I’ve been praising ANA’s current award chart a lot, and recently praising their soon to be award chart as well. But ANA isn’t just useful for booking Star Alliance awards, it’s useful for finding Star Alliance award availability. ANA is known to be the best for showing accurate seats. I’ll show you how to search for flights (even if you don’t have miles in the account), how to book stopovers, and then compare, how much better is it really.
If you’re new to ANA, this is great for anyone who wants to learn how to search on it, and book stopovers on it. But if you’re a pro, you MUST read the part at the end of me testing phantom award availability. Blogs and flyertalkers have steered people away from using United.com because ANA did not show tickets, and people call them “phantom” seats.
Sorry, folks, but going to United.com and ANA isn’t testing fully. I tried to book one of these so called tickets, and show my results. This will likely flip what you’ve been told on its head.
How To Search Star Alliance Partners
ANA is an annoying website to me, so it took some getting used to. Eventually I could fly through the process. I should admit that I’m often too lazy to go to ANA and do most of my brainstorming on United just because it’s quicker. But when you want to know what’s actually there, and what’s fully there; you go to ANA.
Really, the second link is key. Bookmark this page and it’s the quickest way to navigate to the search… although we aren’t done yet.
If you don’t have any points in your account, you can’t search Star Alliance partners off the bat. You have to trick it to let you do that.
Here’s the process…
Tricking ANA to show partner awards
2) Search “ANA International Flight Awards”
3) Search NRT (Tokyo) to HKG (Hong Kong), because it’s an actual ANA route, then click “Next”
4) Scroll to the bottom and click “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines”
That’s really it. Now you can search any route. See without miles, and until you get this screen, you can only search ANA flights. Now you can search anything.
ANA awards always have to be roundtrip, although if you want to search oneways you can just throw in some random date in the future for the second leg and focus on the results of the first leg. Either way, as terrible as their website looks, follow these links and steps and you’ll be ready to go. Plus, it’s actually really functional, it just isn’t modern apple design with one big button telling you where to go next. But it has the dates in the drop down above, or you can click on the calendar.
And below just use the airport codes in the boxes like I have.
How to book stopovers with ANA miles
So the next question is how do we book stopovers?
The first section showed us how to search partner airlines. It doesn’t matter if you’re using United miles, ANA miles, Air Canada miles, etc… the steps above will show you how to search for Star Alliance award availability. However, when it comes to using actual ANA miles, the site is fully capable of searching and booking ANA awards. Same concept, but now were using ANA for ANA miles only.
One of the great pluses of ANA, as I mention in A Guide To ANA Miles, is the incredible ability to book “4 stopovers”. I put it in quotes because ANA considers all stops to be “stopovers”. After all, unlike most airlines it doesn’t price by the destination, but by the total number of miles flown on a roundtrip. Instead, there are multiple destinations.
This part is completely semantics, United allows 1 destination and 1 stopover, but in total you get 2 stops. ANA allows 4 stopovers, and really you get 4 stops.
Also, this could be incredibly important because apparently ANA is known for giving grief on the phone when trying to book stopovers on domestic flights. I’m not sure about this but I know it’s bookable online. This could lead to many awesome options for domestic flights with 4 stops for only 22,000 ANA miles (as I mentioned yesterday in my post on Best Miles for Free Flights within the USA).
How do I get to the stopover screen?
The last screen I left you at in the first section was “Partner Flight Awards” search. From there we will navigate to stopover bookings. If you’re timed out, you may have to start over. Click here, and follow the steps through until we’re searching Star Alliance Partner Flights.
1) Scroll down and click “Flight Search” (instead of next)
2) Click “Add Routes”
Technically you only need 5 rows, since you can only have 4 stops. So fill out 4 stopovers and you can open-jaw, but you still basically only get 5 rows. The only reason you would need to do more than 5 rows is if you want to force layovers. Which you can do, but you pay per segment. Just know that you have to return to the originating country.
Pricing out ANA tickets
Know that the price of the route is going to combine two things. First is the total distance flown.
Personally I use GCMap.com to figure out the total mileage. And I can use the award results to show me what the route would be, or I can be idealistic and use the Star Alliance Route Map to figure out what is possible.
Then I cross reference with the ANA Award Chart:
The first column is how many flown miles the route would be and the other columns are prices in ANA miles.
There are sweet spots, as you can see flying 4,000 miles costs 22,000 ANA miles, but a flight that’s just a little bit further would increase the award price to 38,000 miles. Thus, trying to stay at the top of a range is the sweet spot, especially in the example of awards that are 22,000 ANA miles.
How much better are the ANA search results really?
