How to plan a US Airways 90,000 mile award from the US to Asia via Europe

A couple of days ago I shared the details of my US Airways 90,000 mile award from the US to Asia via Europe. I was surprised by how many of you weren’t familiar with the possibilities of the award, and several of you asked for more details, so I figured I’d make a “how to” style follow up post.

Introduction

One of the very best mileage redemption values in the industry is using US Airways miles between the US and North Asia. They only charge 90,000 miles in business class, while virtually every other airlines charges at least 110,000 miles for business class to North Asia. This is made even better by the fact that they’ll let you route via Europe with a stopover if you’d like. It’s funny because they charge 100,000 miles just to travel to Europe in business class, so they’re basically giving you a 10,000 mile discount for going to Europe and traveling more.

Keep in mind that US Airways frequently sells miles for under two cents each through their 100% bonus promotions on the purchase of miles. This award is a great example of what a great deal that can be.

Everyone is looking for different things in an award ticket, though in approaching this post I’ll assume the goal is to try as many good airline products as possible, because I think that’s the “art” to master here, while everything else can be tailored to individual circumstances.

Understanding the basics

Nearly a year ago I wrote a post about US Airways Dividend Miles basics, which can be found here. Just about everything in there is still true, so it’s worth reading that post first to understand US Airways’ stopover rules, ticketing fees, hold policies, etc. I also wrote a post about US Airways’ routing rules, which can be found here.

For the purposes of a 90,000 mile business class award between North America and North Asia, it’s worth noting that US Airways considers the following countries to be in North Asia:

China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macau, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

So while you can transit other regions, your final destination/turnaround point has to be in one of those countries.

Deciding which products to fly

If flying from the US to Asia you realistically have four longhaul segments — one from the US to Europe, one from Europe to Asia, one from Asia to Europe, and one from Europe to the US. If you’re like me and want variety, you can potentially try at least four different airlines on one trip.

Below are what I consider to be some of the best Star Alliance business class products between the US and Europe, between Europe and Asia, and directly between the US and Asia (for those of you that prefer to skip Europe in one or both directions).

Best products between the US and Europe

  • LOT will start their longhaul 787 service next week, with Chicago being their first destination, followed by Toronto, then New York, and then Beijing. Not only is this a Boeing 787, but it also features their new fully flat business class product.
  • US Airways isn’t an airline you’d usually associate with a good product, though their Airbus 330s are configured with business class suites, all of which feature direct aisle access. This is a very similar product to the one Cathay Pacific has, which I recently flew. I’d argue this is hands down the best business class “hard” product in the industry. US Airways flies their Airbus 330s out of Charlotte and Philadelphia to destinations like Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Manchester, Munich, Paris, Rome, and Tel Aviv, depending on the season. Just be sure you stay clear of their 757s and 767s.


Lufthansa new business class

Best products between Europe and Asia

  • A majority of ANA’s longhaul flights feature their new business class product, including all 787s and their 777-300ERs coded as “77Ws.” Just avoid the aircraft simply coded as “777s.” Their new business class product is fully flat and staggered. ANA’s European destinations include London, Frankfurt, Paris, and Munich (though Munich is usually operated by the old 777). They also fly from Frankfurt to Tokyo Haneda on the 787.
  • As I said under the previous heading, Austrian is in the process of installing a new business class product throughout their longhaul fleet, and their Asian destinations include Beijing, Tokyo, and Bangkok. Their routes from Vienna to Beijing/Tokyo typically have plenty of business class award space.
  • Much like the previous section, LOT’s first 787 destination in Asia will be Beijing, so this is a great way to get there starting in March.
  • Swiss doesn’t release very much business class award space to the US, though does release a good bit to Asia. They fly to Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Bangkok. Beijing, Shanghai, and Tokyo tend to have more award space than Bangkok and Hong Kong.
  • Turkish has a fully flat business class product on their 777-300ERs with great catering, which they fly to several of their destinations in Asia, including Tokyo and Hong Kong.
  • Asiana has an excellent fully flat staggered business class product, though their only European destination which features it is London.

Best products between the US and Asia

  •  Asiana operates the same business class product they have to London on their routes to Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. There is some variance with this, so be sure you confirm that it’s the new business class product before making a booking, because the old product leaves a lot to be desired.
  • ANA flies their 787s to both San Jose and Seattle, and award availability is generally excellent. They also fly to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington. As is the case with their European routes, be on the lookout for aircraft coded as “77Ws” and not “777s.”
  • Thai Airways just introduced a new aircraft configuration on their Los Angeles route, which features an excellent business class product. This flight routes through Seoul Incheon, so you can book it just between Los Angeles and Seoul, or all the way between Los Angeles and Bangkok.

Searching for award availability

Okay, above are some of the best business class products, but how do you turn it into an actual award ticket? While you can try and use the United website, they’ve been showing a lot of “phantom” award space lately, so I far prefer using the ANA tool.

