If you want to book an award to Asia on Star Alliance carriers, Amex Membership Rewards should be a go-to points currency for you. Not to worry, if you want to fly Oneworld or SkyTeam partners, you’ll have options as well.
Given the distances involved, most of the better deals here are through programs with region-based award charts. Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program has some interesting distance-based awards, but the program changes in just a few days. I’m going to use the current chart for now, and will update later this week once we know exactly how things are pricing.
As a reminder, here are some of your options for earning Membership Rewards points in the U.S.:
With that, let’s dig into how you can book some great award flights to Asia!
Air Canada Aeroplan
While Air Canada is set to part ways with Aeroplan in 2020, there are still some great reasons to use Aeroplan to fly to Asia. While the redemption rates won’t always be as competitive as fellow Star Alliance carrier ANA, it does provide a solid way to book one-way awards to the region. And as we discussed in the post on European awards, there are other advantages to the Aeroplan program that may make up for the higher mileage cost.
Remember, if you book a round-trip award you can include two stopovers or one stopover and one open jaw which can help you explore even more of Asia. Like many loyalty programs, Aeroplan will pass on carrier-imposed surcharges on a number of partner airlines. If you want to avoid surcharges, take a look at these carriers:
- Aegean Airlines
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- Brussels Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- Croatia Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- EVA Air
- Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
- Shenzhen Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- Swiss International Air Lines
- Turkish Airlines
- United Airlines
Unfortunately, you will be on the hook for surcharges on Air Canada’s own flights as well as ANA, Asiana and Thai Airways. That being said, a one-way business class (or first class) award from the U.S. on Air Canada on ANA will only incur about $115 in taxes and fees which, while not great, is manageable.
Even better, Aeroplan has generous routing rules, and doesn’t restrict you from transiting multiple zones. That means you can potentially use one of your stopovers in Europe while en route to Asia.
Aeroplan award rates
Aeroplan splits the region into Asia 1 and Asia 2 — think North Asia and Southeast Asia — and has different redemption rates for each. Here’s a quick comparison of the miles required for a one-way Aeroplan award by class of service:
While the Asia 2 redemption price is a bit higher, don’t forget that you can include a stopover on round-trip bookings.
For example, you could book a round-trip business class award to Thailand for 155,000 Aeroplan miles. You could fly Asiana and stopover in Seoul (ICN) before continuing to Bangkok (BKK). On the return, you could fly EVA Air and enjoy a stopover in Taipei (TPE) before continuing back to the U.S.
In the screenshot above, you could include one stopover and book online. If you choose to take advantage of the second stopover, or have a complex routing, you’d need to call Aeroplan (1-800-361-5373) to book. There is a C$30 (~$24) phone booking fee. Considering the taxes and fees plus the phone booking fee bring you to around $260, that’s not such a bad way to fly business class to Asia and see three amazing cities (or countries).
How to book with Aeroplan miles
To book awards with Aeroplan, you can search and book standard awards online. If you choose to include a stopover on a round-trip booking, you will need to use the multi-city search function. As mentioned above, including a second stopover will require a call to Aeroplan.
Additionally, if your itinerary will have a connection, don’t be surprised if Aeroplan’s search has a little trouble. If this happens, try searching by segment.
When you’re ready to book, Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio and should transfer almost instantly.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
ANA Mileage Club has been a popular program for those with Membership Rewards thanks to competitive redemption rates to a number of regions. The one tough part of the program is that round-trip bookings are required, but you can include a stopover and open jaw. With few exceptions, the open jaw will need to be within the same country as your destination.
As with Aeroplan, you’ll want to watch out for carrier-imposed surcharges. You can avoid surcharges flying to Asia if you book awards on Air China or Air Canada. Unusually and unfortunately, United flights will have surcharges.
If you book awards on ANA, Asiana or EVA Air, the total taxes and fees will cost about $257, $327 $147, respectively. Asiana is certainly a bit steep, but ANA isn’t too bad and I think the cash cost for a business class trip on EVA Air is quite reasonable.
ANA Mileage Club award rates
When it comes time to figure out how many ANA Mileage Club miles you’ll need for an award flight, keep in mind that ANA has an award chart for its own flights and one for partner awards. It also has low, regular and high seasons for awards on ANA which each have different redemption rates. Finally, Asia is broken up into Japan, South Korea, Asia 1 and Asia 2.
Fortunately, Asia 1 and South Korea have the same redemption rates. Below, you will find the redemption rates for ANA flights to each region and class of service for each season (low/regular/high):
If you want to book an award that includes one of their partner airlines, the award will be governed by the following chart:
You’ll notice two redemption rates mentioned for partner awards to Japan. If your round-trip itinerary includes only 2 international sectors and connections within Japan, your award will be governed Zone 1-A. Otherwise, your award will be governed by the Zone 1-B rate.
When you compare ANA Mileage Club’s award charts to Aeroplan, you can see it will often come out as the better way to book as long as you need a round-trip booking. Keep in mind, however, that transfers aren’t instant, and you’ll be paying more fuel surcharges in most cases.
How to book with ANA Mileage Club miles
While you do have to book round-trip awards, ANA provides solid search functionality that also allows you to book online. If you are looking for award space on Star Alliance space, I would actually start searching with United’s site as you can choose a flexible date search.
This will allow you to run one-way searches and to see a 2-month calendar that indicates when saver level economy and premium cabin awards are available. With that info in hand, you can run a specific search on ANA with confidence that space is available.
When you’re ready to book, you can expect transfers from Membership Rewards to process within 2 to 3 days. Just remember that ANA won’t hold an award while you wait for the transfer to process.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Let’s be clear from the get-go. Cathay Pacific Asia Miles isn’t an awesome option for awards to Asia — that seems odd, yeah? Anyway, we’re including it because, in general, it’s going to be a better option than using British Airways Avios.
