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Let’s talk about how to use American Airlines miles for awards to East and Southeast Asia. Business and First Class awards from the United States to Japan and Korea, in terms of duration and partner product (Japan Airlines), have the best value on the new American Airlines award chart.

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Hiking the Great Wall of China outside Beijing in September

 

“Redeeming American Airlines Miles” Series Index

Asia 1 and Asia 2

This post deals with American Airlines awards to what it calls “Asia 1” and “Asia 2.”

Asia 1 is Korea and Japan.

Asia 2 is:

  • Brunei
  • Cambodia
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • the Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

The Partners for East and Southeast Asia Awards

As I noted in the post on American Airlines award routing rules, awards to Asia 1 and Asia 2 must fly directly from North America to East Asia. They cannot transit Europe, the Middle East, India, or any other continent. That means I’ll focus just on airlines with direct flights to East Asia and within East Asia.

To East Asia, American Airlines miles can be redeemed on:

  • American Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Malaysia Airlines (does not fly to North America)
  • Japan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines (does not fly to North America)
  • any combination of the six

Award space on American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines is searchable on aa.com. Here’s how to search aa.com.

Award space on Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Japan Airlines, and SriLankan Airlines is searchable on ba.com. Here’s how to search ba.com.

Pricing

To Asia 1, American Airlines charges:

  • 32,500 miles one way in economy during Off Peak dates ONLY on American Airlines flights:
    • Asia Region 1 (Japan): 
      • To Japan: January 1 – April 30, July 1 – November 30
      • From Japan: January 16 – April 19, May 2 – 31, September 1 – December 31
    • Asia Region 1 (Korea): 
      • To Korea: January 1 – April 30, July 1 – November 30
      • From Korea: January 16 – May 31, September 1 – December 31
  • 35,000 miles one way in economy the rest of the year and on all partner flights
  • 60,000 miles one way in Business Class
  • 80,000 miles one way in First Class

To Asia 2, American Airlines charges:

  • 32,500 miles one way in economy during Off Peak dates ONLY on American Airlines flights:
    • Asia Region 2:
      • To China/Hong Kong: January 1 – April 30, July 1 – September 30, October 11 – November 30
      • From China/Hong Kong: February 1 – May 31, September 1 – 19, October 2 – December 31
  • 37,500 miles one way in economy the rest of the year and on all partner flights
  • 70,000 miles one way in Business Class
  • 110,000 miles one way in First Class
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All Smiles in the Huge Bed in Cathay Pacific First Class

Cathay Pacific First Class is one of the nicest First Class products in the world (read my review).

Prior to their devaluation, American’s under-pricing of awards to Southeast Asia relative to its competitors was one of the main reasons that American miles were the best miles to Southeast Asia. Now I recommend using Alaska or Etihad miles instead if you have them (SPG and ThankYou Points both transfer 1:1 to Etihad Airways), because you can book awards to Asia with either of those miles at the same prices American had pre-devaluation.

To be clear, you can only use Alaska and Etihad miles to book American Airlines flights at those pre-devaluation prices– different prices apply to fly different carriers, like Cathay Pacific for example.

However, United and Delta charge 65k to 80k miles one way in Business Class and 80k to 120k in First Class to Japan and Korea, so American awards to those areas are still cheaper than the main competitors’.

Booking the Awards

To book an American Airlines award to Asia that features only American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines flights, you can book right on aa.com.

If you want to include even a single segment on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, or SriLankan Airlines, you need to call American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to book. There is no phone fee to book awards that can’t be booked online. I recommend searching award space on ba.com before calling and feeding the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each flight with award space instead of relying on the agent’s searching skill.

Routes and Award Space

To Asia 1 (Korea and Japan), the possible routes are on Japan Airlines, American Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines.

You cannot fly Cathay Pacific to Asia 1 because you cannot transit Asia 2 en route to Asia 1. (For instance, Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Seoul would price as Los Angeles to Hong Kong plus Hong Kong to Seoul. Read the award routing rules post.)

American flies:

  • Dallas to Tokyo-Narita
  • Chicago to Tokyo-Narita
  • Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita
  • Los Angeles to Tokyo-Haneda
  • Dallas to Seoul

Japan Airlines flies:

  • Boston to Tokyo-Narita
  • Dallas to Tokyo-Narita
  • New York to Tokyo-Narita
  • Chicago to Tokyo-Narita
  • Honolulu to Tokyo-Narita
  • Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita
  • San Diego to Tokyo-Narita
  • Vancouver to Tokyo-Narita
  • San Francisco to Tokyo-Haneda
  • Honolulu to Tokyo-Haneda
  • Los Angeles to Osaka-Kansai
  • Honolulu to Osaka-Kansai
  • Honolulu to Nagoya-Cetrair

Hawaiian Airlines flies:

  • Honolulu to Seoul
  • Honolulu to Tokyo-Haneda
  • Honolulu to Tokyo-Narita (resumes July 23, 2016)
  • Honolulu to Osaka-Kansai
  • Honolulu to Sapporo-Chitose (Japan)
  • Honolulu to Sendai (Japan)

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American Airlines

The American Airlines flights to Asia 1 have good economy award space, especially during the off peak window.

