Continuing our series on accessing different continents in business class using points, this article looks at some of the best ways to fly to Asia in lie-flat comfort.
While many Asian countries remain closed to travel in early 2022, now may be a good time to consider making a speculative booking for when borders begin to reopen.
What are the best airlines to get you across the Pacific? Which points currencies should you be focusing on? What are the availability patterns like, and how far in advance should you book?
We’ll look at the nine top-choice airlines for booking transpacific flights in a lie-flat seat with a reasonable number of points and minimal out-of-pocket expense.
In This Post
- 1. Air Canada
- 2. ANA
- 3. Asiana Airlines
- 4. Cathay Pacific
- 5. Etihad
- 6. EVA Air
- 7. Japan Airlines
- 8. Singapore Airlines
- 9. Turkish Airlines
1. Air Canada
Air Canada serves many Asian hub cities during normal operations. There are direct flights to Tokyo (Haneda and Narita), Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, New Delhi, and Mumbai from Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver.
With Aeroplan, pricing for these flights is subject to the distance-based tiers on the North America—Pacific zone on the Flight Reward Chart.
With a distance-based chart, there are some excellent opportunities to reduce the cost in points depending on your origins and destinations.
For our friends in Vancouver, a direct flight to Tokyo squeezes in at 4,701 miles, which is satisfyingly placed in the first distance band. This means that a direct flight in business class with Air Canada will cost as few as 55,000 points.
Note that there was previously a direct flight from Calgary to Tokyo, but that has since been suspended. This flight also fell under 5,000 miles, and would cost the same 55,000 points if it were to resume.
With the exception of the Toronto—Mumbai and the Toronto—Hong Kong routes, most others fall in the second distance band. In theory, this means that a seat in business class could cost as few as 75,000 points, while the others in the third distance band could cost 85,000 points.
By booking in a cheaper economy fare and using eUpgrades to upgrade to business class, it’s possible to bring the redemption cost back to reality when dynamic pricing is skewed the wrong way.
Another alternative is to fly with a Star Alliance partner airline, where you’ll enjoy fixed-value pricing on flights. We’ll cover the best airlines later on in this post.
My last flight to Asia with Air Canada was particularly interesting, as it was to China during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check out my review of the flight and experience for an interesting read.
ANA has one of the best business class products that you can book with your Aeroplan miles, and the Japanese carrier should be one of the first places you look if you want to treat yourself to a world-class flight experience on your way to Asia.
ANA’s sole Canadian destination is Vancouver, while it also serves Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, Houston, New York JFK, Chicago, and Washington DC in the US.
In addition, a “wildcard” routing for residents of eastern Canadian cities could be to fly down to Mexico City first, and then hop onboard ANA’s Mexico City–Tokyo Narita daily service. Chilaquiles and chirashizushi in one trip – what’s not to love?
If booking with Aeroplan, both Seattle and Vancouver fall within the first distance band of the North America–Pacific chart.
A seat in business class on either of these routes would cost only 55,000 points, plus a modest amount of around $100 in taxes and fees.
From all other destinations, you can expect to pay 75,000 points for a direct flight in business class. If you’re connecting from other Canadian cities, be mindful of the distance flown, as it may bump you up to the third tier at 85,000 points.
In terms of availability, I’ve found ANA to be somewhat unpredictable. Generally speaking, they do release award seats quite reliably at the beginning of schedule, but sometimes they’ll also release surprise batches of last-minute availability across all their North American destinations.
If you want to book ANA business class, I’d recommend searching far in advance, looking at flying out of different airports if need be, and be open to booking something else and then potentially changing to ANA later on.
ANA operates Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Boeing 777 aircraft on these routes. For the 777, keep an eye out for the newly renovated planes that offer an outstanding business class product, known as “The Room,” which is currently operated on the New York JFK route (as well as to London and Frankfurt).
I’ve flown in business class on the older model of the 777 as well as on the Dreamliner. ANA’s business class seat design is cozy and private, while the top-notch Japanese food and highly attentive service will no doubt be the highlights.
