Best Way To Redeem Miles For First Class Between The US And Asia?

I’m all about maximizing premium cabin awards, whether it’s finding the most direct routing, the most fun routing, the routing which maximizes Krug consumption, etc. 😉 “Best” means different things to different people. So I figured it would be fun to look at reader Todd‘s specific situation, as he’s planning a special trip to Asia in March 2017 (and hopefully this helps others planning trips in similar situations):

We’ll be taking a special trip to Asia in March 2017 and I’d love some help ranking the most spectacular or most aspirational flight options.

My shortlist includes:

  • Emirates A380 in F
  • Singapore A380 in F
  • Singapore B777-300ER in F
  • Cathay Pacific B777 in F
  • Korean A380 in F
  • Korean B747-8i in F

I was also considering Japan Airlines, ANA, and Asiana, but the above seemed the most exciting and special after some research.

How would you rank my list? Would you include Japan Airlines, ANA, or Asiana ahead of any of the ones in my list?

The only one I’ve already flown is Emirates A380 in F but I’m really excited to share that with my husband, so it’s definitely still on my list.

Thanks very much for your help — this is going to be a special trip for us and I want to get it right!  We have all the necessary miles/points on Alaska, American, Citi, Chase, Amex, etc.  We’ll be flying from Seattle, but positioning to SFO, LAX, or YVR to have access to the best products.  We’ll fly to BKK and return from HKG; we have a cruise in the middle from Singapore to Hong Kong.  So really just looking for the most incredible flights from the US to Asia (BKK, though really mostly concerned with the longhaul segments) and back (from HKG, though really mostly concerned with the longhaul segments).

Which airlines have two first class award seats?

The first question isn’t even which airline offers the best product, but rather which might have two first class award seats available. It’s still outside the booking window for March 2017, and patterns can change, but here are my general thoughts on two first class award seats:

Which option would I select?

Given the situation — that it’s a special trip, they aren’t in a rush, and seem to want to have fun — I think flying Emirates first class in one direction is an absolute no brainer. I think Emirates first class is the “funnest” first class product out there, between the onboard shower, onboard bar, and all the over-the-top bling.

Emirates-First-Class-A380-61

And I’ll take it a step further — Emirates first class is more fun if you’re traveling with someone than alone. Unlike other modern first class products, the great thing about Emirates is that you can sit next to someone and be able to talk to them, so you can really enjoy the full experience together.

Emirates-First-Class-A380-03

My first choice in the other direction would be Singapore Suites Class. I mean, what’s not to love about a double bed in the sky?

Singapore-Suites-1

Singapore Airlines has incredible service and food as well. The question is whether you’ll be able to find availability. For example, several weeks ago I wrote about how Singapore was making two Suites Class awards available between the US and Asia on many flights if booking as the schedule opens.

I don’t see that availability right now, in the sense that I don’t see flights when the schedule opens with two Suites Class seats. Todd still has a bit over a month before the schedule opens, so that could change. I’d keep a close eye on that.

Singapore-First-Class

The tricky thing about Singapore Airlines is that they don’t allow holds, and points transfers aren’t instant. This presents an issue, since you don’t want to speculatively transfer points, only to have the space be gone. So in Todd’s shoes I’d be monitoring, and if there’s space for the previous few days, I’d probably speculatively transfer points in hopes of snagging those seats, as you should be able to transfer them in less than 24 hours.

But what if Singapore Suites isn’t readily available? What would my second option be for travel in the other direction?

My initial instinct is to say Singapore 777 first class, though in looking at availability, I don’t see more space in Singapore 777 first class than I see in Singapore A380 Suites Class. In other words, if Singapore makes more awards available over the next several weeks (which is very possible) I’d select the A380, but it doesn’t seem your odds are necessarily better of even snagging space on the 777.

Singapore-777-Suites

I’d say my next option is Korean Air first class. Why?

  • Award availability is typically wide open for Korean Air first class
  • There are no peak season dates in March, which is one of the few challenges when it comes to redeeming Korean Air miles
  • You could fly A380 first class all the way to Bangkok, given that Korean Air operates an A380 between Seoul Incheon and Bangkok as well as Hong Kong
  • Korean Air allows free changes up until departure, so this gives you a lot of flexibility, and also lets you switch to something else if there’s another option which pops up that you prefer

Korean-Air-First-Class

But I’d mix it up. Why not fly the 747-8 from San Francisco to Seoul, which offers the more private first class product, and then the A380 from Seoul to Bangkok, which offers the A380 first class product you’d otherwise get from the US?

Korean-Air-New-First-Class

Bottom line

When it comes to flying first class internationally, there’s not really a way to go wrong. However, if I had to make the ultimate “first world decision,” Emirates first class would always be my first choice, especially if traveling with someone for a special trip. After that I’d choose Singapore Suites Class, then Singapore first class, and then Korean Air first class, given the specific situation, and that they fly the A380 to Bangkok and Hong Kong.

