China Eastern (re)launching San Francisco service on April 26, 2013 — flatbed business class to Asia using Delta SkyMiles!

Thanks to superstar blog reader Mac for bringing this to my attention.

I know what you guys are thinking — “Mac, why are you crazy and sending Lucky an email about China Eastern? They have as good of a reputation as the “herbal” foot massage place around the corner from my house?” Okay, maybe I was the only one that thought that.

The fact is that as much as I like to bitch about SkyTeam, just about every Chinese airline belongs to it — China Southern, Northern, Eastern, Polar, Western, Santa Claus, etc. Or something like that.

And I think the China Southern Airbus 380 flying between Los Angeles and Guangzhou is a great use of Delta SkyMiles, given that it features fully flat beds in business class, and quite an artistic menu.

But China Eastern can also be a hidden gem. Based on everything I’ve heard, their Airbus 340s are downright horrible in business class. But their Airbus 330s are a completely different story, with a new product and fully flat seats in business class. Here are some pictures reader Mac took of their business class product on a recent flight:

Mac even says that they have pajamas and Ferragamo amenity kits in business class.

The catch is that they only flew this product to Shanghai from Honolulu and Vancouver. They have good business class availability out of Honolulu, though out of Vancouver business class award space is virtually non-existent.

The good news is that they’re restarting their Shanghai to San Francisco route, and it will be operated by their Airbus 330 aircraft, featuring the above product. The route relaunches on April 26, 2013, with the following flight times:

China Eastern 589 Shanghai to San Francisco departing at 1:00PM and arriving at 9:30AM
China Eastern 580 San Francisco to Shanghai departing at 12:00PM and arriving at 4:30PM (+1 day)

Anyway, for the first few months of the service award availability is downright amazing, at least on the Shanghai to San Francisco flight (not so much in the other direction). Almost every date I’ve searched has four business class award seats available:

You can search award space either through ExpertFlyer or Air France’s website, which will give you a calendar display of availability:

It’s worth noting that you can only book these seats via SkyMiles by calling, and there are fuel surcharges of ~$180 per direction.

This is a big win for SkyTeam flyers, especially those (two) in the Bay Area!

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. Unfortunately, MU award space on EF and the FlyingBlue engine is often phantom space. For instance, there are only two business award seats available on the 18 May 2013 flight that lucky gives an ExpertFlyer screenshot from. There are places that give reliable information on how to find the actual MU award inventory, but I’m not feeling like giving that information away here for those who aren’t up for doing some work to figure it out.

  2. well, i am not sure MU or CZ is a right choice. While both of them improving significantly on seats or hardware, service standard as well as inflight ENT system were never good. I flew CZ and MU a lot during while working in China until earlier this year. Quality on either was never impressed, only if you want to compare to other 3rd tier airline.

  3. @Stephan: I’m the one who wrote the FT post Rose linked to. (Credit where credit is due, there’s another post in another thread where someone gave a bunch of screenshots from the Chinese MU site, as the English one didn’t give award inventory until recently. I noticed that you could do it without trying to remember what all the fields meant in Chinese and made that post.) I had no problem sharing the info there, but given bloggers’ inaccurate information on SkyMiles redemptions lately, I wasn’t really in the mood to just hand them the information on how to run their award booking services better. Were I more of a conspiracy theorist, I might think that Ben and Gary know better and are just posting incomplete information to drive people to use their services. However, the simpler explanation is usually better, so it’s likely just not being fully on top of what’s up with SkyTeam.

  4. You don’t fly a mainland Chinese carrier for opulent J service. You fly them for decent J award availability and maybe a good seat.

  5. @ Mitch — I may do this for a living, but that doesn’t mean I know everything. You can’t honestly think I’m intentionally deceiving people, can you?

    The fact is that I wasn’t aware that China Eastern award space on ExpertFlyer isn’t accurate, because I’ve never had the issue. Every time I’ve booked clients on MU the space on ExpertFlyer was available. I’m sure I would have learned it eventually if I ran into the situation. But how else would I know aside from a single thread on FlyerTalk?

  6. @Lucky,
    Thanks a lot for sharing with us this great new service. It is a pity they don’t fly east coast.

    First question: is the 80,000 delta miles + $198 fee one-way or round-trip fare? If it is a round-trip fare, I would consider flying to SFO first and then make a transfer.
    Second question: where is the fare chart you show? is it on China Eastern’s website?

  7. Third question: are there some ways you could provide a hint to purchase a one- or more-stop ticket that can connect a NYC-SFO flight with this SFO-Shanghai flight? For example, can I buy one ticket that flies delta from NYC to SFO first and then flies China Eastern from SFO to Shanghai?

  8. @Lucky, As I said, a conspiracy nut might think that, but I don’t. It doesn’t seem that you’re hard up for business, so there’d be no need to do it. In terms of the discrepancies between EF and MU’s actual inventory, there are several threads on FT that discuss this topic that could make you aware. Before I knew the trick of using MU’s site, I tried to get HKG-PVG on MU. EF showed five flights with space, but even with a long-sell attempted, the first four came back “sell denied”. The agent did get the last one to ticket. You must be pretty lucky to get seats when you’ve tried, as the space that shows on EF and FB bears little relationship with what actually exists.

  9. Lucky,
    This particular example of phantom space is somewhat on the obscure side, but I suspect Mitch’s frustration may be more with the pattern of multiple skyteam posts being a bit lacking in the accuracy department than with this particular nugget. Whether the topic is searching for AF space, Skyteam airlines that fly to MLE, or in this case finding space on MU, you’re riding a cold streak when it comes to accurately discussing Skyteam awards.

