While we usually are ones to opt with quantity versus quality, one of our bucket list goals is to experience an international flight in first class.
I am currently in the planning phase of acquiring first class airline tickets for my wife and I. The planning phase consists of searching various routing options and earning the necessary points. Right now I am primarily focused on flights, but after I get the flights booked I’ll worry about where we are staying.
With that being said, there are were a few options I was considering:
- Cathay Pacific via Alaska Miles
- Japanese Airlines via AA Miles
- Singapore Air First/Suites
Keep in mind that I am not an expert on award flight booking. I’m still doing a lot of research and learning. This post will primarily highlight what I’ve learned. I haven’t actually booked these flights yet. I’ll write another post when I eventually get around to booking these flights.
My wife mainly wants to go to Beijing (PEK) to see the Great Wall of China and Hong Kong (HKG). These two stops are high on my bucket list and I also wanted to visit Tokyo. Therefore, these are the three cities we are trying to visit over a 2 week vacation. We plan to utilize the weekends and holidays since we have limited PTO. Our goal is to book our trip over Thanksgiving 2017.
Cathay Pacific (CX) via Alaska Airlines (AS) miles
Cathay Pacific (CX) is one of the premier airlines that flies from the US to Asia. I’ve heard amazing things about their business and first class product. Alaska Airlines (AS) has several airline partners one of them being CX. AS has a different award chart for each partner airline.
Here is their award chart for CX from the US to Asia:
Since Cathay Pacific doesn’t fly directly out of Seattle, we can take a positioning flight on AS to SFO, LAX, or YVR. Alaska only allows one partner per award ticket, but will allow you to fly an AS flight to reposition. The next leg of our journey would be SFO/LAX/YVR to HKG. One of the great things about AS awards is that you’re allowed one stopover even on one-ways. My plan is to have a 5-6 day stopover in HKG before completing our final leg of the AS award ticket to PEK.
I have roughly 62k AS miles right now from signing up for the BoA Alaska credit cards (personal and business version). I also have another 10k miles from their shopping portal. That gives me roughly 72k AS miles. My current plan is to transfer another 28k from my SPG points. SPG gives a 5k point bonus for every 20k points transferred to an airline. Therefore, it’ll cost me roughly 23k SPG to bring my AS miles to a total of 100k. This will be enough miles to book a SEA-SFO/LAX/YVR-HKG-PEK ticket in Business (J) for two people.
I’ve considered transferring over additional SPG points to book these two tickets in First (F), which would cost 140k miles. However, CX only releases one first class seat up at first. They tend to open up more F award availability 2 weeks before the flight. You can search for CX award availability using the BA website. I may upgrade us to F tickets if I find availability, but for now my plan is to book us in J, which has plenty of availability if you’re looking far enough out.
Japanese Airlines (JL) via American Airlines (AA) Miles
I originally looked into this idea, but AA recently changed their award chart and made US to Asia routes much more expensive as far as points go.
However, AS recently announced that they are partnering with JL. They haven’t released the airline-specific award chart yet so I have no idea how many points it might cost. However, if it is cheaper than CX we may end up flying JL.
Singapore Airlines (SQ)
Singapore Airlines is what initially got me looking into flying first class. It’s one of those experiences that I would never pay for with cash, but using points/miles could make it possible. Plus I wanted to treat my wife to something special.
SQ flies four different routes from the US:
- JFK – FRA (Suites)
- SFO – HKG (First)
- IAH – DME (First)
- LAX – NRT (Suites, Changing to First)
All of these routes then continue on to SIN, which is obviously SQ’s hub. However, you can book one of these routes, which are known as fifth freedom routes. Google it for more information.
Being on the west coast and wanting to go to Asia, we obviously were eyeing the SFO – HKG and LAX – NRT routes. I was specifically interested in the LAX – NRT route because they fly the A380, which instead of F class has Suites class. These suites offer additional privacy and if you’re able to snag the two middle seats on the plane they can transform into a double bed. Imagine sleeping on a double bed 30,000 feet above the ground. Alas though, SQ recently announced that they will be changing the type of airplane that will be flying the LAX – NRT route. Therefore, no more Suites class.
If all goes as planned with the CX flights, my plan is to book a flight from PEK to NRT. Stay a few nights. Then book the SQ route from NRT – LAX in F. We’ll have to add an additional flight from LAX – SEA to get us back home, but we can do that via the Companion Pass.
The NRT – LAX flight costs for two people is ~149k SQ miles + taxes/fees. Their frequent flyer program is known as KrisFlyer. The beautiful thing about KrisFlyer is that they allow transfers from all the major transferable currencies (MR, UR, TYP, and SPG). I will most likely transfer over the Membership Rewards earned from my AMEX Platinum application. This will give me roughly 110k SQ miles. For the additional 39k miles needed, I’ll most likely transfer over TYP.
Mapping out Our Routes
Our routing would look something like the above map.
- Seattle (SEA) to San Francisco(SFO)/Los Angeles(LAX)/Vancouver(YVR)
- San Francisco(SFO)/Los Angeles(LAX)/Vancouver(YVR) to Hong Kong (HKG)
- Spend 5-6 nights in Hong Kong
- Hong Kong (HKG) to Beijing (PEK)
- Spend 1-2 nights in Bejing
- Beijing (PEK) to Tokyo (NRT)
- Spend 3-4 nights in Tokyo
- Tokyo (NRT) to Los Angeles (LAX)
- Los Angeles (LAX) to Seattle (SEA)
Now that looks like a lot of flying. Keep in mind part of our travel experience will be the premium experience whether flying in Business or First. I can only imagine how nice it must be to have the ability to lie completely flat. I’m still trying to figure out when exactly SQ releases there award availability.