Introduction: 5-Star China On The Cheap

Filed Under: Hainan, Hotels
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Introduction: 5-Star China On The Cheap
Review: Hainan Airlines LAX Limo, Check-In, And Lounge
Review: Hainan Business Class 787 Los Angeles To Changsha
Review: Sheraton Changsha Hotel
Review: Changsha Airport Lounges
Review: Hainan Business Class 787 Changsha To Los Angeles

The planning for this trip started last December, after Hainan Airlines announced a new 2x weekly flight between Los Angeles and Changsha, China.

Hainan-Airlines-LAX-Lounge - 29

That seems like a rather random route, but the Chinese government has a law where only one Chinese airline can operate a given longhaul international route. Since there are already nonstop/direct flights between Los Angeles and Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu, and Shanghai, that might explain why Changsha was decided on as the Chinese gateway.


Hainan Airlines is generally regarded as the best Chinese airline, and they’re also one of only seven Skytrax 5-star airlines in the world.


I’ve been curious to try them out, especially to see if they’re actually better than Air China and China Southern, which I wasn’t especially impressed by, all things considered.

Fortunately a great opportunity presented itself, when Hainan Airlines had some fantastic introductory fares on the route.


For just $1,359 roundtrip you could fly business class between Los Angeles and Changsha. So I hopped on the opportunity, and booked the following flights:

02/08 HU7924 Los Angeles to Changsha departing 12:35PM arriving 7:20PM (+1 day)
02/11 HU7923 Changsha to Los Angeles departing 1:00PM arriving 10:35AM

I paid for the ticket using my Citi Prestige® Card, which earns triple points on airfare, has no foreign transaction fees, and also offers great travel protection benefits in case things go wrong.


That would allow me to experience two flights on Hainan Airlines’ 787s, which are the planes they primarily use for their routes to the US (they fly from Beijing to Boston, Chicago, San Jose, and Seattle).

Hainan-Airlines-Business-Class-787 - 79

Not only was the fare great, but this was a pretty lucrative way to earn miles as well. Hainan Airlines is an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan partner as of last year (award redemptions on Hainan should be added in the coming months), and the “R” class fare I booked was eligible for 200% mileage accrual (both elite qualifying and redeemable). That means a non-elite member earns about 28,000 elite qualifying and redeemable miles for this roundtrip — nice!


Then for my two nights in Changsha I booked the Sheraton Changsha, which had a rate of 700CNY (~$107) per night. As a Platinum member I got a pretty awesome suite.

Sheraton-Changsha-Hotel - 13

In this report I’ll also be sharing my experience with Hainan’s complimentary chauffeur service (which I took advantage of both on arrival and departure in Los Angeles and Changsha, for a total of four transfers).


I’ll also cover my experience with Hainan’s lounges and ground service. In Los Angeles Hainan uses the Air Canada lounge, while in Changsha they use a not-so-nice contract lounge (to put it mildly).

Worst-Airport-Lounge - 3

It was a bit of a crazy trip for me, since I was traveling on weekdays (when I’m usually quite busy to begin with), and on top of that the flights didn’t have wifi and I was also dealing with the “Great Firewall” while on the ground in China. So while I didn’t get much sleep during this trip, it was still a pretty awesome journey.

Bottom line

My new year’s resolution for the blog is to review as many new premium cabin products as possible. I started off the year by reviewing Finnair’s new business class and Air India first class, and was excited to follow it up with a review on this non-alliance airline.

I’ll be publishing this entire trip report this week, and then next week will begin my report about my trip on Iberia, LAN, Oman Air, and Air France.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading! If you have any questions about the trip, let me know below.

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  1. I’m confused. I thought they only have the right to fly from the US to Changsa. But then later you say they fly from Beijing to several US cities. Did I misread something? Thanks.

  2. Years ago, a Chinese friend told me Hainan island is the Hawaii of China. Hence, whenever I hear of Hainan Airlines, I quickly think of Hawaiian Airlines!
    Anyways, I’m planning to redeem AS miles to fly Hainan from Boston to Beijing later this year so I look forward to reading your review.
    So the only time I don’t read your blog is when I’m travelling. I had no idea Garuda is now a skytrax 5 star airline! And wait what happened to Malaysia Airlines? I can almost swear the last time I checked (which was possibly years ago) MAS was in the 5-star skytrax list. I guess they got downgraded.
    @Elteetrav, under Chinese law, only one Chinese airline can fly a specific international route. Since Hainan only started flying to the USA back in 2008 or 2009 (Beijing to Seattle), Hainan was late to the game but has been quite resourceful in starting nonstop flights from China to SJC & BOS.

