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Frequent flyer miles are only as good as your opportunities to use them. As TPG Contributor Richard Kerr explains, travelers on American seem to be short one valuable redemption option for first and business flights to Asia. But while SAAver awards to this continent are virtually nonexistent, there are still some solid options for using your AA miles on other carriers.

I’ve enjoyed living in Asia for the last 30 months more than I ever expected. Now that I’ll be moving back stateside, I’ve been routinely checking different airlines award space to know what to recommend when I get questions about the best way to get to the continent. And while I don’t like being the bearer of bad news, the subject of today’s post is just that.

I’m coming to the end of my tour of duty in Japan and only need a few more round-trip tickets to the States from Tokyo. I’ve had my eye on using AA miles on American’s new 787 route to Chicago. I’ve searched almost daily for the last two months, first for Chicago then for all of American’s Asia routes. The lack of business and first-class AAdvantage award space to Asia has become dumbfounding. How bad is it? Let’s take a look at the routes and raw data.

I’ve been hoping to fly American’s 787 Business from Tokyo to Chicago.
I’ve been hoping to fly American’s 787 business from Tokyo to Chicago.

Departing Dallas Fort Worth

American flies to five Asian destinations nonstop from Dallas: Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai. I searched through the end of schedule for SAAver business and first seats for each flight.

Route Aircraft Daily Business Seats Daily First Seats SAAver Seats Available
DFW-NRT (x2) 777-200 (Old version) 74 32 0
DFW-ICN 777-200 (Old version) 37 16 0
DFW-PEK 787 28 0 0
DFW-HKG 777-300ER 52 8 0
DFW-PVG 787 28 0 0

The end of schedule is August 21, 2016 (330 days from now, as of this writing). With the above routes and aircraft, that’s 219 daily business-class seats to Asia and 54 daily first-class seats. That means between today and August 21 (assuming aircraft type stay the same), 90,090 business and first-class seats will fly from Dallas to Asia — and none are available at the SAAver levels.

Departing Los Angeles

American flies nonstop to two Asian destinations from LAX: Shanghai and Tokyo Narita. There’s one flight daily to each destination.

Route Aircraft Daily Business Seats Daily First Seats SAAver Seats Available
LAX-NRT 777-200 (old) 37 16 0
LAX-PVG 777-200 (old) 37 16 0

Between today and end of schedule, 74 daily business seats and 32 daily first-class seats make for a total of 34,980 business and first-class seats on these routes. Not one of those are available for a SAAver award ticket.

Departing Chicago

American flies nonstop to three Asian destinations from ORD: Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Route Aircraft Daily Business Seats Daily First Seats SAAver Seats Available
ORD-PVG 777-200 (old) 37 16 0
ORD-NRT 787 28 0 0
ORD-PEK 777-200 (old) 37 16 1

The good news is that I found a seat at the SAAver level; the bad news is that it was for the flight departing in 8 hours from the time of writing!

The only First or Business seat going to Asia available at the SAAver level.
The only first or business seat going to Asia available at the SAAver level.

Flights departing Chicago for Asia between now and the end of the schedule will have 44,220 business and first-class seats — 1 of which is available for an award ticket at the SAAver level.

Asia to the US

Things aren’t any better on the reverse routing, either. Flying nonstop from Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai or Tokyo to the States yields the same results. From Tokyo there are four daily flights to the US: two to Dallas and one each to Los Angeles and Chicago. There isn’t a single SAAver first or business seat to the US through the end of the schedule. This means instead of 50,000 AA miles in business, I’m looking at 120,000-175,000 miles each way.

Flying business on AA operated flights to Asia is going to cost 120k-175k miles each way.
Flying business on AA-operated flights to Asia is going to cost 120k-175k miles each way.

What to do?

Putting all the math together, over the next 330 days, 338,580 American Airlines business and first-class seats will cross the Pacific to and from Asia. This assumes routes and aircraft type stay the same. I found exactly one seat open for redemption at the SAAver level, and it required leaving within 8 hours of my search.

I’ve flown myself and family members many times on AA award tickets between the US and Asia during the last 30 months. Award space for business and first has always been tight — but not nonexistent. I’ve been pestering asking American’s Twitter team to try and get more information or answers for such poor SAAver award space. They haven’t been too helpful in their replies and continue to ask me to check daily for flights.

Perhaps a reader knows if AAnytime inventory can be loaded but not SAAver?
Perhaps a reader knows if AAnytime inventory can be loaded but not SAAver?

Your best use of AAdvantage miles to get to Asia will be flying Oneworld partners Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Their award prices are the most reasonable of all programs, and carrier-imposed surcharges are minimal. The onboard products are superior to American’s, making the whole deal that much sweeter.

AA partner award chart for travel from the US to Asia.
AA partner award chart for travel from the US to Asia. Off-peak economy, economy, business and first.

Use the British Airways search engine to find JAL and Cathay business and first-class award space. This can take a bit of searching, but it’s usually not too difficult to find a date that works. Once you have your dates, call AA to book the flights with your AA miles.

Cathay Pacific usually has space available far out and very close in for booking with partner miles.
Cathay Pacific usually has space available both far out and very close in for booking with partner miles.

Asia doesn’t appear to be the only destination where SAAver premium-class tickets are few and far between; Europe appears to be quite difficult as well. Fears of an AA devaluation are at the forefront of my mind. However, knowing how difficult it already is to fly long-haul business and first on AA metal helps put my mind at ease.

My personal theory on this lack of availability: The US Airways merger put so many more millions of miles in the AA program that SAAver level award tickets would be far too easy for thousands of AA account holders to achieve. Revenue tickets are selling well for these routes, but the flights I’ve been on have not been full up front.

Ultimately, this story ends on a positive note, as I just booked Japan Airlines first class to Chicago for 62,500 AA miles. So there is hope for those of you with American miles looking to travel in a premium cabin to or from Asia.

Have you had luck finding SAAver business and first availability on American? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 50,000 miles are worth $700. In addition, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) toward elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. As of July 23, 2017 this is the only card that offers Admirals Club lounge access so if you are an AA flyer this card might make sense for you.  Aside from lounge access the primary cardholder will receive a Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years, first checked bag free for up to 8 travel companions on domestic itineraries and a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you*
  • Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
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Regular APR
17.99% - 25.99%* (Variable)
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.
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