Introduction
Domestic (Including Hawaii)
Europe
Asia
Australia
Middle East/Africa
South America


When it comes to redeeming Membership Rewards points for flights between the US and Asia, there are four programs I think are worth considering:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (Star Alliance)
  • Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles (OneWorld)
  • Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)

Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)

Aeroplan massively devalued their award chart last year, and Asia was among the hardest hit regions. Their current award chart to Asia looks as follows:

As far as the zones go, “Asia 1″ includes:

China, Hong Kong, Japan, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam.

And “Asia 2″ includes:

Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mariana Island (Spain), Myanmar, Philippines, Russia (Eastern).

Let’s be honest, these award rates aren’t especially exciting. I’d say of the redemption options, coach and business class between North America and “Asia 1″ remains the best value, at 75,000 miles and 125,000 miles, respectively.

Not only are their award rates not especially low, but they also impose fuel surcharges for travel on Air Canada and a majority of their partners. The airlines on which they don’t impose fuel surcharges include Brussels Airlines, SAS, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, United, and US Airways. Of those carriers only Singapore Airlines and United fly nonstop between the US and Asia, and Singapore Airlines doesn’t even release longhaul premium cabin award space to their partner programs, so you’re more or less limited to coach with them.

That being said, at least you have a few options if routing through Europe, given that Aeroplan lets you route the “long way” and also have either two stopovers OR one stopover and one open jaw per award.

Aeroplan lets you exceed the maximum permitted mileage for a city pair by 5%. For example, between San Francisco and Tokyo the maximum permitted mileage via the Atlantic is 14,882 miles, and with the 5% cushion that’s 15,626 miles. That’s over three times the distance of San Francisco to Tokyo nonstop, which you can travel in each direction — think of the possibilities.

With the fuel surcharges I really don’t find Aeroplan all that attractive of a program to Asia, given that their redemption rates are high to begin with. This is why losing Continental/United as a transfer partner of Membership Rewards was such a big loss, since they had the same generous routing rules, had lower award costs, and didn’t impose fuel surcharges. At least they can still be accessed via Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (Star Alliance)

Under certain circumstances, Singapore Airlines is probably my single favorite Membership Rewards transfer partner, since Singapore Airlines first class awards can be had at a reasonable cost, and products don’t get much more aspirational than that.

I wrote a post a while back with everything you could possibly want to know about making Membership Rewards transfers to KrisFlyer, so if you’re interested in learning more you can check it out.

Singapore gives a 15% discount for award reservations made through their website, and factoring that discount in, the redemption costs between the US and Asia on Singapore Airlines are as follows:

San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore:
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost San Francisco to Hong Kong: 127,500 miles + $371.30
First Class Saver roundtrip cost San Francisco to Hong Kong: 140,250 miles + $371.30
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore: 136,000 miles + $696
First Class Saver roundtrip cost San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore: 182,750 miles + $722

San Francisco to Seoul to Singapore:
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost San Francisco to Seoul: 131,750 miles + $484.20
First Class Saver roundtrip cost San Francisco to Seoul: 148,750 miles + $510.20
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost San Francisco to Seoul to Singapore: 136,000 miles + $696
First Class Saver roundtrip cost San Francisco to Seoul to Singapore: 182,750 miles + $722

Los Angeles to Tokyo to Singapore:
Aircraft: Airbus 380
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost Los Angeles to Tokyo: 131,750 miles + $366.50
First Class Saver roundtrip cost Los Angeles to Tokyo: no first class — only suites class
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost Los Angeles to Tokyo to Singapore: 136,000 miles + $734.20
First Class Saver roundtrip cost Los Angeles to Tokyo to Singapore: no first class — only suites class

Los Angeles to Singapore:
Aircraft: Airbus A340-500
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost Los Angeles to Singapore: 136,000 miles + $696
First Class Saver roundtrip cost Los Angeles to Singapore: no first class — all business class configuration

Newark to Singapore:
Aircraft: Airbus A340-500
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost Newark to Singapore: 144,500 miles + $696
First Class Saver roundtrip cost Newark to Singapore: no first class — all business class configuration

