Back to the Basics: Cheapest Miles to Asia in the Post-COVID-19 World

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Halong Bay - Cheapest Miles to Asia

Halong Bay, Vietnam

My previous posts on the cheapest miles to Europe and South America:

Back to the Basics: Cheapest Miles to Europe in the Post-COVID-19 World

Back to the Basics Part 2: Cheapest Miles to South America in the Post-COVID-19 World

Let’s continue our quest on finding the best frequent miles values to different corners of the world in the post-COVID-19 world. Cheapest Miles to Asia this time!

To be clear, there are about 5,000 airlines in the world and I’m not ambitious crazy enough to try and analyze every existing FFP. My focus is on miles that are easy to obtain with:

  • credit cards or/and
  • credit card reward points transfers

“Normal” redemption rates between the U.S. and Asia hover around 35,000 — 40,000 miles one way. Let’s see if we can beat this and, if so, by how much.

Cheapest miles to Asia in Economy

ANA with ANA miles

Is there anything I can say about ANA I haven’t said already? It’s an awesome airline, and its Mileage Club FFP is an awesome program. The only ANA downside is that it doesn’t allow one-way travel. However, it does allow a free stopover and (unofficially) up to two open jaws.

You can fly from North America to Japan for 40,000 miles per round trip!ANA table - Cheapest Miles to Asia

Japan

40,000-55,000 miles

ANA seasonal chart for travel to / from Japan. 

Don’t scoff at the low season dates. April is Sakura blossom season in Tokyo and Kyoto. Of course, traveling to Japan in April 2021 is, well, unlikely because COVID-19, but it looks like their 2022 calendar is not yet complete. The point is that 40,000 miles for a round trip between anywhere in North America and anywhere in Japan is a steal.

Here are some other values.

South Korea and Asia 1

45,000-60,000 miles

Asia 2

55,000-70,000 (80,000 on partners)

Asia 1 Beijing, Dalian, Shenyang, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Chengdu, Wuhan, Hong Kong, Taipei, Manila
Asia 2 Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, Jakarta, Mumbai, Delhi, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh

Asia 2 is not such a great value except during the low season. You can find seasonality and mileage charts on this page.

How to get ANA miles
  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

American with Etihad miles

There is only one reason to use Etihad miles to fly to Asia: its American Airlines award chart.

Etihad’s award chart mostly mimics the old, pre-devaluation American AAdvantage chart with its awesome “offpeak” discounts.

In our case, there is only one value that’s really worth jumping through the hoops (and by that I mean having to call Etihad to book your award):

  • 25,000 miles to Japan and Korea between October 1 – April 30

That’s an especially great deal if you live in or near Dallas. American flies from Dallas to both Tokyo (NRT and HND) and Seoul. Neither ANA nor Asiana flies from Dallas, although Korean does.

How to get Etihad miles
  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Capital One transfer
  • Citi ThankYou transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

You have to call Etihad to book an award flight on American.

Cathay Pacific with Cathay Pacific miles

Well, nothing to see here (almost). Cathay Pacific has a distance-based chart, and you’ll pay 30,000 points for a coach ticket from the West Coast and Hong Kong. Anything longer, and you’re looking at a whopping 42,000 miles. Brutal!

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles award chart

How to get Cathay Pacific miles
  • The Synchrony Bank Cathay Pacific Airways credit card
  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Capital One transfer
  • Citi ThankYou transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

Cathay Pacific with Alaska miles

I always feel weird writing about less than stellar Alaska redemptions because I personally would never use these precious miles (which aren’t easy to collect) on something so mundane, but for the sake of fairness let’s imagine that you must fly to Asia and you have nothing but Alaska miles to make that flight a reality. If that’s the case, you can use them to fly Cathay Pacific for 30,000 miles between anywhere in the Continental U.S. and Asia, which is a better value than Asia Miles’ own chart. Especially since you can have a free stopover in Hong Kong, even on a one-way ticket. OK, ’nuff said.

How to get Alaska miles
  • Bank of America personal and business credit cards
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

Special mention: ANA with Virgin Atlantic points

You can fly between Japan and the U.S. for 60,000 (Western U.S.) and 65,0000 miles (Central & Eastern U.S.) per round trip (one way travel is not permitted). I wouldn’t recommend these redemptions for the reason that will become clear soon.

But again, if you must…

How to get Virgin Atlantic points
  • Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard from Bank of America
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer
  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Citi ThankYou transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

Cheapest miles to Asia in Business Class and above

The cheapest “normal” redemption rate I can think of for a flight to Asia in Business is 60,000 AAdvantage miles, but we can do much better than that.

ANA with ANA miles

Are you surprised that ANA is your absolute best bet for a Business Class award ticket to Japan, Korea, and elsewhere?

Let’s take another look at the award table I already pasted above. You can fly to Japan for 75,000 to 90,000 miles per ROUND TRIP (!!!) in Business Class.

You can fly to Korea for 80,000 to 95,000 miles

You can fly to Korea - Cheapest Miles to Asia

Beijing, Hong Kong, or Manila? From 80,000 miles.

