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The Best Ways to Fly Business Class to Asia Using Miles

April 19, 2018
23 min read
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In the past year or so, we’ve seen some phenomenal airfare deals from the US to Asia and vice versa, including in business class. Not only have there been some great deals on carriers like Qatar, but also on Chinese carriers as they’ve launched new routes, such as Xiamen from Seattle (SEA) to Shenzhen (SZX). There are also some great opportunities to experience some of the world’s best business-class products aboard Asian airlines like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines by putting your miles to use.

Singapore Airlines makes it relatively easy to redeem your miles for a business-class seat on its A350 between San Francisco and Singapore.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the best business-class options for flying from the continental US to Asia. This list is an update of this past post, and like with that one, the selections included here were made by comparing not only factors like seat comfort and amenities, but also award availability and route networks.

Don't forget to check out our posts on Searching Oneworld Award Availability, Searching SkyTeam Award Availability and Searching Star Alliance Award Availability.

Carriers From the US to Asia

Here's the list of major carriers that fly nonstop or direct from the North America to Asia, then read on below for our top choices of airlines with great business-class products you can book with miles.

Air Canada: Air Canada fields a lot of flights to Asia and has decent award availability and a great business class product, but taxes and surcharges can be high, and you have to stop in Canada, so it missed out making the list.

Air China: Though award availability is good, the seats and service on one of China's major carriers don't feel worth redeeming the miles to fly it.

Air India: India's flag carrier flies to five US airports, but long flights in outdated seats might not be everyone's cup of tea.

American Airlines: American has done a lot to upgrade its long-haul fleet in recent years and boasts some of the best business-class seats to Asia out of its hubs in LA, Chicago and Dallas.

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ANA: This Japanese carrier has good seats and top-notch service, not to mention an award chart with some great values, so it makes the list.

Asiana: Though award availability is good, the airline's business class is looking lackluster these days, and you'll likely have to redeem an exorbitant number of United miles to fly this Korean Star Alliance carrier.

Cathay Pacific: Long regarded as one of the world's best airlines, this Hong Kong-based carrier makes the list thanks to fantastic seats and service, and good award availability to multiple US airports.

China Airlines: A Taiwan-based SkyTeam carrier, the airline updated its business class aboard a new order of 777-300ERs and A350s in recent years, and award availability is usually good.

China Eastern: Though the carrier's 777-300ERs feature business-class seats that set the bar for Chinese airlines, service and amenities are lacking, awards are somewhat scarce and carry taxes/fees of over $500 round-trip.

China Southern: Award availability is decent, but you could end up paying about $200 in taxes each day to fly a carrier with cabins that already feel like they've aged.

Delta: Delta might be flying its A350s with the private suites in Delta One on several of its routes to Asia, but the lowest award rates I could find for the next year were a whopping 250,000 miles round-trip, which just doesn't cut it for business class.

EVA: The other carrier out of Taiwan has a great business-class product and good award availability from the US, earning it a spot on this list.

Hainan Airlines: Though its business-class seats can vary, Hainan makes the list thanks to an increasing number of US destinations and the availability of awards using miles from its partner Alaska Airlines.

Hong Kong Airlines: This upstart airline has too few US routes and mileage partners for now.

Korean Air: The seats aboard Korean's A380s are uninspired, but its newer aircraft have nicer versions, and awards are both cheap and widely open to members of the airline's SkyPass program, which is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards.

JAL: Private suite-style seats, world-class service and a decent amount of award availability from multiple US hubs put JAL on the list this year.

Philippine Airlines: This carrier flies its 777 from Manila to both Los Angeles and New York (with a stop in Vancouver if you're flying from JFK), and while the airline could be a convenient option if these routes suit your needs, its business class is far from cutting edge. Philippine is working on a refresh of its A330 premium cabins, but this won't be available on flights to the US.

Singapore Airlines: Singapore's multiple routes from the West Coast, great award values for members of its own KrisFlyer program (a transfer partner of all four major transferable points programs) and best-in-class amenities like its "book the cook" service all earn Singapore a place on this list.