What would you choose to fly in Todd’s situation? Any good value which I left out?

Comments

  1. Ok I still don’t think that SQ suite is a true double bed given the wood thing in the middle.. but that’s my 2 cents. If I had my pick, I’d probably go for SQ A380 LAX-NRT and then switch to Thai Airways A380 NRT-BKK. If it’s a new city I’m visiting, I prefer to fly the national carrier to get a nice introduction to the country.
    Flying back to SEA from HKG, I’d pick Emirates on HKG-BKK-DXB-SEA or HKG-DXB-SEA route no question. What a great way to end a special trip with a shower in the sky? 😉
    Either way I think you can’t go wrong with any of the choices you currently have. Good luck on finding award availability!

  2. If you are thinking of flying on SQ, I see a lot of space on their flights to and from Houston. I even see two F seats on this route.

  3. On-board bar and shower are pluses, but the ‘bling’ on emirates and at DXB is a definite negative for me. Feel all the other airlines being considered here have a better, more understated luxury to them.

  4. Lucky just a thought since I don’t know if you’ve ever mentioned this, but SQ’s mobile app lets you see availability (in the form of lowest available miles required) for 7 days at a time, which oddly the website doesn’t do. It isn’t super helpful on multiple daily routes if you’re looking for a specific time of day, but if you’re quickly trying to scan for days where JFK-SIN or LAX-SIN is available at Saver it’s great.

  5. I’m really surprised Japan Airlines wasn’t mentioned more as they consistently offer 2 F seats when the schedule opens – at least out of LAX which is where I usually start looking from. I actually prefer the service and food on JAL far more than Cathay and think for 2 it’s more fun since you can interact in the 2 middle seats.

  6. I wouldnt do all EK, I agree with Joey. Take SQ there then Thai.. Take EK on the way home..

    or CX first if you can get it, then EK back.

    I have been actually looking at the same route, but I have KE miles I need to burn.. I realize this sounds horrible but im not too thrilled bc KE first doesnt look as impressive as CX or EK and it has surcharges.

    Im sure it’ll be a memorable trip no matter which airline you choose. its about the memories.

  7. HI Lucky, this prompts a question for a trip we are planning for three for next Christmas break, including a high school student with minimal flexibility. We are going from Washington DC to southeast Asia, currently booked on Cathay Pacific through JFK to Hong Kong onto BKK, three business seats, no first available, using American miles. On the return, we need Jan.1, or very very close to that. Nothing on American. I even called American just after midnight on the day the calendar opened, and the two business class seats I had been keeping track of vanished. So I’ve done what you would no doubt consider heresy, I’ve booked two business and one first returning from HKG to JFK using British (I had done that as an insurance policy before the American calendar opened.) Obviously, I’m not thrilled about using that many miles, but I do want to have business or first seats locked in for dates we can travel. I’ll keep an eye on American to see if anything opens up, but do you think I should consider BKK to Seoul to IAD on Korean? Or other ideas? Ideas from other readers also appreciated! Thanks!

  8. Lucky, will you ever consider doing a review of the Korean 747-8 in F, maybe even doing a comparison between the 747 and a380. It is impossible to find a review of Korean 747-8 in F. Has anyone seen one? Share the link!

  9. I would love an article on the same thing but business class. We are planning a trip to Hong Kong soon and we are totally flexible on dates.

  10. @Credit — I believe there is a way to book March 2017 travel pre-devaluation of AA, but just barely. Book the tickets for any available date the day before devaluation (March 21, I believe). Then when the schedule opens, change your tickets to the same origin/destination/carrier on a date before March 21 2017, which is one year from ticket issuance.

  11. What’s the process for moving Emirates awards from business to first? Can it just be upgraded for the additional miles like AA or is there a change fee/redeposit?

  12. @LS Just checked JAL LAX-NRT, at end of booking, and no pairs of FC awards available. J, yes, a number of days, but no FC. Maybe you haven’t checked lately? We are flying FC with JAL NRT-LAX in September, but that was booked months ago. Easy to book back then, but not seeing anything now. ;(

  13. I currently book Cathay Pacific using Asia miles for Business Class. If first class open. Can I use Asia miles to upgrade from Bus to First ?

  14. Any thoughts on the best routes to take from Atlanta (ATL) to HND/NRT and with which partner? I currently have 280K Chase points, and would very much love to try the first class experience on SIA. Waitlisting sounds risky given that Singapore Airlines does not fly directly out from Atlanta and I need 2 award tickets.Suggestions?

