The Best Ways to Fly to North Asia with Points and Miles [Step-by-Step]

ANA First Class Cabin, Boeing 777,

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In the world of points, travel is the end goal. Most importantly, hard work is required to accrue hundreds of thousands of points to plan a first class vacation. The last thing you want to do is get subpar value for the points that you worked so hard to earn.

Flying to the countries that make up North Asia constitute a huge percentage of aspirational travel. This isn’t terribly surprising since North Asia is shared by the likes of Japan and South Korea. In this guide, we’ll be focusing on how to redeem points for max value on flights to North Asia.

Different frequent flyer programs treat regions differently, and North Asia is no exception. For the most part, this piece will be focused on travel to China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, North Korea, and Mongolia.

Although it technically is possible to fly to North Korea, U.S. travelers are banned from visiting North Korea. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising, considering the fact that tensions between North Korea and Western civilization are near an all-time high.

So, let’s get started on how we can use points to create amazing experiences en route to North Asia.

Best Programs to Use to Book Flights

There are a number of fascinating ways to fly to North Asia with points and miles. Considering how these Asian countries are the closest in proximity to the United States, it’s not surprising that access to them is easier than ever.

With the growth of commercial aviation and stiff competition between Asian carriers to fight for market share, the results are enhanced, competitive business and first class products and consumer-friendly practices for booking award travel.

Generally, when you’re looking at flights to North Asia, you will notice higher-than-usual award availability, amazing redemption sweet spots, and a great product to boot.

Without further ado, let’s talk about our picks of the best frequent flyer miles to use to book flights.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

ANA First Class, Boeing 777
ANA first class. Image Credit: Alex Miller / Upgraded Points

When we talk about flying to North Asia, the country that immediately comes to mind is Japan — one of the most culturally rich countries in the world, replete with top-notch food and amazing sights.

The reputation of Japan is a picture-perfect society with an unusually harsh work ethic, due primarily to societal norms to keep up appearances at all costs. This translates into an unparalleled level of customer service, affectionately dubbed “Japanese warmth.”

Japan, being an economic and cultural powerhouse, has 2 airlines: Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA). Flying Japan Airlines first class, one of the best international first class products in the world, is consistently tied with ANA, and one of the best ways to book ANA first class is by redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles.

Virgin Atlantic, though not in any airline alliance, has strategic partnerships with many airlines. Their loyalty program known as Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is advantageous for points travelers because it provides excellent ways to redeem Virgin Atlantic miles.

There are 3 Virgin Atlantic partners that would be useful for premium cabin flights to North Asia:

  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • Delta Airlines
  • Air China (the sole bookable route is London-Heathrow to Beijing)

The best way to fly to North Asia using Virgin Atlantic miles is undoubtedly on ANA. Here is the region-based award chart to redeem Virgin Atlantic miles:

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club provides some stunning sweet spots to Japan on ANA. Image Credit: Virgin Atlantic

For only 110,000-120,000 Virgin Atlantic miles, you can fly round-trip from the United States to Japan in ANA first class, which is a ridiculously good deal. United charges 110,000 miles one-way, so you’re saving 50% over other transfer partners for an amazing first class product.

Similarly, you can get round-trip tickets in business class for 90,000-95,000 Virgin Atlantic miles and economy for 60,000-65,000 miles. The “Western USA” cities that will qualify for the cheapest prices are Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC), and Seattle (SEA).

The other “Central & Western USA” cities that are slightly pricier are Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), New York City (JFK), and Washington, D.C. (IAD).

Lastly, you can book round-trip flights between Hawaii and Japan using Virgin Atlantic miles on ANA’s new A380 for 45,000 miles in economy, 70,000 in business, and 90,000 in first class.

Hot Tip: Need a one-stop shop for ANA routes? Check out our definitive guide to ANA’s direct routes from the U.S

Remember that when using Virgin Atlantic miles on ANA, you can only book round-trip tickets. This won’t be an issue for most travelers, but it’s a condition nonetheless.

Once you’ve solidified your travel plans, here are the steps to follow for booking ANA first class using Virgin Atlantic miles:

  1. Begin your search for award space by visiting United.
  2. On the homepage, check the box that says Book with miles.
  3. Choose Round-trip or One-way.
  4. Type your origin and destination cities.
  5. Select your outbound and inbound dates.
  6. Select the number of travelers.
  7. Click Find flights.
  8. After finding flights that you like, write down the flight numbers, dates, and times.
  9. Call Virgin Atlantic at 800-365-9500
  10. Request an award hold for 24 hours with your specific flight.
  11. Transfer your points.
  12. Call back Virgin Atlantic at 800-365-9500 to confirm your booking and pay for taxes and fees.
  13. Write down the ANA Record Locator.
  14. Visit the Manage Reservation Page for ANA and enter your record locator and name.
  15. Select your seats and add any applicable meal preferences.