  10. @ Andy — The pricing shown above is Air France’s Flying Blue award chart, so those prices aren’t applicable using Delta SkyMiles. Delta charges 70,000 miles for roundtrip coach or 120,000 miles for roundtrip business class. Those charts can be found on

    You could in theory include a flight from New York to San Francisco at no additional cost, though there would have to be “low” level award space. Delta doesn’t release low level business class award space on their nonstop New York to San Francisco flight, so that would require an extra connection.

  11. @ Mitch — In fairness I don’t book all that many China Eastern/Southern awards. As much as I try to sell it, people just don’t get excited when they hear “China” in the name of the airline.

  12. @ Matt — I was completely in the wrong on the Air France front, and that was simply because I was writing in the post between activities in the UAE. The idea was right (Air France releases a subset of their award availability to SkyMiles members), though my examples were crap. You’re absolutely right.

    As far as SkyTeam to Male goes, I’d argue that’s pretty obscure as well. I’ve booked dozens and dozens of award tickets to Male, and you want to guess how many have been on SkyTeam? Zero. It’s a really “aspirational” destination, and it’s somewhere people seem to be willing to pay a premium to fly a decent airline to, in my experience. So I’ll freely admit I didn’t know China Eastern and China Southern flew there, though even knowing that probably wouldn’t change anything.

  13. Lucky, not to nitpick and beat a dead horse too much, but you mentioned China Eastern’s flight to MLE in the 3rd sentence of the post, so you clearly knew they fly there.

    An easily-bookable 1-stop itinerary with tons of award space on CZ doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world.

    How much of the lack of Skyteam bookings is down to not knowing the options that exist, vs lack of demand(possibly driven by your public pessimism regarding skymiles)? If the only options that you know about are the SU flight that seems to release availability in biz only on the day of flight and MH through KUL which requires a minimum double-connect (and triple for most originations) to get to MLE from the US I’m hardly shocked that you’re not booking these awards on skyteam.

    I don’t think that an alliance-affiliated airline flying to a popular destination is that obscure. If MLE is prominent enough that KE ading a route there is worth announcing, it’s worth looking at a routemap for 5 seconds or pulling up wikipedia to check who else flies there.

    I don’t consider myself an expert on award bookings, flights to MLE or on chinese airline routes.

  14. Lucky, I booked MU twice, I encountered this problem already. How can u claim it is obscure? I ended up had to book on CZ to get around this problem. if one has search for revenue ticket to MLE, one would have known many asian airlines fly there.
    china eastern and china southern are in ST. i dont know of the other chinese airlines that u mentioned. china airlines is from Taiwan, not PRC. I just dont see that point about mentioning chinese airlines. with a population of 3 times of USA, isnt it natural to have many airlines in China? do u have a problem airlines from china having either china or chinese in the name?

    probably the majority of your clients are white people, bashing china is not classy.

  15. @Lucky,
    Sorry to bother you again. I don’t understand what you said.

    …”You could in theory include a flight from New York to San Francisco at no additional cost, though there would have to be “low” level award space.”… Do you mean I can use 120,000 delta miles to purchase one ticket to fly from NY City to S.F. first (at regular coach) and then transfer to Eastern China business class from S.F. to Shanghai? If such a ticket (from NYC via S.F. to Shanghai) not available for 120,000 delta miles, maybe a little bit extra delta miles?

  16. @ Andy — Sorry if I wasn’t clear. What I was saying is that you could fly from New York to Shanghai via San Francisco for 120,000 Delta SkyMiles. The key is that the first class award space from New York to San Francisco is the saver/low level. If the saver award space isn’t available then it would greatly increase the cost of the award ticket.

    Does that make sense?

  17. I’ve flown the 33E with the same seat and must say that it’s not as good as it looks. The seat controls essentially only allow you to move the seat between the fully upright position and flat bed. You may stop at any point in between but cannot make your own adjustments such as retract the footrest or raise the head part.

    Service wasn’t good either (besides the private transfer a PVG). But then for the 300 Euro I paid for KUL-PVG-FRA-(HAM) in Business I won’t complain 😉

  18. @Lucky,
    Thanks a lot. Got your point. So, I don’t think it worthwhile for me to take that flight via a transfer at S.F.

    I will go to China this Summer. Will fly either AA or Delta. You advised me last year that I could fly from NY city to Shanghai/HK Cathay using AA miles. I will explore it further. Thanks again!

  19. @ Andy — I’d say Cathay Pacific first/business class is the best semi-direct option to China. Safe travels and let me know if you have any questions!

  20. Thanks for posting this. I just booked 2 business open jaw tickets with Skymiles for SFO-PVG-SGN and BKK-PVG-SFO after reading this. It was not easy. Plenty of availability showing on KVS and EF but it took me 4 calls and about 3 hours to find an agent willing to tinker with the system when the long sell was at first denied. Also had to accept coach for the PVG- SGN leg. Taxes/fees were $476 each rt ticket. FWIW, tried CZ first out of LAX but it would not book even with the same tinkering by the same agent and even though there was availability showing. Thanks again for pointing this option out.

  21. Hey Lucky,
    Happened to watch a report on utube and happened to find your article. The metal on SFO/YVR-PVG seems pretty decent, especially considering their price on these routes:

    didn’t have a chance to try their state-of-the-art A332 because of NH/CX/JA, but would definitely plan doing so in the far future!

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