With the changes to the Asia Miles award chart as of June 22, 2018, one-way awards will now require half the miles of a round-trip award. While this seems like a good thing on the surface, this generally meant that Asia Miles has doubled the cost of the old one-way rates for round-trip awards rather than cutting in half the old round-trip rate. I, for one, am not shocked. Just disappointed.
Asia Miles award rates
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles has a couple of award charts for saver level awards, one for itineraries that include flights on no more than one partner airline and one that includes multiple Oneworld partners.
As you can see in the award chart below, if you fly Cathay Pacific (or Cathay Dragon) and no more than one partner to/from the U.S., your one-way award will fall under the Long – Type 2 or Ultra-Long tiers.
This chart can be useful if you need a connection on American Airlines to position for your Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong (HKG) and beyond. However, if your booking will require multiple partners, your award will be governed by the following award chart:
Asia Miles has indicated that they may have different prices for flights on a single Oneworld partner but they have not released a chart indicating rates for that yet. We’ll update this section when it is released.
How to book with Asia Miles
Booking with Asia Miles is quite easy if you need a flight on Cathay Pacific (and select partners). Just search online and book online with Asia Miles.
Unfortunately, if you want to include a connection on American Airlines, you will need to call Asia miles (1 866 892 2598) to complete the booking.
Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio and it generally takes one to two days for transfers to process.
When it comes to SkyTeam awards to Asia, Delta SkyMiles actually outshines the other options such as Air France-KLM Flying Blue and Alitalia Milligemilia (don’t make me laugh).
Delta SkyMiles award rates
Delta recently brought its partner award rates closer in line with awards on its own flights. It was a move that stunned pretty much everyone who has watched Delta devalue without notice and jack up redemption rates. Here are the redemption rates you can expect on flights to Asia:
Personally, booking business class on China Airlines’ Boeing 777-300 or Delta One Suites on one of Delta’s Airbus A350s are the most appealing awards to me. Saver level Delta One space on the A350s is hard to find, but we have seen some pop up closer to departure from Detroit (DTW) to Beijing (PEK).
If you’re looking for award space on China Eastern or China Southern, don’t be surprised if Delta’s site or even Expert Flyer show you phantom award space. Similarly, delta.com won’t show China Airlines space consistently, so for all three of those carriers you’ll want to call to verify award availability before moving your points to Delta.
How to book with SkyMiles
While the rates Delta will show you on its own flights will often be obnoxious, the ability to run a 5-week search makes it much easier to find saver award space around the time you’d like to travel. Once you find the award space you want, you can book online.
Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio and generally transfer instantly. Just remember that Amex requires you to pay a very small excise tax on transfers to Delta — it’s not bad, just annoying.
Etihad Guest is an interesting option as they are not part of any major alliance. However, they will provide your best option for booking awards to Asia on American Airlines. You won’t be able to connect within Asia on other airlines, but you’ll have plenty of options between the U.S. and Asia, and American tends to open up more saver availability on their Asian routes than on European ones.
Etihad Guest award rates
While American Airlines devalued their award chart in early 2016, Etihad’s redemption rates on American have remained the same. Etihad even has off-peak economy rates just like the American AAdvantage program.
How to book with Etihad miles
To book, you’ll need to search for award space on British Airways or, if it’s having issues, on Qantas. Once you find space on American Airlines, you can call Etihad Guest (1-877-690-0767) to book. The call center in Serbia is generally quite good at handling partner booking requests.
You can transfer Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio and they usually process almost instantly.
Other options to book
While the above options are going to be your staples when using Membership Rewards to fly Asia, there are two other options you should keep in mind.
Book ANA first class to Tokyo with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
While ANA Mileage Club provides some of the best redemptions rates to Asia, especially on its own flights, there is one time when booking with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club clearly comes out on top.
If you want to book a non-stop first class (round-trip) on ANA, Flying Club should be your go-to choice. Two important things to remember before you transfer points and book is that you’ll need to book a round-trip award and that connections will cost extra.
However, if you book a non-stop award from one of ANA’s U.S. hubs, you can get a round-trip first class award for 110,000 miles from the west coast or 120,000 miles from the east coast and central U.S.
You can search for space on United then call Virgin Atlantic. Ask them to put the award on hold before transferring Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio). Transfers generally process instantly.
Flying Club phone reps are fantastic so this won’t be difficult.
Use Singapore KrisFlyer to book premium cabin awards
Singapore KrisFlyer doesn’t have great redemption rates but it’s your only option for booking Suites Class, first class and business class awards on Singapore Airlines from the U.S. On one-way saver level awards, you can include stopovers for $100 each.
These are the premium cabin redemption rates from the east coast/central U.S. and western U.S.
- West coast to Singapore: 88,000 miles for business class, 118,000 miles for first class
- East coast to Singapore: 92,000 miles for business class, 120,000 miles for first class
- West coast to Hong Kong/South China/Taiwan: 82,000 miles for business class, 92,000 miles for first class
- West coast to Japan/South Korea: 85,000 miles for business class, 95,000 miles for first class
If you want to include a segment on a Star Alliance partner, you will need to use the Star Alliance award chart to determine the redemption rate. The redemption rates listed are round-trip costs. One-way awards will require half the miles.
You can expect transfers (1:1 ratio) to take 12 to 24 hours to process.
Clearly, Star Alliance carriers stand out when booking with Membership Rewards but don’t sleep on Etihad Guest and Delta SkyMiles. However you choose to book, you’ll have plenty of options from first class to economy class.
How have you used American Express points to Asia?