In addition to flying on ANA, you can redeem Virgin Atlantic miles to travel on Delta Air Lines. Here is the list of Delta routes to North Asia:

  • Atlanta (ATL) – Seoul-Incheon (ICN)*
  • Atlanta (ATL) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • Atlanta (ATL) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)*
  • Detroit (DTW) – Beijing (PEK)*
  • Detroit (DTW) – Seoul-Incheon (ICN)*
  • Detroit (DTW) – Shanghai (PVG)*
  • Detroit (DTW) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)*
  • Las Vegas (LAS) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo-Haneda (HND)*
  • Minneapolis (MSP) – Seoul-Incheon (ICN)*
  • Minneapolis (MSP) – Tokyo-Haneda (HND)*
  • Portland (PDX) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Osaka (KIX)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Seoul-Incheon (ICN)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)*

* Delta One Suites-operated route

Delta’s presence in North Asia is simultaneously astonishing and not terribly surprising. On one hand, the extent of Delta’s commitment as a U.S. airline to Asian economic hubs is admirable.

On another hand, the prosperous economic hubs that exist in North Asia coupled with the lucrative partnerships from Korean Air, China Eastern, and China Southern make staying connected to North Asia easier than ever.

While Delta charges ridiculous prices for Delta One Suites routes, upwards of 300,000 SkyMiles one-way, you can save your points and spend the following amounts for one-way flights:

Class of ServiceVirgin Atlantic Miles CostTaxes and Fees
Economy40,000$5.60-$80
Business60,000$5.60-$80

To spend only 60,000 miles for an excellent business class flight elapsing upwards of 15 hours is an unbelievable bargain, and you should consider using Virgin Atlantic miles to take advantage of this diverse route network. Keep in mind that you’re not restricted to round-trip flights when booking Delta with Virgin Atlantic.

Your Delta booking can be performed completely online at Virgin Atlantic’s website. If you need more help, check out our best ways to book Delta One to get a step-by-step tutorial on booking Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

The last partner which is not valid for U.S. flights to/from North Asia is Air China. In fact, there’s only 1 route you can book with Virgin Atlantic points, but it’s still worth considering since it includes a North Asian city: Beijing (PEK).

Specifically, you can book a one-way flight on this route via Air China:

  • London-Heathrow (LHR) – Beijing (PEK)

One-way flights are structured as follows:

Class of ServiceVirgin Atlantic Miles Cost
Economy28,000
Business67,500
First100,000

This isn’t a terribly competitive price, especially considering you’ll be responsible for fuel surcharges, which can be upwards of $1,000 each way. Nonetheless, the 10-11 hour flight between the 2 cities might be on your radar with Virgin Atlantic miles.

You can search using United’s website for availability. After that, give Virgin Atlantic a call and repeat the same steps as above in the ANA section.

Bottom Line: Overall, Virgin Atlantic offers unprecedented value on North Asia flights, especially for ANA first/business class and Delta One Suites. If you don’t mind flying on a less premium product, try Delta One business class or Air China from London. 

Earning Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles

Perhaps the best part of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is that their currency is ridiculously easy to earn. There are countless ways to earn Virgin Atlantic miles, and Flying Club is transfer partners with most of the major transferable currencies.

Specifically, you can transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy.

Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards all transfer at a 1:1 ratio instantaneously. Marriott Bonvoy transfers at a 3:1 ratio within 1 business day and for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer, you’ll receive a bonus of 5,000 Virgin Atlantic miles, bumping up your total miles received from 20,000 to 25,000.

Also, both Amex and Citi offer transfer bonuses from time to time. The highest bonus recorded was 35%, though the last time that occurred was late 2014. Most recently, the transfer bonuses have been 30%. If you leverage this, your first class round-trip flight on ANA from the West Coast drops to 85,000 Amex points, which is an absurdly low cost.

Recommended Chase Cards (Personal)

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card - This is our favorite beginners travel rewards card which has a 60,000 point bonus (highest ever) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

This sign up bonus is worth $750 in travel purchases (flights, hotels, car rentals etc) when you redeem your points through Chase's travel portal, which works like Expedia. The bonus alone could get you multiple round-trip flights or hotel stays.
Chase Sapphire Reserve® - Consider this premium card if you want to get into a lot of airport lounges. The current sign up bonus is 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You'll also get a $300 travel credit per year which wipes away a big chunk of the $450 annual fee.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® - A simple, no annual fee card that earns you 3% cash-back on all purchases in your first year (up to $20,000 spent), then 1.5% on all purchases after that. Just know that you won't get any travel benefits or the ability to earn bonus points with this card.