United: We're waiting to see more planes with the new Polaris seats in service before ranking the airline here.

Xiamen: Limited routes to the US so far as well as lackluster seats mean this Chinese airline doesn't make the list.

As you can see, there are reasons various carriers didn't make our top 9. Feel free to share your thoughts and your own picks for the best business-class options to Asia in the comments section. In the meantime, here’s our list in alphabetical order.

1. American Airlines

Aircraft and routes: American Airlines flies from its hubs at Los Angeles (LAX), Dallas (DFW) and Chicago (ORD) to Beijing (PEK) and Shanghai (PVG) in China, Hong Kong (HKG), Seoul Incheon (ICN), Tokyo Narita (NRT) and Tokyo Haneda (HND).

Seats: It's taken a few years, but American has (sort of) standardized the international business class cabins aboard its fleet. At least you know you're getting a lie-flat seat in some sort of reverse-herringbone 1 - 2 - 1 configuration. These days, the airline is mostly flying a combo of 787-8s, 787-9s and 777-300ERs to Asia. The 787-8s have forward- and backward-facing seats that annoy some people. The 777-300ERs have American's flagship business-class seats in a spacious front-facing 1 - 2 - 1 layout, while the 787-9s have the same setup, just with a newer, sleeker version of the seat.

American's fleet is getting more standardized (and better business-class seats) as time goes on.

Cuisine and amenities: The airline is slowly growing its roster of chef partners, most recently with the addition of Jun Kurogi of Kurogi Shiba Daimon Tokyo, who will be curating traditional Japanese dishes for the airline’s business and first cabins on flights from Tokyo Haneda and Narita to the US. James Beard Award winner Maneet Chauhan, meanwhile, will soon be overseeing dishes on the airline's flights from China to the US in addition to those between the US and Europe and South America. The airline recently added Caspar bedding to its onboard amenities and unveiled new Cole Haan amenity kits containing C.O. Bigelow products.

I find award availability even on premier routes like Dallas-Hong Kong is generally decent.

Using miles: American periodically seems to open up business-class award availability to Europe and Asia, so if you see something similar pop up, book it fast. I also find that award availability on the airline's routes from Los Angeles and Dallas to Hong Kong tends to open up within a few weeks of departure, so if you can be flexible and plan close in, you might have some luck. To Asia 1, which includes Japan and Korea, American will charge you 60,000 miles each way in business. The rest of Asia and the Indian Subcontinent require 70,000 miles each way. American's AAdvantage program is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest. You could also redeem Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles for American award flights at the same levels American charges.

2. ANA

ANA's seats are showing their age, but still good. Photo by Zach Honig.

Aircraft and routes: One of the two major Japanese carriers, ANA flies to several major US hubs including Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC), Seattle (SEA), Vancouver (YVR) and Washington, D.C. (IAD). You’ll find its premier business-class seats aboard its 777-300ERs, 787-9s and certain 787-8s (though others mainly used on regional routes have angled seats, so check your seat map).

Seats: ANA’s business-class seats are laid out in a staggered front-facing 1 – 2 – 1 configuration sort of like those on Delta. Seats on the sides are alternately closer to the window or the aisle depending on where the bigger armrest is (it houses the foot cubby for the seat behind). Each is 21 inches wide and has 62 inches of pitch. The IFE screens are 17 inches wide.

Cuisine and amenities: ANA consults with “Connoisseur” chefs for its seasonal menus. At the moment, these personages include Masayoshi Nishikawa from Gion Nishikawa in Osaka and Masayasu Yonemura of Restaurant Yonemura, plus pastries by Pierre Hermé from Paris. There are also sommelier-selected wines and sakes. ANA flight attendants dress the flatbeds with Nishikawa Sangyo Air Cyclone mattress pads that are specially made for breathability and comfort during air travel, and they’re slip-resistant so they won’t slide off the seat if you move around. The pillow is also by Sangyo, while the comforter is a Teijin Bodyline Quilt with antistatic fibers. Business-class amenity kits include products by London-based Neal’s Yard Remedies.