3. Asiana Airlines
If you’re looking to fly to Korea in comfort and style, you’ll definitely count Asiana Airlines business class among your options for crossing the Pacific.
The Incheon-based airline doesn’t fly to Canada, but does serve a good handful of US destinations, such as Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York JFK.
Excluding Honolulu, all US destinations fall within the second distance band of Aeroplan’s North America–Pacific chart. This means that a direct flight will cost 75,000 points in business class, plus a reasonable $47 in taxes and fees.
While it doesn’t leave much wiggle room, you can squeeze in a connection to other Asian hub cities and still remain under the second distance band. For example, flying from Seattle to Bangkok via Seoul will cost only 75,000 points.
Award availability on Asiana tends to be quite favourable, and I’ve often seen two or even more seats available on the Seattle and Los Angeles routes. The New York route is certainly more popular among East Coast travellers, and therefore a little tougher to find space on.
I haven’t personally flown on Asiana business class, but by most accounts, the products onboard both the Airbus A380 and Airbus A350 aircraft seem perfectly serviceable, but not necessarily outstanding in any way.
I’d pick ANA, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, and JAL over Asiana any day of the week, but if those options aren’t available, then the bibimbap dinner course onboard Asiana Airlines should be something of a treat as well.
4. Cathay Pacific
Moving away from Aeroplan for a moment and into the domain of Alaska Mileage Plan and British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific business class can be a very comfortable way to fly to Asia, especially if you’re looking to travel onwards to further points in South East Asia or beyond.
The most favourable points redemption method would be to spend 50,000 Alaska miles for a one-way trip in business class with minimal fuel surcharges, and you can have a free stopover in Hong Kong as well.
This is an excellent redemption, with the only possible drawback being that it’s “only” an additional 20,000 miles to fly Cathay Pacific First Class… and therefore many travellers are tempted to book that instead.
Redeeming Avios can also make sense in some scenarios, particularly if you’re travelling from the West Coast.
For example, Vancouver–Hong Kong in business class costs 92,750 Avios one-way, which is only 71,350 Amex MR points or RBC Avion points if we were to take advantage of one of the regular 30% conversion bonuses from either program.
Considering that Alaska miles are relatively tougher to earn, using Avios instead can definitely make sense in the right circumstances.
There’s also Cathay Pacific’s own Asia Miles program as an option to book with.
For Canadians, earning Asia Miles is relatively easy, as it’s a transfer partner of Amex Memberships Rewards at a transfer ratio of 1:0.75, RBC Avion points at a 1:1 ratio, and HSBC Rewards at a ratio of 25,000:8,000. RBC also offers the co-branded RBC Cathay Pacific Visa Platinum Card.
Redeeming Asia Miles for Cathay Pacific flights is subject to a distance-based award chart.
At 6,392 miles, a one-way flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong in business class would cost 70,000 miles, which is quite an attractive price indeed.
Note that the “Ultra-Long” category is a great way to leverage your Asia Miles points, too, as you can continue on to many other points within Cathay Pacific’s extensive network (including taking the long way to Europe or South Africa) for only 85,000 miles.
Cathay Pacific serves two points in Canada – Vancouver and Toronto – as well as five in the US: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York (JFK), and Boston, using a mixture of Boeing 777s and Airbus A350s.
As of the time of writing, Cathay Pacific business class availability appears to be heavily restricted compared to before, largely due to the very limited flight schedules to Hong Kong at the moment.
Even in the past, though, Cathay hasn’t been the most generous airline in terms of releasing business class space. If space is limited on the Toronto or Vancouver routes, then flying via the US East or West Coast may be a necessary backup option.
Cathay Pacific business class is another product that I haven’t flown yet, although I’ve flown their excellent First Class product twice.
Some reviewers have pointed out that Cathay Pacific business class is slightly overhyped by the airline’s glowing reputation, but overall, the reverse herringbone seating and professional onboard service would make it one of the more enjoyable ways to fly to Asia.