Recommended Chase Cards (Business)

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card - This is our #1 recommended business card and comes with a whopping 80,000 sign up bonus after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. This bonus is worth $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel purchases (flights, hotels etc). Also, if you pay for your cell phone bill with this card, you can get up to $600 in cell phone insurance coverage per year.
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card - earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. In addition, get up to 5% cash back on a range of business expenses. A simple, $0 annual fee card.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

The next best way to book flights to North Asia is using a consumer favorite: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. The West Coast-based airline might not come immediately to mind when thinking about flights outside of North America.

However, the most valuable aspect of Alaska Airlines from an award travel perspective is their loyalty program. Similarly to Virgin Atlantic, Alaska Airlines does not participate in any airline alliances. Instead, it negotiates individual partnerships and offers capabilities to fly on partner airlines using Alaska Airlines miles.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has tons of valuable partners, including Emirates. For the purposes of North Asia flights, the best airlines we can leverage are:

  • American Airlines
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Japan Airlines
  • Korean Air (round-trip flights only)

Each of these airlines has an extensive network of routes in the United States, which drastically increases your chances of snagging a coveted business or first class award flight.

Let’s first discuss Japan Airlines. To redeem Alaska miles on Japan Airlines flights from the U.S. to Asia, you’ll need to follow this chart:

Alaska Airlines Award Chart for Japan Airlines Flights
Alaska Airlines award chart for Japan Airlines flights. Image Credit: Alaska Airlines

In the image above, Asia includes South Korea, Japan, and India and Southeast Asia encompasses every other country in Asia. You can spend as little as 70,000 miles for a one-way first class flight between the U.S. and North Asia.

Here are some great examples of routes you can take from :

  • Chicago (ORD) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • New York (JFK) – Tokyo-Haneda (HND)
  • New York (JFK) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo-Haneda (HND)

Japan Airlines’ direct U.S. routes are plentiful and booking Japan Airlines first class is an easy process.

Hot Tip: For 5,000 more Alaska miles, you can take advantage of the stopover allowance and visit Japan en route to a Southeast Asian country such as Singapore!

With American Airlines, the award chart is as follows:

Alaska Airlines Award Chart for American Airlines Flights
Alaska Airlines award chart for American Airlines flights. Image Credit: Alaska Airlines

There are 2 separate regions that split the North Asia area:

  • Asia Zone 1 – Japan, Korea
  • Asia Zone 2 – Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam

Here are American Airlines’ routes to North Asia:

  • Chicago (ORD) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) – Seoul-Incheon (ICN)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo-Haneda (HND)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)

If you want to keep your mileage cost as low as possible, you’ll want to stick to Tokyo or Seoul for your award flights, as it costs only 60,000 miles in business class. American Airlines’ route network in North Asia is not as exciting as Delta’s, but there are good options nonetheless.

There are currently no American Airlines Flagship First Class flights to North Asia, though this may change.

The next partner is a unique one: Hainan Airlines. Hainan Airlines’ U.S. routes are all over the place. There are numerous point-to-point routes, such as from New York (JFK) to Chongqing (CKG), which is great from a convenience perspective. Here are the mileage prices for Hainan Airlines flights using Alaska miles:

Alaska Airlines Award Chart for Hainan Airlines Flights
Alaska Airlines award chart for Hainan Airlines flights. Image Credit: Alaska Airlines

As you can see, Hainan Airlines business class flights booked with Alaska miles are very cheap, especially if you build in a stopover to your itinerary. Here are some great examples of routes you can take when utilizing the stopover policy:

  • Chicago (ORD) – Beijing (PEK) – Bangkok (BKK)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Changsha (CSX) – Sanya (SYX)
  • New York City (JFK) – Chengdu (CTU) – Guangzhou (CAN)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Shanghai (PVG) – Xi’an (XIY)

Hainan Airlines is focused primarily on connecting China to other countries, so you’ll likely either want to focus your trip on China or include it in your itinerary if you decide to book Hainan Airlines.

Lastly, let’s touch on Korean Air. Korean Air is an Alaska Airlines partner, but their one-way award prices are the same as round-trip prices, so you’ll want to book a round-trip flight in order to avoid paying ridiculous mileage for a singular flight. The good news is that you can book a stopover in both directions.

Here’s the Korean Air award chart on Alaska Airlines:

Alaska Airlines Award Chart for Korean Air Flights
Alaska Airlines award chart for Korean Air flights. Image Credit: Alaska Airlines

There are a lot of Korean Air routes you can take, so be creative when planning out your routes. Unfortunately, you can’t book first class flights on Korean Air using Alaska Airlines.

All 4 of these Alaska Airlines partners can be booked 100% online, so follow these steps to continue:

  1. Visit Alaska Airlines.
  2. Sign in using your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan number and password.
  3. Type in your city pairing, dates of travel, number of passengers, and check the box that says Use miles.
  4. Click Find flights.
  5. Choose the flights you like and confirm the reservation by spending your Alaska miles and paying for any taxes/fees.

Earning Alaska Airlines Miles

Earning Alaska Airlines miles is very easy. Although they only have 1 transfer partner, Marriott Bonvoy, there are still lots of ways to earn Alaska miles.

