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Sweet Spot Sunday: How to fly from the US to China, Korea or Japan for 32,500 miles

Dec. 05, 2021
8 min read
Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul
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Heading to Asia is on almost every traveler's bucket list — and after being closed to travelers for nearly two years, it might be inching even higher in your priorities. If it is, keep reading — we'll show you how to get an excellent deal on off-peak flights to Japan, Korea, China and Hong Kong with American AAdvantage miles once they reopen to tourists.

Oh, and don't be scared by "off-peak." For one thing, winter can be an excellent time to travel with lower prices, fewer crowds and mild temperatures compared to what you might be used to at home if you live in the northern half of the U.S. And — spoiler alert — American's definition of off-peak is awfully generous. You'll be pleased to learn that this lower pricing spans more than half the year, including dates that are over school break, making this a surprisingly easy way to save some points.

Akihabara Electric town, street view, Tokyo, Japan (Getty)

Remember, AAdvantage awards originating in the U.S. are eligible for free changes or cancellation, so you can book without risk even if your plans change (or borders remain closed). Flights starting from Asia do not have the same policy, so you're better off booking a round-trip award from the U.S. to your destination rather than booking two separate one-way flights.

Let’s take a closer look at this redemption in this week’s edition of Sweet Spot Sunday.

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Why it's special

American offers off-peak economy awards for 32,500 miles one-way (with low taxes and fees) to Japan, Korea, China and Hong Kong. Every little bit helps when it comes to award travel, and this is an easy way to save 2,500 miles per person without having to lift a finger. Here's a look at eligible off-peak dates:

Though the awards are in economy, many of these routes are often operated on American Airlines' newly retrofitted Dreamliners. Each seat is outfitted with in-flight entertainment and power outlets and because seats are slightly slimmer, you'll notice a tad more legroom, too. Plus, compared to other aircraft, 787s have better cabin pressure and more humidity, which can keep you more comfortable and more rested during the journey.

Inside the AA Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

For the same price, you can add on segments in the U.S. on the same ticket for extra value. If you're used to sky-high cash prices from non-hub airports, you know what a good deal this can be.

(Screenshot courtesy of aa.com)

Related: Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly from the US to Europe, North Africa from 21,500 miles each way

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How to book

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

American Airlines makes these awards extraordinarily easy to book. The airline has a robust search and booking tool on its website, so there's no need to search elsewhere or call for a reservation.

Step 1: Search for the flights you want

One advantage of traveling off-peak is that award space is more widely available than on peak dates. So, go to aa.com and search from your home airport for precisely the dates you want to travel. There's a good chance you'll get lucky and find exactly what you need.

For example, this search from Omaha (OMA) to Seoul (ICN) has economy space every single day in August 2022 (the price shows 65,000 miles for a round-trip; the other direction is widely available too).

Step 2: Book your ticket online

It's always a pleasant surprise when booking is straightforward. In this case, it's no different than purchasing any other ticket from the American Airlines website, except that you'll be paying in miles when you check out.

You'll have to enter your passenger information and then enter your credit card information to cover taxes and fees (these are typically around $50 round-trip, though the exact amount depends on your exact destination).

If you're not ready to commit — or if you don't have quite enough miles in your account— American lets you place the ticket on a brief hold. That buys you some time to get your ducks in a row or potentially top off your account with any remaining miles before confirming the ticket. This is a nice feature that most airlines don't offer.

You can choose to hold your reservation rather than purchasing.

How to earn points for this award

You can earn American miles with cobranded credit cards. (Photo by ImagineerInc/Shutterstock.com)

American Airlines does not currently partner with any of the major credit card transferable programs, which means you need to earn AAdvantage miles directly. You may already have a balance in your account from flying or other partner activity, including hotels, rental cars or online shopping.

Otherwise, an cobranded AA credit card is a great way to earn airline miles on every purchase. There are several cards to choose from, including some that offer welcome bonuses for new cardholders who meet sign-up criteria:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn 2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases. ($450 annual fee)
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on gas station, restaurant and on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile on other purchases. ($99 annual fee; waived for the first 12 months)
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening. ($99 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months)
  • American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card: Earn 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on grocery store and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile on other purchases. (No annual fee)

The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Alternatively, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to AAdvantage at a 3:1 transfer ratio, with a 5,000 mile bonus awarded for every 60,000 points transferred. This means 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points is worth 25,000 AAdvantage miles.

Related: How to earn miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage program

Bottom line

Long-haul flights in economy aren't for everybody, but if they work for you, then American's off-peak awards to parts of Asia are a great deal. Not only are they easy to book, but they include a small discount simply for traveling during the designated time of year. With dates spanning parts of all four seasons, the calendar isn't much of a limiter either.

We don't know when all these destinations will open back up to tourists, but you can book now and change or cancel without penalty later. If that's still more than you want to gamble, bookmark this article and check back later when this part of the world is accessible again. We expect these awards to stick around as a sweet spot for a while.

All screenshots courtesy of aa.com

Feature photo by FenlioQ/Shutterstock.com

Featured image by (Photo by FenlioQ/Shutterstock.com)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
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10XEarn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel partner site
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    Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The revamped Wander Card from Credit One Bank earns cardmembers up to 10 points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases. With no foreign transaction fees, the card is also great for international travel. However, points earned from this card can only be used at a fixed value, so it may not be the best option for those striving to get maximum value from their rewards.

Pros

  • This card has no foreign transaction fees and earns up to 10 points per dollar on travel purchases through the Credit One Bank travel partner site.

Cons

  • While cardholders can earn a significant amount of points on travel purchases, there isn't any way to redeem points from the Wander Card for maximum value (beyond 1 cent per point).
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel
  • Earn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel site
  • Earn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
  • Earn 1x points on all other purchases
  • Redeem your reward points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, flights, hotels, and more
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Free Online Credit Score and Credit Report summary, terms apply
  • If you are a Covered Borrower under the Military Lending Act, you may get a different offer
  • See Rates & Fees