ANA's award chart has some fantastic values, like just 75,000 miles round-trip from Chicago to Tokyo in business class.
ANA's award chart has some fantastic values, like just 75,000 miles round-trip from Chicago to Tokyo in business class.

Using miles: ANA has pretty great award availability on many of its US routes. You can use use ANA’s own miles by transferring points from American Express Membership Rewards if you have a card like the Platinum Card® from American Express into your ANA mileage account. A round-trip business-class award from the US to Japan will cost just 75,000 miles. Aeroplan, another Amex transfer partner, charges 75,000 miles each way in business class between the US and Japan, but tends to levy high surcharges on ANA awards. You might want to use United miles instead because both airlines are in Star Alliance, and the MileagePlus program's taxes and fees are lower. United will charge you 80,000 miles in each direction from the US to Japan. United is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, and it could be worth spending more miles to save hundreds of dollars.

3. Cathay Pacific

Cathay's business class routinely gets high marks.

Aircraft and routes: Cathay’s flagship business-class seats were first found aboard its 777-300ERs, though the airline has standardized the rest of its long-haul fleet in recent years with the latest seats, including its new A350-900s. Cathay flies to Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO), Toronto (YYZ) and Vancouver (YVR)... and Washington Dulles (IAD) in September 2018.

Seats: Cathay Pacific was one of the first international airlines to adopt the popular reverse-herringbone style of seat, and began installing them on its long-haul aircraft back in 2011. Cathay’s are among the most spacious versions of this type of seat, with a full recline length of 82 inches, and a seat width of between 21-26 inches (it’s widest when the armrest is down) on the 777-300ER. The ones aboard the A350 are 20 inches wide and have 75 inches of pitch.

Cuisine and amenities: The seats’ entertainment screens are 15.4 inches wide (18.5 inches on A350), and the current amenity kits are by Hong Kong design brand Seventy Eight Percent with Jurlique products inside.

Award availability is usually good within two weeks of departure.
Award availability is usually good within two weeks of departure.

Using miles: Cathay’s Asia Miles program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards if you have a card like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. You can also transfer points from Citi ThankYou Rewards with a card like the Citi Prestige, and from Starwood Preferred Guest. The Asia Miles award chart is distance-based, and round-trip redemptions are generally cheaper than booking separate one-ways. For example, Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG) is 70,000 miles each way or 120,000 round-trip. If you have American AAdvantage miles, it'll cost you 70,000 miles each way between North America and Hong Kong. Cathay is also non-alliance partners with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, and you only need 50,000 Mileage Plan miles each way, a much better deal. Thanks to the frequency of many of Cathay’s routes, including up to four daily flights to Los Angeles, award availability can be really good, especially if you're booking close in.

4. China Airlines

China Airlines made jaws drop with its stunning redesign in 2014. Image courtesy of China Airlines.

Aircraft and routes: China Airlines is one of two carriers based in Taiwan, and its hub is in Taipei. China Airlines flies to Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Vancouver (YVR). The airline launched a new business-class cabin aboard its 777-300ERs when it started taking delivery of them back in 2015 and uses them on its routes to LA and San Francisco, while Vancouver is serviced by an A350.

Seats: China Airlines’ business-class seats are also laid out in a reverse-herringbone configuration with seats arranged in a 1 – 2 – 1 pattern. Each is 78 inches long and 22 inches wide, and has an 18-inch entertainment screen. There are also Song Dynasty-inspired touches like faux-wood paneling reminiscent of a forest setting, and seat-side reading lamps that all set a sophisticated ambiance.

Cuisine and amenities: The airline offers Chinese and Western menus with dishes like caviar blini and smoked salmon, and braised pork rib in brown sauce with quinoa fried rice. Meanwhile, champagne pours include Pol Roger vintage brut, but the standout feature has to be the swanky “Sky Lounge” bar where the crew sets out beverages and snacks. Amenity kits contain Italian Acca Kappa 1869 beauty products.