Bank of America issues co-branded Alaska Airlines credit cards, which allows you to earn Alaska miles directly.

The best way to earn Alaska Airlines miles is by transferring from Marriott Bonvoy. You have plenty of options to earn Marriott points, and these points transfer at a 3:1 ratio to Alaska Airlines. Transfers can take around 2 business days, and you’ll get a 5,000 Alaska Airlines mile bonus if you transfer 60,000 Marriott points.

You can transfer a maximum of 240,000 Marriott points in a day, which means you can earn up to 100,000 Alaska Airlines per day transferring from Marriott.

Lastly, Alaska Airlines frequently offers mileage sales, where you can get up to 50% bonus miles for purchased miles. These are exceedingly good deals that can result in first class tickets at a fraction of the cost.

Recommended Marriott Cards

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Card - earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Get automatic silver elite status each account anniversary year; and a free night award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card - earn 75,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. A solid card for business owners who will get complimentary Marriott Bonvoy silver elite status. Annual fee is $125. For rates and fees of the Bonvoy Business Card, click here.

Bottom Line: Alaska Airlines has some extraordinarily useful airline partners such as Japan Airlines and American Airlines. By strategically spending your Alaska miles, you can redeem for some awesome flights bound for North Asia. 

All Nippon Airways Mileage Club

ANA is known primarily for being a top-notch airline, no matter the class. Additionally, ANA has a reputation for delivering amazing value with its frequent flyer program, ANA Mileage Club. Because of ANA’s membership in the Star Alliance, there are plenty of different airlines to fly to Asia, too.

There are a lot of ways you can redeem ANA miles to save thousands of dollars. This is primarily because their award chart, especially in business class, is at the top of the industry.

Just how good is it? Let’s take a look. Before we do that, however, let’s name the 5 carriers that will be most useful for North Asia flights.

  1. All Nippon Airways (based in Japan)
  2. United Airlines (based in the United States)
  3. Air China (based in China)
  4. EVA Air (based in Taiwan)
  5. Asiana Airlines (based in South Korea)

ANA has 2 award charts:

One condition of ANA Mileage Club is that you will need to book round-trip or open-jaw flights in order to book award travel using ANA miles. Here’s the division of regions for flights operated by ANA:

ANA Regions
ANA regions. Image Credit: All Nippon Airways

As you can see, North Asia is split into Japan, South Korea, and Asia 1, which adds an additional level of complexity. Here is the award chart for ANA operated flights from North America during the low season:

RouteEconomy Miles CostPremium Economy Miles CostBusiness Miles CostFirst Miles Cost
North America – Japan40,00062,00075,000150,000
North America – South Korea45,00066,00080,000165,000
North America – Asia 145,00066,00080,000165,000

Here is the award chart for ANA operated flights from North America during the regular season:

RouteEconomy Miles CostPremium Economy Miles CostBusiness Miles CostFirst Miles Cost
North America – Japan50,00072,00085,000150,000
North America – South Korea55,00076,00090,000165,000
North America – Asia 155,00076,00090,000165,000

Here is the award chart for ANA operated flights from North America during the high season:

RouteEconomy Miles CostPremium Economy Miles CostBusiness Miles CostFirst Miles Cost
North America – Japan55,00077,00090,000165,000
North America – South Korea60,00081,00095,000180,000
North America – Asia 160,00081,00095,000180,000

Here are the dates that correspond to each season as defined by ANA:

ANA Seasonality
ANA seasonality. Image Credit: All Nippon Airways

Spending ANA miles on ANA-operated flights always makes the most sense because you’ll pay much more for partner awards. If you decide to fly to Japan, you can do so round-trip in business class from North America for only 75,000 miles! Considering flights can be as long as 14 hours each way, this is a huge bargain.

Taxes and fees will run a total of around $300-$400 round-trip. ANA’s routes consist mostly of large U.S. hubs, so you’ll be best served to depart from a city like Los Angeles (LAX).

If you decide to fly in first class, you’ll pay as little as 150,000 miles round-trip. Economy tickets are as cheap as 40,000 miles round-trip, which is significantly cheaper than their partners.

If you already tried ANA business class and want to check out another airline, you can absolutely book partner travel with ANA miles, too. Here’s the partner award chart:

RouteEconomy Miles CostBusiness Miles CostFirst Miles Cost
North America – Japan50,00085,000150,000
North America – South Korea60,00095,000180,000
North America – Asia 160,00095,000180,000

Two things you’ll notice is that there are no seasonality rules or premium economy redemptions on partner award bookings with ANA.

As mentioned above, the most useful partner carriers are United Airlines, Air China, Asiana Airlines, and EVA Air. If you wanted to fly United Polaris, you can do so on these routes:

  • Newark (EWR) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) for 85,000 miles round-trip + $20 in taxes and fees.
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) for 85,000 miles round-trip + $20 in taxes and fees.
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Taipei (TPE) for 95,000 miles round-trip + $20 in taxes and fees.

