Best Ways To Use Amex Membership Rewards Points To Fly To Asia [2018]

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Introduction
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Africa
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If you want to book an award to Asia on Star Alliance carriers, Amex Membership Rewards should be a go-to points currency for you. Not to worry, if you want to fly Oneworld or SkyTeam partners, you’ll have options as well.

Given the distances involved, most of the better deals here are through programs with region-based award charts. Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program has some interesting distance-based awards, but the program changes in just a few days. I’m going to use the current chart for now, and will update later this week once we know exactly how things are pricing.

As a reminder, here are some of your options for earning Membership Rewards points in the U.S.:

Earn Membership Rewards Points

With that, let’s dig into how you can book some great award flights to Asia!

Air Canada Aeroplan

While Air Canada is set to part ways with Aeroplan in 2020, there are still some great reasons to use Aeroplan to fly to Asia. While the redemption rates won’t always be as competitive as fellow Star Alliance carrier ANA, it does provide a solid way to book one-way awards to the region. And as we discussed in the post on European awards, there are other advantages to the Aeroplan program that may make up for the higher mileage cost.

Remember, if you book a round-trip award you can include two stopovers or one stopover and one open jaw which can help you explore even more of Asia. Like many loyalty programs, Aeroplan will pass on carrier-imposed surcharges on a number of partner airlines. If you want to avoid surcharges, take a look at these carriers:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines

Unfortunately, you will be on the hook for surcharges on Air Canada’s own flights as well as ANA, Asiana and Thai Airways. That being said, a one-way business class (or first class) award from the U.S. on Air Canada on ANA will only incur about $115 in taxes and fees which, while not great, is manageable.

Even better, Aeroplan has generous routing rules, and doesn’t restrict you from transiting multiple zones. That means you can potentially use one of your stopovers in Europe while en route to Asia.

Aeroplan award rates

Aeroplan splits the region into Asia 1 and Asia 2 — think North Asia and Southeast Asia — and has different redemption rates for each. Here’s a quick comparison of the miles required for a one-way Aeroplan award by class of service:

Class of ServiceAsia 1Asia 2
Economy37,500 miles45,000 miles
Business75,000 miles77,500 miles
First105,000 miles107,500 miles

While the Asia 2 redemption price is a bit higher, don’t forget that you can include a stopover on round-trip bookings.

For example, you could book a round-trip business class award to Thailand for 155,000 Aeroplan miles. You could fly Asiana and stopover in Seoul (ICN) before continuing to Bangkok (BKK). On the return, you could fly EVA Air and enjoy a stopover in Taipei (TPE) before continuing back to the U.S.

Aeroplan Business Class Asia Award Wtih Stopovers

In the screenshot above, you could include one stopover and book online. If you choose to take advantage of the second stopover, or have a complex routing, you’d need to call Aeroplan (1-800-361-5373) to book. There is a C$30 (~$24) phone booking fee. Considering the taxes and fees plus the phone booking fee bring you to around $260, that’s not such a bad way to fly business class to Asia and see three amazing cities (or countries).

How to book with Aeroplan miles

To book awards with Aeroplan, you can search and book standard awards online. If you choose to include a stopover on a round-trip booking, you will need to use the multi-city search function. As mentioned above, including a second stopover will require a call to Aeroplan.

Additionally, if your itinerary will have a connection, don’t be surprised if Aeroplan’s search has a little trouble. If this happens, try searching by segment.

When you’re ready to book, Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio and should transfer almost instantly.

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club

ANA Mileage Club has been a popular program for those with Membership Rewards thanks to competitive redemption rates to a number of regions. The one tough part of the program is that round-trip bookings are required, but you can include a stopover and open jaw. With few exceptions, the open jaw will need to be within the same country as your destination.

As with Aeroplan, you’ll want to watch out for carrier-imposed surcharges. You can avoid surcharges flying to Asia if you book awards on Air China or Air Canada. Unusually and unfortunately, United flights will have surcharges.

If you book awards on ANA, Asiana or EVA Air, the total taxes and fees will cost about $257, $327 $147, respectively. Asiana is certainly a bit steep, but ANA isn’t too bad and I think the cash cost for a business class trip on EVA Air is quite reasonable.

