Let’s talk about how to use American Airlines miles for awards to East and Southeast Asia. Awards to East and Southeast Asia are some of the best value awards with American Airlines miles.
What You’re Reading
This is the seventh post in one comprehensive guide that tells you everything you need to know about American Airlines miles. Now is the time to write this guide because now is a special time to earn American Airlines miles.
American Airlines and US Airways have merged legally, but they maintain separate frequent flyer programs. The two programs will combine some time between April and June 2015, and your balances in the two programs will be combined as American Airlines miles.
- The personal American Airlines credit card is offering 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
- The business American Airlines credit card is offering another 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
- The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® will no longer be offered to new applicants as soon as the US Airways and American Airlines frequent flyer programs integrate. The card offers 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase.
Getting the American Airlines personal card, American Airlines business card, and US Airways personal card now and meeting their spending requirements means you will have at least 156,000 American Airlines miles by mid-2015.
This guide will explain the rules, quirks, tricks, and options for redeeming those 156,000 American Airlines miles all in one place. It might just put my Award Booking Service out of business when it comes to redeeming American Airlines miles.
If you find this guide to redeeming the most valuable miles in the world to be useful and want to apply for the credit cards that earn them, please use my links. The commission is what allows me to dedicate the time to writing this series.
“Redeeming American Airlines Miles” Series Index
- Part 1 — 10 Ways to Use American Airlines Miles
- Part 2 — Where to Search Award Space for All Partners
- Part 3 — Award Rules and How Many Miles You Need
- Part 4 — Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges
- Part 5 — Redeeming for Domestic Awards
- Part 6 — Redeeming for Hawaii
- Part 7 — Redeeming for East and Southeast Asia
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, Japan, and Mongolia.
Asia 2 is:
- Hong Kong
- the Philippines
- Sri Lanka
The Indian Subcontinent is part of the Middle East region, which will be covered in a later post.
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.
Awards space on Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Japan Airlines, and SriLankan Airlines is searchable on ba.com. Here’s how to search ba.com.
To Asia 1 (Korea, Japan, Mongolia), American Airlines charges:
- 25,000 miles one way in economy from October to April
- 32,500 miles one way in economy from May to September
- 50,000 miles one way in Business Class
- 62,500 miles one way in First Class
To Asia 2, American Airlines charges:
- 35,000 miles one way in economy
- 55,000 miles one way in Business Class
- 67,500 miles one way in First Class
The off peak awards to Korea and Japan are a steal. The premium cabin awards year round are outrageously cheap. Consider that you can fly Cathay Pacific First Class to China or Southeast Asia for only 67,500 miles one way.
Cathay Pacific First Class is one of the nicest First Class products in the world, and for inferior products, Delta and United charge more miles.
- Delta charges 70,000 miles one way to Southeast Asia in Business Class. Delta miles cannot be used to book international First Class.
- United charges 80,000 miles one way to Southeast Asia in partner Business Class and 130,000 miles in partner First Class.
American’s under-pricing of awards to Asia relative to its competitors is one of the main reasons that American miles are the best miles to Asia.
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. You will have to pay a $35 phone fee per passenger. 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, the possible routes are on Japan Airlines, American Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines. You cannot route from North America to Asia 2 to Asia 1 on a single award, so these routes are key to know. (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.)
- Dallas to Tokyo-Narita
- Chicago to Tokyo-Narita
- Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita
- Dallas to Seoul
Japan Airlines flies:
- Boston 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
- Honolulu to Seoul
- Honolulu to Tokyo-Haneda
- Honolulu to Osaka-Kansai
- Honolulu to Sapporo-Chitose (Japan)
- Honolulu to Sendai (Japan)
The American Airlines flights to Asia 1 have OK economy award space, especially during the off peak window, and terrible Business and First Class space. The only consistent time I found Business and First Class Saver award space was in the last 1-3 days before departure in both directions.
The Japan Airlines flights show a lot more Business Class than First Class award space. Th best route is probably San Francisco to Tokyo-Haneda, which has award space four days in a row the first week of March. I found award space on every route I searched, though, so with flexibility, you can fly Japan Airlines Business Class with American Airlines miles.
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 “rules” 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 seven current North American destinations and adds Boston in May 2015. All routes offer First Class except Newark and Toronto, which top out at Business Class.
Cathay Pacific Business Class Award Space Rule
Cathay Pacific opens up 2 Business Class award seats on a ton of flights when the schedule opens 11 months in advance. I ran a search 10 months from now (not 11 because that’s Christmas when all award availability suffers) on the following routes:
- Boston, New York, and San Francisco to Hong Kong
- Hong Kong to Los Angeles and Chicago
Over the seven day period I searched all the routes had multiple flights with 2 Business Class award seats except Boston to Hong Kong, which had none. The others all had 3-4 days with at least one flight with 2 Business Class award seats.
Many days had multiple flights with award space. December 1 has three different Hong Kong-to-Los Angeles flights with 2 Business Class award seats and three different New York-to-Hong Kong flights with 2 Business Class award seats.
To 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 the last few days before departure.
Cathay Pacific First Class Award Space Rule
Some Cathay Pacific First Class award space is available throughout the schedule but not a ton.
Within 36 hours of departure though, Cathay Pacific releases all but one unsold First Class seat on every flight. This usually translates to 1-4 more seats on almost every flight.
The following screen shots come from November. The snow storm on the East Coast today is messing up Cathay Pacific First Class award space.
Here are today’s flights from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. The far right column shows that the flights have 1, 1, 2, and 3 First Class seats respectively.
Here are tomorrow’s flights. They have 1, 2, 0 (not pictured), and 1 seats available in First Class.
If you can wait until the last 48 hours, you and your companion are very likely to be able to snag two of the six seats in Cathay Pacific’s mind-boggling First Class. 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 55,000 miles each way per person when first booked and 12,500 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.
American Airlines miles are by far the strongest miles to East and Southeast Asia. First, American charges way fewer miles than its competitors–as low as 25,000 miles one way to Japan and Korea and only 67,500 miles in First Class to Southeast Asia. Second, American partners with very nice products on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.
Cathay Pacific award space, which is useful to China and south, is widely available in Business Class 11 months out and First Class 36 hours out.
Japan Airlines Business Class award space is available on all its routes if you have date flexibility.
Hawaiian Airlines Business Class is widely available if you don’t mind routing through Hawaii.
American’s own flights have good economy award space, but Business and First Class are only widely available in the three days before 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.