  15. Hi Lucky
    I have been following your blog for quite a while and I have learned quite a bit.
    I have been able to book my own domestic award tickets but I need to book international tickets now.
    Do you offer a booking service or can you recommend one.
    I need 2 tickets for travel from SFO-HKG December 8 and return SIN-SFO December 23. I really am not able to do this one on my own. I have lots of American and UR points. I am looking to travel first class. Thanks in advance for your help.

  16. Any reason why it reads SQ “777-300ER” in F, but CX “B777”? The only B777 variant where CX features F is their 777-300ERs.

    CX indeed has a regional fleet of B777-300s (non -ER rated, RR powered), but they do not have F.

    As a side note, CX is still flying the B747 to Tokyo, and F on a CX B747 is superior than on the B77W. Same seat, far better layout.

  17. Hi Ben,

    I’m new to this game.

    Currently I conly collect points from my CitiBank Advantage card.

    I noticed that you are talking about ‘transfers’ in this post.

    Can you explain more about how i can collect points from different places and pool them together?

    Thank you.

  18. “I would love an article on the same thing but business class. We are planning a trip to Hong Kong soon and we are totally flexible on dates.”

    I think some more detail will help 🙂 but CX is a safe bet. It also depends on your origin point. If it’s the Northeast, then CX no question. If you’re based in the Central U.S., I’d probably go with American — and yes, I realize that might come as a surprise. However, as Lucky’s noted previously, AA uses virtually identical reverse-herringbone seats to CX’s on all of its 773s, and they fly one on their DFW-HKG route (and back).

  19. Was fortunate enough this past weekend to fly first class Korean in both the 748 and 380. I have to say that the 748 was VASTLY better in every way. People say that the 748 is essentially the same seat as the a380 only with a door. I didn’t find that at all!! It felt like a completely different, far superior product. In roughly the same space where the A380 had 12 seats, the 748 had only 6. It felt extremely private where the A380 did not feel private at all. Everything just felt brand new on the 748 whereas the 380 showed its age for sure. If flying Korean from the US to say Bangkok, I would DEFINITELY mix it up take the 748 across the pond for the long flight and then take the a380 from Seoul to Bangkok, the shorter flight.

  20. @ Linda. I used Ben’s PointsPros booking service for my MIA to HKG trip. I had tried to book this myself, and had many miles in many programs. Finally gave up, and contacted Alex at PointsPros. In my opinion, since he did the entire search and booking end-to-end, it was well worth the fee.

  21. @Green T

    Your Citi AAdvantage card only earns American Airlines miles. If you had a card from Citi that earned “Citi Thank You points” (like the Presitge or Premier), you could transfer those “Thank You” points to airlines on their transfer list. Chase has cards in their portfolio that earn “Chase Ultimate Rewards points”; which have their own list of different transfer partners.

    Note: many airlines have alliance and non-alliance partners that you can redeem awards on. For example, you are currently earning American Airlines miles with your Citi card. You don’t need to redeem them for flights on American Airlines though. They are part of the oneworld alliance which means you can use AA miles for flights on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airways, British Airways, etc.

    If you want to diversify your points, and you’re new to the game, I’d get yourself signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi Premier. Make sure you hit the minimum spending amounts though, or you’ll forfeit the sign-up bonus (which is one of the main reasons people play this game).

  22. For my honeymoon in September / October, we’re flying Singapore Suites (double bed!) from LAX to Tokyo on the way there and then Cathay Pacific F from BKK to BOS (through HKG) on the way back.

    In between those two cross pacific legs, we’re doing a mix of Thai Airways, Singapore Airways, and Garuda Airways all in J, all trips booked with points.

    I am pretty stoked and don’t think I’ll ever be able to top this award trip. But hey, it is a honeymoon after all.

  23. @SeattleTodd

    Thanks.

    I am flying to bkk using cx f later this year and flying jal f back. I chose flights so that I will get to spend some time in the pier. All booked using aa miles using back website. In case people are looking for ideas. Thanks

  24. @Lucky
    First, we were both in F SYD>LAX on AA about a month ago. Best service I’ve ever had on AA! You looked familiar, but I didn’t realize it was you until after the flight.

    Question on this subject – I’m trying to book two seats in F to/from Asia in Dec, of course would love for it to be on CX (JAL would be next). Am I better off booking two separate award tickets in F, even if they’re on different days vs booking two Business seats on the same flight? I know I can change the dates for free using AA miles, but not sure about going from J to F post-devaluation.

    Also, what about the secondary legs (for instance, HKG>BKK)?

    Cheers

  25. The only thing I would add to what has been said here already is, all other things being equal, my tie-breaker is always which lounges I want to visit. Most good lounges are departure only and there aren’t a lot of great arrivals lounges. So, don’t know which leg to fly Emirates? What gets you into the best lounge? Etc. and so on.

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