Cheap First Class Fares on United and American to China and Japan in 2013

by on December 15, 2012 · 13 comments

in American, Mileage Runs, United

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Cheap is a relative term, but on a strictly percentage off normal pricing, United and American are in some sort of fare war and are now offering some pretty low first and business class fares to China and Japan in 2013. From Miami, United has fares around $3,000 total roundtrip to Shanghai for confirmed first class (on 3 cabin 777 planes). I found some sub- $3,000 itineraries, but some of them included legs in BusinessFirst, which is actually a business class product (though still a flat bed and if you prefer the Shanghai-Newark non-stop, this still could make sense). These fares are available from a number of different cities- I’ve gotten them to price from Boston, Newark and Miami, but feel free to comment on any success from your home airport.

The best way to search for these fares is to use ITA month-long search and enter in your departure city and cities in Japan and China (I’ve just searched Shanghai and Tokyo with good success) and once you find the dates with low fares, either go to, or your preferred online travel agency to actually purchase the tickets. The fares rules on most of the fares state that you need to purchase by December 17, 2012, but these fares could disappear before then. United allows penalty free cancellations within 24 hours of purchasing and will let you hold your fare for free for 24 hours. Note: I see the fares on and ITA, but every time I try to book there are errors. American may be in the process of pulling these fares, but I had no issues booking multiple different United options.

While United’s international first class isn’t the greatest product in the sky (I mean, no American carrier leads the way in premium international products), but you can also find codeshares that are operated by ANA, which has a much better first class product. However, don’t expect to list those options first- you generally have to scroll to the very bottom of the screen to find the ANA flights (just use your browser search function for ANA).

Asia United ANA

You can try to connect via as many cities as possible to juice out as many elite qualifying miles. For most United flights, the fare class is A, which is first class on 3 cabin planes, which earns a 150% bonus on earned miles and a 50% bonus on Premier Qualifying Miles. The fare I pulled up below for Miami-Chicago-Shanghai-Los Angeles- Newark-Miami came to $3,050 (AA was offering first class flights for $5,050 on the same day).

Miami to Shanghai and back with a couple stops along the way!

Miami to Shanghai and back with a couple stops along the way!

For the 18,072 miles flown, I’d haul in:

18,072 base miles
+27,108 150% class of service bonus miles
+13,554 75% Premier bonus miles because I am Platinum (Silver is 25% bonus, Gold 50% and 1k 100%)
For a total of 58,734 redeemable miles, which I value at 2 cents a piece for a total of $1,174 in value earned back in terms of miles for future award trips.
Plus: An additional 9,150 American Express Membership Rewards points for paying for the ticket with my Premier Rewards Gold card that gives me 3x points per dollar spent on airfare. I value those points at 1.7 cents a piece, so that an additional $153.85 in value from the purchase.

27,108 Premier Qualifying Miles, which is more than enough for Silver status and is more than 33% of the way to me requalifying for Platinum, which will be good until February 2015. That is just over 11 cents per elite qualifying mile, which is pretty good for a confirmed international first class ticket. To put it in perspective, United is currently selling elite qualifying miles through their Elite Maximizer program for over 17 cents a piece- and you don’t even get to fly or earn redeemable miles!

United fare class chart- always double check to make sure the fare class you buy earns the miles you think you are going to get

United fare class chart- always double check to make sure the fare class you buy earns the miles you think you are going to get

While the winter isn’t the most popular time to visit China or Japan, I went this past January to Beijing, Shanghai and Xian and had an amazing trip. There were almost no tourists, so I had portions of the Great Wall at Mutianyu all to myself and yes, it was cold, but so what? I wore a jacket and was totally fine the entire time.

Just me, myself and a whole lotta wall!

Just me, myself and a whole lotta wall!

I haven’t been to Japan in the winter, but in my opinion Tokyo is an incredible city (and great place to redeem Hyatt points), regardless of the season.

Tuna action from inside the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo

Tuna action from inside the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo

I’m tempted to jump on one of these, but I made a promise to myself that 2013 was going to focus on Southern Hemisphere travel and I’m not sure kicking off the year in Asia (especially in cities I’ve already been to) would be a great start. Then again, I can always use miles to go south once I’m in Asia, so maybe I will pull the trigger. Getting more than 1/3 of my United elite status qualification out of the way in a single first class trip is very tempting…

Hat tip Premium Fares Thread on Flyertalk.

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  • Matt Campbell

    San Diego to Hong Kong: March 1st or 4th, $3,038 (12 day stay).

  • cohenm123

    Do you know how long this will go on for? I may be working in China summer 2013.

  • Pegs

    I wasn’t able to see any $3000 fare from Newark to Shanghai/Beijing summer 2013. :-( But thank you just the same!

  • thepointsguy

    Says they have to be booked before Dec 17, so my guess is that they will be pulled at that time

  • cohenm123


  • CK

    Just grabbed BOS-IAD-NRT (NH 77W)/NRT-LAX (NH 77W)-BOS in September, 2013 for $3300 all in. Thanks for the heads up!

  • farulg

    Found a number of nice fares, but unfortunately it looks like it’s US to China/Japan only and not vice versa. Would’ve been a good fare if it worked the other way too since I’m based in Kuala Lumpur now.

  • AJA

    Booked Miami-Shanghei via Chicago for $3,044 July3-10, thank you!

  • AJA

    Re-booked it for June 22 for 11 nights and same fare ! Any suggestions for hotels in Shanghei?

  • Skip Calvert

    I found fares this morning (DFW-PEK) but they look like they are all gone now and back up to $5,000+. Is anyone still finding any?

  • cohenm123

    Not sure of your budget, but if it allows for it, definitely try to get a river view room at one of the two ultra-fancy hotels on The Bund – the river view rooms look across the Huangpu river at Shanghai’s stunning skyline, and The Bund is arguably Shanghai’s most famous street. These are the Fairmont Peace Hotel and Peninsula Shanghai. The Fairmont Peace Hotel was renovated a couple years ago when Fairmont bought it (used to just be called the Peace Hotel). Very historic, iconic hotel in Shanghai – the first five star hotel in the city and has hosted celebrities and government leaders throughout the ages. Then there is the Peninsula, which I stayed in in January 2011 (in a river-view room). One or two of the staff members were a bit surly but the hotel itself was very nice. Room is full of advanced technology and very luxuriously appointed. If you want a river view at a lower price, try Hyatt on the Bund (not on the main part of the Bund but not too far; supposed to have a very nice rooftop bar) or the Westin Bund Center (a few blocks inland from the Bund). TPG also has a review of the Andaz Shanghai. Hope this helps!

  • michaelspain

    Regarding travel to Japan in the winter, I went in 2005 toward the end of January 2005 and had an awesome time. If you can time it right, there are places to see the first Sakura (cherry) blossoms. Also, in Hokkaido, the northernmost island, the ice-carving festival takes over the town of Sapporo and is a wonder to behold. Finally, because Japan rides the ridge of the Ring of Fire, the thermal baths (onsen) are a delight in the colder weather. Do your best to stay in local Japanese versions of a bed and breakfast (Ryokan) often hosting their own thermals and serving locally sourced cuisine. There’s actually a very good book on all the Onsen and Ryokans throught Japan. I’ve travelled the world and Japan is one of my favorite places on earth.

  • Mag

    Try the Indigo too. It is quiet and have full view of the bund too, ask for rooms with the river view. Shots from their bar and coffee shop look great!

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