Using miles: China Airlines makes this list because award availability is consistently excellent. The airline is in SkyTeam, so you can use your Delta miles to book awards at a rate of 85,000 miles each way from the US to Taiwan, which was recently lowered from 95,000.

5. EVA

EVA Airways has a great business class stocked with premier Champagnes.

Aircraft and routes: EVA’s flagship long-haul aircraft are its 777-300ERs, aboard which you’ll find the airline’s best business-class cabins, dubbed Royal Laurel. EVA flies to several US cities including Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA), Toronto (YYZ) and Vancouver (YVR).

Seats: EVA’s reverse-herringbone seats are among the roomiest out there, at 81 inches long and 26 inches wide. Each has a 15-inch touchscreen entertainment system.

Cuisine and amenities: EVA provides business-class passengers with comfy pajamas and chic green Rimowa amenity kits stocked with products by Thai spa brand Harnn as well as Apujan pajamas. Like many other Asian carriers, EVA offers Asian and Western menus. The potable pièce de résistance? It's serving Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame Champagne these days.

A sample award from LA-Taipei on EVA.
A sample award from LA-Taipei on EVA.

Using miles: Award availability on EVA’s various routes from its hub in Taipei to the US tends to be pretty good. The airline is a member of Star Alliance, so you can use United miles at a rate of 80,000 each way from the US to Taipei. United is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. Another good option is to transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Air Canada’s Aeroplan program and redeem 75,000 miles each way instead, or to ANA (another Amex transfer partner) for 95,000 miles round-trip.

6. Hainan Airlines

Hainan doesn't have the newest seats on all its planes, but award availability is good.

Aircraft and routes: Hainan flies a mix of 787-8s and 787-9s on its routes to the US. Some 787-9s (just a few so far) have the better business class in a reverse-herringbone layout, so be sure to check the seat map of your specific flight. The airline flies a variety of routes between cities in North America and China. Among the North American airports where you'll see its jets are: Boston (BOS), Calgary (YYC), Chicago (ORD), Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Jose (SJC), Seattle (SEA), Toronto (YYZ) and Vancouver (YVR) starting in May to cities in China including Beijing (PEK), Changsha (CSX), Chengdu (CTU), Chongqing (CKG) and Shanghai (PVG).

Seats: Aboard the 787-8 and most 787-9s, the cabin layout is in a 2 - 2 - 2 configuration of six seats across five rows on the 787-9 and six rows on the 787-8 for a total of 30-36 seats. Each is 22.5 inches wide and has 74 inches of pitch. On the 787-9s with the new business class, seats are in a 1 - 2 - 1 reverse-herringbone layout.

Cuisine and amenities: Honestly, not much to mention here, though the menus are better than what you'll tend to find on other Chinese carriers. IFE screens are 15 inches and menus contain both Western and Chinese options.

A sample award from Seattle to Beijing.
A sample award from Seattle to Beijing.

Using miles: Hainan's main US partner is Alaska Airlines, which will charge you 50,000 miles each way in business class from North America to Asia. You can search for Hainan awards directly on Alaska's site.

7. Japan Airlines (JAL)

JAL's seats are among the most private.

Aircraft and routes: JAL fields “Sky Suite” business-class seats aboard its 777-300ERs and certain 787s. The airline flies from Tokyo Narita (NRT) to Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Diego (SAN) and Vancouver (YVR) – though these last two have angled seats; and from Tokyo Haneda (HND) to San Francisco (SFO).

Seats: JAL has dubbed its Apex business-class seats Sky Suites, and they do indeed feel like suites. That’s thanks to a staggered 2 – 3 – 2 configuration on the 777 and 2 – 2 – 2 on the 787 where the seats right next to each other don’t quite line up and are separated by fully retractable dividers. The seats on the sides of the plane feel especially secluded because they have direct-aisle access but are separated from the aisle by another seat. Each is 25.5 inches wide and 74 inches long. Their entertainment screens are 23 inches, which makes them among the largest in the aviation industry.