  3. @Elteetrav
    Each route to America can only be operated by one airline, so if China Eastern does pvg-jfk, nobody else can. However other Chinese airlines can do pvg-other US cities, or from other Chinese cities to jfk.

  4. @Elteetrav
    Each route to America can only be operated by one airline, so if China Eastern does pvg-jfk, nobody else can. However other Chinese airlines can do pvg-other US cities, or from other Chinese cities to jfk

  5. “the Chinese government has a law where only one Chinese airline can operate a given longhaul international route”

    Is that for all international routs? Or just going to USA? Just confused.

  6. Ben. I got to read several of your reviews including one from Ford this weekend. Keep up the great work. I like your style. You have inspired me to use my miles differently.

  7. Slightly off topic, but Garuda as a “5 star airline”? Doens’t say much for SkyTrax credibility. Given the membership fo Qatar, it looks like SkyTrax is the “we hate Emirates and Etihad because they’re radically better than we are” club. 🙂

    Seems a bit unlikely that a “Banned from EU” airline could become “5 star” in a few years…

  8. @Nicolas Bedworth
    The world keeps changing every seconds, EU ban towards Garuda had already lifted long time ago. The transformation they have undergone since is hailed by many aviation figures. For the product itself, there many reports saying their medium-long haul premium service are great now.

    Garuda still can’t operate to the US yet by the way, as Indonesian regulator still being categorised as FAA Grade II.

    Skytrax credibility is another thing though. We are now that Emirates and Etihad opt to be completely excluded from the rating, but they don’t really need any Skytrax endorsement for their marvellous service, do they?

  9. Skytrax is not trustworthy.
    No matter how good is the service and the food (which do not seem to be in any case), the hard product looks meh.

  10. “Hainan Airlines is generally regarded as the best Chinese airline”

    I beg to differ! Cathay Pacific, based in Hong Kong, China, is generally regarded as the best Chinese airline, followed by Eva Air, based in Taiwan, China. Hainan Airlines is “merely” generally regarded as the best mainland-based Chinese airline, which actually is also inaccurate, since it is based in Hainan, an island off the mainland. 🙂

  11. @Nicholas Bedworth

    Have you tried Garuda or are you just repeating outdated ‘heard of’ stories? As regular customer on GA I can assure you they are worth 5*, other than MAS who I used to fly a lot but has completely lost it, and Qatar who needs to swap out their back breaking BC seats on the A330 first before they deserve this qualfication.

  12. @Hiro
    Since the Ming Dynasty more than 300 years ago, way before USA became a country. Yeah, they are two completely different nation… in your dream. By the way, the confederate state of South Carolina has finally given up its last dream at secession and took down the Confederate flag from its capital building in 2015. Isn’t it time you give up your dream (or should we call it, hallucination?) too? 🙂

  13. @Nicolas Bedworth
    FAA grades/bans regulatory oversight of whole country.
    EASA grades/bans individuals airlines
    SkyTrax rates service quality (not safety of airline or regulatory oversight capabilities)

    Being a paid service SkyTrax tend to more lenient towards top customers. IMHO EY didn’t want to pay subscription for all its partner airlines, most of them are struggling with bad reputation. SkyTrax will charge a fortune to manage image of all those airlines. Not sure why EK stopped subscription though.

    Hainan is Chinese answer to ME3. Its job is provide non-stop alternative to ME3 1-stops and it is doing very well.

  14. @lucky Please let us know how you spent your time in Changsha — what did you see? Where did you eat? I’m making the trip, just for the hell of it, and would appreciate any info on what to do on the ground. Thanks!

  15. @John
    There are so many levels of ignorance in your statement. I guess Mongolia should actually be the true rulers of all of China then since the Manchus from Mongolia established the Qing Dynasty? Based on your reasoning, the United States is actually still part of the British Empire.

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