If you’re open to not flying on United’s newer Polaris class product, you can also fly on a number of non-Polaris routes. The seat will be inferior but the soft product is identical throughout, including Saks Fifth Avenue bedding.

Check out these North Asia routes on United that don’t have their newest Polaris class product:

  • Chicago (ORD) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Chicago (ORD) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • Chicago (ORD) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • Denver (DEN) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • Houston (IAH) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • Newark (EWR) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Newark (EWR) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Chengdu (CTU)
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Osaka (KIX)
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Seoul-Incheon (ICN)
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Shanghai (PVG)
  • Washington D.C. (IAD) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Washington D.C. (IAD) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)

Your best bet for flying first class with ANA partners to North Asia is Air China. Although the product is nothing to write home about, it is still a spacious option with excellent award availability. All of Air China’s direct U.S. routes are to Beijing (PEK), which means you’ll either connect onwards to your final destination or spend some time vacationing in China.

Here are some great example routes you can take on Air China:

  • San Francisco (SFO) – Beijing (PEK) round-trip for 180,000 miles in Air China first class + $82 in taxes and fees
  • Houston (IAH) – Beijing (PEK) round-trip for 95,000 miles in Air China business class + $82 in taxes and fees

Although the status of Taiwan as a part of North Asia is somewhat disputed, we’ll be including it in our analysis. Taiwan is home to 2 of the best Asian Airlines in the world: China Airlines and EVA Air. China Airlines is a SkyTeam partner while EVA Air is a Star Alliance member.

Flying on EVA Air is spectacular. They are at the top of our best international business class airlines in the world, so it’s absolutely worth trying them out on flights to Taipei (TPE).

Taipei falls into Asia 1, which means that round-trip economy, business, and first class flights cost 60,000, 95,000, and 180,000 miles, respectively. Also, EVA Air doesn’t offer a first class product, but their business class is actually better than many international first class products out there.

You can fly directly to Taipei (TPE) from these U.S. cities, for example: Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), New York City (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), and Seattle (SEA).

From Taipei you can then continue on to cities in Asia 1 by using a stopover, including these routes: Beijing (PEK), Guangzhou (CAN), Guilin (KWL), Hong Kong (HKG), Macau (MFM), Manila (MNL), Shanghai (PVG), and Tianjin (TSN).

Fuel surcharges are going to be around $100-$150 for a round-trip flight in economy or business class.

The last Star Alliance partner to consider is Asiana Airlines. Asiana Airlines is the smaller airline in South Korea, behind SkyTeam partner Korean Air.

Asiana Airlines provides the Star Alliance with an excellent means of flying to North Asia via Seoul-Incheon (ICN). Asiana Airlines U.S. routes are plentiful, though they’re actually ceasing the sale of first class suites. Flying to South Korea on Asiana costs 60,000 miles in economy and 95,000 miles in business round-trip.

You can fly directly to Seoul-Incheon (ICN) from these U.S. cities, for example: Los Angeles (LAX), New York City (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), and Seattle (SEA). From Seoul, you can proceed on on routes like these using the stopover policy: Beijing (PEK), Cebu (CEB), Changsha (CSX), Fukuoka (FUK), Hangzhou (HGH), Hong Kong (HKG), Manila (MNL), and Shanghai (PVG).

The taxes and fees on Asiana Airlines will run around $300 round-trip when booking through ANA Mileage Club.

To book with ANA Mileage Club, you can follow these steps:

  1. Go to ANA’s Homepage.
  2. On the top-right side of the homepage, click ANA Mileage Club.
  3. You’ll want to book an international award reservation, so first click International, then click Award Reservation.
  4. You’ll be prompted to enter your ANA login. Type in your ANA Mileage Club number and password and log in.
  5. Select your origin and destination cities, travel dates, number of passengers, and desired cabin class. Click Search.
  6. After locating an itinerary that works best for you, you’ll want to transfer your points. Points transfers to ANA aren’t instant, so be proactive in booking your award tickets as soon as the transfers are completed. If not, your award flight may not be available any longer.
  7. Finish your booking and pay for taxes and fees using a credit card.

Earning ANA Mileage Miles

There are loads of ways to earn ANA miles. ANA is transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

Amex Membership Rewards is the best option here, as the transfer ratio is 1:1 and Amex points are easy to earn. Amex points take around 3 business days to transfer to ANA, so bear that in mind.

Marriott points transfer at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred to ANA.

Transfers may take upwards of 7 business days and the most you can transfer in 1 day is 240,000 Marriott points, which if transferred to ANA, would net you 100,000 ANA miles.

There have never been transfer bonuses from Amex or Marriott to ANA, so don’t expect an additional bonus on top of this.