5. Etihad Airways
When Aeroplan announced Etihad as a new partner airline, this opened up the UAE flag carrier’s extensive route network to Aeroplan members. Instead of flying across the Pacific Ocean, why not fly with Etihad to Asia via the Middle East?
Etihad operates direct flights to Toronto, as well as Chicago, New York JFK, and Washington Dulles. While these options are most convenient for those living in the eastern half of Canada, it’s possible to catch a connecting flight from elsewhere in Canada to access its network.
Catching a flight from Toronto to some Asian destinations via Abu Dhabi can fall within the third distance band on Aeroplan’s North America–Pacific chart.
Keeping your distance within this threshold of 11,000 miles flown ensures that you will pay 85,000 points for a one-way business class flight, but going over would bump up the cost to 105,000 points.
From Toronto, you can get to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Bangkok while remaining under 11,000 miles flown.
Etihad’s award availability tends to be consistently good, especially if you’re open to catching a connecting flight to one of the US hubs.
Currently, Etihad is operating its Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on most of its long-haul routes. Prior to the pandemic, it also flew its mammoth Airbus A380 on specific routes, but these have been suspended indefinitely (and possibly forever).
I’ve flown on Etihad 787 business class and found it to be a solid choice for both hard and soft product offerings. There’s also the option to consider Etihad’s First Class product on specific routes, such as Washington DC, so keep an eye out for those if you are so inclined.
6. EVA Air
In its North American marketing campaigns, EVA Air’s tagline gets straight to the point: “The Best Link to Cross the Pacific”. And I’d be inclined to say that they’re absolutely right.
And even better, you won’t have to work very hard at all to get yourself on EVA Air’s “Royal Laurel Class”, which is one of the best business class products within all of Star Alliance.
EVA operates flights to Vancouver and Toronto in Canada, as well as many US hubs: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and New York (JFK). With many options, it should be possible to find flights to Taipei.
All four West Coast cities, as well as Chicago, fall under the second distance band on Aeroplan’s North America–Pacific chart, meaning that a one-way flight in business class would cost 75,000 points. Flights from all other cities fall just over 7,500 miles, which increases the cost to 85,000 points.
There’s plenty of room to add a connecting flight to one of EVA Air’s many Asian destinations while still remaining in the third distance band. You could also add a stopover in Taipei for an additional 5,000 Aeroplan points.
EVA Air operates the Boeing 777 with reverse herringbone seats to most of these destinations, as well as their gorgeous new Boeing 787 to others.
Historically, EVA Air has reliably opened up award seats at the beginning of the schedule, but these can be snapped up rather quickly given how popular these seats are among points-savvy travellers.
However, EVA has also historically maintained a good habit of opening up a few unsold seats into the award inventory at around T-5 days before departure. This means you could secure a last-minute seat onboard EVA Air business class even if you didn’t manage to snag one from the outset.
Of course, these availability patterns may fluctuate as we emerge out of the pandemic, but we’re hopeful that EVA Air will continue to be an accessible business class redemption once passengers are allowed to transit through Taipei again.
With a gourmet pre-selectable dining menu, Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kits, and a wide-ranging beverage selection, EVA Air business class is the real winner among this list.
I find myself endlessly looking forward to the next time I’m lucky enough to fly with them – matcha milk tea, anyone?
7. Japan Airlines
If EVA Air were the “Best Link to Cross the Pacific”, then I’d rank Japan Airlines as a very close second in business class, at least among the airlines that I’ve tried so far.
Like Cathay Pacific, JAL is an airline where it might make sense to use either Alaska Mileage Plan or British Airways Avios to book, with the needle likely moving in the former’s favour in most situations.
You’ll pay 60,000–65,000 Alaska miles for a one-way business class flight on JAL business class, depending on whether your destination is classified as “Asia” (Japan or South Korea) or “Southeast Asia” (everywhere else).
With Alaska, you can also build in a free stopover in Tokyo on your way to any other destination; alternatively, you even could position an open-jaw between Tokyo and Osaka and then continue your journey from there.