Bangkok, Delhi, or Singapore? From 100,000 miles.

The most expensive flight on ANA during the high season is 115,000 miles per round trip (although partners’ awards can cost more).

And the best part (or at least pretty good part) is that ANA isn’t adding fuel surcharges to most of the flights on its own metal (some connecting flights via Japan are still getting YQ).

Destinations from the U.S. (ANA Metal) 2016 (when ANA dropped YQ) 2020 (when ANA dropped YQ)
Manila $328 $213
Bangkok $408 None
Singapore $415 None
Phnom Penh $588 None
Beijing $358 $320
Hong Kong None None
Vietnam None None
Jakarta None None
Kuala Lumpur $144 None
Taipei $85 $86

Read this post: The Awesomeness and Quirks of the New ANA Fuel Surcharge and More!

ANA with Virgin Atlantic points

So, using ANA for Business Class travel is great, and you should definitely look into that. But redeeming Virgin Atlantic points can be fantastic because it offers great values for both Business and First Class travel. Here is why.

As you can see, the Business Class redemption rates are great, but the First Class rates are simply UNBEATABLE. You won’t get a better or equal value with any other program. Ever!

I don’t think…

New ANA First Class Cabin - Cheapest Miles to Asia

First Class seat on the new ANA 777-300ER with sliding doors and a mammoth 43-inch 4K monitor

Well, if you do, I’ll freely admit that I’ve been living under a rock for the last 20 years. How about that?

There are some downsides to using Virgin Atlantic points on ANA:

  • The rates are for nonstop travel only. Every additional segment will cost you more.
  • One-way travel is not allowed.

American with Etihad miles

Here we are again! The reason why you might want to redeem Etihad miles on American is that Etihad uses the old AA award chart with reasonable values.

You would pay the following for a Business Class seat:

  • U.S. to Japan and Korea: 50,000 miles
  • U.S. to other Asian destinations: 55,000 miles

For a First Class seat:

  • U.S. to Japan (HND): 62,500 miles
  • U.S. to Hong Kong: 67,500 miles

That’s right! AA only flies the 777-300ER with a First Class cabin to two destinations in Asia: Tokyo and Hong Kong. And American has very limited presence in Asia. Here is where it flies:

  • Tokyo (NRT and HND)
  • China (Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai)
  • South Korea (Seoul)

Still, if the routing works for you, Etihad miles can save you from 10,000 to 42,500 miles vs. American miles — and that’s per one-way travel!

Multiple airlines with Alaska miles

Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific can fly you almost anywhere in Asia with a free stopover in Hong Kong for 50,000 miles in Business Class or 70,000 miles in First. Both are excellent values, so you do understand why I was reluctant to even mention spending Alaska miles on a coach seat in our previous section.

Korean

104,000 to North Asia and 120,000 (meh) to Southeast Asia. Korean charges the same amount of miles for one-way and round-trip travel, so round trip it is.

Japan Airlines

Book Japan Airlines if you want to be pampered in First — otherwise, the Business Class rates are mediocre (but certainly not terrible).

To Asia:

  • Business 60,000
  • First 70,000

To Southeast Asia

  • Business 65,000
  • First 75,000

Let’s recap

ANA is clearly a winner in both Economy and Business, especially if you’re flying on its own metal.

Booking American with Etihad miles can be a great alternative in Economy, Business, and even First, but American flies to just a few Asian destinations.

Then there’s HK-based Cathay Pacific, which severely devalued its award chart a few years ago. However, if you live on the West Coast, you can still find decent redemption rates in Economy.

Alaska is still a Hot Deals incubator — so much so that there are several partner airlines that are begging you to use Alaska miles on their Business and First Class seats.

Finally, Virgin Atlantic presents excellent values for ANA Business, and especially First Class, although it would have to be nonstop, round trip travel.

I’ve played with dummy bookings a little and I like what I’ve seen. There is plenty of award space in all classes. It’s just that I’m very hesitant to plan so far in advance. So many things can go wrong, and I’ve had my share of botched travel plans. On the other hand, as the pandemic situation is going to improve (and it is going to improve), my concern is that people might start throwing their hoarded miles at it.

What’s your thinking — reserve or observe?

 

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bluecat

Great work…again! One thing I consider in these post-covid days is the number of legs I must fly; if I can get to Japan on a NS from my hometown, it’s worth it to pay more.

I will be a “reserver”!

bluecat

How are you able to see what ANA flights are available with VA points? For me, only Delta flights (SEA-HND, for example) are popping up.
VA has a very generous cancellation policy too, at least on their own metal.

Christian

Great to see you’re still around biding your time, as am I (as I am?). Any suggestions on hunting up ANA first class award space for two people? I was checking next October and see nothing out of JFK/ORD/LAX for more than one person. My wife and I really prefer to travel together so I’m in a bit of a pickle. Any thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Ryan del mundo

With ANA being RT only, how much pain is there to modify the return trip? Can you change it after departure for the first leg?

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