New York to Frankfurt to Singapore:
Aircraft: Airbus 380
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost New York to Frankfurt: 97,750 miles + $563.20
First Class Saver roundtrip cost New York to Frankfurt: no first class — only suites class
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost New York to Frankfurt to Singapore: 144,500 miles + $696
First Class Saver roundtrip cost New York to Frankfurt to Singapore: no first class — only suites class

Houston to Moscow to Singapore:
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost Houston to Moscow: 97,750 miles + $482.50
First Class Saver roundtrip cost Houston to Moscow: 114,750 miles + $434.50
Business Class Saver roundtrip cost Houston to Moscow to Singapore: 144,500 miles + $712.80
First Class Saver roundtrip cost Houston to Moscow to Singapore: 187,000 miles + $738.80

~140,000 miles plus ~$375 in taxes/fees for Singapore Airlines first class between San Francisco and Hong Kong? That’s not half bad, if you ask me. The thing to keep in mind is that these award costs are for travel exclusively on Singapore Airlines, so you have to make your own way to the Singapore Airlines gateway city. While they have a Star Alliance award chart, the redemption costs are considerably higher, and you can’t get the 15% online booking bonus for them.

The one thing to keep in mind regarding KrisFlyer is that points transfers aren’t instant. It can often take 1-2 days for them to occur, and there’s no way to hold award space in the meantime. That being said, I don’t find KrisFlyer award space to be quite as fluid as that of other airlines.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (OneWorld)

Cathay Pacific was added as a US Membership Rewards transfer partner back in May, and while Asia Miles isn’t my favorite loyalty program, Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines.

Cathay Pacific’s award chart is distance based, and looks as follows:

The distances are based on one-way travel, and their routes between Hong Kong and Los Angeles/San Francisco/Vancouver fit into the 5,001-7,500 miles category, while their routes between Hong Kong and Chicago/New York fit into the 7,501-10,000 miles category. As you can see in business class you’d be paying 120,000 miles and 145,000 miles for those routes, respectively, and in first class you’d be paying 180,000 and 220,000 miles for those routes, respectively.

Those aren’t especially good redemption rates, though it’s about as good as it gets with Membership Rewards points. As a point of comparison British Airways Executive Club is also a US Membership Rewards transfer partner, and they charge 140,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket in business class between the US and Hong Kong, and 210,000 miles for a roundtrip in first class between the US and Hong Kong. The one thing to note is that Membership Rewards does frequently have transfer bonuses for British Airways Executive Club, so if there’s a substantial bonus it could make more sense to redeem for travel on Cathay Pacific through them instead.

Conversely, British Airways has a more lucrative redemption chart than Cathay Pacific for shorthaul awards within Asia.

All that being said, on the whole I really don’t consider this to be a great redemption value, especially if you’re continuing onwards within Asia, which will only raise the mileage cost. I’d also say that in general business class is a better redemption value than first class through Asia Miles, though.

Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)

As far as Membership Rewards transfer partners go, Delta has really gone from being my last choice to being one of the top transfer partners.

Delta has three regions in Asia, including Northern Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asian Subcontinent:

As you can see the roundtrip totals vary between 70,000 and 80,000 miles in coach, and are 120,000 miles in business class for all regions. Delta doesn’t let you redeem SkyMiles for international first class, so there’s no option for that.

The fact is that award availability on Delta’s own metal to Asia is pretty horrible, though they have two secret weapons — China Southern and Korean Air.

As I’ve blogged about before, China Southern has some brand spanking new Airbus 380s they’re flying daily between Los Angeles and Guangzhou, which appear to feature a phenomenal fully flat business class product.

China Southern award space can easily be searched on ExpertFlyer, and they seem to have at least nine business class award seats available virtually every day. The route is a gold mine and a near guarantee for award availability.

There’s no way to find or book China Southern award space on delta.com, so you’ll have to call Delta directly to make your reservation.

Another great partner airline that Delta has is Korean Air, and just recently Delta started displaying Korean Air award space on delta.com, which is hugely valuable. The calendar function on delta.com isn’t especially useful for searching Korean Air award space, so be prepared to search day-by-day.