Let’s assume you want to travel from New York to Beijing in business class sometime in the first couple of weeks of October. The first thing I’d do is brainstorm which airlines could potentially work. Being on the east coast we could potentially work in any of the following to Europe:

  • A flight on the Lufthansa 747-8 from Washington to Frankfurt
  • A flight in Austrian’s new business class from New York to Vienna
  • A flight in LOT’s new business class from New York to Warsaw
  • A flight on Brussels Airlines from New York to Brussels
  • A flight on US Airways out of Philadelphia

Then between Europe and Beijing we could potentially work in any of the following:

  • A flight in Austrian’s new business class from Vienna to Beijing
  • A flight in LOT’s new business class from Warsaw to Beijing
  • A flight in Swiss’ new business class from Zurich to Beijing

We could also potentially fly ANA via Tokyo, Asiana via Seoul, etc., but let’s keep this as simple as possible.

After having a rough summary of what might work, the next thing is to just randomly plug in routes on the ANA tool. Once you’re logged in just enter the origin and destination, and be sure you’re doing a seven day availability search for business class, which I find makes it much easier to get an overview of award availability.

Let’s look at availability for the desirable direct flights out of New York first — Austrian Airlines to Vienna, Brussels Airlines to Brussels, and LOT to Warsaw.

The results I get are as follows:

What do we see here? Austrian and Brussels Airlines have a good amount of award space on the way back from Europe to the US, while LOT has a good amount of award space both to and from Europe. Before making any decisions on the above, let’s first look at space between Europe and Beijing.

Let’s look at availability for the desirable direct flights to Beijing — Austrian Airlines out of Vienna, LOT out of Warsaw, and Swiss out of Zurich.

Once plugging in the dates, here are the results I get:

Picking the right flights

Now we know exactly what availability looks like for the dates we want to roughly travel, and we can start picking flights by process of elimination.

Let’s start with the outbound. We wanted to fly Austrian, Brussels, and LOT. Unfortunately neither Austrian or Brussels have award space for the outbound, so let’s pick out the LOT flight.

10/01 LOT 7 New York to Warsaw departing at 6:15PM and arriving at 8:55AM (+1 day)

What I always like to do then is figure out the return transatlantic portion of the trip so there’s a rough “shell,” and letter go back to add the flights between Europe and Asia, though that’s purely personal preference. On the return both Austrian and Brussels have award availability, though we have the opportunity to grab Austrian to Beijing, while Brussels doesn’t fly there. So let’s go ahead and grab Brussels for the return sector.

10/10 Brussels Airlines 501 Brussels to New York departing at 10:25AM and arriving at 12:40PM

Now we have utmost freedom within Europe. We have nine nights to visit Beijing and have a stopover at some destination in Europe. So from here the picking process is really random. Anyway, going to Beijing, it looks like the only airline with availability is Austrian, so let’s grab their flight on the 4th and plan a two night stopover in Vienna.

10/04 Austrian 63 Vienna to Beijing departing at 5:40PM and arriving at 9:15AM (+1 day)

Now the return is a no brainer, since the only option left is Swiss on the 9th. So let’s grab that.

10/09 Swiss 197 Beijing to Zurich departing at 6:45AM and arriving at 11:20AM

Putting it all together

Let’s recap the four longhaul flights we have so far.

10/01 LOT 7 New York to Warsaw departing at 6:15PM and arriving at 8:55AM (+1 day)
10/04 Austrian 63 Vienna to Beijing departing at 5:40PM and arriving at 9:15AM (+1 day)
10/09 Swiss 197 Beijing to Zurich departing at 6:45AM and arriving at 11:20AM
10/10 Brussels Airlines 501 Brussels to New York departing at 10:25AM and arriving at 12:40PM

The only thing left to do is to add the intra-Europe flights. Like I said earlier we’ll have a stopover in Vienna for two nights, so we need a flight from Warsaw to Vienna on the 2nd. Let’s pick up the earliest possible flight, which I’ve marked below.

On the return we once again have a night in Europe, so let’s say we want to spend that in Brussels. We’d simply have to pick up a flight between Zurich and Brussels, marked below.

So there you have it, we have our itinerary. To recap, here’s the itinerary in business class the whole way:

10/01 LOT 7 New York to Warsaw departing at 6:15PM and arriving at 8:55AM (+1 day)
10/02 Austrian 626 Warsaw to Vienna departing at 10:35AM and arriving at 11:55AM
10/04 Austrian 63 Vienna to Beijing departing at 5:40PM and arriving at 9:15AM (+1 day)
10/09 Swiss 197 Beijing to Zurich departing at 6:45AM and arriving at 11:20AM
10/09 Swiss 789 Zurich to Brussels departing at 12:30PM and arriving at 1:45PM
10/10 Brussels Airlines 501 Brussels to New York departing at 10:25AM and arriving at 12:40PM

As I said we could have gone a million different ways with this, but this is just one possibility sampling four different flat bed business class products.

Booking the award

US Airways doesn’t display Star Alliance award space on their website, so you have to book by phone. When you call up I suggest saying something along the lines of “an agent earlier gave me certain flights that are available and I just didn’t have my passport details, so would it be alright if I gave you the flight numbers and dates so we can place them on hold?”

Then spoon feed the agent the flight numbers, dates, routes, and cabins, and they should have no problem pricing it at 90,000 miles roundtrip. US Airways doesn’t impose fuel surcharges so you’re just responsible for the taxes and the $50 Dividend Miles processing fee (which is waived if you’re at least a Dividend Miles Gold member).

Any questions?

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