ANA is the only way to book ANA awards, but when we want to use United miles or miles of another Star Alliance member, who should we trust? ANA’s results or United’s results? And how different are they really?
1) United no longer searches Singapore Airlines awards.
This is a pretty big airline, and while it’s still bookable with United miles, not being able to search Singapore is a huge limiting factor on search results to/from/through SE Asia.
2) Is United easier to use?
Or is it called phantom availability?
I took a random example of a Star Alliance partner route, Frankfurt to Johannesburg, 4 months out. Both showed the same direct flight, and both only showed economy. There is another direct flight but it had no availability.
Results for these two in the example of direct flights are exactly the same. However, the big difference comes with I click “Connecting Flights” with ANA to expand and show more search results that aren’t direct.
ANA shows availability for two flights via Zurich and that’s it. United shows availability for 25 non-direct routes! That’s a lot freaking more than ANA. But that isn’t actually a contradiction. Most of United’s routes are via London or combinations via Zurich.
Given that United showed more search results than ANA, I decided to check each of the Zurich segments to see if there is indeed a contradiction, or if ANA is just limiting the results it shows.
United shows flights FRA – ZRH at:
- 6:35 am
- 8:30 am
- 8:50 am
- 9:30 am
- 12:30 pm
- 2:30 pm
- 6:00 pm
- 6:20 pm
- 8:45 pm
Then United only shows flights from ZRH to JNB at 10:45 pm, so the difference is clearly that United is showing a ton of routes from FRA to ZRH when ANA isn’t.
So let’s get down to the real problem. And guess what?
When I search on ANA FRA to ZRH I get this:
ANA you lazy bum! You’ve been holding out on me… Why didn’t you give me all these options when I was looking for flights to Johannesburg?
All the results are verified by ANA when I look for that specific route. So far this is a pro for United giving more options. So far it means United is better at making the connections for you. But when searching segment by segment. United is easier.
In ANA’s defense though, when using ANA miles they do price per segment so in many cases, direct flights are better for the user. If it has direct, why should they show non-directs? And why should they back track (in the case of routing through London)?
But even if ANA didn’t show the award space on the next search, it doesn’t mean that United is wrong. The first search is an example of ANA not being complete, and thus we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that United is wrong or showing “phantom”. If one didn’t call and actually try to book over the phone, or actually book and get ticketed. If one didn’t get denied booking a ticket, one can not say that United is showing phantom seats. It’s just hype.
3) But in accuracy ANA is still better
This goes both ways, except sometimes without good reason. When I searched United for GRU to JNB, United gave only one flight available and only in economy.
United: ANA: This isn’t an example of United failing to make connections, it’s just United failing. No idea why these flights wouldn’t show up, unless they genuinely aren’t available to United. But it’s likely that ANA is just better at searching.
4) Okay, but does United actually show “phantom” award availability?
Sure, but not really.
I’ve been searching examples for a few of hours, searching international flights from every corner of the world, and found zero real examples of phantom seats. Anything that appeared to be phantom (because ANA didn’t show it) was actually bookable with United if I was thorough in checking. In hours of searching, zero examples. Tons of differences, mostly in favor of using ANA, but no phantom seats.
Even when looking at popular routes in first class…
Booking a “Phantom” Seat
The key is understanding what phantom seats are. A phantom seat is when you see award availability (on United.com in this case) and then go to book and can’t because there are no seats.
Why would it show seats when there are none?
Because inventories change quickly.
When do flights change the most?
Closer to departure, so I decided to check for last minute flights, and sure enough… Here’s what I found.
United showed this:
But ANA showed this:
With United it’s the second segment LH760. United shows business class with that segment included. And ANA shows a big X for that flight in business class.
United showed award seats and ANA showed none. Phantom, right?
Well, there’s one way to find out, I went through with booking. And…
Confirmed. That “phantom” seat, that “doesn’t actually exist”, did actually exist. I booked, got confirmed, an eticket number, 45,000 miles were deducted from my account, and my credit card got charged. I even have a seat number.
Here’s a screenshot from my inbox.
This isn’t to say that it doesn’t sometimes happen. And this isn’t to say that United is better. But it shows that they are different, and all the hype around United phantom availability is hype, and it’s mostly built around ANA not showing availability. But upon actually testing, I found the phantom hype was hype.
My conclusion is that it goes both ways. Here ANA wasn’t up to date, and in other examples United isn’t up to date. Maybe United is generally slower and will have awards lingering. But to say beware of United’s phantom results, is too overarching. It should be prefaced with “rarely” and “last minute”.
What are your thoughts? Do you have any examples of actually going to book a flight and never getting the ticket confirmed? If so, give details.
Update: forgot to say that United did refund the $75 close-in fee as well as the miles and taxes. Worked out.