I’ve just returned from a hot adventure (and I do mean hot) to Southeast Asia. I spent 20 days traveling to and touring Bangkok, Cambodia, and Vietnam. These destinations are unique and very affordable ($10 massages, anyone). And thanks to excellent availability of award tickets, the 20+ hours of flying time can be completely enjoyable.
The journey looked like this:
I used American Airlines miles to book business class flights on Cathay Pacific Airlines (with one leg on Cathay’s regional airline, Dragonair). Total cost was 110,000 miles and about $90 in taxes and fees.
Avoiding the Killer 20+ Hour Coach Class Flight
Traveling to Asia from the US, especially the east coast, is a killer. It’s generally about 14-15 hours at least from the west coast. Add in connections to the east coast, and you are easily looking at 20+ hours of butt in seat time each way. I did that in coach a couple of times when I was younger. Thanks to the wonders of airline reward points, I didn’t have to even think about it this time.
American Airlines is a member of the One World airline alliance. One World includes American, British Air, Qantas, Air Berlin, Finnair, Iberia, and others — including the wonderful Hong Kong airline, Cathay Pacific.
Cathay has an excellent business class product — one of the best business class seats in the sky.
Fly Cathay, and you can sleep your way to Asia (as I did). And American Airlines has about the best “price” for those seats.
Using AA Miles to Fly Cathay Pacific
Use your AA miles, and you will just pay 55,000 miles plus about $45 in taxes each way. (Note: price will be going up in March 2016)
Most people don’t ever think about using their AA miles on another airline. Many don’t know you can do that. (Yes, you can use your AA miles for flights on any other One World Airline, as well as some other partners). Or if they know you can use miles on other airlines, they don’t realize that seats are available — because AA doesn’t show you all the availability on its website.
If you go to the AA website and do a search for award flights from the US to Asia, mostly what you’ll see is (very limited) availability on AA’s on flights to places like Hong Kong. But if you know where to look, you will find more seats and more destinations using partner airlines like Cathay, or Japan Airlines.
Search for Awards on British Airways; Then Call AA to Book
The “secret” is to use a search engine on another One World airline that does show the availability of more of the partner airlines. Specifically, my go-to source for One World award availability is the British Airways web site. And that’s how I found my seats on this trip.
Many months ago (important), I opened up the British Airways web site, logged into my Avios account (Avios is the name of BA’s frequent flier program), and searched for Cathay Pacific awards to Bangkok (the start of my tour), and from Hanoi (the end of the tour). It took some juggling dates, but since it was far in advance, I was able to quickly locate 2 business class tickets for the journey (my sister joined me on this trip.)
Finding the awards on the British Airways site does NOT mean that I booked them there. If I had booked the seats there, the “price” would have been much higher, because Avios charges more for those kinds of awards. But, having found the seats that were available, I simply called the AA award reservations line and gave them the flight numbers I wanted. They were able to find the same seats, and confirm the booking.
Flexibility — YES, even later upgrading to FIRST Class
With AA awards, you have some flexibility. You can change the date that you are planning to travel, as long as you don’t change the place you are leaving from or the place you are going to. Other changes can incur fees.
You can also upgrade your class of service if it later becomes available, and there is no change fee — you just pay the difference in miles. For example, on this trip, a First Class seat opened up on Cathay’s trip from LAX to Hong Kong at the last minute. My sister was able to call in and upgrade her ticket. (I tried to do the same but had glitches because I had already flown the first leg. sigh.)
Make The Flight Part of the Fun, Instead of the Torture You Need to Endure
Asia is an amazing adventure. The people of Southeast Asia are smiling and happy to see you, and there is great value there. Don’t let the thought of long long flights deter you from seeing someplace completely different from your world. Collect points and use them to make getting there as enjoyable as being there.
Coming soon — details about the flights and the tour.