Hacking Award Seats to Asia: All 177 Routes!

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    In the last installment, we looked at all 403 Trans-Atlantic routes where award seats can be booked with miles. Now we turn our attention to Asia to find additional cities that aren’t hub captive, but still get a lot of traffic. These two factors will likely drive prices lower, for revenue fares (If you subscribe to The Flight Deal, these cities have been historically disproportionately part of great fares.)

    Less hub captivity and lots of traffic also means that these cities are disproportionately overlooked by award search engines and call center agents in favor of partner hubs — the hypothesis being that UA and DL will likely try to route you via ICN or MNL over HKG all else being equal. There are also fewer elites with mileage accounts in the same alliance you’re trying to book on, so you face less competition while the airlines face more.

    Why is this important? Because award searching is a pain, full of hunting and pecking, long hours spent up at night making compromises on dates or products to get you to your destination. There is a bit of a “thrill of the hunt,” but if you’re like me, there are times when you want to hit your head against a wall. You’ve tapped out of all those secret routes your Uncle Charlie told you about.

    Here’s a link to the dataset: TPAC Business Class Routes and Products Feel free to comment below if you have any tips or find inaccuracies!

    The Results:

    So we ran the same analysis on Asia that we did for Europe and came up with a few surprises. First, the best cities to tap when the search engines tell you “no dice”

    North America:

    • HNL – Honolulu
    • LAX – Los Angeles
    • JFK – New York Kennedy
    • YYZ – Toronto Pearson
    • YVR – Vancouver
    • ORD – Chicago O’Hare

    • NRT – Tokyo Narita
    • KIX – Osaka Kansai Int’l
    • HND – Tokyo Haneda
    • PVG – Shanghai Pudong
    • NGO – Nagoya
    • HKG – Hong Kong
    Cities to avoid:

    North America:

    • MEX – Mexico City
    • DTW – Detroit
    • IAD – Washington Dulles

    • CAN – Guangzhou
    • MNL – Manila
    • PEK – Beijing

    1. Not all cities created equal in North America

    Note the contrast between ORD and IAH!

    There is a fairly sharp drop off after ORD, with IAH coming in next, but considerably more hub-captive.

    2. It’s really easy to get to Beijing, despite it being a star-alliance fortress hub

    Huge and connected. Air China is giving away seats to PEK – and their product is reviewing pretty well (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

    PEK, while hub-captive, usually sees a TON of award availability on Air China. I was initially hesitant to fly them, given the reputation of other Chinese carriers compared to counterparts in the region, but they have an excellent economy product and I’ll be trying out their long-haul business class next month.

    So far, reviews have been positive and you can now get a 72 hour transit visa if you want to spend 23 hours there on the way to your final destination.

    3. Two carriers for the price of one!

    Many cities in Asia, notably NRT, HND, KIX, PVG and TPE are hubs for two airlines in different alliances. This helps cancel out the hub captive effect and likely means that there is more capacity on certain routes than a single airline (or airline and its joint venture partner) would choose to offer on its own.

    4. Really, kind of a no-brainer to get some Aloha on the way

    Look at all the places you can get to from Hawaii! (Courtesy: gcmap.com)

    HNL came up as the top city in North America, not only because both DL and UA fly to their hub in NRT from there, but also because it’s a large tourist destination for Asia, with great connectivity to Asia. Hawaiian Airlines, being a partner with both American and United also adds to the flexibility with which you can use your miles.

    While there are a ton of routes, it’s worth noting that the seats are often closer to what you’d expect in regional Asia or North America, so angled flats or recliners are more the norm. But you can engineer a 23-Hour Layover and chill on nearly any beach on O’ahu for the better part of the day.

    Availability to Hawaii is also highly seasonal, with peak times being Christmas and summer, even though Hawaii has pretty consistent weather year round. Try March or September and the calendar is usually wide open.

    5. $10 wine or Dom Perignon? – Not all products created equal

    While there are many options, these routes probably have the starkest contrast in products, particularly in business class out of any market in the world.

    In general, the US carriers are catching up and becoming competitive with many in Europe (particularly DL, though AC, AA and US are improving as well) by installing lie-flat seats and revamping food, but for Trans-Pacific flying, North America and Asian carriers are generally in different leagues.

    8 across seems a bit tight no? (Courtesy: patstravelreviews.com)

    A UA 777 (8 across, Jack Daniels and an ice cream sundae) or aging 747 isn’t going to even come close to the luxury or entertainment of Singapore’s or EVA’s 777-300ERs (4 across with Dom Perignon and awesome cappuccinos, with a chance of Hello Kitty if you’re flying from LAX). Some of the best carriers in the world fly these routes, so it’s worth looking at what routes they deploy their best products on.

    Dom Perignon and hand-in-hand Hello Kitty Waffles! (Courtesy: Johnnyjet.com)

    Anecdotally following press releases, JFK, LAX and SFO tend to be the largest recipients of the newest, nicest aircraft. I also suspect they are over-subscribed cities to serve when an Asian carrier decides to fly to the US, because they are seen as “higher profile” cities abroad. Where’s the lie-flat love for SEA, YVR or ORD?

    6. Secret Routings

    Lots of cities to choose from to get to NRT (Courtesy: gcmap.com)

    There are a lot of hidden non-hub cities, particularly in North America, that only have one route to Asia. They are:

    • BOS – Boston
    • DEN – Denver
    • LAS – Las Vegas
    • PDX – Portland (OR)
    • SAN – San Diego
    • SJC – San Jose (CA)
    • YYC – Calgary

    If you can snag a seat through them, these cities generally have great domestic connectivity and are becoming targets markets for 787’s (typically long-range, but not huge lift/number of seats – remember 787’s are about the same size as 767, but can fly way further). No way to justify A380’s, 747’s or 777’s on those routes, but smaller efficient aircraft may open more routes like this in the future. Time will tell.

    7. OneWorld left out again – Just wait for Australia and South America!

    Skyteam and Star Alliance dominate these routes too!

    From an Alliance standpoint, it’s still clearly better to hold Star Alliance or Skyteam miles going to Asia holding 44% and 36% of routes respectively. Though AA is revamping the aircrafts it’s sending to Hong Kong, Cathay is always a powerhouse and JAL compares favorably within the region. While Delta does have a few routes from non-Hubs in the US, they aren’t as prevalent as in Europe.

    It’s also worth noting that Delta and United have both inherited hubs at Narita, flying a lot of their own aircraft from there to further points in Asia. When asked how they are able to compete against the likes of carriers like SQ, CX and TG to their respective hubs, an executive at United mentioned that they “still have a large contingent of business flyers that want to fly one airline all the way to their destination and want a US-based carrier for a consistent experience.” We’ll see how long that perception lasts [​IMG]

    Quick Note: You may notice I’ve left out direct flights to India and the Middle East. We’ll be covering those in a seperate post, along with Australia and South America. Stay Tuned!

    Hope this post was as informative as the last. Would love to hear your feedback and comments below! Might be a delay in responses since I’ll be on a boat in Croatia for most of the week.


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