With the offer of a 25% rebate on award redemptions for bookings made before November 30, 2013 for travel before March 31, 2014 and the current share miles promo where miles can essentially be bought for ~1.13 cents, I couldn’t turn down the chance to burn some miles and book an award trip to Asia. While a business class award to North Asia on US Airways is already a good deal since it’s only 90k roundtrip (a similar itinerary would cost 120k United miles roundtrip or 100k American miles roundtrip), you get an open jaw or stopover, and you can route via Europe if you’d like, it’s an even better deal with the 25% rebate as then it’s only 67.5k miles. If I were to buy those miles via the share miles promo, that’s essentially a business class ticket to North Asia for ~$750 for the miles + $50 US Airways award processing fee + ~$100 taxes and fees (variable depending on the routing). All told less than $1000 for business class to North Asia when it’s common to pay at least that much for coach tickets.
I already have quite a bit of travel booked for the next 6 months, so I wasn’t quite sure when I might take this trip, but I didn’t yet have any plans around new years, so I started looking at flights to Japan around then. I’ve never actually been to Japan (I’ve only transited through Narita), and since I was originating in Seattle for this itinerary, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to fly ANA’s 787 from Seattle to Tokyo Narita. For the return, I briefly thought about flying ANA’s other 787 route to the US of Narita to San Jose as I needed to end up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but ended up considering the long way to try some new products of Narita to Zurich on Swiss, and Frankfurt to Chicago on Lufthansa for the long segments.
With this itinerary in mind, I started calling US Airways (1-800-428-4322). I knew about the problems of US Airways agents seeing Lufthansa space, but I soon found out that none of the agents could see the ANA space either. After talking to roughly 10 different agents and finding none who was willing to long sell the seats, I gave up for the night.
I then went about trying to construct an itinerary to Tokyo without using ANA or Lufthansa. Asiana, Air China, EVA, Thai, United, and Air Canada all fly from North America to Asia (Singapore does as well, but you generally can’t book premium cabins on long-haul Singapore flights), but I wasn’t able to find any award space that would work with my dates. So it was off to considering going the long way via Europe.
In general, finding trans-oceanic award space is the hard part. Once you’ve crossed an ocean, it’s much easier to find award space, be that intra-Asia space, intra-Europe space, or even space between Europe and Asia. For trans-Atlantic crossings, I could choose from Austrian, Brussels, LOT, SAS, TAP Portugal, Turkish, United, US Airways, and Air Canada. Note that Brussels award space doesn’t appear on United.com, so use ANA to check space, and I specifically excluded Swiss as I haven’t seen much premium cabin availability on Swiss for flights to/from the US (but I could be mistaken).
Here’s a listing of these airlines and their US destinations (excluding the North American airlines):
- Austrian: Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK, Toronto, Washington Dulles
- Brussels: New York JFK, Washington Dulles
- LOT: Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK, Toronto
- SAS: Chicago O’Hare, Newark, San Francisco, Washington Dulles
- TAP Portugal: Miami, Newark
- Turkish: Boston (beings May 12, 2014), Chicago O’Hare, Houston, Los Angeles, New York JFK, Toronto, Washington Dulles
There was a smattering of award space on each of these airlines, and I ended up choosing Austrian out of Chicago for both US-Europe segments as the timing worked the best and the product is supposed to be quite good. For Europe-Asia segments, I chose Turkish one way and Swiss the other, as even though neither airline seems to release much premium cabin space to/from the US, they release some award space to/from Asia.
After my searches, my general framework of flights was SEA – ORD – VIE – IST – NRT on the way there and NRT – ZRH (overnight layover) – VIE – ORD – SFO on the way back. I found the specific flights that I wanted with award space confirmed via the ANA search tool, and then I called US Airways and fed the flights to the phone agent one by one. This time around, since I avoided Lufthansa and ANA flights, the first agent I talked to had no trouble seeing any of the space and was happy to piece together this long itinerary. She quoted me $164.40 in taxes and fees, plus the $50 US Airways award processing fee, and 90,000 miles, of which 22,500 will be rebated.
Ultimately, after finding space for all of the long segments and specifically avoiding Lufthansa or ANA, I’m most frustrated by the lack of domestic award space available on United. Most domestic flights around new years seem to only have availability on the first flight out or last flight out on any given day, which makes finding good positioning flights extremely difficult. I can understand blocking out economy award availability as there are probably lots of travelers who have already booked up coach cabins for holiday travel, but I find it unlikely that they’ll sell much premium cabin domestic space right around new years. As it stands, I’ll have an additional forced layover in Chicago on the way back.
Overall, even though it took a lot more leg work and research to book my itinerary, I’m happy with what I ended up with. I’ll get to visit two new cities, I’ll fly three new business class products, and I’ll have the chance to spend my two free night certificates from my recently approved Chase Hyatt card at category 6 properties in either Tokyo or Zurich. I hope this post is helpful if you’re looking to book a US Airways (or other Star Alliance) award to North Asia.