ANA Mileage Club award rates

When it comes time to figure out how many ANA Mileage Club miles you’ll need for an award flight, keep in mind that ANA has an award chart for its own flights and one for partner awards. It also has low, regular and high seasons for awards on ANA which each have different redemption rates. Finally, Asia is broken up into Japan, South Korea, Asia 1 and Asia 2.

Fortunately, Asia 1 and South Korea have the same redemption rates. Below, you will find the redemption rates for ANA flights to each region and class of service for each season (low/regular/high):

JapanAsia 1/South KoreaAsia 2
Economy40K/50K/55K45K/55K/60K55K/65K/70K
Business75K/85K/90K80K/90K/95K100K/110K/115K
First150K/150K/165K165K/165K/180K195K/195K/210K

If you want to book an award that includes one of their partner airlines, the award will be governed by the following chart:

Japan (Zone 1-A/1-B)Asia 1/South KoreaAsia 2
Economy55K/55K60K80K
Business85K/90K95K136K
First150K/165K180K240K

You’ll notice two redemption rates mentioned for partner awards to Japan. If your round-trip itinerary includes only 2 international sectors and connections within Japan, your award will be governed Zone 1-A. Otherwise, your award will be governed by the Zone 1-B rate.

When you compare ANA Mileage Club’s award charts to Aeroplan, you can see it will often come out as the better way to book as long as you need a round-trip booking. Keep in mind, however, that transfers aren’t instant, and you’ll be paying more fuel surcharges in most cases.

How to book with ANA Mileage Club miles

While you do have to book round-trip awards, ANA provides solid search functionality that also allows you to book online. If you are looking for award space on Star Alliance space, I would actually start searching with United’s site as you can choose a flexible date search.

This will allow you to run one-way searches and to see a 2-month calendar that indicates when saver level economy and premium cabin awards are available. With that info in hand, you can run a specific search on ANA with confidence that space is available.

When you’re ready to book, you can expect transfers from Membership Rewards to process within 2 to 3 days. Just remember that ANA won’t hold an award while you wait for the transfer to process.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Let’s be clear from the get-go. Cathay Pacific Asia Miles isn’t an awesome option for awards to Asia — that seems odd, yeah? Anyway, we’re including it because, in general, it’s going to be a better option than using British Airways Avios.

With the changes to the Asia Miles award chart as of June 22, 2018, one-way awards will now require half the miles of a round-trip award. While this seems like a good thing on the surface, this generally meant that Asia Miles has doubled the cost of the old one-way rates for round-trip awards rather than cutting in half the old round-trip rate. I, for one, am not shocked. Just disappointed.

Asia Miles award rates

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles has a couple of award charts for saver level awards, one for itineraries that include flights on no more than one partner airline and one that includes multiple Oneworld partners.

As you can see in the award chart below, if you fly Cathay Pacific (or Cathay Dragon) and no more than one partner to/from the U.S., your one-way award will fall under the Long – Type 2 or Ultra-Long tiers.

Asia Miles Standard Award Chart

This chart can be useful if you need a connection on American Airlines to position for your Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong (HKG) and beyond. However, if your booking will require multiple partners, your award will be governed by the following award chart:

Asia Miles Oneworld Multi-Carrier Award Chart

Asia Miles has indicated that they may have different prices for flights on a single Oneworld partner but they have not released a chart indicating rates for that yet. We’ll update this section when it is released.

How to book with Asia Miles

Booking with Asia Miles is quite easy if you need a flight on Cathay Pacific (and select partners). Just search online and book online with Asia Miles.

Unfortunately, if you want to include a connection on American Airlines, you will need to call Asia miles (1 866 892 2598) to complete the booking.

Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio and it generally takes one to two days for transfers to process.

Delta SkyMiles

When it comes to SkyTeam awards to Asia, Delta SkyMiles actually outshines the other options such as Air France-KLM Flying Blue and Alitalia Milligemilia (don’t make me laugh).

You won’t be able to book stopovers as you can with the options above, but you’ll get competitive rates on partners such as China Airlines and Korean Air.