Recommended Amex Cards (Personal)

The Platinum Card® from American Express - There's currently a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months. This is our favorite card for getting into 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide (including Priority Pass) and we get about $1,500+ in value from the card every year.

Plus, get up to $200 in Uber credits annually ($15 per month and a $20 bonus in December) — and up to $200 in annual credit for airline incidental charges (e.g. baggage fees). For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, click here.
American Express® Gold Card - We love using this card as it earns 4x points at restaurants worldwide and 4x points at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x). There's no better card in our opinion if you eat out and/or shop at supermarkets regularly.

With a welcome bonus of 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in your first 3 months and a $100 airfare credit per year, for many this is an easy addition to your wallet. For rates and fees of the Gold Card, click here.

Recommended Amex Cards (Business)

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express - Right now, there's a HUGE welcome bonus of up to 100,000 bonus points. We get ~$1,250+ in value per year by leveraging as many of the benefits/perks card which more than offsets the higher annual fee. It's also a card we use for larger transactions ($5k or more) as it earns unlimited 1.5X points.

Get access to 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide, $200 in airline fee credits for incidentals (e.g. baggage fees) and more. For rates and fees of the Business Platinum, click here.
American Express® Business Gold Card - probably our favorite Amex business card because we earn 4x points across the top 2 select categories that we spend the most money in each month. The 4x points applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from these 2 categories each calendar year. This means you'll max out at a (whopping) 600,000 points per year. After that, you earn 1x. For rates and fees of the Business Gold Card, click here.
The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express - This is a real simple card that earns you 2x points on business purchases up to $50,000 annually (then 1x). There's no annual fee. For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus, click here.

Bottom Line: ANA has the best business class redemption prices in the business, particularly for round-trip flights to Japan operated by ANA. ANA is a Star Alliance member airline with tons of useful partners to other countries in North Asia as well, adding to the tremendous value. Best of all, ANA is transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy. 

Korean Air SKYPASS

Korean Air First Class
Korean Air first class. Image Credit: Cherag Dubash

If you’d like to fly first class on Korean Air, there’s only 1 show in town: Korean Air SKYPASS.

Korean Air is a SkyTeam member, and it is also the flag carrier of South Korea. Booking first class on SkyTeam partners is an extremely difficult endeavor, and redeeming Korean Air SKYPASS miles is one of the only straightforward ways to do so.

Booking one-way flights using SKYPASS is allowed only when flying Korean Air. Otherwise, you’ll need to book round-trip tickets if you intend on flying with partners such as Vietnam Airlines.

The Korean Air award chart for flights between China, Japan, and South Korea is as follows for one-way flights operated by Korean Air:

Cabin ClassOff-Peak Season Korean Air Miles CostPeak Season Korean Air Miles Cost
Economy35,00052,500
Business62,50087,500
First80,000120,000

Paying 80,000 Korean Air miles is a great deal for Korean Air first class during off-peak dates. Taxes and fees will be around $150 each way. Here’s the step by step instructions to book Korean Air first class:

  1. Go to Korean Air’s website.
  2. On the top of the page, click Login.
  3. Enter your user ID or SKYPASS number followed by your password.
  4. In the middle of the page, click the Award Booking button.
  5. Choose One-Way or Round-Trip.
  6. Type in your origin and destination cities coupled with departure and return dates.
  7. Select the Passengers.
    • Korean Air is very restrictive on who you can book award flights for. The way to get around the piles of paperwork needed to book for others is to create a SKYPASS account for each traveler.
  8. Choose your Cabin Class.
  9. Under Advanced Search, click USD.
  10. Click Find Flights.
  11. After you’ve located award availability, call Korean Air at 800-438-5000 to request a 30-day award hold.
    • This step is crucial because Korean Air miles transferred from Marriott can take upwards of 3 weeks to complete transfers to SKYPASS.
  12. After the miles are transferred successfully, call Korean Air again at 800-438-5000 to ticket the reservation and pay ~$150 in taxes and fees per person.

Hot Tip: Need help booking? Check out our best ways to book Korean Air First Class with points.

Earning Korean Air SKYPASS Miles

There are many avenues to earn Korean Air miles, but the most sensible one for most U.S. travelers is to transfer them from Marriott Bonvoy. Since there are a host of Marriott credit cards out there, from both Chase and Amex, you won’t run out of options to earn Marriott points.

Marriott points transfer to Korean Air at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile transfer bonus after every 60,000 Marriott points transferred. Remember, transfers are lengthy, upwards of 3-4 weeks at times, so prepare for that by requesting an award hold.

Furthermore, the most you can transfer in 1 day is 240,000 Marriott points, equivalent to 100,000 Korean Air miles.

Delta SkyMiles

We briefly introduced the notion of leveraging strong SkyTeam airlines to North Asia with Korean Air, but we haven’t really done a deep dive into the merits of using SkyTeam partners.