On the Avios side, the more economical journeys will be from the West Coast to Japan, such as paying 77,250 Avios one-way for business class between Vancouver and Tokyo.
In addition to Vancouver as their sole Canadian destination, JAL also serves eight cities in the US out of their twin Tokyo hubs: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, Chicago, New York JFK, and Boston. On top of that, they operate a route between Los Angeles and Osaka as well.
Therefore, you have no shortage of backup options if the most convenient choice isn’t available, and I’ve always found JAL to be relatively generous with business class space.
As long as you have a small degree of flexibility in terms of dates and gateway airports, award seats should be readily available no matter how far out you’re looking.
On North American flights, you’re most likely to encounter JAL’s flagship business class product: the Apex Suite, which JAL has branded as the “Sky Suite”.
The window seats on these Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft are some of the most private business class seats in the sky, although as a byproduct they can also feel a little cramped as well.
With the industry-leading Sky Suite hard product, a delectable Japanese onboard meal, and an overwhelming snack menu to boot, the Japan Airlines business class experience is one you’ll likely never forget.
8. Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines needs no introduction – even people who don’t concern themselves with airlines and travel every waking moment are likely to know that it’s one of the best airlines of the world.
Nevertheless, don’t hold your breath if you want to redeem miles with Singapore Airlines on a transpacific flight. That’s because the airline generally doesn’t release long-haul award space to its partners, instead reserving those seats for members of its own KrisFlyer loyalty program.
There have been a few exceptions over the years, but these tend to arise very rarely. For example, there was a period of time when a generous amount of business class award space was released to Aeroplan members on the Los Angeles–Singapore and New York–Singapore routes.
Singapore Airlines operates flights to many US hubs, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York JFK. It also recently began a seasonal service to Vancouver on its Airbus A350 aircraft.
If you encounter award space one of these routes, you should consider booking it immediately, as you may not get this option on Aeroplan for quite some time.
If you really want to fly Singapore Airlines business class to Asia, you can look into earning KrisFlyer miles, whether that’s through transferring your HSBC Rewards points or dabbling with US credit cards.
9. Turkish Airlines
Last, but certainly not least, on this list is Turkish Airlines. With an expanding network and excellent offerings with both its hard and soft products, flying the long way to Asia via Istanbul is a very attractive possibility.
Turkish Airlines offers direct flights to Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, as well as to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York JFK, Newark, Washington, Atlanta, and Miami. With so many options to choose from, finding award space to Istanbul shouldn’t be difficult at all.
There are a host of destinations in Asia to which Turkish Airlines flies, adding strength to an already strong proposition.
Flying from hubs in Eastern North America via Istanbul to many destinations in Asia fall within the third distance band on Aeroplan’s North America–Pacific chart. Sticking with Turkish Airlines will cost 85,000 points in business class, with the possibility of adding a stopover in wonderful Istanbul for another 5,000 points.
On most of its routes, Turkish Airlines reliably releases up to four award seats in business class. For routes that are particularly desirable, such as the Vancouver–Istanbul on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, be sure to book as far in advance as possible.
Otherwise, you should be able to find availability from one of its many hubs in North America.
Turkish Airlines is known for its strong soft product onboard its flights. It also boasts one of the world’s finest business class lounges at its hub in Istanbul, so you can be sure that your connection will be very comfortable.
With the introduction of its revamped cabin on the Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A350s, Turkish Airlines offers an excellent hard product as well.
Be sure to pay attention to the aircraft type when planning your trip, as it’s very possible to book back-to-back flights with a Dreamliner or Airbus A350, which are vastly superior to the relatively dated 777 and A330 products.
For many Asia-bound travellers, a comfortable seat and a good night’s rest are of paramount importance on a 12- to 15-hour flight across the Pacific.
Between the nine airlines I’ve outlined here and each of their numerous North American gateways, you’re almost certain to find a way to redeem your miles for a stylish lie-flat seat on your next trip to Asia.
And if, somehow, you fail to find suitable award space on all nine options, remember that there are yet more options for flying “the long way around” to Asia via Europe as well!