On delta.com, Korean Air business class award space will display as “KE.O,” while coach award space will dispaly as “KE.X.” This is because “KE” is Korean’s two digit code, and “O” is the business class award bucket while “X” is the economy class award bucket.

Korean Air has more service to the US than any other Asian airline, as they fly to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington Dulles. The major restriction with them is that they have blackout dates, which include the following over the coming year:

December 07, 2012 – January 6, 2013
February 7, 2013 – February 12, 2013
March 1, 2013 – March 3, 2013
May 17, 2013 – June 30, 2013
July 19, 2013 – August 25, 2013
September 14, 2013 – September 23, 2013
October 3, 2013
October 5, 2013 – October 6, 2013
December 7, 2013 – December 31, 2013

It’s worth keeping in mind that Delta allows one stopover and one open jaw on award tickets, and points transfer from Membership Rewards to SkyMiles instantly.

As always the major challenge with using SkyMiles for international travel is that Delta award availability is virtually non-existent at the “low” level domestically, so you may have trouble getting to your gateway city. It can often be a lot more economical to purchase a separate ticket to a gateway city than to bump up the award category due to lack of availability on a domestic route. But on the whole between China Southern and Korean Air you have two great airlines when it comes to releasing award space.

Any questions?

  1. November 8th, 2012 at 4:58 am

    FrequentMiler said,

    Great post. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the indirect approach of transferring first to Virgin (I think?) and then to US Air via points,com. Wouldn’t that be better than any of these alternatives for northern Asia?

  2. November 8th, 2012 at 5:14 am

    Andras said,

    Lucky,

    You may want to change Europe to Asia (typo).

    “When it comes to redeeming Membership Rewards points for flights between the US and Europe, there are four programs I think are worth considering:”

  3. November 8th, 2012 at 5:19 am

    Jason said,

    West coast-HKG has some good value on CX. For example premium economy (which more business-level than other airlines) is only 72k. And they allow stopovers en-route.

  4. November 8th, 2012 at 5:21 am

    Andras said,

    FrequentMiler, It’s Aeroplan -> US Airways.

  5. November 8th, 2012 at 5:41 am

    flo said,

    Ben, maybe this question would be better placed in the Ask Lucky section – my better half has approx. 100k Amex points in a Swiss Membership rewards account. There is a grand total of 5 airline transfer partners. Do you have a reasonable explanation why there is such a great difference between the different country programs or am I missing something? Is this the case for every non-US Amex program?

  6. November 8th, 2012 at 7:07 am

    KP said,

    India?

  7. November 8th, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Mikey said,

    I notice with using delta to check on KAL for san/hkt rt they show 120k miles for business class for one ticket, but when trying for 2 seats it jumps to 240k miles per seat.

    Maybe using 2 different Delta accounts it would be possible to get 2 seats at 120k miles.

    any one try this yet?

  8. November 8th, 2012 at 10:00 am

    kyunbit said,

    Don’t forget China Eastern if you connecting intra Asia on Skymiles. They have good award availability.

  9. November 8th, 2012 at 10:09 am

    MidTierStatus said,

    Mikey – Are there two seats available? The DL website will usually price at the level at which both seats are available.

  10. November 8th, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Jeff said,

    @flo
    The transfer partners vary for each country. I’m assuming if you get a bunch of foreign airline programs people who don’t read travel blogs won’t transfer because they think that the points won’t be any use.

  11. November 8th, 2012 at 10:42 am

    lucky said,

    @ FrequentMiler — Good point, though was trying to focus mainly on “non-trick” methods, since I think US Airways via Aeroplan is more of a “loophole” than anything else.

    @ Andras — Fixed, thanks!

  12. November 8th, 2012 at 10:47 am

    lucky said,

    @ flo — I suspect each country’s Membership Rewards program has to negotiate partners on their own based on their budget, and that transfer partner airlines have to sign on country-by-country. I suspect it’s just not lucrative enough for the Swiss program, be it on the Membership Rewards side or partner side.

    @ Mikey — Keep in ind that partner award availability is only available at the “low” level, so if you’re seeing Korean Air award space when searching for two people, those seats are available at the “low” level. I suspect what’s happening is that the cost of the flight to the gateway city is increasing, so I’d try searching just from the US gateway city to your destination.