Cuisine and amenities: JAL takes its meal service very seriously, partnering with award-winning Japanese chefs to create Japanese and Western menus. You can review the choices ahead of time for your specific flight here. The Japanese menu typically includes a nine-dish appetizer and sake pairings and several main-course options. Flyers are given basic Zero Halliburton amenity kits, and bedding includes cooling Airweave mattress pads, duvets and pillows.

JAL's cuisine tends to be outstanding, including its signature nine-dish appetizer.

Using miles: There are two main options for US-based flyers who want to use their miles. JAL is in Oneworld, so you can redeem 60,000 American AAdvantage miles each way from the US to Japan, or 70,000 to the rest of Asia, while Alaska (a non-alliance partner) charges 60,000-65,000 miles each in business class depending where in Asia you're headed.

8. Korean Air

Try to get on a route with one of Korean's newer business-class cabins.

Aircraft and routes: Korean flies from Seoul (ICN) to Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW) Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA), Toronto (YYZ), Vancouver (YVR) and Washington (IAD).

Seats: When it comes to Korean, we have to discuss two different seats. Korean is probably last on this list in terms of seat comfort on the A380s it flies to the US, but they are still decent. Those aircraft have seats in a front-facing 2 – 2 – 2 configuration. Each is 74 inches long in recline mode, and 21.6 inches wide. The airline is using 747-8s, 777-300ERs and 787-9s on some routes, including those to San Francisco and Vancouver, so you’ll find its newer Apex seats on those aircraft, and they most resemble those of JAL. These seats are 75 inches long, almost 21 inches wide and have 15.4-17-inch entertainment screens. Though they are in a 2 – 2 – 2 configuration, they are staggered in such a way that each has direct aisle access.

Cuisine and amenities: There aren’t famous names attached to Korean’s menus, but the choices are still solid. You can opt for Korean or Western dishes, including the bibimbap, which you have to have on at least one flight. At the back of the upper deck of the A380, there’s a “Celestial Bar & Lounge” where the crew will shake you up a cocktail and serve canapés. The airline’s amenity kits feature grape-derived DAVI products.

Award availability is rarer than it used to be, but still exists.
Award availability is rarer than it used to be, but still exists.

Using miles: Korean makes this list with a few reservations. In the past, award availability has been excellent. Lately, though, it's nearly non-existent. I'm hoping that this is just a short-term issue, though, that had something to do with the Olympics and Chinese New Year and we'll start seeing seats loaded into the system again. I did manage to find several awards in April and May from both LA and New York to Seoul like the one above. Korean's SkyPass mileage program is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so it is easy to stock up on miles and it is easier to book awards online these days. Business-class awards from the US to South Korea are 125,000 miles round-trip.

9. Singapore Airlines

You'll find some of Singapore's newest business-class seats on the A350 it flies from San Francisco to Singapore.

Aircraft and routes: Singapore now flies 777-300ERs from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (NRT) and Seoul (ICN) as well as from San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG), but has A350-900s on the nonstop from San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN). Both aircraft feature some of the airline’s latest business-class seats (though not the ones on the new A380).

Seats: Singapore’s new business-class seats all have aisle access thanks to a 1 – 2 – 1 layout that feels more like first class on another airline. Each is 28 inches wide and 78 inches long. The entertainment screens are 18 inches.

Amenities and cuisine: Business passengers don't get amenity kits or pajamas, but can take advantage of “Book the Cook” service and pre-order from menus of over 60 dishes.

Singapore tends to make more awards available to its own KrisFlyer members.
Singapore tends to make more awards available to its own KrisFlyer members.

Using miles: Though you can sometimes find awards through partners like United and Aeroplan, Singapore Airlines seems to make many more awards available to members of its own KrisFlyer mileage program, which is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase, Citi and SPG. The airline did recently raise award prices and cut the 15% mileage discount on online bookings, but redemptions are still decent. One-way awards to Singapore from the West Coast to Singapore are 88,000 miles, while those from Houston and the East Coast are 92,000 miles.

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