That’s all going to change now with our discussion of Delta SkyMiles, one of the most useful currencies for SkyTeam flights bound for North Asia. We’ve already established the fact that the best frequent flyer program for booking Delta flights to Asia is Virgin Atlantic, due to the exorbitant prices that Delta SkyMiles assesses for their own flights.

The true value of Delta SkyMiles on flights to North Asia comes from these key partners:

  • China Airlines (based in Taipei)
  • China Eastern (based in Shanghai)
  • Korean Air (based in Seoul)
  • Xiamen Air (based in Xiamen)

Unfortunately, first class flights aren’t available for redemption using SkyMiles, but business class is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Here’s how much SkyMiles redemptions would cost on partners to North Asia:

Class of ServiceOne Way Delta SkyMiles Cost
Economy40,000
Business85,000

Remember that while Delta assesses variable/dynamic award pricing for Delta flights, the mileage cost is consistent for partners. As far as fuel surcharges go, Delta selectively passes on fuel surcharges as follows:

AirlineOne Way Fuel Surcharges
China Airlines$6
China Eastern$298
Korean Air$25
Xiamen Air$135

As you can tell, flying on China Airlines is the most advantageous from the perspective of minimizing out of pocket costs. Indeed, China Airlines is probably the best choice, as it ranks near the top of our best international business class airlines. For such an excellent product, China Airlines sets an industry-wide example in award availability, which is excellent.

Although China Airlines’ direct routes from the U.S. are typically limited to mega-hubs such as Los Angeles (LAX), this is not the case for China Eastern or Korean Air.

Xiamen Air is one of the smaller Chinese airlines, and their route network is as follows:

Xiamen Air Routes from the U.S.
Los Angeles (LAX) – Qingdao (TAO)Los Angeles (LAX) – Xiamen (XMN)
New York City (JFK) – Fuzhou (FOC)Seattle (SEA) – Shenzhen (SZX)

With the exception of the Los Angeles (LAX) – Xiamen (XMN) route, Xiamen Air’s focus has consistently been on lucrative point-to-point routes. Also, their business class product is known to be excellent, among the top of the Chinese airlines.

With such a strong presence in China, the SkyTeam alliance is extraordinarily useful in planning trips to North Asia using points and miles.

As long as you avoid China Eastern, you’ll be responsible for little surcharges, as shown above. The appeal of Delta SkyMiles is at its peak when redeeming for solid partners like China Airlines in business class.

Here are some great example routes you can fly:

  • Chicago (ORD) – Shanghai (PVG) one-way on China Eastern business class for 85,000 miles + ~$298 in taxes and fees.
  • New York City (JFK) – Fuzhou (FOC) one-way on Xiamen Air business class for 85,000 miles + ~$135 in taxes and fees.
  • Ontario (ONT) – Taipei (TPE) one-way on China Airlines business class for 85,000 miles + ~$5.60 in taxes and fees.
  • Washington D.C. (IAD) – Seoul-Incheon (ICN) one-way on Korean Air business class for 85,000 miles + ~$25 in taxes and fees.

Hot Tip: Delta assesses a business class SkyTeam partner award price of 110,000 miles (instead of 85,000 miles) for reserving tickets within 21 days of departure, so avoid close-in bookings to save SkyMiles. 

Follow these steps to book SkyTeam flights using Delta SkyMiles:

  1. Visit Delta Air Lines
  2. The top banner will have a search bar. Enter your origin and destination cities.
  3. Select Round-Trip, One-Way, or Multi-City.
  4. Choose your travel date(s).
    • Check the box that says Flexible Dates to see how award availability looks like for +/- 3 days.
  5. Select the number of passengers.
  6. Click the button underneath the number of passengers that says Advanced Search.
  7. Click Show Price In Miles and Best Fares For Delta One®.
  8. Click the red arrow to execute your search.
  9. You can also click Price Calendar to show 5 weeks’ worth of award availability.
    • If you get an error, it means there’s no award availability in the 5-week range.
  10. You can also click the button that says Filter and show only Nonstop flights.
  11. Enter your traveler information, pay with Delta SkyMiles, and use a credit card to pay for any taxes and fees.

Earning Delta SkyMiles

Earning Delta SkyMiles is easier than ever. With an abundance of co-branded Amex credit cards and 2 transfer partners, you can earn 100,000 Delta SkyMiles in 90 days fairly easily.

Delta SkyMiles is transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

Amex transfer instantaneously at a 1:1 ratio to Delta SkyMiles. Marriott transfers at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000 SkyMiles bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred. It takes around 2 business days for Marriott points to transfer to Delta.

You can transfer a maximum of 240,000 Marriott points per day, which would get you 100,000 Delta SkyMiles.