Delta SkyMiles award rates

Delta recently brought its partner award rates closer in line with awards on its own flights. It was a move that stunned pretty much everyone who has watched Delta devalue without notice and jack up redemption rates. Here are the redemption rates you can expect on flights to Asia:

Delta FlightsSkyTeam Partner Flights
Economy35,000 miles35,000 miles
Business80,000 miles85,000 miles

Personally, booking business class on China Airlines’ Boeing 777-300 or Delta One Suites on one of Delta’s Airbus A350s are the most appealing awards to me. Saver level Delta One space on the A350s is hard to find, but we have seen some pop up closer to departure from Detroit (DTW) to Beijing (PEK).

If you’re looking for award space on China Eastern or China Southern, don’t be surprised if Delta’s site or even Expert Flyer show you phantom award space. Similarly, delta.com won’t show China Airlines space consistently, so for all three of those carriers you’ll want to call to verify award availability before moving your points to Delta.

How to book with SkyMiles

While the rates Delta will show you on its own flights will often be obnoxious, the ability to run a 5-week search makes it much easier to find saver award space around the time you’d like to travel. Once you find the award space you want, you can book online.

Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio and generally transfer instantly. Just remember that Amex requires you to pay a very small excise tax on transfers to Delta — it’s not bad, just annoying.

Etihad Guest

Etihad Guest is an interesting option as they are not part of any major alliance. However, they will provide your best option for booking awards to Asia on American Airlines. You won’t be able to connect within Asia on other airlines, but you’ll have plenty of options between the U.S. and Asia, and American tends to open up more saver availability on their Asian routes than on European ones.

Etihad Guest award rates

While American Airlines devalued their award chart in early 2016, Etihad’s redemption rates on American have remained the same. Etihad even has off-peak economy rates just like the American AAdvantage program.

Etihad Guest American Airlines Award Chart

How to book with Etihad miles

To book, you’ll need to search for award space on British Airways or, if it’s having issues, on Qantas. Once you find space on American Airlines, you can call Etihad Guest (1-877-690-0767) to book. The call center in Serbia is generally quite good at handling partner booking requests.

You can transfer Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio and they usually process almost instantly.

Other options to book

While the above options are going to be your staples when using Membership Rewards to fly Asia, there are two other options you should keep in mind.

Book ANA first class to Tokyo with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

While ANA Mileage Club provides some of the best redemptions rates to Asia, especially on its own flights, there is one time when booking with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club clearly comes out on top.

If you want to book a non-stop first class (round-trip) on ANA, Flying Club should be your go-to choice. Two important things to remember before you transfer points and book is that you’ll need to book a round-trip award and that connections will cost extra.

However, if you book a non-stop award from one of ANA’s U.S. hubs, you can get a round-trip first class award for 110,000 miles from the west coast or 120,000 miles from the east coast and central U.S.

You can search for space on United then call Virgin Atlantic. Ask them to put the award on hold before transferring Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio). Transfers generally process instantly.

Flying Club phone reps are fantastic so this won’t be difficult.

Use Singapore KrisFlyer to book premium cabin awards

Singapore KrisFlyer doesn’t have great redemption rates but it’s your only option for booking Suites Class, first class and business class awards on Singapore Airlines from the U.S. On one-way saver level awards, you can include stopovers for $100 each.

These are the premium cabin redemption rates from the east coast/central U.S. and western U.S.

  • West coast to Singapore: 88,000 miles for business class, 118,000 miles for first class
  • East coast to Singapore: 92,000 miles for business class, 120,000 miles for first class
  • West coast to Hong Kong/South China/Taiwan: 82,000 miles for business class, 92,000 miles for first class
  • West coast to Japan/South Korea: 85,000 miles for business class, 95,000 miles for first class

If you want to include a segment on a Star Alliance partner, you will need to use the Star Alliance award chart to determine the redemption rate. The redemption rates listed are round-trip costs. One-way awards will require half the miles.

Singapore KrisFlyer Star Alliance Award Chart

You can expect transfers (1:1 ratio) to take 12 to 24 hours to process.

