Introduction: Mileage Running To Hong Kong

Filed Under: American, Cathay Pacific

Last October, American Airlines announced a new nonstop daily flight between Dallas and Hong Kong, which launched this June. This route was incredibly exciting to me on many levels:

  • Hong Kong is possibly my favorite city in the world
  • It’s operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, which features American’s new first and business class products, making it the only route to Asia where that’s the case
  • I love being an Executive Platinum with American since I get eight systemwide upgrades just for achieving the status, and there’s no better use of those than American’s longest route

Hong-Kong-Skyline copy
Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak

When the route first became bookable earlier in the year, American had some amazing fares out of San Francisco — about $800 roundtrip, including all taxes and fees. But the absolute best part was American was releasing confirmable upgrade space at the time, meaning upgrades to business class could be confirmed immediately.

Nowadays American releases a vast majority of their upgrade space closer to departure (in hopes of first selling the seats), and I really didn’t want to chance it, given how long this flight is (16+ hours!).

Airshow on American between Dallas and Hong Kong

So between an amazing fare and confirmable upgrade space, that’s something I couldn’t say no to. Add in the fact that it’s American’s longest flight and features their new business class product, and it almost felt like a birthday gift.

American business class seat 777-300ER

In general I don’t really “mileage run” anymore — I’d actually consider it to be a mostly “dead” hobby. In other words, it’s rare that I get on a plane for the sole purpose of accumulating miles. That being said, if there’s a good fare to a new/fun/exciting city then I’m certainly not opposed to going somewhere for a quick jaunt. After all, I live on the road full time, and have to spend my time somewhere.

A lot of people are surprised that I actually fly revenue flights as well — yes, not all my flying is on award tickets. I actively maintain Executive Platinum status with American (which requires 100,000 elite qualifying miles) and MVP Gold 75K status with Alaska (which requires 90,000 elite qualifying miles, including travel on partner airlines), so I do have 190,000 miles of “revenue” flying I need to do to requalify this year.

I’ve already requalified for Executive Platinum status with American, and now just need to work on requalifying with Alaska. Of course I don’t actually want to fly that many miles on Alaska, since they’re basically one step up from a Greyhound. The great thing is that they have a bunch of partner airlines, including American. So I can use a systemwide upgrade on an American flight and then credit it to Alaska, which is pretty awesome. It takes the pain out of requalifying for Alaska status.

In the end I booked the following routing, with upgrades confirmed to business class the entire way:

09/09 AA132 San Francisco to Dallas departing 11:25AM arriving 4:55PM
09/10 AA137 Dallas to Hong Kong departing 12:15PM arriving 6:05PM (+1 day)
09/14 AA138 Hong Kong to Dallas departing 1:30PM arriving 4:00PM
09/14 AA1536 Dallas to San Francisco departing 5:30PM arriving 7:10PM


That’s over 19,000 “butt in seat” miles roundtrip, and as an Alaska top tier elite member I get a 100% bonus on redeemable miles, meaning I was earning almost 40,000 redeemable miles for the roundtrip. I value Alaska miles at roughly two cents each, so to me the miles I earned were worth as much as I paid for the ticket.

Alaska-Miles-1 Alaska-Miles-2
Miles credited to my Alaska Mileage Plan account

Given that American’s 777-300ERs have Wi-Fi, there would be limited lost productivity for me, and I’d get to spend a few days in one of my favorite cities — you really can’t beat that combo!

I’ve stayed at the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, Conrad Hong Kong, Hyatt Regency Hong Kong Sha Tin, InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, InterContinental Hong Kong, Marriott SkyCity Hong Kong, and a few others, so am always excited when I can try out a new hotel in Hong Kong.

In terms of hotels, I decided to book the Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui.

View from Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui

It’s one of the Hyatt properties I’d yet to try, and paid rates were quite reasonable, at ~$200USD per night. It’s a Category 4 Gold Passport property, making a free night redemption 15,000 points per night. That’s actually a pretty good deal since rates at this hotel can often be $350+ per night, but given the good rate I got, it didn’t seem worthwhile.

Even Points + Cash would have cost 7,500 Gold Passport points plus $100 per night, so wasn’t as good of a deal.

Hyatt Gold Passport redemption rate at Hyatt Regency Hong Kong

For this trip report I’ve decided to stick to the “highlights” of the trip, so the two longhaul flights, the lounges in Hong Kong (including Cathay Pacific’s new “The Bridge” lounge), and the Hyatt Regency. By the way, I have to mention how totally surreal it is to use a flagship Cathay Pacific lounge before boarding an American flight to the US. Just not something I’d ever thought would happen.


And yes, I know I owe you guys two mega trip reports (one for my trip to Portugal and Iceland, and one for my trip to Doha and Dubai), and they’ll be coming next. This is just an easy report I can crank out in a few days, so figured that was better than nothing, since I should have it fully published by early next week. Beyond that, I know a ton of people are taking this flight over the coming months, so hopefully it’s a useful guide.