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Business and First Class space is generally not great, unless you can book ahead of time. I see plenty of First Class space and some Business Class space on the Los Angeles to Tokyo route in 2017.

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You can sometimes find Business and First Class Saver award space in the last few days before departure as well…

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Japan Airlines (JAL)

The Japan Airlines flights show more Business Class than First Class award space. The best route is probably San Francisco to Tokyo-Haneda, which has award space two days in First Class next week (each day with one seat), and one day in Business Class (with four seats). I found award space on every route I searched, though, so with flexibility, you can fly Japan Airlines Business Class or First Class with American Airlines miles.

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To Asia 2, you can route via Asia 1. That means you can fly any of the transpacific flights above and connect on intra-Asia flights to Southeast Asia. Or you can fly directly to Asia 2 on American, Hawaiian, and Cathay Pacific.

I’m going to focus on Cathay Pacific’s award space patterns because it has one of the nicest Business and First Class products in the world and the most consistent award space.

Cathay Pacific Routes

Cathay Pacific has eight current North American destinations. All routes offer First Class except Newark and Toronto, which top out at Business Class.

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Cathay Pacific Award Space 11 Months Out

Cathay Pacific opens up to five Business Class and one First Class award seat on a ton of flights when the schedule opens 11 months in advance. I ran a search 11 months from now on the following routes:

  • Boston, New York/Newark, and San Francisco to Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong to Los Angeles and Chicago

Over the seven day period I searched (May 6-12, 2017), there were Business and First Class award seats open every day on at least one route (with space on every route many of the days). Many days had multiple flights with up to 5 Business Class seats and 1 First Class seat.
Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.20.06 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.40.04 PMTo get Cathay Pacific Business Class award space, try to book 11 months in advance. Space gets worse from that point, though it does reappear in large quanitities the last week before departure.

Cathay Pacific First Class Award Space Within a Week of Departure

Some Cathay Pacific First Class award space is available throughout the schedule but not a ton.

Within a week of departure though, Cathay Pacific releases up to nine Business Class and two First Class award seats per flight.

Here is a flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on Tuesday, June 21. The far right column shows that the flight has 2 First Class seats available.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.37.27 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.37.03 PMHere are tomorrow’s flights from New York to Hong Kong with 2, 0, 0, 0 and 0 First Class award seats and 0, 3, 4, 5, and 5 Business Class award seats respectively.

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If you can wait until the last week, your chance of booking Cathay Pacific’s mind-boggling First Class is very good, and if you can’t, you can probably book Business. Review of Cathay Pacific First Class.

Just because you want Cathay Pacific First Class doesn’t mean you want the stress of not having any flights booked until 48 hours before departure. That’s not what I’m recommending.

American Airlines does not charge a change fee to “upgrade” an award reservation, so a great strategy is to book two Business Class seats on Cathay Pacific when the schedule opens and then change the award to First Class in the last two days. This would cost 70,000 miles each way per person when first booked and 40,000 more miles per person at the time of the change. And if the plan fails, your consolation prize is Cathay Pacific Business Class–hardly a loss.

Beyond Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific and its affiliate Dragonair–both bookable with AA miles, both searchable on ba.com–offer excellent award space from Hong Kong throughout China and Southeast Asia.

Bottom Line

American Airlines miles are the strongest miles to Japan and Korea out of the three American legacy carriers. Also, American partners with very nice products on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.

Cathay Pacific premium cabin award space, which is useful to China and Southeast Asia, is widely available 11 months out and within a week of departure.

Japan Airlines Business Class award space is available on all its routes if you have date flexibility.

American’s own flights have good economy award space, but Business and First Class are spotty unless you can book far ahead of time or within a few days of departure.

To fly to Asia 1 (Japan, Korea, Mongolia) on a single award, you must fly directly there from North America without connecting in any other region. To fly to Asia 2 (China and Southeast Asia) on a single award, you must fly directly there or connect in Asia 1. You cannot connect in Europe or the Middle East on a single American Airlines award to East or Southeast Asia from the United States.

For a limited time, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® is offering 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles and Admirals Club lounge membership, among other awesome benefits, after spending $5,000 in the first three months.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 4.44.21 PM

By meeting the $5,000 total spending requirement you’ll earn at least 65,000 American Airlines miles, which is enough for a roundtrip ticket to Japan or Korea during Off Peak dates!

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