Bottom line

Clearly, Star Alliance carriers stand out when booking with Membership Rewards but don’t sleep on Etihad Guest and Delta SkyMiles. However you choose to book, you’ll have plenty of options from first class to economy class.

How have you used American Express points to Asia?

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Comments

  1. In your aeroplan example I think you mean 155,000 total miles for RT to Thailand in business?

  2. I used Aeroplan on Air China IAH – Shanghai in first class in March..pretty easy to search and staff helpful

  3. @david Aeroplan shows availability better than a lot of other airlines, but its really annoying they dont let you search multiple airports in the same city simultaneously. For example, booking New York to London would require seperate searches for EWR-LHR, JFK-LHR, JFK-LGW, etc.

  4. Does Etihad Guest not allow you to fly Etihad’s own metal US-Asia on a single award? For example, JFK-AUH-NRT? (I know you can’t do this with AAdvantage)

  5. @Evan – You can book JFK-AUH-NRT with Etihad Guest, but you’ll be looking at 90k+ or 185k+ or Etihad miles for economy or biz class, respectively.

  6. Are there any good redemptions for intra-Africa (N. Africa since I have an upcoming trip there) using MR?

    Trying to get between CMN, TUN, CAI and possibly DSS (formerly DKR).

  7. @John,

    Etihad Guest flying on Royal Air Maroc: CMN to TUN or DSS for 10k/20k eco/biz one way. Aeroplan on EgyptAir or Turkish for CMN-CAI for 17.5k eco one way (if Biz desired, use 32.5k SQ). For DKR-CAI, 20k Flying Blue flying on Air France or 25k SQ flying on EgyptAir/Turkish (for Biz, 35k SQ).

    Also, to note, Lufthansa Miles & More isn’t an Amex transfer partner, but if you have LH miles, they are often the best rates for these intra N Africa routes (with the exception of 10k Etihad on CMN-TUN/DKR).

  8. Using Virgin Atlantic for ANA is the best, no question. Using an MR transfer bonus, I got roundtrip nonstop in first from LAX for about 84,000 miles.

    The reps are indeed great too. She forgot to charge me the fuel surcharges so I got an even better deal (although I subsequently had to change my ticket for a different day – change fees aren’t bad, but they caught this mistake sigh)

  9. Phantom space with Delta’s Asian partners is an understatement. MU and CZ availability on Delta.com is completely unreliable. You need to check on Air France/KLM to see if the space is really there. It’s been like this for more than 5 years and Delta has absolutely no interest in fixing the situation. Truly disgusting on behalf of Delta – not to mention the egregious YQ they charge on all their Asian partners.

  10. @OMAAT team- What happens to my infant when I book with miles? Is there a fee and if so, do you know any tricks to avoid it? We’re planning a trip to Vietnam with our son. Thanks!

  11. Looks like ANA flights booked through Virgin Atlantic have increased in taxes and fees. a first class ticket was quoted with like 250 in taxes and fees. upon checking ita matrix it seems like the fuel surcharge alone is 175 plus a bunch of other taxes. 120k miles is still insane steal but sad to see fees go up

  12. @Gordon – Off the top of my head, I know Aeroplan charges $50, $100 and $125 or 5,000, 10,000 or 12,500 Aeroplan miles for economy, biz or first, respectively.

  13. Thanks, this is great information. I highly value the “nuts and bolts” on how to max out the Membership Miles. I’ve burned them over the years bringing the in-laws over from Germany once per year but they pile up quickly. I’ve been garnering these for everything we buy for 15 years and still carry a healthy balance.

    I would appreciate a guide to South America. My wife and I spent March in Argentina. I used AA miles; had to fly from MIA to EZE in coach but managed to book J back at a Saver rate of 55 K miles. I have NEVER seen Saver availability down to EZE in J, not from New York or MIA. But there is a day flight down from MIA 3 days per week which takes some of the sting out of flying 10 hours in coach. If there is a better way to get to Argentina and Chile I would love to know about it. Sadly I am running out of AA miles; I don’t do the business travel I used to and will need to max out my Membership Miles if I want to keep on seeing the world in J.

  14. @Lentoasima – We’ll be publishing a guide to using Amex Membership Rewards points for awards to South America soon. Stay tuned!

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