    @ KP — I’d say Aeroplan is generally the best option to India as Star Alliance has very good coverage there. SkyMiles can work as well, though Air France/KLM don’t have great award availability.

  13. November 8th, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Mitch said,

    @lucky, @KP: Don’t discount Saudia for India with Delta miles. They have phenomenal business award inventory from the US to RUH/JED and then on to many cities in India. Only downside is long layover for many routes, and it’s a bit unclear how easy it is to leave a Saudi airport without a visa.

  14. November 8th, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    David said,

    Does SQ allow one-way awards for 1/2 the price?

  15. November 8th, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    baxterboy12 said,

    I’m hoping to go from BNA to Krabi, Thailand in February for 8 to 9 days to see my brother who is stationed overseas. I have 225K Avios, 110K AmEx MR, 130,000 US Air, 175K Chase, 134K United, and 110K Delta.

    I have never flown business or first class domestic or internationally. I’d like to splurge on this trip and fly first if possible.

    Anyone have suggestions for which product to fly and which hubs to route through?

    United.com shows routing on United and Thai through London and Bangkok but I can’t find first or end to end business availability.

    Is it worth paying 30K to 90K extra miles to make the jump from business to first?

    Any help is greatly appreciated.

  16. November 8th, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    lucky said,

    @ David — They sure do.

  17. November 8th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    AJK said,

    If I wanted to fly NYC-LAX-CAN-SIN on CZ using DL miles, could I? Would it also cost 120k?

  18. November 8th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    johosofat said,

    Does Aeroplan really think the Mariana Islands are still part of Spain??

  19. November 9th, 2012 at 1:21 am

    flo said,

    Lucky, Jeff,

    thanks for your replies – bottom line is that the US program is much more valuable than the Swiss program (no transfer promotions ever here)

  20. November 9th, 2012 at 1:37 am

    lucky said,

    @ AJK — You sure could, though keep in mind that Delta doesn’t release “low” level business class award space on their routes between JFK and LAX.

  21. November 9th, 2012 at 2:19 am

    lucky said,

    @ baxterboy12 — Given your balances I’d definitely focus on using United miles, and I’d try to fly Asiana or ANA first class if you’re looking to go direct to Asia. Otherwise I’d consider routing through Europe on Lufthansa in first class, if you’re willing to book within 14 days of departure, via the methods outlined here:
    http://boardingarea.com/onemileatatime/2012/09/11/reminder-lufthansa-only-releases-first-class-award-space-to-partner-airlines-14-days-out/

  22. November 9th, 2012 at 7:24 am

    KP said,

    How about using ANA miles on Jet airways flights?

  23. November 9th, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    lucky said,

    @ KP — I’ve found Jet Airways award space to be virtually non existent nowadays.

  24. November 12th, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    matt said,

    I’m curious about the potential of Alitalia – haven’t dealt with them myself and my understanding is that they assess fuel surcharges, but the award chart is quite promising.

  25. November 12th, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    lucky said,

    @ matt — Let me do some research on that. Haven’t paid too much attention to Alitalia in the past, though those are indeed some decent award redemption rates!

  26. July 30th, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Diamond Vargas said,

    Lucky, have you looked into AeroMexico miles for this? Their award chart indicates 90k miles for round-trip between continental US and North Asia, 100k for Southeast Asia, with one-ways at half price. Unclear how bad fuel surcharges are, but with 30k mileage discount to Delta this might be a better SkyTeam option. Similar question to Matt’s I suppose – did you find out more about Alitalia also?

  27. April 17th, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Ricky said,

    Is it possible to use Skymiles to buy ticket solely with China Southern Airlines? I called Delta and a lady said it’s not possible. Basically she said to use Skymiles you have to use Delta for part of your trip. Can anybody confirm this, or anybody knows how to convert Delta Skymiles to China Southern Sky Pearl points? Thanks

  28. April 17th, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Ricky — You don’t have to include Delta flights on a SkyMiles award, but Delta does block a great deal of China Southern space.

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