Bottom Line: This completely online process makes booking with Delta SkyMiles a seamless experience, which is one of the benefits of using SkyMiles. Couple that with the deep network of airlines and routes from SkyTeam, the attractive redemption rates with SkyMiles, and the ease of earning SkyMiles to see the tremendous value in using Delta Air Lines’ frequent flyer program on flights to North Asia.

United MileagePlus

United’s own frequent flyer program, named MileagePlus, is useful for Chase loyalists. You can use United miles to fly on Star Alliance partners. The most useful ones are (as previously stated above):

  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • Air China

In all, United charges these prices for partner awards to North Asia:

Class of ServiceUnited MileagePlus Miles Cost
Economy35,000
Business80,000
First120,000

Countries included in North Asia are Mainland China, South Korea, Mongolia, and Taiwan.

While redemptions to North Asia are costlier when using United miles compared to other programs, the benefits are threefold:

  • Simple booking process (100% online)
  • Low/no fuel surcharges
  • Chase transfer partner

Here’s how to book your award using United miles:

  1. Go to United’s homepage
  2. Type the city pairs you’re leaving from and going to
  3. Choose your travel dates, number of travelers, and class of service.
  4. Click Find flights.
  5. Log in with your United MileagePlus number and password.
  6. Once you’ve located flights you like, simply select the flight, pay with your miles, and finish your reservation by paying for taxes and fees.

Earning United MileagePlus Miles

There are lots of different ways to earn United miles. The best ways are:

Chase transfers instantly at a 1:1 ratio to United.

Marriott Bonvoy transfers in 2 business days at a slightly improved ratio of 3:1.1 to United. Also, you’ll get a bonus of 5,500 miles when transferring 60,000 Marriott points to United. This brings your total up to 27,500 United miles for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred.

Final Thoughts

We’ve gone over the top ways to fly to North Asia using points. There are several notable sweet spots flying some of the best airlines in the world including All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines.

Creativity is your best friend, so be imaginative when thinking about how you’re going to use points to build a dream itinerary to North Asia. Happy redeeming!


FAQ

Which airlines include carrier-imposed surcharges on award flights to North Asia?

Generally speaking, you’ll see fuel surcharges on ANA, China Eastern, and Xiamen Air.

What is the fewest number of miles you can use to book an economy class award flight to North Asia?

You can pay as little as 40,000 ANA miles round-trip during low season, 50,000 miles during regular season, and 55,000 miles during high season from North America to Japan on ANA flights.

Other options include spending 50,000 ANA miles for partner flights between North America and Japan, such as United’s flight between Los Angeles and Tokyo.

What is the fewest number of miles required to fly business class to North Asia?

The single, cheapest business class redemption is from the U.S. to Japan using ANA miles, which would cost as little as 75,000 miles round-trip during low season.

You can also pay 60,000 Alaska miles one-way on Japan Airlines or 90,000-95,000 miles round-trip using Virgin Atlantic miles.

What is the fewest number miles required to fly first class to North Asia?

Without a doubt, the fewest number of miles required to fly first class to North Asia is using 110,000 Virgin Atlantic miles to fly round-trip on ANA first class from the U.S. west coast.

Very few other redemptions come close, but another option is to use 70,000 Alaska miles one-way on Japan Airlines first class or 80,000 Korean Air miles one-way on Korean Air first class.

What are the best business class airlines to fly to North Asia?

The best business class airlines are ANA, China Airlines, Delta One Suites, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, and Korean Air.

What are the best first class airlines to fly to North Asia?

The best first class airlines to fly to North Asia are ANA, Japan Airlines, and Korean Air.

Which airline is the best to fly to Japan?

The best airline to fly to Japan is hotly debated. While both Japan Airlines and ANA are among the top airlines in the world, Japan Airlines wins out by a small margin.

Which airline is the best to fly to South Korea?

The best airline to fly to South Korea is Korean Air. There is another airline, Asiana Airlines, which is also based in Seoul, but Korean Air is generally regarded as the better pick.

Which airline is the best to fly to China?

For business class, flying Delta One Suites is a great option. If you’re flying a Chinese carrier, opt for Xiamen Airlines in business class.

Which airline is the best to fly to Taiwan?

The 2 top airlines are China Airlines and EVA Air. Both of these are based in Taipei, but EVA Air is known to have a slight edge over China Airlines, although both are phenomenal.

Stephen Au

About Stephen Au

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Stephen has been privileged to enjoy many premium cabin products and 5-star hotels. A petroleum engineer by trade, Stephen caught the travel bug in college when he traveled to Asia several times. After 2 years of continual promotions in a six-figure job, Stephen quit his safe and secure career path in favor of entrepreneurship.

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3 comments

  1. Grumpy Texan Travel · September 10, 2019 · Reply

    This was an outstanding post. Can you do one for Australia / New Zealand?

  2. Grumpy Texan Travel · September 11, 2019 · Reply

    Can’t wait to read it. Thanks!

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