Thanks for reading, and as always all questions/comments are welcome!

  1. 2 questions

    1) what’s the marginal benefit of achieving Alaska status if you don’t like traveling on Alaska metal? The only way it could be beneficial would be flying on DL, and as SPG Platinum, you’re halfway to whatever benefits AS MVP provides you on DL metal…

    2) how much do you generally spend per year on your revenue flights?

  2. Since you are used to fly to Asia on Asian airlines I would keep my expectations very low in terms of the quality of service including food/beverage you will get from AA. Agree this is a bargain since you got confirmed upgrades but if I have to pay for business class to Asia my money won’t go to a US airline.

  3. @ Andrew — This is a trip report of a trip that has already taken place, so the protest wasn’t happening when I was there.

  4. @ Justin — The miles are incredibly valuable, and I do value Alaska status immensely for my west coast travel. You can’t beat their same day change policy and the ability to cancel tickets for free. How much do I spend on revenue flights per year? That’s tough to say. I do have some last minute “business trips” where I pay more than I’d like to. But for leisure travel/mileage runs, not much at all.

  5. Alaska is one step up from Greyhound? Hardly. C’mon, Lucky – you and I both know that’s not an accurate portrayal of their hard product.

    Spirit, Allegiant, Southwest, Frontier: all of these are Greyhound, and based on service domestically, would place United, Delta and American (LAX-JFK transcons excluded) in the 1-step up from Greyhound bucket.

    Alaska, Virgin America and JetBlue are the superior overall products these days. I’ve flown recently with several former DL Platinums and they’re thrilled to be flying AS and have abandoned DL. Have friends who are lifetime 1K’s with United and desperately wish they weren’t and now feel ‘stuck’ – even with 1K status!

    So, I’ll constructively and respectfully correct this error in this post for you and your readers. 🙂

  6. I recall last year how you had that crazy mileage run from USA to Brazil 3 times all in one week on DL metal (crediting to AS) to qualify for Alaska MVP.

    Between that mileage run week last year and this longhaul flight DFW-HKG, which one would you rather be on? 😉

  7. Do you find status to be useful for traveling on premium award tickets, besides the special phones and waived change fees?

  8. @ anon — The waived fees are the main benefit on awards, though I find most of the value to come with benefits on the revenue flights I have to take.

  9. I love my Alaska status also – I am only MVP this year, but looking to do some kind of mileage run to get Gold for next year. I upgrade myself at time of ticketing even if it is a month in advance and it works every time. If you need last minute upgradeable revenue Alaska tickets for cheap let me know.

  10. great post. think of doing mileage run to Hong Kong. Which Hyatt would be the closet/most convenient from the airport? Also, so you book the AA flight and use the systemwide to get the upgrade. How do you then change the mileage credit to Alaska? At the gate?

  11. @ danray — The Hyatt Regency I stayed at is most convenient from the airport. You can change your mileage number anytime. Who you credit to doesn’t impact whether you can upgrade using a systemwide or not.

  12. I too am surprised by the reference to AS as a step up from Greyhound, especially in comparison to AA. I’m EXP on AA and nothing on AS, yet I almost always find flights on AS to be better experiences than similar (i.e. within North America) flights on AA.

  13. This is what happens when you fly too much first class, you become a snob.

    Alaska is miles ahead of any Greyhound Bus (and I’ve been on both). I doubt very much that Ben Schlappig has ever been on a Greyhound bus.

  14. Ben…
    I’m anxious about Singapore Business the (full) trip report 🙂
    Course! Qatar 787 as well

  15. Excited for this report, and glad you to pass through my city of Dallas. However, the SFO-DFW-HKG routing just seems silly for all the backtracking you were doing. I suppose this is required for the great fare you got, and the mileage running nature, though.

  16. @ Lucky:
    1. Sorry for silly question but I believe there are also some newbie like me will benefit from this post. What does “systemwide upgrade” mean? Is it the same as like you receive free upgrade from coach to business or from business to first? So in this case of mileage run, you bought a revenue ticket on coach class with full face value and received confirmable free upgrades to business class right away?

    2. Can you pay with miles + cash for this and still qualify for the mileage earned on this flight? Or does it have to be paid ticket only?

    3. With the Amex Premier Gold card’s 15k bonus after $30k spend incentive disappearing in 2015, will you still keep this card and did you pay this trip using this card?

  17. Lucky likes rubber duckies, Krug, and Hello Kitty. Any airline that doesn’t have at least one of these is just a step above Greyhound, from his perspective. Most of us normal people think AS is a pretty good airline.

    BTW Lucky, just four weeks to Hello Kitty Con 2014 in LA!

  18. @Joe, I think it’s safe to assume that AA was trying to compete with UA on this route, by undercutting them on price for the inconvenience of having to go a longer route.

  19. @ Jeff R — Have to strongly disagree there. Their first class pitch is absolutely horrible, among the worst in the industry, in my opinion. American’s first class might not have much of an advantage service wise, but at least the seats are spacious.

