airlines (JAL) first class to London, and last week I made another reservation for All Nippon Airlines (ANA) first class to London using my Virgin Atlantic miles that has been sitting in that account for years.
AA award on JAL:
You could easily book it online and chose just a random day in early June with first-class availability.
The price was rather reasonable 90,000 miles and $53.80.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club award on ANA:
You cannot book partner awards or even check availability online with Virgin Atlantic. It is always better to do your homework in advance (check when awards are available), and I did just that by pulling up ANA’s availability on United.
Note that partner availability is not always the same between different airlines. It could be a Point-of-Sale (POS) issue between the US and UK, or some don’t make their entire award inventory available for all partners.
So, I had to call Virgin and dialed the Flying Club’s number in the States. The phone tree options were mainly cancellation/refund/re-booking associated, and none were for booking a partner award.
I was on hold for more than an hour before I got through to an agent who first tried to convince me not to book due to no availability, and the flight won’t operate anyway. She was, however, able to find the flights per the UA information and had it priced.
The ticket was issued after the charge went through to my Amex. The call lasted 101 minutes (more than an hour of that on hold).
I like how clearly Virgin shows the breakdown of taxes and fees.
The following day it didn’t look too good for this ANA flight. It was zeroed entirely in all classes in service (basically means that it would be canceled).
The same happened to my JAL flight on the 3rd. They would only operate the later flight on the same date but without first.
ANA had rebooked me on their flight to London a day earlier and kept the first class.
While JAL had rebooked me into business class on a flight later that day.
Virgin Atlantic allowed me to accept the change online while AA requires me to call it in.
Most of these Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles have been sitting in my account for 10+ years and came from Hyatt and Hilton (offers that allowed you to earn both hotel points and airline miles with a bonus).
I hate having to call award reservations in and don’t ever redeem for return. With Virgin, you need to call, and awards are only available for return. That is perhaps the reason why these miles had become virtually dormant. I booked the return for early Sakura in 2021 just in case I decide to go, and foreign arrivals are allowed to the country (basically an option).
To my surprise, both JAL and ANA rebooked the flights to operating services without any action on my part or a nudge from the ticketing airlines. However, I would need to accept a downgrade if I decide to go with Japan Airlines.
I won’t cancel either of these so that I can decide in two weeks which one to take. Both of these flights should now go as that is the schedule they have been flying already for a couple of weeks. ANA and JAL don’t clean up their forward schedules more than a month out (based on my observations).
There is also a British Airways flight to London from Tokyo, but I rather not have their snack box that is the only F&B that is served in all classes of service (NOT a way to go!). I rather repatriate in a proper way.
Let’s hope that Virgin Atlantic won’t collapse before early June, potentially rendering this ANA partner award void in case they stop accepting tickets issued on Virgin’s stock.
It has been rather pleasant time to “shelter” in Japan where life has been somewhat normal beyond Starbucks and some other stores having been closed since mid-April (some reopening now).
I am eagerly awaiting how Europe will look like in early June and what countries then welcome EU citizens!