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Per Airnation.net, Air China announced that it will be upgrading the aircraft on its Beijing-San Francisco route to the Boeing 777-300ER starting February 11th. This is great news for transpacific travelers: Air China’s 777-300ER configuration includes flat-bed seats in both business and first class. Even better, award space is amazing on Air China routes between the US and China!

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Air China Business Class Lounge in Beijing

I took a trip to Beijing in October and had an incredible time. The weather was mild, people were friendly, and the food was incredible. Admittedly, I was only able to try out Air China’s regional business class product from Hong Kong to Beijing, but the service and food were surprisingly good.

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On the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Exhausting hiking and breathtaking views. Pardon the pose.

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Is the award space really wide open? Which routes should you look for premium cabin award space? Is Air China a good carrier compared to its Star Alliance brethren?

In my opinion, Air China is a secret weapon of the Star Alliance. Award space is generally incredible between the US and its Beijing hub. With Air China upgrading its San Francisco route, now all US destinations will feature Air China’s latest flat bed product.

Air China's B777-300ER premium cabin configuration. Image from seatguru.com
Air China’s B777-300ER premium cabin configuration. Image from seatguru.com

Air China configures their 42-seat business class cabin in a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration on the 777-300ER. Both seats in middle have direct aisle access making that pair highly desirable for solo travelers.

How much does an Air China award ticket cost using United miles?

United charges 32.5k miles for a oneway coach award to China, considered part of the North Asia region. For business and first class, United charges 60k/70k, respectively.

Note that these prices will be increasing drastically after January 31 due to the recently announced devaluation. Coach tickets on Air China will only increase by 2.5k miles to 35k oneway. Premium cabins are the real bloodbath. Business class seats will rise to 80k oneway (20k more). First class seats will skyrocket to a whopping 120k oneway. That’s a massive 50k increase!

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One Way First Class Award Prices with United Miles, This Month vs. Next Month

Make sure to follow Scott’s advice and burn your United miles on premium cabin Star Alliance partner redemptions before February 1! The MileValue Award Booking Service can help.

How much does an Air China award ticket cost using US Airways miles?

As with United, US Airways considers China to be part of North Asia and charges 60k/90k/120k for coach/business/first class roundtrip redemptions. We’ve discussed this sweet spot exhaustively in the past, including how you can route through Europe using a stopover. Unfortunately, the 90k business class award is likely disappearing with the impending American/US Airways merger.

With US Airways officially leaving the Star Alliance on March 30th, you should book now rather than later if contemplating an Air China business class award.

Also, don’t miss out on your chance to get the US Airways Premier World MasterCard with 30,000 US Airways miles after first purchase before it disappears. You could get it now and use the miles for an Air China award booking before March 30, 2014.

Where does Air China fly to/from the United States?

Air China flies nonstop to four major US airports (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and New York-JFK) from their Beijing hub, so there are multiple ways to construct a good award itinerary.

What is the award space scenario on each route?

I ran some searches in September and October for Air China award space, which is a great time to visit temperature-wise.

The San Francisco to Beijing route has awesome award space (that may be an understatement), with most dates having a whopping 4-7 business class seats. Economy space was ample as well.

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Many dates had two first class award seats, as well, perfect for traveling couples!

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Air China’s Houston-Beijing route had equally fantastic space, often with four business class and four first class seats on the same flights. As you can see from the chart below, it’s harder to find a day without premium cabin space!

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The Los Angeles <-> Beijing route was a little worse than Houston and San Francisco. The route features mostly midweek business award space and weekend space in both business and coach cabins on their twice-daily service.

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East Coast flyers will be disappointed by the lack of premium cabin space between New York and Beijing.  I couldn’t find a single day with two business or first class seats on either of Air China’s daily nonstops for the entire calendar! Economy space was ample, though.

JFK-PEK

Can I make Beijing a stopover en route to somewhere else?

Absolutely! China recently announced a 72-hour visa waiver for travelers transiting China from the US en route to a third country. Both United and and US Airways permit one stopover on roundtrip awards, so take advantage of Beijing if you can all while avoiding the pain of applying for a visa.

Recap

Air China announced that its San Francisco route will be flown on a B777-300ER starting on February 11th. This plane configuration features Air China’s latest flat bed product in both business and first class cabins. With the announcement, now all four of Air China’s US routes will have flat beds in business class.

Award space is unusually generous on each of the four routes. For those looking for premium cabin seats, especially with the impending United devaluation, check out the Houston and San Francisco flights. New York-JFK has solid coach space nearly every day, but no business class award space.

With US Airways’ 90k roundtrip North Asian business class award likely disappearing and the brutal United devaluation, there is no better time to piece together an Air China business class award.

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