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Points, Miles & Credit Cards

Possible with Points: How to Find Last-Minute Business Class Seats for a Family

Erika Rodriguez

Erika Rodriguez

May 17, 2024

7 min read

Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. Some of all of the card offers that appear on this page are from advertisers; compensation may affect how and where the cards appear on the site; and Going does not include all card companies are all available card offers.

Table of Contents

Erika is one of our Flight Experts here at Going, and she’s also a points and miles whiz! For a recent trip with her family of four, she used points and miles to book business class seats on a nonstop flight on All Nippon Airways (ANA) from Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo (NRT), Japan in March. 

It’s pretty impressive that she snagged business class seats on points for a family of four. But what’s even more impressive is that she booked this all at the last minute—nine days before each flight!

Here’s Erika’s story of how she found the seats, how she earned the points needed for the redemption, and lessons you can apply on your next search. 

Points success story: How I got last-minute business class seats for a family of four

The strategy I used is called “close-in bookings” or last-minute travel. While this strategy is not for everybody, if you’re able to make it work and/or have a backup plan, it’s a great way to maximize your points and miles.

January 2024

My original search began in January 2024. I was open to any March 2024 date in any cabin class, as long as I could find award space. I looked on Virgin Atlantic’s website and found four economy seats on a Delta-operated flight in mid-March from ORD-NRT with a connection in Minneapolis (MSP). 

  • Price per person: 57,500 miles (plus $6 taxes and fees)
  • Total for family of four: 230,000 miles (plus $24 taxes and fees)

I booked the outbound flights to secure the date, but my goal was to score ANA business class seats, so I kept looking another way. Here’s what I did next.

How to find ANA business class seats

ANA is a member of the Star Alliance, so my first stop was to search for award availability on United’s website.  I find their 30-day award calendar helpful, the site is user-friendly and easy to navigate.

Travel tip

Erika checked United for ANA award availability because United and ANA are part of the same airline alliance, and therefore, it might be possible to use United miles to book an ANA flight. A wider range of cards earn points that transfer to United than ANA. Our Ultimate Transfer Partner Guide sorts transfer partners by alliance for easier searching.

united 30-day calendar
United’s 30-day award calendar. Warning: You may be tempted to book a flight when doing this search!

Next,  I searched for award flights out of Chicago coded “I” which is the code for Saver Award in business class. United typically lists them as 110,000 miles per person, but don’t worry about that number: that’s not the number of miles needed for this redemption, but rather the magic number that would indicate there’s Saver Award space. 

saver space
110k miles is the clue that there is Saver Award space in business class on ANA. Award space means you can book a flight with points and miles. 

The key to scoring a cheap redemption on this route is by booking this flight through Virgin Atlantic. Even though Virgin Atlantic and ANA are not Star Alliance partners, they have a special partnership. The same United flight from Chicago displayed as 110,000 miles one way, costs only 47,500 miles with Virgin Atlantic.

When I searched for award availability on United's website, I found none, but this wasn’t surprising because people usually book these seats a year in advance: However, ANA typically releases last-minute seats anywhere from a month to days before departure.  

End of January 2024

With that in mind, I set alerts on seats.aero (a tool to find award space) to both Tokyo airports NRT and HND +/—seven days from major airports that fly nonstop from the US which worked for me. These included Chicago (ORD), New York (JFK), Washington-Dulles (IAD), and Houston (IAH). ORD is my home airport, but if seats opened up from any of these other airports, I planned to book a short positioning flight to get there. 

9 days before departure 

I received a notification from seats.aero that four ANA business class seats from ORD-NRT coded “I” had opened up. The only way to book these award seats is by calling Virgin Atlantic directly—it can’t be done on the website.

So, I called Virgin Atlantic’s customer service and asked to confirm availability. (It’s helpful to have flight information and dates ready before contacting the call center). Once the agent confirmed the space, he canceled my original reservation and booked us on ANA. There was a $50 cancellation fee per person ($200 total), but now we had nonstop flights in business class and it was 10,000 miles less per person than my original economy booking! 

Business class tickets get you access to business class lounges, and since ANA is in the Star Alliance with United, our tickets got us access to the United Polaris Lounge. On the day of our trip, we arrived at ORD earlier than usual to enjoy the lounge.

Return trip search: rinse and repeat

We flew to Tokyo Narita one way and set alerts for our preferred return dates +/- three days. I was open to flying home through the West Coast and JFK, as long as we made it to the States. We found availability through those routes, but my preference was flying nonstop to Chicago.

9 days before returning home

While we were in Tokyo, it happened again. Four business class seats coded as “I fare” opened up. I repeated the same steps and called Virgin’s customer service. This time, I needed miles in my Virgin Atlantic account, but it was only after the agent confirmed space that I transferred my miles. The transfer was instant, so the miles were in my Virgin account almost immediately. We flew back 

  • Roundtrip price per person: 75,000 miles 
  • Total for a family of four: 300,000 miles

Japan was everything I thought it would be and more. Being able to fly to Japan nonstop for 75,000 miles per person roundtrip (with transfer bonus) in business class was an incredible value. I am thankful for points and miles for ticking Japan off my bucket list!

How I earned the points needed for this redemption

I earned the points I needed for these flights by taking advantage of welcome offers from different credit card rewards programs.

The cards I used included:

To maximize my redemption, I took advantage of American Express's 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic in January to redeem for my original booking in economy. 

Since I used all of my Amex points on the outbound flight, I used Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to transfer points to Virgin Atlantic for the return.

Travel tip

Because several different bank credit card points transfer to Virgin Atlantic (check our guide to see all the points that transfer to Virgin), Erika was able to transfer different credit card points to her Virgin account and use them collectively for her family’s flights. 

Tips to get last-minute business class award seats

Erika’s story is very impressive, but there are a lot of lessons we can learn from her story—whether or not your next trip with points and miles will be to Japan on ANA: 

  • Be flexible. Adjust your dates based on the award availability calendar.
  • Book one way instead of round-trip. More options may become available. 
  • Consider repositioning flights and searching for multiple departure and arrival airports. For example, if you want to go to Europe, consider flying to all the airports that cross the Atlantic nonstop such as NYC, Chicago, Toronto, and Washington, to name a few.
  • Set alerts for flights from other airports besides your home airport.
  • Maximize your points with a transfer bonus. Erika took advantage of a 30% transfer bonus from her credit card points to Virgin Atlantic to use for her initial booking in January. Banks frequently run limited-time transfer bonuses to partners ranging from 20% to 30%.
  • Diversify your bank credit card points programs. Virgin Atlantic partners with most major banks, making earning points that can be transferred to Virgin even easier.

Look at hub airports for additional availability. This strategy is especially valuable if you have an airline credit card that earns airline miles with one specific airline. 

Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. Some of all of the card offers that appear on this page are from advertisers; compensation may affect how and where the cards appear on the site; and Going does not include all card companies are all available card offers.


Published May 17, 2024

Last updated May 17, 2024

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