  20. @ Joe — Agree the Dallas flight isn’t ideal for those on the west coast, but when on a mileage run it’s tough to beat. 😉

  21. @ Beverly —

    1) Systemwide upgrades are upgrade instruments which confirm an upgrade to the next cabin at the time of booking, pending upgrade availability. As an Executive Platinum member (someone that flies 100,000 miles per year with American) I receive eight of them. You can upgrade any revenue fare from economy to business class, which can be a great value.

    2) Hmmm, what do you mean by Miles + Cash? It does have to be a paid ticket in order to earn miles. You can use miles + co-pay to upgrade and still earn miles, for what it’s worth.

    3) I did pay for this trip using the PRG. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with the card next year. I’ll probably just switch all my AmEx spend to the AmEx EveryDay Preferred.

  22. @ Lucky, I will be going to Hong Kong for the first time next year on my way to Bali and Thailand and want to use my free night certificates for Hilton & IHG because hotels are expensive in Hong Kong. Would you recommend the Conrad or the Intercontinental? Thanks!

  23. @ Lucky: Thanks for the response. Interesting…8 systemwide upgrades…sounds like Hyatt Diamond upgrade certificate.
    Miles + Cash…I thought we can pay half by miles and half by credit card…like hotel’s points + cash.

    Btw Lucky, if I want to go from SFO to Japan using Cathay using AA miles, how do I piece it together so they will charge me one time award redemption in first or business? I only know I can do from SFO- HKG but then can I layover (less than 24 hours) in HKG and then fly another Cathay again from HKG to NRT or HND?

  24. @Jennelle: Conrad is located on HK island, next to my fav shopping mall “Pacific Place”. Intercontinental is in TST. Very crowded area especially on week-ends bc of shoppers from Mainland China.

  25. @ Jenelle Madera — They’re both great hotels. If you have at least Gold status with Hilton I would probably do the Conrad, as you’ll get breakfast and potentially club lounge access. That’s worth quite a bit, so is the route I’d go, in your shoes.

  26. @ Beverly — Nope, there’s no such offering on American.

    American doesn’t let you route from the US to Asia 1 (Tokyo) via Asia 2 (Hong Kong), so that would require two separate award tickets, unfortunately.

  27. @ Lucky: oh shoot! that’s a bummer 🙁
    1. How about route to ICN via HKG? Does ICN (Korea) considered as Asia 1 or 2?

    2. or do you think it’s better for me to buy local airline flight from HKG to Japan or Korea. If so, do you have any recommendation please.

    3. If book using Avios from HKG to NRT, which airline do you suggest?

  28. @ Beverly — ICN is also Asia 1. You could always redeem American miles for travel to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific first class, and then redeem Avios for travel on Cathay Pacific to Tokyo. That’s probably what I would do.

  29. @ Lucky: Thank you very much for helping me getting my dream trip comes true!
    Btw do you have a guide on how to redeem Avios on Cathay? do I have to call and is there phone booking fee? please kindly share the link. Thank you.

  30. @Lucky: Thank you! I want to get BA credit cards to earn Avios points sign up bonus to be used for this trip and want to use your link as a way of saying thank you. Do you have good affiliate link for BA card?

  31. I’m hoping that the Portugal+Iceland and Doha+Dubai trip reports don’t end up like the one with the Maldives’.

  32. Hi Lucky,

    Not sure if you are still answering inquiries on this blog. I’m kinda late in asking this question. But I wanted to know your thoughts on buying coach and paying the $350 and 25,000 miles each way to and from HKG from DFW. I bought 2 round trip tickets with only 18 hour layover as part of my US Air Preferred status challange. I don’t have any SWU left. I did book seats in MCE. But I’m now starting to think about the length of time for butt in seat. Would you do pay for the upgrade with miles and cash or would you just rough it in the MCE seats?

    Thanks for any reply if you still get these posts.

  33. @ Keith S — Totally worth it, in my opinion, given how long the flight is. Keep in mind it’s a tough upgrade, though, so I wouldn’t count on it clearing.

  34. Hi Lucky,

    Yeah I kinda figure it might not clear. Given the fact I waited till a couple of weeks before I travel. Had I tried this when I booked the tickets, I might have been able to clear at booking. I’m so concerned that I won’t get these miles credited to US Air, I’m trying to figure out the best way to proceed. I have to wait list if I use me AA Ex Plat FF# or US Platinum FF#. So, would you recommend that I keep my Ex Plat # on the tickets until I clear for the upgrade with miles and $$, then switch to my US Plat# at the gate? Because based on availability in Bis right now, I doubt I’d clear as a Sapphire. What would you do?

    Again, very much appreciate all the help you’ve given me!

  35. @Allison how do you go about these upgrades right after buying the ticket? MVP last year and this, determined to land MVP Gold for 2016. Thanks!

  36. Hi Ben,

    How do you search to see if the flight you want has immediate confirmable upgrade available using SWU?


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